Entrepreneur

2 NUS Undergrads Turned Our Love For Food And Discounts Into A 100k-Strong Telegram Channel

In October 2019, a Telegram channel called SG Kiasu Foodies (@kiasufoodies) became the first in Singapore to hit 100,000 subscribers.

For the unacquainted, Kiasu Foodies curates and shares F&B deals and promotions across the island that people can easily redeem. What’s not to love, right?

And true to character, they celebrated their achievement by rewarding supporters with free bubble tea and frozen yogurt, and a whole month of 1-for-1 deals.

A month’s worth of promotions to celebrate hitting 100,000 subscribers / Image Credit: Kiasu Foodies

Now, their numbers are continuing to soar past this milestone.

Before it reached such wild popularity, the channel was born in 2018 thanks to two National University of Singapore (NUS) undergraduates who met while doing the NUS Overseas College Programme in Silicon Valley.

Dylan Teo and Goh Wei Wen, business and computer science students respectively, were housemates during their time abroad, and stumbled into an idea over a casual lunch chat.

“We realised that a lot of amazing food deals in Singapore go unnoticed,” says 23-year-old Dylan.

On the other hand, they noticed that Telegram channels were rising in popularity as a platform to disseminate useful information, and they put one and one together.

Only “Truly Good” Deals Win People Over

Looking at their expansive reach and the robust host of merchants currently offering deals on their channel daily, I had to ask the chicken-or-egg question:

Did Kiasu Foodies first amass a following in order to pitch its platform to merchants, or first gather merchants to attract people to subscribe? Either way, who would want to subscribe to a channel with no deals yet, or provide deals to a channel with no eyeballs yet?

To which Dylan replies, “It was definitely subscribers first.”

We started simply by sharing food deals that we believed were truly good. Singapore has thousands of food deals at any given point of time, but few are good and actionable. We focused on sharing only the best ones.

Dylan Teo, Co-founder of Kiasu Foodies
Dylan Teo, co-founder of Kiasu Foodies
Dylan Teo, Co-founder of Kiasu Foodies / Image Credit: Kiasu Foodies

In essence, Kiasu Foodies started as two well-meaning dudes who were willing to take the time and effort to round up ‘lobang‘ for others to enjoy. Classic heartland heroes (they have much bigger ambitions than this, though).

They went through a “menial” process back then, personally ploughing through multiple sources to sift out deals that were worthwhile.

Being selective and only sharing the best promos helped them grow tremendously, and the sizeable subscriber count they gained was the bait they used to eventually convince merchants to partner them.

These days, they’ve upgraded from searching manually, to using a tool they developed to help them “automatically find and curate food deals”.

Genki Sushi food deal on SG Kiasu Foodies Telegram channel
Screenshot from Kiasu Foodies Telegram channel

“[On top of that,] many of our partnerships [now] are actually formed from inbound requests; merchants who express an interest to run exclusive deals with us to promote their brand,” Dylan says.

For F&B merchants, they can use these deals to fulfil specific objectives, like creating awareness of a new outlet or getting people to follow their social media accounts before redeeming the offer.

The advantage of our channel is that [people] who are always on the lookout for a good deal [are] predominantly young, ‘kiasu‘, Singaporean foodies—and this persona is synonymous with the target audience of many F&B brands.

Dylan Teo, Co-founder of Kiasu Foodies

With this, Dylan says it’s “often a no-brainer” for merchants to leverage Kiasu Foodies to promote their offers.

The Best Publicity Is When Friends Refer Friends

Kiasu Foodies subscribers redeemed free Gong Cha
Image Credit: Kiasu Foodies

Still, hitting 100,000 subscribers in just one and a half years was something they didn’t expect at all.

Dylan says it came as “a big surprise and a testament to Singaporeans’ kiasu spirit”.

Along the way, they made all sorts of attempts to grow their user base, such as using social media ads and referral campaigns.

In one example, they ran a referral campaign where subscribers would earn points for each friend they referred to the channel, and 10 users with the highest number of points at the end would win a Starbucks card.

“The results were decent, but we felt that it did not justify the cost and effort incurred,” says Dylan.

After testing some methods like these, they eventually found that nothing works better than organic word-of-mouth marketing.

The best kind of publicity is when our subscribers become our brand ambassadors and [simply want to] refer their friends to the channel [to get good deals too].

Dylan Teo, Co-founder of Kiasu Foodies

On that note, they also saw the value in fostering community among their users. So they set up a separate Telegram group, Kiasu Police, where members can chat and help each other out with more information.

