Through CloudEats and Boozy, Kimberly Ng Yao sets her heart on innovation in the realms of online retail, food tech, and social commerce.
Being part of a long-running industry and excelling in it is no easy feat. It takes creative vision, determination, and trust in the process to deliver remarkable changes with a great positive impact. Yet crossing over to this stage requires an elaborate journey and Kimberly Yao is no stranger to this voyage to success.
Early on in her career, she realized she wanted a different path, “I knew that I wanted to be an entrepreneur after university,” she says. Still, the awareness of her dream brought her to follow a path in the F&B and entertainment industry when she joined The Palace Group, formerly known as Embassy Group. In her first stint, she began from the ground and worked her way up, taking the group to new heights with innovative concepts. Looking back, the role helped her familiarize with the intricacies of business, be completely hands-on, and to keep an open mind to learn. “I started at the bottom, worked extremely hard, and pursued my passion for creating successful and innovative businesses,” she shares.
Of all the fields she could have excelled in, she chose to be in the F&B as she considers herself a foodie. “Food and beverage are the happiest products on the planet. It is essential, necessary, and will never fade away,” she elaborates. The only major challenge is reinventing it and diverting from traditional business models. Bearing this in mind, she co-founded CloudEats, the pioneer cloud restaurant in Southeast Asia, and Boozy.ph, a liquor delivery service. With Kim and her team’s expertise in e-commerce, they were able to capitalize on the online retail experience. Although the world was struck with the pandemic and an economic recession, these two businesses continue to flourish with Kim and her team’s intelligent foresight, ingenuity, and extensive plans.
The Valuable Ingredient
While the creative process is essential especially for startups, the game changes once the company gains its momentum in the industry. For Kim, her entrepreneurial vision began with building distinctive concepts. “In recent years, I have innovated and adapted the way that I approach business to a more digital, data-driven world,” she clarifies. Now, she moves with one goal in mind, almost like an important ingredient to the success of her businesses, “how can I create value?” Such a purpose-filled approach applies to both CloudEats and Boozy. To fulfill this, she collaborates with like-minded people like their Culinary Director, Chef Carlo Miguel whose bold choices for flavors and spices elevate the taste of CloudEats’ meals.
Together with Kim and the team, they develop the food of the cloud kitchen with an obsession with its quality and packaging. She is quite hands-on in creating the recipes and reveals that among her favorites on the menu is their “Umami Burger and onion rings with our own homemade ketchup from Burger Beast. It is an indulgence that I would gladly partake in.” They offer healthier options as well, like the Hummus Platter and Mango Chia dessert from Something Healthy.
While enjoying immense growth since its inception, CloudEats never forgot to pay it forward. Together with their valued partners, they launched a food drive in the early days of the pandemic in the country. They supported Filipino frontliners as they confront the tremendous impact of the novel coronavirus outbreak in the country. “It was very challenging operationally,” Kim recalls, “We needed to cook thousands of hot meals daily for about 2 months solid. This was happening on top of our regular commercial operations.” Despite the overwhelming duties, they were all committed to the food drive’s purpose. It cemented CloudEats’ mission of filling people’s bellies with quality food and warming their hearts with support as well.
Rise of Virtual Kitchens
“Survival was dependent on how fast one could go online,” Kim says about the plans of businesses on the onset of the pandemic. Going outdoors became a risk and so many turned to digital space for communication, studies, work, and purchasing needs. “Market adoption to buying food and drinks online accelerated overnight,” she observes. She cites her parents belonging to the senior citizen population as examples of this consumer behavior change within a hard-to-penetrate market. “[They now] use Foodpanda, GrabFood, Pickaroo, Lalamove and all of these other mobile apps,” she explains, “once the pandemic hit and they tried ordering once, they realized how convenient it was and never turned back.”
True to their promise of shopping with ease, online on-demand companies like CloudEats and Boozy experienced explosive growth within a shorter period than expected. “There is a surge of new customers,” she discloses with enthusiasm. Although they are thriving, a business should never be stagnant in a tumultuous time when companies are forced to close with the ongoing economic recession. So, CloudEats finds ways to evolve while adapting to the recent developments brought by the pandemic. “We are listening more and more to our customers,” Kim says, “the beauty of operating online is that there is highly objective, actionable data coming from every transaction.” From being attentive to customers, CloudEats can properly respond to the reception and eventually fully realize its vision of becoming the largest online food group in Southeast Asia. For now, they have plans of opening kitchens in Cebu and Davao in the first quarter of 2021, and then open others soon in a Southeast Asian country.
Balancing What’s On The Plate
For someone who first stepped into the industry armed with an unwavering determination to learn and improve, it’s no question that persevering is first in Kim’s nature. However, hard work can dangerously cross over to an obsession. “In the past, my passion for work has led to much success, but also resulted in burnout and anxiety,” she reveals. “When you build your whole life around a dream that is dependent on your success as a business owner, the lines between life and work become blurred.”
The situation intensifies with the hectic nature of her work. “Hospitality industry is notorious for having no breaks,” she says, and now that she also works from home at least two days a week, it becomes more difficult to compartmentalize. A glance at her schedule reveals work and responsibilities in the family. Nevertheless, she recognizes she must learn to set aside portions of her time for different priorities. It remains a challenge yet with enough discipline, she will eventually get better at balancing life and work.
On weekends, she sees to it that she takes time off by pursuing what she loves doing like cooking and baking. She whips up recipes for five to six times a week with a particular fondness for Mediterranean cuisine and curries. Among the many dishes she created, her “lamb tagine slow cooked with dried apricots, almonds, and a secret blend of spices has become a family and friends’ favorite recipe,” shares Kim. When not cooking for others, she delights in making homemade sushi and plant-based menus. The goal is to eat healthily, however, she indulges in her guilty pleasures from time to time like pizza, pasta, burgers, and desserts. It’s a pandemic after all, and so pampering oneself with comfort food is entirely forgivable.
Fleshing Out Purpose
With years of experience as an entrepreneur, Kim continues to translate her insights into unique concepts. While she is thrilled to execute and share all these, she knows these will remain in the F&B industry. “This is where I started, and I believe that I will stay here forever, in one way or another,” she affirms. She found her purpose in this field and remains committed to fulfilling it. Such is her definition of a meaningful life as well, “finding what you love to do, and celebrating life with the people that you love.”
As food and beverage remain staples in the world, so is the challenge to present it in the most creative ways. Satisfying appetites is essential, but heartfelt cooking coupled with inventive business strategies translate beyond the taste. Innovation is all about catering to people’s present and future needs, looking out for them with the best and genuine intentions.
Photos FLOYD JHOCSON
Art Direction MARC PAGDILAO and ROCHELLE PADILLA
Hair and Makeup CATS DEL ROSARIO
Shoot Coordination FAITH LOUISSE LIÑAN
Special thanks to MESA