Hidetaka Kawashima tells us how Quandoo is an open marketplace connecting restaurants and diners.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Hidetaka Kawashima: Thank you for very much asking, my family and I are all fine despite the ongoing circumstances. While the options for having refreshing weekends or traveling for vacations are now quite limited, I’m trying to enjoy time at home with cooking challenges or online biking. It’s certainly different from what we are all used to but we are trying to make the most of it.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Quandoo.
Hidetaka Kawashima: So I was working for Quandoo’s parent company Recruit Holdings Co., Ltd. which is headquartered in Tokyo, Japan for over 15 years. While I was there I had a wide range of experiences from corporate strategy planning to business incubations, specifically for online marketplace businesses. Then in 2016, I began working with Quandoo GmbH and assumed the role of CEO in the middle of 2019.
How does Quandoo innovate?
Hidetaka Kawashima: Our business specializes in restaurant reservation and table management solutions, and while this is a relatively simple concept, it’s indispensable for restaurant owners to be able to effectively and successfully run their daily operations and maximize their business potential.
The primary goal of restaurants is to provide great food and memorable dining out experience for every one of their customers, so our role is to make sure that the rest of their operations are as simple and logical as possible so they can focus on the important part – their diners. So for us, our definition of innovation is not so much about creating fancy, game-changing features for a new future, but on providing simple and easy-to-use products that are suitable for all restaurants to lessen the operational burdens for restaurant management.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?
Hidetaka Kawashima: The only certain thing about the crisis we are currently in is that no one can be certain about the future. It’s been a very good lesson for many of us I think. Our business is based on our restaurant partner’s businesses, so our first priority since the pandemic began was to contribute to the survival of every single one of our restaurant partners. To do this we made the decision to completely waive fees during lockdowns when restaurants are forced to close their doors.
And while I won’t lie that this past year has significantly impacted our business and the global restaurant industry from a financial perspective, it is very clear that our business will grow alongside our restaurant partners’ growth. We expect this growth to be quite significant once the situation eases as dining out is a part of life that is sorely missed around the world. So even though it’s a tough time right now, it’s important not to only focus on the short-term financial impacts but look to the future.
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
Hidetaka Kawashima: Unfortunately we did have to make a very difficult decision earlier this year to reduce the size of our team globally. This was an extremely tough decision to make but to support the health of our business and continue supporting our partners by waiving fees during lockdowns, was one we sadly had to make as our business doesn’t have tangible assets. As well, there is the common question of whether it’s better to expand first or focus on profitability first, and it’s not an easy thing to pick the right direction that will be perfect for the business.
We chose to focus on expanding our business and to expect the financial return in the mid-to long-term. However, what we learned from this is that these two factors are not mutually exclusive. We need to keep both sides in mind and to more effectively support the appropriate allocation of business resources so we can grow in a more sophisticated and sustainable way.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Hidetaka Kawashima: For us, it is less about specific tools and software as we have been functioning as a global business for a long time now, but I would say that patience is the single most important management skill that has helped us navigate this crisis.
Also when looking back and analyzing what happened and our response to it, I think it’s important to do so with a rational mind and try to remove the emotions from it. Which of course can be a challenge as this crisis has impacted every aspect of our lives in ways we could never have imagined and it’s been very tough for many, but it’s important to remain rational as emotions can often blur our sights and impact what we can learn from the decision and its outcome.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Hidetaka Kawashima: Regarding competitors, there are a couple of ways to look at it. We actually have quite a lot of competitors providing restaurant management software and reservation services given the size and scope of the F&B industry. So while yes, they are our competitors in a sense, we cooperate together to make a positive impact on the restaurant industry and compete with other entertainment industries for instance. So we believe that by always being open to change and adjusting our values where appropriate to best support the changing needs of the market, we’ll remain a key player in the industry.
Your final thoughts?
Hidetaka Kawashima: I’m Japanese and I have a favorite story about Ninja, the old Japanese secret service in the era of Samurai. There are a lot of legends that talk about the extreme physical skills that Ninja had including how they could run on water or can jump five meters high without any tools, and so on. While these stories are obviously exaggerated, the uniqueness of their training was remarkable. When they started training, on day one they planted the seed of a tree and would jump over the area they planted that seed every single day. As time went on and the seed began to sprout and grow, they would continue to jump over it despite the height not changing overnight. While it seems quite boring to do something exactly the same as yesterday, eventually the tree grew so much that it’s hard to recognize it was once a tiny seed. So by being patient and doing this training every day, the Ninja was able to jump over huge trees without needing any tools.
In my view, the same can be said for business. While it can sometimes be tedious to constantly be looking at the value we bring and what can be improved, by continuously practicing and bettering ourselves, this fundamental activity will help us to be great and support us through any challenging times that come our way.
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