Unlike the Kiasu Foodies channel where subscribers can’t participate, the Kiasu Police chat allows them to tap on each other for tips and updates, like how long the queues are to redeem an ongoing deal.

Telegram channels for food deals, Kiasu Foodies and Kiasu Police
Screenshots from Kiasu Foodies and Kiasu Police on Telegram

Sometimes, user growth also spikes when many deals happen concurrently around a big event, such as National Day.

Since August 2019, Kiasu Foodies has been picking up 200 new subscribers every day.

Telegram Is Just A Stepping Stone To Bigger Things

Although they’re leading on Telegram, Dylan says Kiasu Foodies was meant for more than that “from day one”.

I think it’s important to mention that we’re not fixated on mindlessly growing our subscribers, neither are we interested in protecting our stake as the largest Telegram channel in Singapore.

Dylan Teo, Co-founder of Kiasu Foodies
SG Kiasu Foodies team: Dylan Teo, Terena Hung and Goh Wei Wen
Left to right: Dylan Teo (Co-founder), Terena Hung and Goh Wei Wen (Co-founder) / Image Credit: Kiasu Foodies

His team pitched its full concept to NUS Enterprise and won a S$10,000 grant under the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Practicum Award.

Their ultimate vision for the startup is to leverage data science and machine learning to create a platform that delivers personalised food deals.

They also plan to introduce features that let users search for deals based on location and category, and get rewarded for sharing and consuming deals.

When asked if this means they plan to develop their own app, Dylan says it’s “not out of the question”.

“However, we also recognise that app-fatigue in a highly technological country like Singapore is very real, so we’ll only explore that option when we feel that it is absolutely necessary,” he says.

For now, their Telegram channel is a “good stepping stone” to get to where they want to be.

“We are already actively tracking key statistics such as impressions, redemptions and audience demographics [we get on Telegram], so that it forms the basis of what we do next.”

In time to come, they want Kiasu Foodies to be the first place people look for deals when they’re planning a meal.

Borrowing a phrase often used by Carousell’s team of co-founders (a team we have the utmost respect for), we are definitely “less than 1% done”!

Dylan Teo, Co-founder of Kiasu Foodies

Where’s The Money In This?

One thing that makes Kiasu Foodies so attractive for F&B merchants is that it’s completely free to run deals with them. But how will a startup like this make any money?

Like many platforms, Dylan explains their revenue comes from selling ads, which they do with non-F&B partners.

“For instance, ShopBack, Burpple and Chope are some of our regular clients and they frequently run food deal campaigns which we advertise on our platform,” he says.

Shopback 1-for-1 food deals
Screenshot from Kiasu Foodies Telegram channel

At the moment, operating on Telegram keeps their costs extremely low.

The co-founders have not needed to put in any personal funds yet, and have only been using their NUS Enterprise grant to pay for company incorporation, cloud computing services, marketing and hiring interns.

They’re working in a lean team of three, with Wei Wen handling the technical product development, while Dylan and their intern Terena Hung manage marketing and partnerships.

Image Credit: Kiasu Foodies

However, Dylan notes that monetisation will surely become more important in the future to show that they have a viable business model, especially after the co-founders graduate next year.

“That said, we still believe that achieving product-market fit still takes priority,” he says.

Tips To Tapping On Telegram

Businesses in Singapore are starting to hop on Telegram especially to capture younger audiences, but it’s still quite a new arena that no one has really mastered yet.

Using this platform successfully has its challenges because it has already become saturated with “a channel for almost every purpose imaginable”, Dylan says.

His advice is that businesses should be very clear of their motivation for joining Telegram, otherwise “it could well become another superficial marketing strategy that doesn’t produce any quantifiable returns”.

Once you know why you want to join Telegram, he advocates the following tips:

1. Provide a clear incentive as to why people should join the channel/group. Exclusive deals and promotions not found anywhere else? Instant customer support? There needs to be a clear differentiation from what already exists.

2. Always keep messaging clean and concise. Trim out any unnecessary details. There is very limited real estate on Telegram, so it is important to provide value at-a-glance.


3. Don’t be fixated on superficial numbers. Channel subscribers mean nothing if they are not contributing to a business’s bottom line. Businesses should practice attribution, either in the form of trackable URLs, unique promo codes or the likes, to understand if the effort spent on developing a Telegram presence is actually paying off and helping to increase key metrics.

Dylan Teo, Co-founder of Kiasu Foodies
  • To learn more about Kiasu Foodies and stay in the loop for deals, visit their website or join their Telegram channel!

Featured Image Credit: Kiasu Foodies

 

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