Restaurant Reviews Wongnai CEO Yod Chinsupakul: “Thailand is the biggest market in Southeast Asia in terms of food and beauty”

Yod WonnaiI have luckily arrived and observed Thai startup scene in the right time since 2012. At that time some startups just started to grow big and is one of them. Till now Wongnai is clearly the leader in restaurant review domain with more than five million visitors a month and nearly 200.000 restaurants on board. 

I have met the mand behind the Thai most loved review website Wongnai’s Founder Yod in a “slow saturday morning” in a coffee shop in Ekkamai area near his office and home. He came along with his wife who is also in the food industry with her own stylish cupcake shop. As Yod mentioned, Sat is a slow day for him just to work a little bit, then go to a swimming pool or enjoy the family activity before work again in Sunday. Let’s chat with Yod to know how did the food insider scale up the site to this level.

Wongnai founding team

Wongnai founding team

According to the UCLA’s Anderson grad, he started Wongnai just few months after coming back from US where he was pursuing his MBA and also running a lifestyle recommendation site though it was not successful. The first two years of Wongnai since 2010 were going slowly while they were trying to create more content and attract more users and restaurants to join the food portal. Then there were several key factors for booming time in 2012 such as more better restaurant’s content and user reviews, more people using smartphone especially iPhone then the popularity of 3G in Thailand.

How did you start growing traction for Wongnai in the first few years? it sounds like chicken and egg problem with restaurants and users. So did you focus on restaurants first or users first? and how is it like to reach to the “tipping point”?

It was indeed chicken and egg. We decided to focus on user side first because for us “user creates content”.

wongnai chart

Wongnai # of users graph between 2010 – 2013

We allow users to create a restaurant by themselves, add reviews, add photos and use community managers to lead by example.

After two years, we had around 50,000 users and maybe 10,000 restaurants. The platform started to have some good reviews and good amount of restaurants. Then in April 2012, we started to hit the chart during Song Kra
n Holiday (when people travel a lot) and that maybe our tipping point.

Now you have nearly 200.000 restaurants on board, the good thing that users have much more choices. The hard thing that some restaurants are closed, some new opening ones… so how would Wongnai manage this consistency, as one of my Thai friends commented that some of restaurants’ content on Wongnai are out of dates.

95% of what we do is user-generated. Same as restaurant information. Users can add a new restaurant, edit restaurant information, or suggest that the restaurant has been closed. Then we verify them.

We do have a team specially work on verifying restaurant information 7 days a week. Still there’s some out of dates information but we are sure information will continue to improve every single day.

Wongnai beauty team

Wongnai team now has more than 70 people

For the beauty business, i guess the love of Thais into beauty would be highest in SEA. Is there any interesting findings you see since started this biz? eg. most viewed/used sections etc…

Hair is the most used section. Then there are nails and wax.

We originally thought clinics will be big but it looks like, although price per head is high, not all our users are interested in clinics.

one of Wongnai's deals

one of Wongnai’s deals

About ecommerce, is it just selling vouchers the main commercial activity? how about booking, delivery…? How about the role of ecommerce section in Wongnai business in the next 3-5 years?

Now we started with selling vouchers (deals) because we think it’s the biggest market (you can buy vouchers for most restaurants).

We think that e-commerce will continue to be more important in the next 3-5 years especially on mobile. Therefore, in the future it is possible that we also do other kind of transaction such as booking or delivery but we have not made any decision yet.

What if TripAdvisor/OpenTable/Zomato increase their interest in Thai domestic market and grow aggressively? How would Wongnai defense from these giants?

Our users, restaurants and reviews act as a barrier to entry by itself. I think TripAdvisor has already been here for a while, same as Openrice, but we don’t feel the effect. We continue to grow in our own way and we don’t feel we need to do anything particular to defend.

Mobile commerce is a hot trend now, especially in Southeast Asia, even more in Thailand, and for restaurants people would use more mobile as they would use it by real time. So what is the ratio of mobile users with desktop users? And Android/IOS ratio? Do you see any trend for m-commerce in the next 3-5 years?

Ratio of mobile users to desktop users is roughly 75:25. Android to iOS is roughly 30:70 (more iOS users).

I think most of the e-commerce today is from mobile (hence m-commerce) and our team/product is already mobile first.

There are several Thai startups going regional like Ookbee, Priceza, StockRadar, Zocial Eye… and some have got considerable traction so far. Do you prefer stay local? and why?

Surely Thais are the most stylish and food favorite people in Southeast Asia

Surely Thais are the most stylish and food favorite people in Southeast Asia

We prefer to stay local because of the business model and because we think Thailand is the biggest market in SEA in terms of food and beauty.

The business being local reviews it will take much more time to gather database, users, and reviews if we go to another country – there’s no shortcut. So it will inevitably take much time and money and economically speaking it may not be worth it at this point in time.

How would you see the next huge boost of Wongnai’s growth or for the whole Thai eco startup system in the near future? is it 4G or sth else?

I would say we are all waiting for the big shift in the way people buy stuff online. What payment channel will be mainstream? Because cash and COD (cash on delivery) do not work well enough in my point of view.

Which single factor would you spend the most of time in 2016?


Behind the scene in Wongnai office when the team preparing new year gifts for customers and restaurant owners

I would spend a lot of time expanding outside of Bangkok. Mostly recruiting, selling and building community. I think it is important that we have a foothold outside of Bangkok because there are several untapped cities in Thailand.

Note:  Yod also shared that Wongnai has just opened a new branch in Chonburi/Pattaya and will soon open some new offices in Phuket, Hua Hin, Nakhon Ratchasima.

And the last question, what would make you feel the most exciting in 2016?

I’m excited about the rise of mobile payment/mobile transaction in Thailand.

We feel that it would be right to expect that people not only consume content on mobile but also make 10351896_10208314496839988_5196803294713981795_ndecision/transact on mobile more and more. Once people spend more on mobile, they will also spend more on restaurant vouchers on Wongnai 😉

Note: AIS/True the two leading telcos in Thailand have just paid each one billion dollar to win the 4G lisences. Let’s see what would happen next with mobile internet in Thailand?!

Finally have a “Happy belly new year”! And remember to share your comment about Wongnai!

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Minh Bui is a seasoned eCommerce veteran from both Southeast Asian startups and corporates in online commerce and offline retail chain as well. He's also an avid Asia explorer and love to enjoy local foods and learn cultural differences in Asia.

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