Find Your Market First - Startup Essentials

Updated: Oct 28, 2021


Jason Sherman

Hey everyone! Jason Sherman here, strap on your boots. In today's podcast episode of The Startup Journey, I am talking to Lucas Liu of INFI. How are you doing Lucas?


Lucas Liu

Hey, hello! I am very good, thanks, Jason.


Jason Sherman

What does INFI actually stand for?


Lucas Liu

INFI stands for, it reflects a core of our product. It is Intelligent, Integrated, and Flexible.


Jason Sherman

Cool! I like that.


Lucas Liu

Yeah.


Jason Sherman

So, after you got your Ph.D. in computer engineering, you managed a restaurant in Chicago’s Chinatown, right? And this is where you had your aha! moment. Where you realized I could do something better. I can fix the restaurant industry.


So, tell me a little bit about the journey from getting your Ph.D. to working in Chinatown and then having your idea.


Starting the entrepreneurial journey


Lucas Liu

So, while I was studying, I was always trying to do something entrepreneurial, I always admired all those great entrepreneurs. And while I was in school, I got the opportunity to run a restaurant with my friends in Chinatown.


And that is where I started the entrepreneurial journey, even though it is as a restaurant owner, it is a small venture, it was a good experience.


Therefore while I was doing that I see that as an immigrant all the technology in the United States is not very immigrant-friendly. For example the POS system, the online ordering, all those kinds of things.


Also, immigrants are facing a great challenge, which is, for immigrants they love running restaurant businesses. However, the perfect labor for immigrant run restaurants is actually the second generation of immigrants, because they speak both languages really well, English and their native language.


Challenges in launching a startup


Jason Sherman

When you were in the restaurant and you were building your product, what were some of the challenges that you faced?


Lucas Liu

The biggest challenges actually, since it is a beautiful restaurant, owners always have many different requirements and that is very challenging to collect all those requirements.


Furthermore, you have to generalize their requirements, you cannot basically build like hey I want this and then you just build that feature for them. You have to generalize exactly what problem you are trying to solve and that is actually very challenging.


Jason Sherman

What was the problem that you were trying to solve?


Lucas Liu

What we are trying to solve are delivery problems for immigrant-owned quick-service restaurants.


The other is the self-order kiosk, which is one of the most important things because we believe it is a new point of sale device for restaurants. Traditionally, it is a laborious effort trying to generate sales for the restaurant. Now we are trying to build a machine that helps the restaurant sell, which so far has really worked out well.


What features does the kiosk POS have?


Jason Sherman

Yeah. I was looking at your website infi.us and I see that you have these kiosks available in restaurants where people can use a touch screen to, I guess order what they want to eat and they can pay for it at the kiosk. Is that basically what it is?


Lucas Liu

It is that is a standard feature. So, standard features include a manual board so you can actually play with it in the order and there is a lot more because it is a self-ordering machine.


We have artificial intelligence-powered in there too. Actually, that is your algorithm behavior and they give you correct suggestions based on your dietary preferences and that is where the core comes from.


For example, if you’re vegetarian we would not recommend meat to you, if you want something sweet we would not recommend something salty for you.


We also provide them great feedback from customers and also for the restaurant we provide the customer upsell strategy, customized upsell strategy.


In the end, we help the restaurant sell more, the average ticket size increases, the overall restaurant efficiency increases and it is great, it is a win-win for both the restaurant and the diners.


Jason Sherman

Right. And so I have seen these types of kiosks in fast-food restaurants and convenience stores and things like that. For example, one of our big convenience stores here on the east coast is called Wawa and Wawa has touchscreen menus where you can order things.


So, yours is similar to a lot of what I have seen out there, but yours has artificial intelligence. It learns the habits of the people, so that next time I go in there which I personally do not like the fact that when I go to one of these touch screens, I have to go through the same menu every single time to find what I want.


Whereas if it learned what I wanted, what you are saying is yours would say well here is what we know you like, here is what we know that you would probably want to eat.


So, we are only going to offer you these items, we are going to remove all the other items from the menu because you are not going to want those. Is that what you are telling me?


Lucas Liu

No, it is not going to be removed. It is just how they laid out; it is like YouTube like my YouTube is not going to look the same as your YouTube, right.


It is the content, the content there, if you search, if you sort them alphabetically, everything will be there. But, it is all laid out differently.


Lessons learned since starting INFI


Jason Sherman

Alright, now let us go back to Chinatown when you are in the restaurant business and you first realize, I can build this product. What was one mistake that you made, that you wish you could have avoided? And if so how could you have avoided it?


Lucas Liu

So, the mistake we made that we actually made was selling the kiosks to different states, we actually should focus on Illinois or Chicago because it involves hardware.


Not all the hardware companies are like Apple like they have great power product or like, tesla, you can have something, you can ship it everywhere in the world and has had still problems.


It is a kiosk, it has problems, so once it has a problem, if it is out of the state it is hard to maintain.


Therefore we make all the machines controllable remotely right now so that for all those mistakes, we can actually solve them remotely but in the beginning, we should not sell them to different states. So we should’ve only sold it in Chicago.


Jason Sherman

Yeah. So that is actually a very old type of advice that people give entrepreneurs is to choose a hyper-local niche market and grow that hyper-local market first and then start scaling outward. So, it sounds like you fell into that trap that a lot of people have fallen into so…


Lucas Liu

Yeah.


Jason Sherman

So that’s good. At least you recognized the mistake you made.


So, anybody who is listening and if you have a product that you have invented or a service that you have started in your local neighborhood, or in your local city, make the product work in your area and then as you start to get sales or more customers start branching out to other cities in your area. That is basically what you want to take home from this.


