Young entrepreneur Hojung Kim wants to create something that has a positive impact on people’s lives. He has been travelling around the country pitching his idea to various audiences, landing recently in St. Paul.
He proposes that when people dine together it not only creates meaningful connections, but it can shift perspective, open awareness, reduce inequality and break down barriers. With his new Airbnb-like platform he and his team are building on the new trend of social dining with a home-cooked hook.
Name of company: Homecooked: Social Dining
Business Start Date: Jan. 2, 2018
Number of Employees: 3
Number of Customers: 212
Name: Hojung Kim
City of Birth: New Haven, Conn.
City you live in: Madison, Wis.
High school attended: Phillips Exeter Academy
College attended: University of Chicago (currently taking time off for his startup)
Q. What led to this point?
A. I’m the only son of South Korean immigrants and was born in Madison, Wis. My parents put an enormous amount of emphasis on education. In hindsight, there doesn’t seem to be many common threads in how I grew up to do what I’m doing now, but I was always fiercely independent, passionate about what I did, and cared about solving hard problems.
Q. What is your business?
A. Homecooked is a social dining app that organizes small communal meals at the tables of home cooks, restaurateurs, and local farmers. It’s an opportunity for hosts to generate income by doing what they love — sharing food. And an opportunity for guests to connect in a unique way around food, an increasingly rare occurrence in our digitally isolated world. But really, it goes deeper than food. We use machine-learning to organize meals with incredible conversation. We do this by organizing people with shared interests, compatible personalities or areas of common ground. We’re hoping to break barriers through food.
Q. What is the origin of the business?
A. I am alarmed at the degree of social isolation in our new digitized world. And I knew from both personal experience (from study abroad trips to France and India, as well as my frequent trips back to Korea to visit family) and research that food was an extremely powerful way to connect people.
Q. What problems does your business solve?
A. We’re tackling digitization’s negative social effects on isolation and loneliness and building community to alter the polarization and lack of understanding between people.
Q. What big obstacle or hurdle did you have to overcome?
A. We’re in the process of trying to overcome the retention problem. Originally, we thought of Homecooked as an “Airbnb for food” but it’s much more communal. As a result, we had designed our entire (user interface and experience) and app structure around one-time meals, when instead we’re trying to get closer to a social network, where people can return to the table over and over and build a larger community through these tables. I believe that this might be the next evolution in marketplaces. (For more on the evolution of marketplace eras, check out Andreesen-Horowitz on YouTube).
Recently, we’ve thought of Homecooked Circles to not only pivot our revenue model to a B2B team-building subscription sell, but also to acquire customers at an accelerated rate.
Q. What personal strengths or skill sets do you bring to the business?
A. I’m more of a generalist, with no depth in any single area. The team calls me the Utility Player — I’ll do whatever needs to be done to move things forward. My strength is in building on my teammates’ skills by building organizational framework and a positive creative environment. I love to talk to customers and ideate and iterate on products. I love to think long-term strategy.
Q. What are you most proud of?
A. I’m proud of maintaining incredible working and personal relationships with my team (to overcome) crazy amounts of stress and turmoil. I think this solid team foundation is the most important thing for long-term success.
Q. What obstacles must you overcome to be wildly successful?
A. So many. Let me tell you all the reasons we might fail: (1) People might just not care enough about eating together; (2) The food industry has extremely tough margins. Our revenue model will have to undergo an extreme pivot; (3) Execution — we might be too young and inexperienced to successfully achieve velocity.
Q. How are you funding your business?
A. Entirely through grants from incubators and pitch competitions.
Q. What would be success for your business in the next 2-3 years?
A. We’re still working on Homecooked. Because that would mean: (1) We successfully graduated; (2) We were able to overcome personal financial situations to sustain our business; (3) We had enough market traction to convince us to keep going; (4) And we still believe in our mission — to bring people together. And that’s something worth fighting for.
Q. In your opinion, what does it take to be a great entrepreneur?
A. It takes flexibility, quick learning, and an open mind. Absorbing and listening to not only others, but signs of the future.
Q. Why do you do what you do?
A. I want to build something that matters. I want to create something that has a positive impact on peoples’ lives.
Q. How did the James J. Hill Center and 1 Million Cups Saint Paul help you with your business?
A. The team at the Hill were incredible with organizing 1 Million Cups St. Paul. They were patient and kind as I figured out my ridiculous schedule last-minute to be in the Twin Cities. The Hill also offers powerful resources for entrepreneurs. I was able to access a world-class grant database and create a powerful resource list.
You can hear from startups like this every other Wednesday, 9-10 a.m. at the James J. Hill Center during 1 Million Cups St. Paul. Visit jjhill.org/calendar for scheduled dates. The James J. Hill Center is a nonprofit in downtown St. Paul that provides access to business research, educational programming and a place to work. The Hill is open to the public 8 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday-Thursday. To keep updated on what startup is presenting next or to apply to present, visit www.JJHill.org/1-million-cups.