An interview with Easy Cook Asia
EasyCookAsia won 1st prize at the Make It Lean Contest in 2018 with their idea to deliver Asian meal kits containing pre-prepped ingredients and recipes, combined with interesting food stories. They had found that customers were often confused about what to buy at the Asian supermarket and how to prepare Asian foods at home, so they provide a satisfying and fun way to discover the diverse Asian cuisine. The team then joined the Startup Now program for early startups, and in the following year, they successfully applied for the Berlin Startup Stipendium which secured funding to launch their concept in the market.
We talked to co-founder Minchul Lee (ML) about their journey at the Startup Incubator Berlin (SIB).
SIB: When and how did you meet as a startup team, and when did you first think about your business idea?
ML: When I was a student at HWR, I attended an Entrepreneurship class where I was introduced to the Lean Startup Method. I was especially impressed with the motto “Done is better than perfect”. Then, a classmate and I decided to set up our own company after completing our MBA.
SIB: How did you hear about the Make It Lean Contest and Startup Incubator Berlin in the first place?
ML: At the school building, I saw a poster advertising the contest. And even though the poster was in German and I didn’t understand all of it, the term “Make It Lean” really struck me, so I thought we should give it a shot.
SIB: What gave you the decisive kick to participate?
ML: It seemed like a good way to really work on our idea, to put the theory into something real and apply the Lean Method. Sure, the chance to win money was nice, but it was not our main motivation. Even if we wouldn’t win, we would have still taken a big step forward with our business idea.
SIB: How did you prepare for your contest entry?
ML: We had tried a crowdfunding for our startup earlier, which wasn’t very successful. But we learned a lot from our mistakes there. And then, we joined the Lean Workshop Series, where we could really develop our own business. That was a key step, but also the Pitch Video Workshop helped us a great deal.
SIB: How much time and money did you invest in your video?
The first big positive surprise was when the coach told us we could produce everything with our smartphone – so it would be really low-budget. And yes, we started out spending quite some time: I think it took us three hours to get the first minute of the video produced. But then we got faster: The second minute took us only two hours, and the third minute was done in one hour, roughly speaking.
SIB: What did you do to boost the voting for your video?
ML: Of course, we contacted all our friends, family, neighbours, schoolmates and asked them to again contact people they knew. That’s obvious. But we also produced flyers, and we held cooking events at the university that we published over Social Media. I think those offline activities really helped us a great deal.
SIB: What is the single most important advice you would want to give any new contestant?
ML: As I said: “Done is better than perfect”, just try something and act like you’ve got nothing to loose. In fact, you can only gain from the experience, learn from mistakes, adapt and get better in every step.
SIB: During your journey at SIB, following your win in the Make It Lean Contest, what were some key moments (positive or difficult) you would want to share?
ML: Starting with the positive, the best experience was the community at SIB with the chance to learn from others who went through similar experiences, and to see that we were not alone with our challenges. Even though each challenge is unique, like ours with many legal regulations in the food business. Some of the toughest times came when we collected feedback for our first prototype products. Germans have this reputation for being honest (laughs), and wow, the responses we got were often brutally honest, even hurtful! But we respected that, it motivated us to improve our product, and we got even better than we previously thought possible.
SIB: Where do you stand with your business today, and what will be the next big news we’ll hear from you?
ML: We officially launched our deliveries in January 2020, and so we were hit the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic very early in our development. First, we were not sure how this would affect us, but it turned out that we could benefit as more and more people turned to home cooking. And as we always aim to deliver a bit of cultural storytelling along with our food ingredients, we feel we provide a “travel at home” experience that many customers value these days. Our satisfaction ratings have been going up steadily, and we have consolidated our business to a degree that securing outside investment to support our growth will be the next logical step.
SIB: Thanks for your time, and all the best for your journey onward!