When I was given the chance recently to interview the guys from HungryGoWhere, I jumped at it. I like the site and think it's the best of the food-related user review sites out there. Plus the founders (Wong Hoong An, Dennis Goh and Tan Yung Yih, above) have remained a really nice bunch! Here are my quick and dirty dozen questions for them.
1. You get around 670,000 unique visitors a month. How many user reviews do you get a day now on the Singapore site?
HGW: We get on average around 40 reviews a day.
2. There are so many "me too" food sites with user-submitted reviews - how do you cope with such competition?
HGW: We actually think that it is good to have a wide variety of such sites as it promotes a greater understand on what Web 2.0 and user-generated food sites are about. If we were the only ones in the whole world running a user-generated food site, it would be extremely unlikely that people would have taken notice of us or this industry for the matter. It is precisely because there has been such a proliferation of user-generated food sites that people have now sit up and taken notice of such a trend, and of course visit us.
3. Do angry chefs know where to find you after bad reviews have been posted?
HGW: We actually think they are more interested in finding the reviewer! But seriously, we want the restaurants to engage their diners (our community), and every restaurant is allowed to post their management response to each and every review on their restaurant, free of charge.
4. Have restaurants ever threatened to sue you?
HGW: As legal fees tend to be very high, many restaurants (when they are unhappy with certain reviews) choose to work with us to resolve the issues rather than go through the legal route. We would generally advice them to write a management response to let our community understand their viewpoint.
5. How do you prevent business owners from faking positive reviews of their own eateries to bump ratings up?
HGW: Our community actually helps us monitor which reviews look suspicious and alert us to them, allowing us to zero in on the reviews that have violated our terms and conditions, and warrant our attention. In addition, for the restaurant owners and managers whom we have actually met, we always encourage them not to post reviews on themselves as our community is quite a discerning lot. Imagine if you have posted a highly favourable review of your own restaurant giving ratings that are perfect marks, the expectations of the people visiting your restaurant after reading the highly inflated review would be sky high, and there is no way that you would be able to meet those expectations. The subsequent “disappointed” reviews would bring the ratings back down to earth. That is the power of HungryGoWhere – the market as a whole cannot be fooled, and the ratings given by the market will reflect the wishes of the market. Our main job is to make sure that there is a critical mass of people using HungryGoWhere so that we have a statistically significant sample size to draw from when assessing which restaurants are the best in the industry, as rated by the market. Thankfully there is already a critical mass of users in Singapore, and we are now working on getting a critical mass in every subsequent market that we expand into.
6. Who is the biggest eater of the three - Dennis, Hoong An or Yung Yih?
HGW: Clearly, it is Hoong An! He is a monster eater!
7. I see Hoongy submits a lot of reviews but do Dennis and Yung Yih also put up reviews (under what usernames)?
HGW: The funny thing is, we have this little ongoing bet in the office on how long we can stay hidden. Hoong An has already been discovered, but he has made it very easy to find him. The remaining two of us are still waiting to be discovered! On a more serious note, people have asked us whether our reviews carry more weight, and we would like to highlight that we write all our reviews in our own personal capacity. Our ratings are given the same weightage as any other reviewer’s ratings, and we are not able to decisively change the ratings with our own reviews. There have been restaurants or hawker stalls that we liked that the market disliked, and vice-versa, but that is the beauty of HungryGoWhere – the market ultimately decides, not us. We are merely facilitators who get the conversation going so that the market’s views get drawn in. Once we have done that, we have done our job.
8. Where is HungryGoWhere going after Malaysia, HK and Australia?
HGW: We are currently investing a lot in R&D to lay the technological framework for our global expansion. Hence, we have not yet pinpointed the exact country or region that we will focus on in the near future, and it would not be fair to raise expectations in the near term. But we do promise that once we are ready, we are going to expand rapidly across the entire globe.
9. What are the best three foodie finds you have discovered through user reviews?
HGW: This is a really, really tough one! We have found so, so many great places after starting HungryGoWhere, thanks to all the hungry foodies out there! It is impossible to rank them all, but we would say that.
10. Food fights - sometimes squabbles break out on the website between users with differing opinions. What's the worst you've seen and have you ever needed to referee any argument?
HGW: People are passionate about food, and therefore, there would be times when there might be differing views on the restaurants based on their respective dining experiences. We generally do not try to get involved in such disputes, unless it clearly gets out of hand (i.e. use of vulgarities).
11. I notice you were chosen as poster boys for the Economic Defence portion of this year's Total Defence's "I Will" campaign. How do you feel about taking part?
HGW: We are excited to be able to do our little part. We feel honoured to be able to represent new start-ups and entrepreneurs in this year’s Total Defence campaign.
12. How have users responded to the MSN co-branding partnership? Personally I prefer the classic version (see below) and I'm glad I can still access that.
HGW: You know, you are not the only one who gave us that feedback. We take the feedback of our user community very seriously, and that is why we are currently in the process of tweaking the site in response to all the valued feedback we have received from our users.
So there you have it - their candid and thoughtful answers. Here's hoping the team at HungryGoWhere continues their enthusiasm and good work! May they enjoy their streak of success for many more years to come. Now if anyone of you out there has figured out what usernames Dennis and Yung Yih hide behind on the website, pray tell! Meanwhile, all you HGW users, keep adding those fabulous reviews that make this a great site!