Famous American Chef Thomas Keller once said, “Respect for food is respect for life, for who we are and what we do.” The world produces enough food to keep everyone well fed. However, this food doesn’t really reach everyone because of the wasteful behaviors of some.
DamoGO is a startup based in Seoul that fights against food waste and aims to build a sustainable food community. Their platform allows people to rescue potentially wasted food from restaurants, cafes, bars, hotels, and marts at cheaper prices. DamoGo was founded in 2018 by Lin Hwang and Muhammad Farras.
For the interview, we had Mr. Lin Hwang, the CEO of DamoGo. He completed his MBA from Fordham Gabelli School of Business and Peking University and has more than 13 years of experience in the food and beverage sector.
Komal – Please tell us something about yourself.
Lin Hwang – I am Korean-American. Korean born, and raised in the States. I started in food processing with my father. We had a couple of sea-food factories in the US. When I joined, we started exporting and revenue grew by about 600% in a few years. I eventually ended up in consulting as I was working with the US Govt. food trade groups, and started consulting with companies. I came to Korea 5 ½ years ago as it was our main market. I wanted to meet more importers to import American food items. I consulted American restaurant franchise called Halal Guys and started growing them in Korea.
About 3 years ago I met my co-founder Muhammad Farras. He wanted to do something about food wastage, but didn’t have any industry experience. While I was consulting him, I saw great potential in this and we ended up taking it up as full time. We incorporated 2 years ago.
Komal – What was the inspiration behind starting Damogo?
Lin Hwang – I have always hated waste as a kid, growing up. My mother also hates food waste. That kind of stuck with me and when I got into the food industry, at the processing and the distribution level I saw so much waste. We couldn’t donate it or didn’t have much space, so we had to throw it away. At the restaurant level as well, there is a lot of food waste. I didn’t realize then that you can do a business and reduce waste.
My co-founder, while studying in Korea University, he and two of his friends once ordered 3 pizzas and could eat only 2. They were going to throw that last remaining slices. He thought that instead of throwing it let’s sell it. So, they sold a slice for a dollar. He started wondering how big the issue of food wastage was and found out that this is indeed a big issue in Korea and Indonesia as well. That inspired him to start this startup.
Komal – Can you tell us more about the DamoGo app.
Lin Hwang – In restaurants, bakeries and grocery stores, there is surplus food or unsold food at the end of the day, that is untouched. That is usually thrown away. We partner with them, and they sell the food on our app at discounts. Any user can purchase the food on the same day. This reduces waste and is extra money for the restaurants. We also work with farms. We have partnered with over 100 farms. We sell their surplus harvest or vegetable produce on our platform, to restaurants and other food businesses. We are an all-in-one app. We will be adding more features to our sections in our app as well.
We started in Korea, and expanded into Indonesia late last year. It is growing pretty well and my co-founder is handling our operations with his team in Indonesia.
Komal – How does your app work, who all are the stakeholders involved and how do they benefit from it?
Lin Hwang – On one side we have partners that are food outlets and farms, rice processing companies, meat processing companies. On the other side, we have our users, who can download our app and order food. Suppose there is KFC. At the end of the day, they have a lot of fried chicken on their shelves. If they close at 10 pm and at 9 they realize they have a lot of food left and they upload it at 9 on the app. The users can still pick it up in an hour. They can search for the stores near them and see what is available and can purchase during the pick-up time at nearly half price.
For the farms too, users can search for foods and vegetables and purchase it. If they are buying now, they can pick it up tomorrow. There are stores that order from us as well. We are incorporating tech into it to make it more efficient.
The stores are making extra revenues as they are making money on something that they would actually throw away. They are reducing food waste costs. This is also a CSR for the restaurants and stores.
Komal – Before launching the app you must have approached the restaurants explaining to them your idea. What was their reaction to it?
Lin Hwang – In Korea, there are many food apps. When restaurants meet another food app, they become apprehensive. It can be a little hard. But once they hear what we do, they are excited as we are helping them reduce waste, get more money and more foot traffic into the stores. We promote a lot of our partners on social media as well. Literally, every restaurant outlet has some untouched food that goes to waste. The ones that have a lot, benefit the most, for example, bakery outlets, banquets etc. Even the ones that don’t generate much food waste also partner with us to extend their CSR and contribute to the social cause.
