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Six-month-old startup Mr Yum secures $1.5 million for tech putting an end to food envy

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien /

Mr Yum

Mr Yum co-founders Kerry Osborn, Kim Teo and Adrian Osman. Source: Supplied.

Melbourne startup Mr Yum has secured $1.5 million in seed funding just six months after it was founded, for its platform putting an end to food envy and indecision at brunch.

The funding comes from angel investors, hospitality giant Australian Venue Co, an unnamed investment fund, and various bar and restaurant owners.

Speaking to StartupSmart, Mr Yum co-founder and chief Kim Teo says the funding is double the $700,000 the startup was originally seeking.

With Teo and co-founders Kerry Osborn and Adrian Osman at the helm, Mr Yum is also seeing 100% month-on-month growth in user numbers.

Founded in November last year, Mr Yum is a foodtech startup providing digital menus online.

Participating restaurants can put their menus online with curated images of dishes next to each listing, allowing undecided diners to better understand what they’re getting, and avoid making the wrong call.

The site also provides descriptions of lesser-known ingredients, and users can filter according to dietary requirements.

Mr Yum also works for tricky drink choices, with the potential to de-code lengthy cocktail menus.

Customers can browse the options available at participating venues before they arrive, or scan a QR code on the physical menu using only their smartphone camera.

“People are visual”, Teo explains.

“We look around, trying to suss out what people are eating.”

At the same time, restaurants don’t want to put images on their menus “because it looks tacky”, she says.

Initially, Teo thought perhaps nobody had created a digital menu with images before because there would be pushback from the hospitality industry. However, the opposite has been true.

“They experience the problem firsthand,” she says.

People want images, but those provided on review sites “can be hit and miss”.

Equally, she says some proprietors come in asking for a certain dish they’ve seen on Instagram, which may not be available anymore.

Also, Teo has found an unexpected use-case for the platform.

“Some restaurants have started using it to train new staff,” she says.

The market was ready

Teo herself is no stranger to startup life. She has previously founded Simply Borrowed, a hiring platform for bridesmaid dresses, and Neighbour Flavour, an app allowing people to buy home-cooked meals from others in their community.

She also co-founded startup incubator Pitchblak, heads up the Future Females network for women entrepreneurs in Melbourne, and serves as a mentor at the Melbourne Accelerator Program.

Having stopped working on Neighbour Flavour in 2016, Teo says it was time to “get back to doing something of our own”.

She eats out for almost every meal, she explains, and although she’s not a big Instagram user, she often found herself scrolling through a restaurant’s page to get a sense of what the different dishes on the menu would actually be like.

“You can ask staff members,” she says.

“But you feel like you can ask two questions, but not 15 questions.”

The team decided to go ahead with Mr Yum as a business in November last year, and within weeks they had a basic MVP, featuring only images and text, launching in three venues as a pilot.

Within a few days, up to 25% of customers at those venues were using Mr Yum, Teo says.

“We knew we had to run pretty hard at it.”

Now, the site is attracting about 20,000 users a month.

Mr Yum

The Mr Yum menu for Three Bags Full in Abbotsford. Source: Supplied.

Teo acknowledges a lot of great ideas take years to get traction like this in their target market.

But in this case, “the market was so ready,” she says.

People already look at menus before they eat out, but they’re often studying a PDF page and trying to match it with Instagram images or online reviews.

“The behaviour already existed,” Teo explains.

“People were already doing it in a hard, cumbersome way.”

Grunt product work

Despite their early success, the team didn’t expect to secure such significant investment so soon.

“We didn’t really go down the traditional investment route,” Teo says.

“Our customers got it enough … a lot of capital has come from the industry which is crazy.”

But $1.5 million is a funding “sweet spot”, she explains. It’s enough to do what they need to do to continue growing quickly, but not so much the team will be tempted to spend on things they don’t need yet.

“I’m really confident in the amount of capital,” she says.

The funding will allow the startup to focus on building out the product and introducing new features.

They’re working on integrating with various point-of-sale systems and other development work that isn’t necessarily customer-facing.

“That’s a lot of grunt product work,” Teo says.

Then, the startup will look into “structuring our data in a way we can start personalising”, she says.

If a user likes one kind of meal, it will throw up others that people with similar tastes have enjoyed, she explains.

“We can start to transform menus so yours looks different to mine.”

Eventually, users will be able to order food or drinks through Mr Yum, and the platform will learn when you might be running low on beer, or when you might fancy looking at the cocktail menu.

“I don’t think I’ve ever ordered more than three beers,” Teo explains.

“Mr Yum will know that after two beers, I don’t want any more.”

“Avoid building the Rolls-Royce”

Teo admits that working with startups every day gives her “an unfair advantage” when it comes to what works and what doesn’t. But she also admits she has failed ventures behind her.

So, what did the co-founders do differently this time?

The team were entering a space they knew little about, Teo explains.

“We worked hard to get the most minimum product out there and into the hands of customers,” she explains.

You never know if something is going to work until you see others using it, she says.

She advises other founders not to try to build the perfect final product too soon.

“Start with something simple, get it out there,” she suggests.

“Avoid building the Rolls-Royce product.”

Teo also attributes some of Mr Yum’s early success to the fact it’s not an app.

“App download rates are crashing to the ground,” she says.

People don’t like having to download an app before they can use a product, she says. In fact, they’re moving towards clearing apps out of their phones.

Mr Yum wants to become positioned as an easy-to-access and user-friendly web platform. However, Teo says the team will consider building an app when there’s demand for one.

“We want to sit in the category of a utility app,” she says.

“We will bring it out at some point, but only at the point where someone is using it on such a regular basis that they would find it more convenient.”

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Stephanie Palmer-Derrien

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien is the editor at StartupSmart. You can contact her at [email protected].

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