3 September 2021
3 September 2021
“We eat first with our eyes.”
It’s a truism that Kim Teo, a co-founder of QR code menu and ordering platform Mr Yum, has leveraged into a multi-million-dollar business.
Teo launched the Melbourne-based start-up with co-founders Kerry Osborn, Adrian Osman and Andrei Miulescu in 2018.
“The initial idea was very much around the consumer insight that people are visual,” says Teo, who is the company’s chief executive officer and now bases herself in Los Angeles.
“Personally, I'd go to a cafe or restaurant and pull up Instagram or Google Images and try to piece together the puzzle of the menu – what I wanted to eat based on what's on the menu, photos, and by looking around the room and trying to figure out what other people were having.
“So, we thought, how do we create a more inspiring, helpful, and personalised version of a menu?”
The QR code gamble
Their solution was a platform that would empower venues to entice diners with stylish menus that were visual, rather than text-based. Instead of developing a new app, Teo, who opines that “start-ups are about making big contrarian bets”, decided to take a gamble on QR codes.
The QR (Quick Reader) code was developed by a Japanese manufacturing company in the mid-1990s. Consumer uptake was sluggish, even as smartphone use skyrocketed, due to users having to download a third-party app to scan the codes. The technology looked set to fade into obsolescence, until in 2017, both Apple and Android updated their operating systems and integrated a native QR code reader in their camera apps. This meant that smartphone users were suddenly able to aim their camera at a QR code and instantly be prompted with a web link, map location, contact card or other piece of data.
“We saw that QR code [readers] had been put into the [phone] camera about three months before we launched and knew that was a signal that they were going to become widely used,” Teo says.
Despite some hesitancy from restaurant owners who thought the QR codes looked “cheap”, it was a bet that paid off, and Mr Yum recorded an astounding 2700 per cent growth in the 12 months to April 2020.
A catalyst moment
While nobody would celebrate profiting from the global catastrophe that has been COVID-19, Teo concedes the pandemic played a considerable part in Mr Yum’s early success.
“Most successful companies in the world have had some kind of catalyst moments,” she says. “Some leverage those moments well, and others don't. Certainly, COVID saved us at least two to three years in education around QR codes and the hesitation around them, as they were adopted for check-ins and menus.”
As lockdowns devastated the hospitality industry, Teo and her co-founders had already expanded Mr Yum beyond digital visual menus into a web-based order and payment platform thanks to a $1.5-million-dollar seed funding. They quickly added a pick-up and delivery function to the platform to support venues in the mass switch to takeaway service.
Casual eateries were early adopters, but some high-end restaurants were initially concerned about the platform reducing contact between staff and customers. Teo counters that Mr Yum’s technology actually frees up staff from some of the more mundane chores of the hospitality trade, allowing them more time to interact with customers.
“We've chatted to heaps of staff and [found that] most people get into hospitality because they liked the ‘people’ side of it,” she says. “They don't necessarily like taking and remembering orders or doing the bill and getting the payment machine and bringing it to the table – the more administrative process parts of their job.
“But that doesn’t mean the job is suddenly just to sit the diner down and then walk away and never talk to them again. Staff still have to host diners, to give them water, ask them how they're going, whether they need any help with the menu or recommendations. If, previously, you had 10 [customer] touch points, with Mr Yum, it might be made seven touch points.”
Dining out in the new normal
For customers, who have adjusted with surprising alacrity to QR codes as part of dining out in ‘the new normal’, the Mr Yum platform is simple to use – a matter of pulling out their phones and scanning a QR code that is linked to the restaurant menu. They can peruse, order and pay the bill with a few taps. There is also an option to tip staff, start a tab for the table and even stagger the arrival of items so drinks are delivered to the table before food. In a world-first, Mr Yum recently partnered with ‘buy now, pay later’ firm Afterpay to offer an ‘eat now, pay later’ option for diners.
Teo says restaurants that have adopted the platform have increased their average customer spend by between 20 and 40 per cent – a win-win for both the venue and Mr Yum, which takes a percentage of each order.
With a second seed capital investment of $11 million in April this year, the company has been able to expand to service 10 million users worldwide, across more than 1000 venues, this year forging into markets in the United Kingdom and United States.
So, where to from here?
“We have lots of plans,” Teo says. “We’re looking at more in-depth stuff around consumer experiences and how we can adopt personalisation, in the same way Spotify does so well.”
But while optimising the dining experience continues to be a key driver of innovation at Mr Yum, Teo says we should also be keeping an eye on our wallets (or lack thereof) in the future.
“One of the most exciting trends at the moment in our industry, in our era, is around payment,” she says. “I don't think that people will be getting their salaries deposited into a traditional bank account in the next 10 years – where your money is stored and how you think about how to spend it will change and we want to work with really innovative companies to be part of that.”
By Natascha Mirosch