How a restaurant owner turned into a recruitment app founder

August 28, 2015 18:09
A rating system will soon be added to Snakehead to allow restaurants to evaluate the temporary workers they hire through the online recruitment platform. Credit: Snakehead

Wendy Cheung once operated two restaurants in Hong Kong. 

Ask her about the experience, and she cites the difficulty of finding helpers on short notice as one of the most severe challenges she faced.

Labor shortage has long been an issue in the restaurant and catering industry.

When someone calls in sick and a restaurant becomes understaffed, the manager typically faces a lot of pressure to find the right replacement and make sure things don't go wrong.

A restaurant may also need extra staff suddenly for good reasons, like receiving extra bookings for parties, company events, or other occasions.

The traditional way is hiring freelance workers through agents, nicknamed "snakeheads" in the trade.

"The quality of part-timers varies a lot but when there is an emergency, most of the restaurant operators are left with little choice but to accept whoever is available," says Cheung.

When Cheung was running her restaurants, she had been working very long hours and didn’t really have time or energy to look for a better solution to this chronic problem.

She later decided to close her outlets as soaring rents began to threaten the viability of the business.

While pondering what to do next, she thought it might be a good idea to set up an online platform that will help solve the last-minute recruitment problem of the industry.

Thus, was born.

The platform allows restaurants to post their last-minute staffing needs. On the other side, job seekers can update their resumes and profiles, input their requested salary and preferred working location. If there’s a job that matches their criteria, a notification will be sent to them.

At the moment, 40 restaurants have joined Snakehead and 10 are active users. There are about 150-200 waiters on the platform.

To help freelancers to be better prepared for their work, Cheung has come up with short video clips to teach job applicants basic catering rules and tips online.

To keep costs down, these are all DIY videos.

Right now, Snakehead app version is only available for job seekers, but the one for the employer side is on the way.

A rating system will soon be added too to let restaurants evaluate the temporary helpers, which will become useful reference.

Cheung hopes the platform can not only help the F&B people and keep diners happy, but also provide quality job opportunities to more freelancers, including housewives looking to earn some extra money, and catering and hospitality students who want to gain work experience.

Right now, there are two main challenges.

First is how to get their name out. They are joining different startup communities such as Cocoon to broaden their connections. Participating in trade shows will be another important channel -- for instance the upcoming Restaurant & Bar Hong Kong 2015 event next month.

Developing their IT systems is also a critical task, which is in the hands of Snakehead’s another partner, who is an IT specialist.

Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corp. and some of the ventures it nurtures once shared with the media an important tip for building a successful app business: the chance of winning is much bigger if the app helps people solve a real problem in their daily lives.

The problem can be one which most of us encounter or it can be a specific one pertaining to a certain group of people.

By focusing on a solving a long-lasting problem in a specific industry that the founder knows well, Snakehead seems to stand a good chance of making it.

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EJ Insight writer