“I interviewed people to join us and they confessed to us saying, “I’ve never heard of your company before. Now everyone knows HungryGoWhere but in the early days, people thought we were hungryghost.com,” said Dennis Goh, co-founder of HungryGoWhere.
Dennis left his civil service job in 2006 and with two friends, came up with an idea for a website -- one where people could find places to eat and discuss about the food, as well as provide a platform for restaurants to get the news out about their food. This idea became HungryGoWhere and in 2012, the website, which continued to grow by the day, had a million monthly unique visitors. In the same year, the site was acquired by SingTel for $12 million.
Dennis currently works as a Director of International Digital Media Operations at SingTel.
Of course, it wasn’t an easy journey. At one point, their funds were so low that Dennis joked with his two friends that one of them might have to go back to work. “I always joke with people that if one of us has to go back to work, he must divide his salary three ways. This way, we can continue running HungryGoWhere and supporting our community,” he said with a smile before adding, “Very grateful that it didn’t come to that because the business turned around.”
The business managed to turn around, thanks to the continuous support of family and friends. But one unexpected source of support came from the community. “What happened was they actually informed us when restaurants closed down or if our data was wrong, like the phone number – this saved us enormous time, resource and effort to maintain an accurate database. Some of them were so passionate that they’d run around hunting for where the restaurant moved to, and they’d tell me. What’s amazing and humbling is they didn’t need to help me. I was just a stranger to them. I cannot thank them enough.”
It is because of all the support that Dennis got that he wouldn’t mind repeating his experience with HungryGoWhere. “I would have regretted if I didn’t do it. I didn’t want to retire 50, 60 years later without really knowing what it could have been. I really did want to see what it’s like to go on the ground to make a positive difference.”
Dennis with his HungryGoWhere phone app
There certainly was a positive difference in the community. “Today I’m proud that a lot of restaurants are now on social media and on HungryGoWhere. They are actively using this platform to engage the community. I think that’s a huge change that a lot of people were not aware of. Today, you see restaurants engaging food bloggers, you see restaurants engaging their own customers online. You’d never be able to imagine this happening 5 years ago.”
When we move on to talk about entrepreneurship, Dennis starts off excitedly. “The environment has changed so much today! With the abundance of grants, subsidies and Silicon Valley VCs in Singapore today, it is much easier now to become a technology entrepreneur. All entrepreneurs need seed capital to kick-start the business, but as recent as just 5 years ago, it was impossible to find investors willing to support you over an idea or a vision. They always first ask – what are your profits? But my answer is, if I’m profitable, why would I need you? Today is a bit different.” With the right team and a strong disruptive vision, it is possible to find investors willing to put money in you
The main challenge for start-ups today in Singapore is not money – it is “going to market”. “I think a lot of start-ups, even with funding and great ideas, there are huge gaps in execution. It takes a certain kind of personality to bring everyone together, to implement it. That’s why so far, the success rate is not high for technology start-ups in Singapore. For start-ups to move to the next level, you need the kind of “founder mentors” who are able to help take them up.” With a Founder’s Institute now in Singapore, of which Dennis Goh is a part of, start-ups can look forward to more support.
When asked about what advice he would give to current entrepreneurs, he says, “I think the first thing I’ll definitely tell everyone is… everyone knows this, but they don’t realize how important it is – Passion. You must ask yourself why you are doing this. Whose lives are you making better? How are you making a positive difference through your product and service? Before you get there, there’s a lot of hard work and suffering. And what I’m concerned for many first-time entrepreneurs out there is that because of all the spectacular Facebook and YouTube stories, they think that success comes immediately – this means that they will also give up immediately when they don’t see success after two, three years. Being highly passionate and having a clear personal vision is the key difference between those who fail and fade away, and those who fail and actually become successful icons.”
The second point that Dennis shares is personal resilience, “You need to be prepared for the fact that life as an entrepreneur will always be a roller coaster compared to life as an employee – no stability and always full of surprises, probably way tougher than anything you expected. I am not saying that it is bad – I actually enjoy it because you never know what might happen next. It could actually be something really great! What I am saying is that because life is no longer as stable as compared to when you were working or in school, you do need to have strong personal resilience to tide through the tough times – or you will not make it to the good times!
Come down to San Diego (6 Nov), San Francisco (8 Nov) and Seattle (9 Nov) to get more out of Dennis Goh’s entrepreneurial spirit and mind! Register for the events now at http://www.overseassingaporean.sg/c-event/sgbuzz-home !