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3 Things Singaporeans Can Learn from What To Eat’s Failure

A Singaporean food delivery company, ‘What To Eat‘, became unreachable after failing to pay their merchants for services provided to them.

What To Eat was founded in 2013 and was one of the first food delivery services to gain popularity in Singapore, alongside Deliveroo and Foodpanda.

The owner, 40 year-old Benson Lo, had seemingly disappeared when a reporter tried to reach out to him at his home and Geylang office last week.

Mr Lo eventually responded in a Channel News Asia story, stating that he is looking to declare his company bankrupt. He says that WhatToEat has been struggling due to high overheads, poor business and stiff competition.

“I hope I can repay them, but I really have no means.”. Benson’s pitiful apology comes a little too late, as owners of F&B outlets have expressed their concerns, with debt figures being in the thousands.

A shareholder of a hawker stall decided to approach the matter on his own. The man, who only wanted to be identified as KA, said that he managed to recover S$1,000 by confronting Mr Lo at his Geylang Road office.

The entrance to what used to be What To Eat’s office. Sourced from Channel News Asia. (Photo: Aqil Haziq Mahmud)

“If he really has financial difficulties, he should at least let us know and not avoid us,” said KA.  “Don’t wait until your so-called partners come and chase you until things turn sour, then you start to pay money.”

Another merchant, Mr Lau, a partner of Annabella Patisserie, said that he had foregone a S$1,000 debt, stating that he understood the plight and problems faced by Benson.

Netizens have also chimed in on CNA’s website, with one user commenting on Mr Lo’s behavior:

A netizen comments on Benson Lo's behavior regarding the fiasco.
“Mr Lo of What To Eat Should not behave like that the money he owed to others is easy money. Some of the money is hard-earned money! In business must have integrity.” Comment sourced from Channel News Asia.

Going Down South [restrict]

What To Eat showed promise when it first launched in 2013. With over 100 F&B partners, a large portion of the market was cornered and the application started gaining traction among Singaporeans.

Soon, however, the company started losing customers to competitors like Foodpanda and Deliveroo.

What To Eat tried to venture into Malaysia, but failed to gain popularity and suffered major losses in the process.

The real problem came to light when Mr Lo realized that they (What To Eat) had not paid a single company for the past one and a half years. He owed them roughly S$100,000.

By dipping into funds that were set aside for other companies, he was able to alleviate some of the issues temporarily.

However, the lack of a permanent solution has brought What To Eat to their knees, where Benson admits that he is unable to pay off his debts – and that he will leave it to the bankruptcy process to resolve matters, should his partners decide to sue.

The Takeaways, and How To Prevent Such Circumstances

While the tenacity of Mr Lo was commendable, he lacked the foresight to understand his financial projections. Businesses don’t run on hopes and luck, they run on figures – and if they (the figures) don’t add up, then one should know when to call it quits.

As the old adage goes, “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

If you are or aspire to be a business owner, here are a few things you should always consider before starting or expanding your enterprise.

1. Ensure Positive Variable Contribution

Take the time to configure all your profits and expenses. The price must be right, from a business standpoint.

That is, ensuring that the price received for products and services exceed the costs incurred from deliveries. If you offer multiple products or services, you will be required to calculate everything. Mostly, prices are derived from customer segmentation, that is, knowing the purchasing power of the people you sell to.

This all boils down to a very simple equation:

Profit > Cost

It truly is that simple, but many businesses sacrifice their profits in order to stay relevant and expand their consumer base.

While that works, it should not go on for extended periods. If you plan on operating on a loss in exchange for customer satisfaction, you should develop a concise plan on how much it will cost you and how long the campaign will last.

In What To Eat’s case, Mr Lo stated that because of stiff competition, they were forced to reduce profits while maintaining overheads. This spiraled into a situation where they could not make enough money to pay off their partners.

In essence, you must ensure that you are making enough money to cover the overheads on each sale. You cannot deliver value if you are unable to sustain consistent profits.

2. Plan Your Cash-Flow And Know When To Stop

Knowing your finances thoroughly will help you make informed decisions for your business's well-being.

Cash flow is the life-blood of any organization. You need it to be well-organized in order to pay salaries, purchase supplies and invest in infrastructure. There is no middle-ground. Owners who fail to manage their cash flow are certain to fail.

Those who can are sure to improve every aspect of their business.

Once you have established your payables, assess your cash and receivables expected. With this information, you can start building a detailed cash flow plan. This way, you’ll always be on top of your financial situation, allowing you to make better judgements in regard to your business.

Furthermore, you will want to have a buffer for unexpected issues. Planning goes a long way, but it is impossible to anticipate things like rising competitors and market demand. Maintaining a cash reserve ensures that should these things happen, you will be able to manoeuvre out of these shortfalls. It’s recommended to keep atleast  3-6 months worth of operating expenses in your reserve. More is better, if possible.

Having accessible management with your cash flow tells you if you are able to continue with a business or not. When figures are in the red over extended periods, you know that the business can no longer continue.

3. Communicate With Your Creditors

You must maintain your lines of communication in times of despair. Not only will this help your reputation, but some people may be willing to assist you.

When unable to pay your creditors, it’s important to stay present and communicate with them. Everyone understands that businesses go through down times and tough periods. In these scenarios, you should be establishing plans and telling them to you creditors. People are willing to work with you if they believe that you will eventually pay your debts.

If you have a bank debt and will break a covenant, either because you will miss a payment or because of some other requirements, communicate effectively with your banker. The bank’s interest lies in getting repaid, so they will likely call your loan if you are otherwise struggling.

Likewise, if you can present a plan to improve your financial situation, your banker will be more than likely to work with you.

Ignoring and avoiding debt calls is detrimental to your business and reputation. Furthermore, in the case of What To Eat, Mr Lo mentioned that he was threatened and harassed by loan sharks, which is a common occurrence for small business owners that fail to pay their debts here in Singapore.

Conclusion

For Mr Lo, his biggest regret seems to be not shutting shop sooner. When asked why he had not gathered the F&B owners and explained his situation, he said “I tell you, if I gathered them, I’ll be spit on by them.”

Sustaining a business requires a large amount of planning. There will always be ups and downs, but it is important that you do not damage your reputation in the process. A business failing is not the end of the world. You can always restart, or venture into other businesses.

Actionable Takeaway:

With a damaged reputation, your future as a business-person will be very limited. Few will want to work with you, and banks will be hesitant to approve any sort of loans. Remember to practice integrity and know when to call it quits. Try to prevent situations from escalating, especially where money is concerned.

 

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