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Founders Profile: Spoonhunt

Spoonhunt is a tool that covers popular restaurants in major cities, with English menus, prices and photos and makes dining out in China fun.

Hi Adam and Emma! Could you tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to Shanghai?

Adam: I started learning Chinese when I was 15 because my grandparents were from Ningbo, so I wanted to learn more about my heritage. For college, I looked for strong Chinese language programs and decided on Middlebury College, with a double major in Chinese and Math.  I went abroad for a semester in Yunnan and loved it there. After college, I worked in Finance at JP Morgan in New York City. A college buddy in venture capital connected me with his friends in Shanghai who were launching a startup called Spoonhunt. I learned about the team over long emails, and was really impressed and excited about what they are doing. So, I decided to quit my cushy job and join, which landed me in Shanghai.

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Emma: I grew up in Vancouver, Canada. My parents were both from Taiwan, and both owned their own businesses so I had always planned to start my own. I was also always passionate about food, so I studied Nutritional Biochemistry at McGill University, and was a part-time sushi chef during school. I wanted to see how the restaurant industry worked first hand. I knew Canada was too relaxed and slow for me, so after I graduated, I aimed for China. I heard business was very fast paced there, so I could gain work experience much quicker, and put in more hours while I was still young. I landed an offer as a Sales Engineer of a food safety company. Did that for a while, then marketing strategy consulting and management consulting, before I met my partners and felt ready to start my own thing- Spoonhunt.

What was the inspiration for Spoonhunt and how did it come about?

Emma: I had been working in Shanghai for a few years when my younger brothers came to visit. When they went out to eat, I was translating every dish on the menu for them because they couldn’t read or speak or read Chinese. It was so tedious, but I wanted them to leave with a good impression of local foods. I remembered how awkward it was for me when I first got here, to step into a new restaurant, without knowing what or how to order. I looked around for tools to use, didn’t find anything, so I decided to build it.

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Adam: I really related to this story because when I came to China for the first time, food was a large part of my initial culture shock. I used to be a picky eater, but China made me more adventurous in my eating preferences. I started to love food, especially Chinese food. Whenever I went out to eat, I would let people order all the food because I didn’t really know anything and wanted to try new things every meal.

We pulled ideas from past experiences and frustrations from dining abroad to come up with a solution to make dining in China more accessible. Each of us on the team are passionate about food in a different way (cooking, eating and exploring) and wanted to combine them altogether to provide a helpful tool for expats and travelers.

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What has the biggest challenge so far personally and professionally?

Emma: Currently we’re looking to hire more software engineers, so hiring good talent is a big one. That’s why we’ve reached out to Jingjobs :). Challenges are probably the best part of starting a business, because you get to push yourself to solve problems. At the end of the day it is extremely satisfying to look back at all the hurdles you’ve overcome.

Adam: The biggest challenge for me was figuring out what I wanted to do in life. I knew what I was doing in New York wasn’t for me. After some thinking and research, I decided to work for a startup, be creative, make a real impact and watch a company grow from the ground up. I wasn’t sure if anyone would hire me for something I actually wanted to do, but luckily I reached out to my friends and the timing was perfect.

Professionally, my biggest challenge has actually been the part that I enjoy the most. Working at a startup and being fully responsible, you have no real guide or set path you have to follow. So every idea you come up with, you won’t know if it will work until you try it out. It’s really exciting and fun to come up with ideas that actually get executed, but it’s stressful waiting for idea validation.

How does Spoonhunt work? How has the public response to Spoonhunt been so far?

Adam: Try it out- search WeChat ID: Spoonhunt, our apps are coming soon. It is a tool that guides you through the process of dining out in China, from finding the food and restaurant you want, to picking items with help of pictures, and helping you order in Chinese. The only part you have to do by yourself is eat the food! We’ve built features into Spoonhunt such as restaurant wishlists, bilingual address taxi cards, and instant special request translation- all to make the experience as seamless as possible. We even have weekly articles to promote and introduce more of Chinese food culture to foreigners. I tried HK Egg Waffles for the first time last week. It blew my mind.

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So far the public response so far has been great! We have users in every major Chinese city. They told us hilarious stories of trying to dine out before Spoonhunt. One user went around shop to shop carrying a printed picture of fried dumplings. Many of them just pointed to random menu items and hope for the best. The funniest was a user who drew animals on a napkin to let the waiter know what kind of meat (chicken) they wanted. They are happy to stop jumping through hoops to get what they want.

Emma: Yea, our users are awesome. I know we have a lot of things to improve, so we thank our users for helping us with lots of feedback and suggestions. Our full iOS/ Android apps will be coming out soon and we look forward to more of their feedback.

What advice do you have for people looking to go down the same career path as you?

Adam: Keep learning. If you’re not in the field you want, read about it. Be on the look out for new things coming out in that industry. Working at a start up is not as much about what you’ve done in the past (although it helps) but how you learn. A lot of an early start up is trial and error. When you try something new, really pay attention to how people react to it. And don’t be afraid to try new things.

Emma: If you’re planning to start your own business, stop planning and just do it. There are too many things that you can’t plan for, so once you jump in you’ll naturally figure it out. The other thing is get good partners on board early, they’ll be there to save your butt when things go wrong. Last thing is keep asking for feedback from your users, so everyone reading this please add Spoonhunt WeChat, and let us know how it can be more helpful to your dining experiences in China. We really appreciate it!

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To follow Spoonhunt, add them on WeChat ID: spoonhunt
Website: http://www.spoonhunt.com/

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