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TripAdvisor’s first daughter in Asia – Eatigo. Eatigo’s CEO Michael Cluzel: We are growing up like a teenager!

Michael Cluzel - Cofounder/CEO Eatigo
Michael Cluzel – Cofounder/CEO Eatigo (Photo by me)

I’ve first known about Eatigo since more than one year ago in an eCommerce event when Michael shared about his business model “Time-based discount restaurant platform“. At that time Eatigo was not as hot as now but I did realize this model seemed very different from other players in the fields and the value proposition was very attractive for customers. So I considered it could be the next big thing and wrote a blog post m-Commerce startups to watch in Thailand:  curated fashion discovery, discount restaurant platform“. I feel glad as I bet on the right horse 🙂 As Eatigo describes itself “connects empty stomachs with those empty tables diners never have to pay full price“. Michael shares “our concept is simple and easy, we just applies the time-based pricing model from airlines & hotels to restaurant industry”. So when you come to any restaurant under Eatigo platform off the peak time you will get a certain amount of discount up to 50%.

Recently Eatigo created a buzz as the first startup in Asia to get investment from TripAdvisor, one of the largest travel companies in the world, to pump Eatigo’s pocket to more than $US15 million to expand it’s footprint to other countries in Southeast Asia aside from current markets Thailand and Singapore. Now Eatigo clearly got a silver spoon in her mouth with both finance and strategic support from TripAdvisor. So I visited Michael Cluzel at his new office in Ekkamai area, Bangkok to know more about TripAdvisor’s first Asian daughter and her teenage style!

Being a French grown up in Germany, a country well-known with the focus on discipline, procedure and efficiency. Now you have been mostly working in Southeast Asia where most countries’ working cultures are much different from German style, how have you learnt to adapt and work well with the locals?

I learned early on that every country has their own way of working, thinking and interacting. As a foreigner you need to try and understand these idiosyncrasies as early on as possible.

And you need to be able to adapt yourself in how you work and interact and in what to expect. Utilize each culture’s strength and try to compensate their weaknesses is the key to success.

You can speak total 7 languages including four ones with the full professional efficiency. What were your motives and how have you managed to learn a lot languages while busy working? What are the advantages of a polyglot like you, especially as an entrepreneur?

I grew up bilingual French and German and learned English from a very early age on in school and went to the US to university later on, so that is 3 right off the bat. I learned Spanish in university and had the opportunity to work on my skills during my stay in California and for work in Paraguay. Thai/Lao, Vietnamese and Mandarin came along side with work assignments.

An advantage of being polyglot is maybe that you approach things with a more open and flexible mind than the average person. This and the capability to work with people from all cultures are helpful for an entrepreneur.

What was your hardest time till now with Eatigo and how did you get through it?

The hardest time was the one right after launch when our conversion funnel was not working and users were not making reservations because the UI/UX did not work. We had no idea why and what was broken and were quite nervous trying to fix it. We got through by not losing our head and working hard and diligently on a solution until we got it.

What is it like one of your typical days at Eatigo? How do you manage time and what’s your approach to get things done? 

Get up at 6:45am, run and shower 7 to 8am, in the office by 8:30am, start with clearing emails and planning to dos for the day and reshuffling meetings if required until 10am. 10am to noon, in house meetings, afternoon, in house and external meetings, skype calls until 7PM. Go home, family dinner, play with kids and bring them to bed until 9PM, back to work, emails, reading, thinking and overaseas calls until 11PM, in bed by midnight.

I have fixed meetings in place with functions heads, country heads and full team to structure the week and build one off, ad hoc and other engagements around this. I have a 24h rule in place for all the company that emails/requests need to be answered/acknowledged within 24h no matter what. I write very short mails due to lack ot time and I never read mails where I am in cc, only mails that are addressed to me directly to manage time as well.

You said that Eatigo now is growing like a teenager, how is Eatigo improving herself to grow up as an adult? Does she have a role model? What is the most challenging thing this teenager must learn to be matured? 

We have grown to where we are mainly by virtue of our business model not by our best in class execution. We are still “winging” many things, weak on processes and efficiencies. Nevertheless we are successful so this is great news, in spite of all we are going great, so just imagine how great we will do once we grow up.

The challenges ahead, the maturing, is about just that, professionalizing the company, defining working processes, taking founders out of operations more and more, improving efficiencies, documentation, the things that are normal for more mature companies but new for young startups.

What do you think about Wongnai Thailand, and Chope Singapore?

They are well established players in related industries to ours and in markets where we are present as well. We follow closely who does what in the market but we never allow our moves to be determined by what other players do. We do not have plans focused on other players, we only have an eatigo plan and we focus completely on ourselves when we decide our next stps.

Recently your startup got funded from TripAdvisor, raised total funding to $15M+. What are the top priorities to fork over? As you mentioned this is slow money instead of fast money from VC. Does that mean the money will be spent as slow as possible and no need to burn fast like VC’s money to scale fast? 

The focus of our latest round is clearly scaling the business across several new markets in this region. Our goal is to become the biggest player in SEA in our field.

By “slow” money we don’t necessarily refer to the speed of spending funds but to the way how they are spent. We invest our funds in a sustainable way into a sustainable model.

We work hard to grow strongly but we focus as much on profitability and sustainability as we do on growth, Positive unit economics are central to everything we do.

What’s your definition of a strong team and what’re you expecting from partners, co-workers and team members?

A strong team has a) the right skills, b) the right attitude, c) the leadership required to do the most important thing..WIN.

I expect all partners, and team members to sign up to our vision and use their skills and abilities to make us win.

Mobile commerce is hot now in Southeast Asia. What are the main differences between Thai users and Singaporean users? What are the key factors for a mobile startup?

Thai and Singaporean users are very similar in some ways (they love discounts, they do a lot on their mobile phone and they love to eat out) and they are very different in other ways. Maybe the biggest difference is the way they process information.

Thai users are very visual, they do not like to fill out forms and search for restaurants, they love to browse and discover. Singaporeans are more cerebral , they like to search and find exactly what they are looking for. Also Singaporeans reserve more in advance than Thais

A mobile startup, to be successful, should solve a real problem in a way only they can with a clear monetization strategy.

What do you see from the F&B industry in Southeast Asia in the next five years? What would be the next big things?

I believe that adoption of online bookings and delivery for f&b in SEA will continue to rise. The next big thing to come along with this will be the adoptions of online payments in conjunction with online reservations and delivery.

Previous post about Eatigo: m-Commerce startups to watch in Thailand:  curated fashion discovery, discounted restaurant platform.