Anywhere People Want pizza, We Will Give Them Pizza: GOPIZZA Founder

Just like most companies in the F&B industry, GOPIZZA was also hit by the pandemic, but the foodtech startup used the time to figure out a plan to scale up operations in countries like Singapore and India

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Jae Won Lim, CEO and founder of GOPIZZA, started the company as a small food truck in Korea in 2016. Today, it is a global pizza brand with around 150 stores in five countries including Hong Kong, Japan, and Singapore. Lim recently visited India to launch the 15th store in India in Bangalore.

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“I used to be an avid fan of McDonald's. So I was going to McDonald's every week. And one day I wanted pizza, and I thought if McDonald's sells pizza it'll be great. Because it's so accessible, cheap and fast. Then, I thought, why don't I make a pizza brand, that is just like McDonald's,” he tells Entrepreneur India.

While pizza is traditionally large in size, expensive, and slowly cooked, Lim wanted to make it fast, small and also affordable. That became the USP of GOPIZZA. And because Lim was all of 26 and didn't have the capital to set up a fancy restaurant, he started with one truck along the Han River. Within weeks, the food shop was selling 600 pizzas per day. With this success, came the required capital.

“Pre-series A, Series A, Series B, every single year we got new investment. So now we have around 150 stores and we are talking to 50 stores across five countries,” said Lim.

Artificial intelligence in food

GOPIZZA’s USP lies in the patented oven ' GOVEN ' which bakes six pizzas per person in 3 minutes. The brand has also made the best use of artificial intelligence to bring standardization to its kitchens across the globe.

“I think digital transformation in the food industry is inevitable because labor is expensive. And to maintain standard quality in the global market, we need the help of technology. So what we do with AI is that when we started having more than 30 stores in different countries, we started seeing different toppings on our pizza. So the crews don't necessarily always stick to the recipe because you know, their education level, their physical capabilities are all different. So what I wanted to do was, I wanted to watch them 24 hours to guarantee they're making according to the recipe, but I can't do that right and we can't put CCTVs in every store,” he said.

So, Lim figured AI would be the solution. It tracks and monitors the topping real-time and supports the crew. This allowed him to ensure that all pizzas are of the same topping quality at all times. And before it goes out to the customer, he can guarantee that it is well-made.

The foodtech startup, like other companies in the space, was hit by the pandemic. But GOPIZZA used the time to figure out a plan to scale up operations in countries like Singapore and India. “Today, the pandemic has been getting better, especially in India. So we are growing 20 per cent every month and compared to last May, this month we are almost 50 times the revenue. So within just one year, we grew 50 times,” he said.

Catering to the unique Indian market

COVID gave the brand the time to understand how the Indian market is different from others, especially in terms of quality. The brand today is confident to have specialized in service, space, speed, size and price. “The prices are affordable. No compromise on toppings or cheese. But if you consume the same in Singapore, the cost will be three times higher. Our vision is pizza for everyone and everywhere,” said Mahesh Reddy, CEO, GOPIZZA India.

Lim added that theirs is not a fancy Korean brand and has localized its pricing. “Our price in Korea is three times more expensive. Here our pizza starts from INR 99. We, however, maintain the same quality through our innovative operations. We cut down on the cost of making it, but don't compromise on the ingredients. Because we use a special oven, AI and robots, it costs less to make pizza for us than the competitors,” said Lim. This also allows the brand to save margins by cutting down rental and labor costs. “We in turn give this to our customers,” he said.

Talking about competition from players like Domino’s which has been ruling the market for two decades, he said, “We actually compete with fast food brands rather than pizza brands. Be it the size and shape of pizza, the serving method or the pricing, ours is completely different from any pizza place.”

The brand’s focus is primarily on dine-in with almost 80 per cent of its sales coming from it. “It is not a fancy restaurant, but it's like a fast-food joint, where you can go and have perfectly fine superior quality pizza within minutes,” he said.

While during the pandemic-induced lockdowns, the majority of sales came from delivery globally, the brand doesn’t believe in opening ghost kitchens. “We don’t have the temptations to open invisible stores. We believe in brand experience and interactions with customers. Our kitchen is super high-tech with less human contact, but for the dining space we want to make as much as possible,” he said. The startup has around 50 employees in India in the support team and each outlet is manned by around five to six staff members and the deliveries are done by a third-party agent.

Life beyond pizza

Lim was never a risk-taking person and thus he doesn’t think that he was born to be an entrepreneur. But, what entrepreneurs do is solve problems, which is exactly why Lim embarked on this journey. “For me, it wasn't about starting a startup or starting a business, it was about me having a problem with pizza and finding a solution for that.”

That’s why Lim started working as a part-timer in a pizza restaurant during weekends while he had a full-time job. “I saw there were too many problems. Everything was too dependent on human labor and space. So, solving that was the initial vision I had. My parents and wife weren't fully supportive in the beginning, but they didn't object. They wanted me to experience this. Then, they saw me preparing to start this business for more than a year. So after one year, they supported me. Today, my wife is very happy and my parents are proud of me,” he said.

Talking about his passion besides business, he said, “I'm personally not that fun person. I don't really hang out, I don't drink or smoke. I don't have that many friends. So, GOPIZZA is my life, my son and my daughter. Everything in my life is centered toward this child. So, if my kid is not performing well, I'm not happy. All the joy and all the sadness come from GOPIZZA.”

Rightly so, as the brand is growing exponentially and plans to have 30 stores this year and over 100 next year in India. Also, it is raising Series C, one-third of which will be invested in India. With that money, the company aims to open at least 200 stores within the next two years. The focus will also be on B2B expansion, wherein the brand partners with businesses like movie halls, and airports, among others. Overall, the brand’s vision is to be the most accessible pizza in the world. “Anywhere people want pizza, we will be there,” says Lim, while wrapping up the interview.