[THE INVESTOR] New York -- The city that never sleeps, New York, serves as a test bed for international firms. As many often say, if you can make it in the Big Apple, you can make it anywhere.
Billy Kim, a Google Street View photographer and an entrepreneur who runs coupon startup Lunch ID in Manhattan, said he couldn’t agree more, even though it could sound cliché.
Lunch ID CEO Billy Kim(first from left, first row) and his staff members.
“Other US cities to which I traveled around 20 years ago, including San Francisco, did not inspire me as much as New York,” Kim told The Investor.
‘I hope more Korean companies, both startups and established firms, which achieve a certain level of success back in Korea -- like Baedal Minjok and Sikkwon Daejang -- come to New York, which I call a global sample room, and work together,” he said.
Although infiltrating the US market is almost like a moonshot for many Korean firms, it is still “worth trying,” since achieving success here makes it easier to do the same in other nations, according to the startup CEO.
“By collaborating, I think competent Korean firms, either in tech or food sectors, can make some synergy together here too,” he said.
Only a limited number of Korean firms, including Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics, have been able to run successful operations in the US market despite many failed attempts in the past.
Some big name Korean café chains and food companies, such as Café Bene and Paris Croissant, have tried to appeal to New Yorkers, but the results have been disappointing, partly because they failed to cater to local tastes.
One of a few Korean startup CEOs based in New York, Kim pointed out that understanding the people and culture is one of the first things that businesses, both startups and conglomerates, targeting NYC, should keep in mind.
Having worked as a professional event photographer for more than 10 years in the US city, he has learned the ropes on how to survive in the city from scratch.
“As I took photos for many ethnic groups here, such as Italian, Indian and Chinese, I came across many exotic foods of different nations,” said Kim, who had little interest in food earlier even though his parents used to run a restaurant in Korea.
At some point along the way, he decided to merge the different cuisines and his photographic skills.
At the juncture between analogue and digital as a photographer, he has been trying to embrace new technologies, such as drone and 360-degree virtual reality filming.
He first established Peek-N-Chews in 2011, a restaurant recommendation platform featuring 360-degree videos, and then launched Image 360, the company that owns Lunch ID -- which offers discount to its subscribers at local restaurants during lunchtime.
The lunch coupon startup films VR videos of its partner restaurants for free and helps the restaurant owners promote on social networking sites in return for discount offers. Lunch ID subscribers who need to buy a paid coupon for US$10 can receive up to a 50 percent discount for their lunch every day per month.
“In comparison to other food and restaurant recommendation apps, the adoption of virtual reality technology is the first of its kind,” Kim said.
Google currently deploys the 360-degree video tech for its Maps service, but that does not allow users to look inside restaurants.
Next year, Lunch ID aims to bring its platform to the next level by partnering with either global or Korean firms and putting up ad banners inside the VR videos.
There are now around 50 startups on the Lunch ID platform, of which 60 percent are international restaurants and the rest are Korean dining places.
“I hope to increase the number to 300 next year, which I expect would generate user traffic that could appeal to investors as well as corporates that want to make their products and services explicit in the 360 videos,” he said.
By Kim Young-won (firstname.lastname@example.org)