Brothers Howard and Shawn Lin are set to change things up for small, independent food business owners in Hong Kong. Their secret sauce? Information Technology. The newsDesk caught up with theDesk One Hysan Avenue members and founders of the brand new food rewards mobile app, whoot!, set to debut this October.
Whoot! is a soon-to-debut mobile app development company that offers mom-and-pop restaurants transformative marketing solutions that boost customer loyalty and generate steady revenues. The Lin brothers have kickstarted the mobile app business in Hong Kong and have their sights set on going global.
A passion close to home
Shawn and Howard come from an internationally-diverse upbringing — born in Taipei and having grown up in San Francisco, the Lin brothers regularly tagged along with their father’s business trips to Hong Kong and Shenzhen in their youth. These experiences kept them acquainted with Asian culture. Which led them to be hyperaware of the region’s diversity and growth.
The brothers grew up within a hardware production family business, thus gaining first-hand exposure to the tech industry. Still, they never expected to work in IT, and despite both being food lovers, they never planned on being in the food business, either. Then again, they recognise the huge economic potential in Asia and admit to enjoying Asian food more than any other cuisine.
“Growth in China and Asia in general is experiencing a mega boom. It’s a region where dreams really can come true. Before, if I wanted to make it as a property developer in Hong Kong, it was probably not going to happen. But with IT today, dreams are something that young people can grasp, and it helps that Asia has a very welcoming environment for IT-related pursuits,” said Howard.
Speaking of welcoming environments, the whoot! founders chose Causeway Bay as the starting point for their business, citing the area’s rich culture and history, as well as the diverse F&B businesses there.
“What we want to do is help people discover the ‘hidden gems’ within each of the buildings in Causeway Bay. We will try to tailor our services, helping these small food shops find the best way to attract new clients and keep them coming back,” said Shawn.
In the business of connecting people
Both founders are inspired by the passion to create. This is evident in their very first business venture – IngCreations – where they developed free, fun, and educational games for the world to enjoy.
“We wanted a business related to creativity, which doesn’t require updating new tech. That’s how we got into IT with mobile gaming, where we can develop a new software from old software,” Howard said.
From there, they decided to leverage their experience in software development to reach and connect more people with one of life’s basic needs: food. Their interest in creating mobile apps for restaurants led to whoot!, which was, in part, inspired by a series of personal experiences including the 2008 US recession and the Fukushima earthquake in 2011.
After these events, Howard was determined to put his time and efforts in a job that was not only recession-proof but also something that he can build in a single place yet manage anywhere.
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“A recession is like a rainy day. Not everyone is going to suffer; the guys making umbrellas are super happy. That’s the cheap foods market. What we wanted to do was to make something that works on both rainy and sunny days,” shared Shawn.
Shawn and Howard investigated why most F&B businesses do not survive the first five years of operation. Surprisingly, focus on food quality was the culprit: “Most small restaurants typically only invest time in making their food better, neglecting business tactics like PR or marketing to draw people in.”
They noted that the popular market practice of offering huge discounts does nothing but speed up a restaurant’s demise, because the prices rarely bounce back.
“Returning customers trust the brand, and when they come back, they tend to order 24-36% more food than average first-time customers. So what does this tell us? Repeat customers mean more sales. That’s what we want to promote. If we succeed, we will help so many restaurants stay in business,” said Shawn.
Building trust and lasting partnerships
The challenge is that mom-and-pop shops are generally resistant to innovation. To tackle this, Howard and Shawn turn to building trust and relationships to get past a potential client’s “no”.
“At the beginning, we will go for the low-hanging fruit – companies that are already savvy and open-minded about tech. Understandably they will be afraid to use us if they’ve never heard of us – but once they understand that we’re here to help, they will be more inclined to sign up. It’s an issue of trust.”
Besides getting the contract, though, whoot!’s business philosophy also revolves around developing mutually rewarding relationships with everyone they work with, including customers, employees, and partners. The benefits of the collaboration can also be practical from a business standpoint.
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“The thing with business is that things happen, often suddenly. We must be ready all the time. That is why theDesk is a perfect fit for us — it has everything we need to support that kind of growth. It’s much more flexible than a fixed office that we can outgrow any time.”
Similar to the values of theDesk, flexibility, culture, and community are basic blocks of whoot!’s business. As one of the first few office tenants to move into theDesk One Hysan Avenue since it opened in December 2017, the whoots! team occupied a four-person office. In less than eight months, the team has doubled in size and now occupies two office spaces at theDesk.
The entrepreneurs are grateful to have found a community that aligns with their culture, vision, and customer service expectations.
“The people behind theDesk are not only friendly but also super helpful. The community aspect is clearly very important. Everyone helps each other here,” said Howard.
A global vision and higher purpose
Echoing his brother’s desire to help people beyond the business, Howard talked about their long-term plan for going global.
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“In our minds, whoot! isn’t something that will be around for a short while or limited to a small area. It will be global. We aspire to connect communities around the world, so everyone can enjoy great food. We can have events, themes, day-specials; we will keep finding ways to expand our reach. It will be a new channel for getting together with friends, a new place to find out what’s available in your neighbourhood.”
Driven by creating something great for society, the siblings look forward to making a difference in the world using their IT expertise and research skills.
While admitting that they have very different personality and traits from one another, somehow they complement each another. The Lin brothers are successfully mixing family with business.
“We care about our product and how we benefit our customers and partners. That is a common goal. That’s why we, as brothers, have always worked well together.”
We can’t wait for the upcoming launch of whoot! this coming October!
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