The Best Foreign Food to Your Door: Bird Riders Delivery

Annie LeeInternational

We got a chance to sit down and talk with one of the co-founders of Bird Riders, and talk about their inspirations, goals, and past experiences with starting a new business in Korea.

Q: Please introduce yourself and tell us what Bird Riders delivery is.

A: My name is Zach Marble and I am one of the co-founders of Bird Riders Delivery along with Ben Hough. Bird Riders is basically a bilingual food delivery service that partners with the best and most authentic foreign foods throughout Seoul.

Where did you find the inspiration for Bird Riders and why do you think it will thrive in Korea?

My inspiration for Bird Riders? I used to live in Seoul from 2008 to 2010. So when I was living here I couldn’t speak Korean, but every time I wanted foreign food, I had to call my Korean co-worker and then they would have to call. I was like, “I’m 24 years old and I can’t even order delivery myself.” We’re actually modeling our company off a company in Shanghai. It is doing the same thing so our inspiration came from that.

It’s a bit more expansive over there?

Well yeah, it’s more spread out. China’s massive. Also, even the foreigners here already go out a lot because it’s a younger demographic so they already go out to eat food a lot. But really they can’t get anything besides Lotteria, Pizza Hut, KFC, local Korean food, but even then you need to be able to speak Korean so what we’re trying to do is fill a gap in the market.

Bird Riders office interior shows of street art graffiti.

You’ve kind of already mentioned your target market for Bird Riders with the large population of the expats. Well, what incentives can you give not only consumers, but also companies or caterers that might want to order large deliveries for company parties or for their entire offices. How are you going to get them to stray away from jajangmyun, or pizza, or there’s 24-hour McDonalds here? What can you offer them that will be different?

So we’re trying to be the company that people come to when they want foreign food. Whether it be, not only foreigners, but also Koreans who like to eat foreign food. So our target market isn’t only foreigners.

What we can offer is special nights. Like we’re going to do a Military Appreciation Night where delivery is free or we’ll do College Night where delivery is free for them if they have their college ID.

So the thing for restaurants is that it’s not only for customers, it’s actually good for all parties. We market for the restaurants as well and we also provide a service that’s not really even there for customers.

We will have discounts. At the very beginning, we’ll be primarily a food delivery service that offers convenience, but down the line.


Next question: What type of food will you be offering and I don’t mean the name of every restaurant you’re working with, but what are some more recognizable names that your clients and readers might recognize?

Types of food we’re working with…let’s see, over time, we want to cover every type of food. We want Thai food, Mexican food, Indian food, American food, British food, whatever.

Some that we have right now that you might know: Greek on the Grill, Yummy Thai, which is the best foreign Thai food I’ve had outside of Thailand

Some others ones we have are Baker’s Table, Silence of the Lamb, Grill5Taco, Route 66, Monster Pizza, Thai Elephant…I can’t think of anymore. Beer O’Clock, Hillside. Burger Bay Classic. Café Travel Maker, Sin Bin, Dos Tacos, 300 Degree, Yummy Thai and Jack’s Bean.

So you mentioned that one of your partners would be only available in Hongdae so what areas do you primarily operate in and what is your range of delivery?

Yeah, so primarily right now, because we’re just starting, we’re partnering mostly with restaurants that are in Gangnam-gu, like Dos Tacos, and the Hongdae and Shinchon area because there are a lot of foreigners there. The only exception is Konkuk University because our drivers from Gangnam can actually service that and it’ll take fifteen, twenty minutes for them to get there.

And how far do you go from those hubs?

A: So how it’s set up is, from each restaurant, you can go within eight kilometers; we’re set up in delivery vans. The first delivery van is 0~2 kilometers and that’s 4000 won for our customers. The second delivery van is 2~4 kilometers and that’s 5000 won, and 4~6km is 5500, and 6~8km is 6000. That’s the farthest we go because the food would get bad after that.

And how often do clients know if they’re within this range or not?

A: They’ll know because the website automatically calibrates based on the location they select. From the location selected for the delivery address, it will know the restaurants that are within the first delivery van, the second delivery van, the third delivery van, and the fourth delivery van. So they will know just by inputting their address.

