Malaysian innovation in eating

From left: Tan Ee Ern, Tan Ban Eu and Lau Ngee Keong.

Malaysian start-up Offpeak.my signed up its first restaurant before it even had its booking website live. Speed is still driving its success.

It took just a few months for Malaysian online restaurant bookings aggregator Offpeak.my to go from idea to execution. That was three years ago.

Today, the business has expanded into three more countries and is moving at a rapid pace. Its founders say that’s the way you have to do business if you hope to succeed.

“I once heard somebody say that if you launch a product and it is perfect, then you have launched it too late,” says Lau Ngee Keong, who set up Offpeak.my with Tan Ban Eu, Tan Ee Ern and Christian Nguyen.

“A lot of people go into start-ups thinking they need an idea that is out of this world, but actually it is all about the speed of execution. After you make mistakes it is about how fast you can come back with a changed offering.”

Offpeak.my offers discounted dining for those who book a restaurant via its website or app, to eat during non-peak hours. These non-peak periods might be between brunch and lunch, for example, or between lunch and dinner. It’s a simple idea, and one restaurant owners like.

Unlike deals coupons, which a diner uses only once, this system encourages repeat visits. 

“During our first meeting with a restaurant owner I didn’t have a working website, just an idea,” Lau says. “I was asked difficult questions, such as ‘how many users do you have?’ and I admitted that we hadn’t even launched. I went in and sold a dream.”

Professional Development: Generating creative and innovative ideas: verifying and building on ideas.

Happily, the restaurant owners bought it. “They were immediately interested and signed up,” says Lau.

“We realised the product really did solve a particular pain for restaurants. The sign-up rate was fantastic. The response was overwhelming.”

The service launched in Malaysia in August 2014 and in Thailand 11 months later. At the end of 2015, Offpeak.my was live in Vietnam, and at the beginning of 2016 in Singapore.

Despite the positive response, Lau says the business has had its challenges. Its first funding round, at the end of 2015, was almost derailed by the credit crunch. Venture capital money was fast drying up, but fortunately the strength of the business idea was enough to earn US$800,000 from Chinese venture capital firm Gobi Partners.

More recently, the company’s second round, for an undisclosed amount, was also a success.

“I admitted that we hadn’t even launched. I went in and sold a dream.”

Offpeak.my now has more than 3000 restaurants on its books, each paying a monthly subscription fee. Entry into a new territory, however, begins with a test period in the capital city. After meetings with restaurant owners, an analysis is conducted of the ratio of meetings to sign-ups. When that ratio hits a certain level, Lau knows the market is ready. 

“We’re yet to enter the Philippines and Indonesia but we’re constantly learning and improving,” Lau says.

“When we went into Thailand we weren’t flexible enough, didn’t localise fast enough, spent too much money and had recruitment issues. Now we know exactly what we need to do.

“You can do research but the reality within a market can give you a very bad shock. It’s best to get into the market as quickly as possible and find out what it wants, then adjust your offering according to what you learn.” 

One piece of advice

“Don’t worry so much about creating the next best thing,” says Lau Ngee Keong. “Instead, just make sure you do the basics better than anyone else.”

Read next: Why start-ups should make partnerships a priority


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