Finding amazing food with Wongnai, Thailand’s Yelp

wongnai logoThailand based Wongnai was launched back in 2010, allows users to review restaurants and discover good food in Thailand.

After Hungrygowhere’s S$12 million acquisition by Singtel earlier this year, we have discovered another similar startup in Thailand which offers the same service. Positioned as the Yelp and Hungrygowhere of Thailand, Wongnai operates with the vision of helping people discover great food around in Thailand. Launched in 2010, Wongnai has seen an amazing growth of over 400 percent this year alone. The team is bootstrapped and has just started to look for funding to further expand their business.

Founders with successful track record

Wongnai is cofounded by Yod Chinsupakul, who is currently the CEO. Yod graduated with an MBA from UCLA Anderson where he also completed his undergraduate degree in Computer Engineering. Prior to starting Wongnai in 2010, Yod spent four and a half year with Thomson Reuters. Yod also cofounded a small website called trustbeat.com while he was studying in United States. On top of being an active online entrepreneur, Yod is also very much an offline entrepreneur. He is also the co-owner of a few restaurants in Bangkok, which helps him a lot in understanding the food business. Definitely the right skills and attitude in running a startup.

The cofounder of Wongnai is Mr Pattrawoot Suesatayasilp, who serves as the CTO. Pattrawoot has more than 10 years experience in website development. Prior to Wongnai, Pattrawoot cofounded First Vision Advantage when he was in college. First Vision Advantage is now under the global FIVA umbrella brand.

wongnai team

Inspired by United States based Yelp

As both the cofounders spent some time in the states, they were inspired by United States based Yelp. Recognizing there is a need for restaurant review website everywhere in the world, they came back to Thailand and cofounded Wongnai. “It’s obvious that this is a very useful service and we know people will need it.” shared Yod in an email interview with e27.

When asked about the  current opportunities for business listing sites in Thailand and its key challenges, Yod is optimistic. “I think the industry is just getting started. Currently there are enquiries almost every day from local businesses asking to be advertised on our website and our mobile apps; a year ago we barely had any. Similar to the Internet and mobile advertising market as a whole, business listing in Thailand has big room for growth. People are just realising now that people do spend more time on their smartphones than any other media out there.”

“The challenges I would say is the “local” nature of the business. We have to be in the area to talk and explain the benefits to local businesses. We have to be physically there to have a better chance therefore it can be hard to scale,” says Yod.

Growth and traction of Wongnai since launch

Wongnai only started to get more traction in 2011 to  2012. The team has had a tough time in 2010. However, things turned to the brighter when they saw over four times growth in terms of traffic and number of users in 2012 alone. Generally, the locals are receptive towards Wongnai. As a result, there is a very active community on Wongnai where users help each other to discover the best food in Thailand.

wongnai

 

Startup ecosystem in Thailand

Yod also shares an optimistic view on the startup ecosystem in Thailand. “It’s totally different now in the last six months. It’s much better now. When I first started, there was next to nothing; now if you look around there are networking events, pitching sessions, incubators offering supports, coworking spaces for startups, media focusing on the startup news, so it’s good. However, I still think the ecosystem only goes as far as our region (basically ASEAN). I think, apart from the select few, we are not yet there to compete globally in terms of ability and resources.”

Three obstacles of starting up in Thailand

Focusing more on the topic of global competence, Yod mentioned three fundamental obstacles Thailand startups face. “I think there are primarily three obstacles. First, I don’t think we are built to be innovative.  We can trace this back to the Thai education system where voicing your opinion is almost prohibitive. You are conditioned to be good listeners but not a thinker or a speaker. Of course there are some exceptions but from what I observed, the more innovative Thailand startups received education and/or had experience overseas.”

Yod followed that up by saying the community lacked support from the government. “The recent Khun Suek vs Samurai event was the first event that is held by a government agency. Even for that event, it was originated from the Samurai side (a Japanese company – Samurai Incubator). Other than that, we haven’t had any real support.”

Yod ended off with the obvious one: the language barrier. “Basically English is not our first language.”

The e27 team will be going over to Thailand next week for our inaugural Founders Drinks Bangkok to learn more about the Thai startup ecosystem and find ways to continue to support the developing scene.

 

Jacky Yap

Having spent one year abroad in Shanghai under the NUS Overseas College Programme, Jacky has an avid interest in entrepreneurship and web based startups. Jacky used to run N-House, Singapore's first entrepreneurial themed residence in NUS, and was also part of the organizing team for Startup Weekend Singapore 2012. You can reach him at jacky [at] e27 [dot] co

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