So touching on your website again, I know you do some work with charities. Would you elaborate on how you’re trying to donate to charities through Bird Riders?

A: So for us, we want to donate to charities. We think that more people want to donate to charities as well, but just don’t take the time to. For every order that’s placed through our website, we have a list of charities. Some of the charities that we’ve enlisted are African Wildlife Fund, UNICEF, Hunger Project, Amnesty International. Some of our Korean ones are Child Fund Korea, World Friends Korea, Seoul Women’s Foundation, Korea Unwed Mothers and Children, Korean Adoptees, Seoul Station Soup Kitchen, and Animal Rescue Korea.

For every order you place, we donate 100 won from that order – we allow you to select a charity – and at the end of the year, we will donate to the charities that have been selected. On our website, there is a tab at the bottom that has a charities page and it will track how much has been donated to each charity over the year.

So the 100 won. Does it come from the order price or is it added on top of the order price?

It just comes out of the order price

Something a little more fun. What hurdles, as foreigners that do not speak Korean, did you encounter when trying to establish a business here in Seoul?

I can think of a lot.

I mean just basic things, every day. For us, we’re meeting with a lot of restaurant owners and just that alone is a massive hurdle. We have to have translators for all that. But even for stuff as simple as office furniture; my girlfriend has helped us a ridiculous amount before we even launched.

We came here in December to kind of gauge the interest from the restaurant perspective and before that, she was calling restaurants and doing translations for us, but then when we came here, we had to hire some business development people to do those same things but also to even order stuff off Gmarket.

Even with the English option?

A: Well the thing with the English option is that it’s listed in dollars. It’s not listed in Korean won.seoul_birdriders-2F

Co-Founder: Ben Hough

Interviewing drivers because most drivers don’t speak English at all. So we had to have translators for almost everything.

That must be an interesting process if you’re interviewing someone and you can’t really speak the same language. How do you source your drivers for instance, because they probably really don’t speak English well.

Yeah, that’s another thing we use them for. Placing job ads online, stuff like that. There’s all these job websites and we just post links up there but it’s weird because it takes them five minutes or less. For me to try and go through Google Translate, it takes like half an hour so it’s just like way better to have them do it.

That’s probably the biggest thing though – the language barrier. It’s actually bigger than I anticipated.

What piece of advice would you give readers who want to establish a business in Korea, or any other foreign country for that matter?

A: If you think it’s going to take three months to set up, or get everything established, plan for at least four to six months. Everything moves much slower than you anticipate.

If we had never lived here, it would be completely different. I’d lived here for two years before and Ben had lived here for four years before so we had a pretty good network and people we knew and people we could contact and people who knew who we should contact in terms of restaurants and stuff like that. Just be acquainted and familiar with the area. If you’re going somewhere blind, it’ll be tough.

Do your research.

Yeah. And for someone who wants to start doing business, it’s one thing to have a really good idea, but it’s a completely different thing to go from an idea to actually doing it. It’s a much bigger step. So just start doing it.

If your idea is actually good and you’re willing to do whatever to make it happen, then you just start writing the business plan. Show some people your business plan. It’s one thing to talk about doing something, but it’s a completely different thing to actually doing it.

I think that’s one of the big fears that start-up companies have: the fear of talking about their companies because they feel like they might steal it. We’ve had that issue too.

So last question: is there anything you can offer readers who are looking to try Bird Riders for the first time?

A: Yes. What we offer is if you have a foreign restaurant or cuisine in your area and you’d like it for delivery, then we have a ‘Recommend Restaurants’ page where you can actually request a restaurant. If we get that restaurant requested enough or we get your request and we say, “Oh, yeah, that looks like a good restaurant,” then we will reach out to them and we will try to get them to do it.

So what we want is to deliver the food that you guys want. We’re trying to bring a quality to service that is severely lacking in Seoul, especially for the people outside Itaewon.

Bird Rider team(missing Zach Marble)

Look for the guys in pink flying around town on scooters. Get the information from them when they’re flying by and order Bird Riders.

Photo Cred: Shuvra Mondal of Seoulsync