On my first night of living up at the UniverCity development next to SFU, I noticed a car parked in front of my building.
On its side was a logo with a cut little character on it. The door of the vehicle opened and out popped a dude carrying a bag full of food.
He handed the bag to a student living in the building and then drove away.
I didn’t think much of it at the time, but over the past two years that cute logo has appeared dozens of times a day in my neighbourhood.
I see it so often that I finally broke down recently and started looking into what it is.
The logo is for the Burnaby-based company Just Order Enterprise Corp. and its mobile food-order service app, Fantuan (“rice ball” in Mandarin Chinese).
Fantuan food delivery was founded in 2014 and, according to its mission statement, it’s designed to make “overseas Chinese people’s life easier.”
From small origins, it’s the “largest Chinese delivery platform in Canada,” according to the company, with more than 200,000 registered users, 100,000-plus orders each month and more than 1,800 business partners.
Not bad for a company started by a SFU student while he was still in school. Randy Wu actually quit school while he was just two terms away from graduation.
“Truth be told, I didn’t even tell my parents back in China when we started,” Wu said in an interview with Business in Vancouver, a sister paper of the NOW. “The whole reason they sent me here was to study and get a degree, so I didn’t know how they’d react. But my girlfriend convinced me that, if this is something I really wanted to do, then getting in early is an opportunity that can’t be missed.”
What Wu saw was a target-rich environment of young kids new to Canada who like to eat, but like convenience even more.
“A lot of my friends, especially older friends, were skeptical that Fantuan would work, because they didn’t understand why someone would pay extra to have something delivered,” Wu told BIV. “But I told them that they are not the target audience. Many new students don’t have cars; even if they do, they are not familiar with Greater Vancouver, and they will naturally gravitate toward finding food using a familiar avenue – and that’s online.”
In China, according to the BIV articles, online food ordering through the social media channel WeChat is already the norm. Customers can order meals, pay, share and write reviews on a smartphone without leaving their homes. Wu and co-founder Feng Yaofei said Fantuan has become successful by offering, in Vancouver, a service similar to what a consumer would find in China.
The key for Wu and his partner, who have set up shop on Byrne Road in South Burnaby, was making sure the deliveries arrive on time and guaranteeing that delivery contractors make money on their runs.
To that end, according to the BIV article, Fantuan has people in its office processing orders and plotting routes for each delivery person so that one driver can take up to three orders at a time, increasing drivers’ margins and keeping them happy.
“A happy driver is crucial to the experience we are targeting to provide,” Wu said. “If they are happy, they will provide better service. They will stay on the job more, and that experience in the market is hard to replace. It’s central to our growth plan, but it is labour-intensive, so our company’s profit margins are lower than some of our English-speaking competitors, who often automate everything through an app.”
The company needed to convince a lot of local businesses to partner with the app, but the roster list has now grown to 1,800. Besides food delivery service, the company’s businesses include advertising and promotion, online mart, self-pickup and other services.
The company also services Vancouver, Toronto, Victoria and Edmonton, with plans in 2019 to expand to Calgary, Montreal, Waterloo, Mississauga and Seattle.
So there you go. A mystery solved about a Burnaby business that is looking to conquer all of Canada.
- with files from Business in Vancouver