Youhan Fang is the co-founder & CEO of Hyperflyer, a company that is building a cloud-based platform that provides white-labeled solutions for restaurants to establish, operate, and benefit from their own online ordering systems. Their services include commission-free online ordering, flat-rate delivery, and powerful social marketing tools. Unlike many third-party delivery marketplaces, Hyperflyer wants to empower restaurants to grow on their own.
They believe local businesses and their customers are the pillars of a thriving economy and culture; because of this, Hyperflyer wants these businesses to have the opportunities they deserve to build digitally-minded infrastructures, showcase their uniqueness, and connect with customers on a deeper level.
What’s the story behind Hyperflyer?
When I was in my computer science PhD program, I had already been thinking about the application of advanced technologies for local small businesses. My research area was AI and machine learning. I felt that advanced technologies such as AI and machine learning are already benefiting a lot of businesses. But those businesses are mainly big tech companies, because they have the intellectual power and budget to pursue these areas. However, I believe that such technology should be made available to all businesses, especially small local businesses.
With this idea, I was diving into the industry and discovered that there’s still a lot of problems that prevent a prevailing adoption of such technologies for small local businesses. The major problem is that they don’t even have the digital infrastructure, let alone all other things built upon it. For example, by the time of 2019, 90% of restaurants don’t even have a digital and online ordering system. Without such systems, they cannot collect the data, and without the data, they cannot learn the behaviour of their customers to better engage with them, nor cannot get insights of the performance of their business to make right decisions.
During the pandemic, the problem of lack of digitalization is more obvious. The restaurants can only rely on the 3rd party delivery apps (such as UberEats, DoorDash, Grubhub) to run their business online. Why? Because only these 3rd parties can provide the digital and online solution for them. And these companies charge extremely high commissions from each order the customer of the restaurant placed. Having no such technology, the restaurants lose the control of their customers, lose their brand loyalty, and lose their margins to the 3rd parties who have the technology.
Because of all these, I feel that the local businesses like the restaurants need to build their own digitally-minded infrastructures. Of course, they cannot do it on their own. This is why I and a group of people sharing the same vision founded Hyperflyer. We have the mission to empower local businesses with the technology to better connect with their customers. We start with building a cloud-based platform that provides white-labeled solutions for restaurants to run their own online ordering systems. We want every local business to have the opportunity to build a digitally-minded infrastructure and preserve their brands, their customers and their data.
Once the digital infrastructure has been built, we will help them to use it to the maximal capacity. What big companies have, we will help them build their own. For example, we will help them build their own digital subscription membership, digital referral programs and loyalty programs to better engage with their customers; we will provide automated digital marketing campaigns optimized by the data collected by their online ordering system; we will give them the smart data analytics tools to help them make important business decisions such as pricing, managing inventory, staffing, etc..
We started with the dream to democratize advanced technology to everybody. We will do it step by step, even if it means that we need to start with building the infractures and the ecosystem. We believe that as long as we are true to our promises and do things steadfastly, the dream can come true and not only the big guys, but also everybody else can enjoy the benefit of technology.
What was the most difficult part of your experience in the early beginnings?
The most difficult part in the early beginnings is to find the right partners to co-found the startup. As an immigrant, I don’t have many connections in the US. All my connections here are either schoolmates from my PhD program or co-workers in the last startup company I joined a few years ago. In total I know only about tens of people. I needed to expand my network and find people sharing the same vision with me and also are interested in building a company from scratch. I participated in a lot of local events to know more people, and was active on websites such as LinkedIn, Cofounder’s lab, Angellist etc. to do networking online.
Eventually, I got to know my cofounder in 2019. We had a very good conversation at the beginning, and we all felt that it is easy to get along with each other. His background is in business, and mine is in technology. So it is natural to combine the strength and form a team together. Soon, we found other early team members who believe in the mission as well.
Once we have the team that has the same goal, everything becomes easier.
What are you most proud of regarding your business?
Local restaurants have been some of the hardest hit businesses during the COVID-19 crisis. They have some of the most amazing stories to tell, but often lack the platform to share them. In order to help them speak up and reach a wider audience during the difficult times, we built a blog so that restaurant owners, chefs, bartenders, waiters, and waitresses can share their stories.
We quickly put together a team of writers and journalists to interview local restaurants and write their stories. All stories are published on our blog. These stories made a lot of impact for the restaurants and the local communities. For example, the restaurants posted the stories on their social media pages and received great feedback from their customers. Their customers reacted with likes, shares and comments full of warm words.
During COVID, we interviewed about 200 restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area and got tens of thousands of readers. Many restaurants sent appreciative emails to us. They even offered free meals to our team members and the writers.
We are very proud of the achievements of this campaign and the blog. The impact of these stories will go beyond this crisis – as more people know about the stories of the small businesses in their neighborhood, better relationships can be built between them in the future. This crisis is just a starting point – it is a good opportunity for us to think about what is lacking and what we should do. We believe that long-lasting friendships are built upon understanding, and now we start to understand, deeper and better.
We are most proud of that we can help local businesses with real contributions to the community. This is our culture and core value.
What is your vision for the future of Hyperflyer?
Our goal is to help every small local business to upgrade their technology, so that everybody can be benefited from the advancement of technologies. In the next decades, AI and machine learning is going to make more and more impact in people’s daily lives. We will help the small local businesses to get ready for it – we help them build the infrastructure and collect the data, and we will also apply AI and machine learning technologies to many aspects of the business to improve their businesses in the future.
Moreover, Hyperflyer will not only be a technology company, but also a company that can make strong social impacts. Hopefully when people talk about Hyperflyer in the future, they will say something like: Hyperflyer’s technology is very strong, they have great culture, and they really help people in the community.
What’s your advice for the businesses that are trying to adapt to this economic climate?
Based on my own experience, I would suggest businesses make better plans for the difficult times, be persistent, and believe that the economy will get better eventually. For example, cut some inessential part of the business to reduce the cost and improve the ROI; reconsider the strategy – growth or sustainability, which makes more sense to the business now and in the near future – and adjust planning and budgeting accordingly. Overall, we have to be more creative to make the business better in this climate.
What books do you have on your nightstand?
Currently I have two books on my nightstand: one is “The Hard Thing about Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz, and the other is “Shoe Dog” by Phil Knight.
Ben Horowitz’s book gives me a lot of practical advice for running a company, especially in the difficult times. I found some good answers there when having to make tough decisions, such as firing an executive.
Phil Knight’s book is more entertaining. I like being inspired by the story of successful entrepreneurs, and Phil’s writing is not boring at all. I really enjoyed reading the book: it feels like I experienced everything with him together.
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