Jake Zheng and Dylan Gao (Class of 2020)
Meet with young entrepreneurs - Jake and Dylan
Interview with Jake Zheng and Dylan Gao, HKU MBA Class of 2020
An entrepreneur is an individual who creates a new business and plays a key role in bringing new ideas to market. Starting a new business venture undertakes great risk and entrepreneurs face a lot of issues, big and small. However, they get to enjoy most of the rewards while generating economic wealth, growth, and innovation. HKU MBA meets with Jake and Dylan who started on their entrepreneurial journey right after their HKU MBA programme finished.
HKU MBA: Thank you for joining this interview Jake and Dylan. Congratulations on your new start-up. Before we dive into the details, can you please briefly introduce DoLA to us?
Jake & Dylan: We are making a cloud-based point of sales (POS) platform for restaurants with key functions such as QR codes for customers to self-place orders, online checkout and queuing. The platform integrates mobile payments and delivery platforms (in the next stage) that will save restaurants at least 20% of server costs and reduce human errors by 50%. Our one-stop platform includes a backend management system, a server end POS system and a consumer-facing web application.
We aim to streamline and digitalise the operation of traditional F&B companies by leveraging the most current technologies to help business owners in a way that has never happened before.
HKU MBA: Starting from a broader perspective, what motivated you to start your own business and why did you pick this idea to work on?
Jake: I grew up in China and moved to the USA with my family in 2008. For the past 8 years I have been operating restaurants in California. Because I travel back to China often, I have witnessed the tremendous changes in F&B in China while F&B in the US has stayed almost the same for decades. I strongly believe that such a traditional industry will experience dramatic changes because of the fast-changing technology. The changes will affect the way businesses operate daily, their entire supply chain system, payment systems, and the customers’ dining behaviour. And I’m glad to see such changes are already happening in the China market. The software as a service (SaaS) business model has already been proven in the China market. I strongly believe all other markets will experience the same in the future as technology helps the entire industry become more efficient and sustainable. With years of experience in F&B, I’m confident to say that I know the key pain points of small business owners, and I know what products will attract and help them the most, so I want to contribute my part to disruptive changes in the digital F&B era.
Dylan: I come from mainland China but I’ve been living in Hong Kong for more than 7 years. Every time I went back to my hometown, I would see how information technology has changed the F&B industry. Restaurants in China experienced a huge transformation over the past 10 years and they are now using very advanced tools and technology to boost their sales and save costs. However, I do not see the same changes happening in Hong Kong, and I find the whole industry here still operates in a very traditional way, and because of this, they became more vulnerable during the global pandemic. I believe this idea works and what we need is to learn from the digitisation success in China and translate it to Hong Kong and other overseas markets.
I worked for a market research firm, an exhibition company, a blockchain technology start-up, and a virtual bank in Hong Kong before specialising in consumer insights, marketing, business development, and project management. Since I had a degree in Information Management and Information System and had finished the development of a system before, I knew how to translate the business language into the real product. Throughout my journey I have built up my network that can help us understand the market better and have expanded our sales more efficiently as a result. We have talked to several restaurant owners in Hong Kong and demonstrated our product design. All of them love our idea and have mentioned that digitalisation transformation is a must-do item on their to-do lists.
HKU MBA: Where are the biggest issues in the market? And can you describe the solutions of DoLA and what is your competitive edge when compared to other providers?
Jake and Dylan: The major available POS products in the Hong Kong market are no different than they were 10 or 20 years ago. Providers make a one-time sale and there are no updates for years until you buy the updated products again. As for now, what restaurant owners use in the Hong Kong market is either hard-to-use, cannot be integrated with delivery platforms or payment methods, or is too expensive for small and medium-sized restaurants to afford. Most of them may just solve one or very few specific issues which does not make the operational process efficient and hardly saves labour, resources or time. Another very big issue is that the cost is extremely high which is way more than small and medium-sized businesses can afford due to slim profit margins. Whenever there are some issues with software or hardware, restaurants cannot get customer support from solution providers immediately or at a reasonable price. The restaurant owners have to pay a high premium for the service provider to come to fix the issue.
Our system is a cloud-based F&B management system. We adopted the SaaS business model, and we only charge our users subscription fee only. We provide complete solutions aimed at solving different operational issues and inefficiencies. For example, customers can scan a QR code using their mobile phone to check the menu and place orders, which can also be synchronised with multiple devices when people are dining together. Customers can also add more selections anytime they want and scan the QR code again. What’s more important is that we will integrate mobile payments and delivery platforms through API for our users. Customers are able to achieve complete self-service from place order to check-out. All these steps will be automated by the DoLA system without employee help. Most integrations we incorporate are not available at all in the Hong Kong market nor the majority of overseas markets.
What industry trends do you foresee in the coming 5 or 10 years?
Jake and Dylan: The future restaurant POS market is not just about building a user-friendly operating system but is about something much more valuable: utilising operating data from all sized businesses. Through the analysis of large amounts of data the most current needs of the F&B industry can be clarified and the entire supply chain system can be integrated based on clear needs. In the past, supply did not know the demand and demand did not know the supply, which usually caused wastage or skyrocketing prices. The supply and demand sides are still very opaque. To change this traditional model, a SaaS-based POS system and a long-term stable relationship with restaurants will be a fundamental starting point for collecting a large amount of data. Most other competitors are not doing any data analysis to help the businesses analyse their operating issues and to integrate their needs. Moreover, the competition in Hong Kong are serving medium and large restaurants mostly but more than 80% of the restaurants in Hong Kong are small and medium-sized so most of the needs are not considered. The competition can only integrate 20% of the demand at most. Moreover, with their current products and operating models they will not be able to penetrate the massive market in the short term.
The SaaS model is the direction that will eventually prevail. The service provider must establish long-term and stable partnerships with restaurants that account for the majority of the market, and make effective changes quickly through the continuous collection of current data to ultimately help the entire industry to achieve digitisation and automation.
HKU MBA: What are the best learnings out of your entrepreneurial experience?
Jake and Dylan: Entrepreneurship is never an easy way to go. We have to solve lots of different problems every day and at the same time focus on our final goal, our mission and our vision. Therefore we need to stay resilient and to keep passionate about what we are doing now and what we will do in the future. An entrepreneur should not get frustrated and distracted by anything. We also learn that adaptability is very important. Sometimes, we need to admit that some parts of the old plan will not work out given the current situation so the ability to pivot becomes crucial. It is all about decision-making and risk-taking. In addition, you have to keep working hard as there are no promises that your efforts will be paid back in the future.
Overall, I would say that becoming an entrepreneur is a very unique experience. You must continuously pursue perfection. You need a crazy amount of passion to deal with the unexpected challenges. Running your own business may not be exactly what you imagined, but that does not mean it can’t turn out even better than you expected.
To learn more about DoLA Technology, please visit at: https://www.dolatechnology.com/