Now when you first started out as an entrepreneur, because you were in college, you were working in the restaurants, what is a piece of information that you wish somebody had told you back then to make your journey a little easier?


Lucas Liu

Actually, the toughest part was, before this restaurant technology business, I was doing something else which was another great venture, an entrepreneur we got a patent for a product.


I was in school and we were trying to build a company around that patent. However we started with a piece of technology, but looking for a market, which was wrong.


So, you should always find the market first and then you build technology around the market. Build technologies to solve a problem in the market instead of you have the technology but you do not know where the market is.


We spent almost two years figuring out how that technology can solve problems, well it does solve problems but it is not like a scalable problem. And it is not good for business entrepreneurship.


Jason Sherman

Great! So, we can learn from your mistake and by saying if you give someone a piece of information, now it would be to build a product to fit into the market or look for a market that fits your product.


Instead of spending all this time and money on a patent, you do not want to get a patent and spend two years and all this money finding, creating a patent only to find out that you cannot really even use it in the market because you did not do your market research.

Be sure to validate your concept, do your market research, and then go on from there now at one point. During your journey did you ever want to just give up and throw in the towel and if so what made you continue on what got you through it?


Lucas Liu

There are so many times I want to just give up and…


Jason Sherman

What gets you through it? What keeps you going?


Lucas Liu

What keeps me going is it is actually a team, the team, every time you want to give up and you look at the team and the team believes in you and we believe in the product.


Even though we face a lot of problems, we think if we stick together we can get through it, no matter how hard it is. I think there are always more solutions than problems.


Mangement style


Jason Sherman

Speaking of the team, what is it like working with your co-founders or your employees? What is it like managing people in the restaurant? What has it been like managing people?


Lucas Liu

Managing people in a restaurant, and managing people in a company are totally different. Managing people in the restaurant is more like, you need more standards and also you need to actually be there and you have to watch them because it is a restaurant.


What we are doing at INFI you do not have to be there managing it because it is more like coder software developers, product managers, project managers, also people can work from home, you do not have to be there with them every day.


So, that is totally different, I think what I am more comfortable with the team I am working with right now instead of working with the restaurant people. No offense to the restaurant people, it is just different, people have different habits, characters, I am more like a technology person and I am not a restaurant guy.


Jason Sherman

Right.


Lucas Liu

That is the biggest difference. Yeah.


Jason Sherman

Cool! Alright, and what are some of the perks and advantages of running a startup, why do you like doing it?


Lucas Liu

I feel like what you learn from working in a corporate is, it limits your potential.


Jason Sherman

Yeah.


Lucas Liu

It really limits my potential even though there is a lot of… they give you interesting tasks, they give you better payment, but I think your life is short.


In your 20s, 30s you need to really push yourself and you incorporate, you push yourself, you have dependencies, you push yourself, you might not get to get what you want but working in your own company, you push yourself as hard as possible, you got what you want, so that I think that is very valuable.


Jason Sherman

Awesome! So, speaking of pushing hard and getting what you want, this is where you can give some words of wisdom and some pieces of inspiration to entrepreneurs out there to follow their dreams. What do you have to say to everybody out there who wants to pursue their dreams and wants to start a business?


Lucas Liu

Just do it.


Jason Sherman

Yeah.


Lucas Liu

You just do it, there is no one who’s going to tell you, you can never find somebody tell you how you can run your business.


It is always your business, you got to, you guys start doing it and, you have to learn from your own mistakes and other people's mistakes. They tell you, they give you suggestions, if it does not come, you have to feel it, that is how entrepreneurship works.


Even though I tell you what the problem is, you might not even believe it unless you face it yourself. I am not going be correct because the problem I am facing is different maybe, so they are different from what someone else is facing.


Advice to new entrepreneurs


Jason Sherman

Alright, awesome! And then some final words of inspiration and encouragement, just your final thoughts to entrepreneurs out there that are facing challenges or making mistakes or they want to give up. What would you say to yourself if you were a kid, just starting out?


Lucas Liu

Try to figure out how you bootstrap your business before you start-up which is very important and no matter what you do if you run a restaurant if you run a technology company, if you run anything, any startup, you are going to figure out how you bootstrap.

It’s that simple. That is very important because once you have a product, you need to find people to use it and you have to find people to use it before you actually start to search for your product.


You at least have one, like your family member, your friends, any local restaurants or some people with who you have a good relationship. You got to start with that and if you have that you can start a business because you already found somebody who wants to use your product and if they like it they will refer others. And if everybody refers others, you are going to grow, it is like a virus. Sorry, there is a virus.


Jason Sherman

Oh no, not another man, we have had enough of this virus.


Lucas Liu

Yeah but, you want to build your company and go viral, everybody wants to do that. So as long as you can find one and you think you are really solving a problem for that one business, you should start doing a business and then you try to build out your business.



Lucas Liu

Yeah exactly.


Jason Sherman

Great! That is great advice, awesome. Lucas well thanks for coming on to the podcast. Lucas, it was great having you and I hope that people learn from your experience and your mistakes. Do you want to show your kiosks?


Lucas Liu

Yeah, I just want to show my kiosk, this is actually from one of the clients that are the kiosk, it is a great touch screen and everything is great.


Jason Sherman

That is pretty cool!


Lucas Liu

Yeah.


Jason Sherman

And you are at a shopping center right now where your kiosk is?


Lucas Liu

No, I am in a local restaurant and yeah one of the bootstrap restaurants, I have a good relationship with and I just want to be here to record this, so that you can both see me and the product live in the restaurant.


Jason Sherman

That is great! Okay, that was a great idea.


Lucas Liu

Yeah.


Jason Sherman

Awesome! Well, again thanks for coming onto the podcast. I really appreciate it.


Lucas Liu

Thank you so much, Jason. Thank you.

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