Komal – What was the reaction and response of the people to your app?
Lin Hwang – People loved the idea. There are two groups, one is more inclined towards the social impact part. They are like hey this is such a cool way to reduce food wastage. The other group is like we are getting food at such low prices, and not much interested in the social cause.
In Indonesia as well, people were very excited about it. We are still new and we are starting to grow on the user base side. These days younger people are aware and more into social impact and sustainability, so it’s a really good time for us.
Komal – Is there enough awareness in Korea and Indonesia about food wastage?
Lin Hwang – No, the awareness is not enough anywhere around the world. It is growing for sure. One part of our mission is to create awareness and educate everyone on the amount of food that is wasted as well as teach people on how to reduce it. We are working on a section on our app, where people can share food with their neighbours. In Indonesia, the culture of food sharing is very big.
Komal – How has the seed funding helped DamoGo?
Lin Hwang – We are raising our seed funding right now, especially because of the demand that we are having due to our B2B, we need a lot more developers to help us grow. There is a lot of demand we need to touch. Once we get the funding and hire more people, we will be able to quickly scale this.
Komal – When it comes to cooked food, many people don’t prefer to eat old food especially from restaurants, how does that work out for you?
Lin Hwang – The food that is sold on our app is same day food and of high quality. It is just near the closing time. If we look at KFC or bakeries, it is food that has just been cooked now and hasn’t been sold. It is all same day food. Sometimes it is the next day in case of fruits and vegetables, but they won’t sell anything that is sitting any longer than that.
Komal – Is there a mechanism through which you ensure that restaurants are providing food to the customers that is safe to eat?
Lin Hwang – Every restaurant partner has to have the correct certification and licenses. For our app, we have a review system. If there is a negative review, we address it immediately and try to figure out with our partner to make it not happen again. We can also give credits and refunds to our customers to keep them happy.
Komal – DamoGo has received lots of accolades, 1st Place in Pitch for a Better Korea: Tech-Rise 2019, Winner of Most Potential – Seoul International Startups Business Fair 2019 and many others, how have these achievements helped your startup grow?
Lin Hwang – These competitions give us a little bit of spike in users and exposure to potential partners and investors. We are raising our seed, so we are reaching out to these investors. The exposure is really good for us.
Komal – How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected DamoGo and what has been your response?
Lin Hwang – A lot of restaurants have shut down or reduced their hours, which posed a problem for us. But on the other side the farms had a lot of surplus because the restaurants shut down. We help them sell it. We also did a drive wherein households donated their resources like food, masks, gloves etc. It helped the people in need and also the hospital workers. That’s how we decided to do a food-sharing service with neighbours because we did that.
Komal – In the future do you have plans to expand into other countries as well?
Lin Hwang – Yes, we do have plans to expand. We want to expand into South East Asia, wherever there are opportunities. Food wastage is going to be a major issue in developing countries and hopefully, we can prevent it from happening.
Komal – Where do you see DamoGo in say 2 to 3 years from now?
Lin Hwang – Hopefully in a bunch of other countries in SouthEast Asia, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand and as a worldwide known startup to reduce waste. We will be focusing on Asia initially. We wish to reduce waste at each and every level of the food industry.
Komal – The food and beverage industry is very competitive. What advice would you give to the upcoming startups in this industry so that they can set themselves apart from others and be profitable as well.
Lin Hwang – Startups working in this industry at the restaurant and retail level especially is that they will be competing with every other food app to get their attention. So you really have to have something that brings value to your partners. For us, we gave them value with our B2C app. And now we give them more value by selling produce to them at discount.
You’re going to be discouraged. There will be more downs than ups. But the ups are going to compensate for the down moments.
Not only developed countries but also the developing countries are suffering from food wastage and it is inspiring to see how DamoGo is rescuing the very much edible food that is thrown away in huge quantities. If people realize this issue and become aware of it, then this would definitely be a game-changer not only for DamoGo, but the society as a whole.
Watch the full interview here –
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