Founder Series: CloudEats

November 1, 2022

Our Founders Series is a collection of written interviews with our portfolio’s founders, in which we shine the spotlight on the businesses they’ve come to build on the base of disruptive innovation and get to know more about them as people.  

We kick off the series with a feature of Kimberly Yao and Iacopo Rovere, the founders of CloudEats – one of the pioneer cloud restaurant companies in the region, with a mission of building the largest tech-enabled online food group in South-East Asia.

Tell us a little something about yourself!

KY:  I am an entrepreneur at heart and I can see myself building and running successful businesses for many decades to come. On a personal note, I love to eat and travel so I am very happy and fortunate to be managing a food-focused startup.

IR: I am truly passionate about food and science. Being native from Italy, cooking is taught from childhood, almost like religion, passed on generation in generation. I enjoy immersing myself in the extensive application of science behind the most complex dishes.  

What is your favorite cuisine and why?

KY: For Western Cuisine my favorite is Italian and for Eastern, I am in love with Japanese and Korean food. It’s hard to select just one cuisine! I look for simple, amazing ingredients that shine through the cooking process.

IR: As unbiased as I can try to be, Italian or Mediterranean would be my favorite cuisine. Most dishes are very simple, 5 or less ingredients but still they are packed in flavor thanks to the soil, water, and air that compose that side of the globe. Nonetheless, there is another cuisine I am really in love with for similar reasons is Japanese.

What is your 'how I met my co-founder' story?

KY: The tech ecosystem in the Philippines is still quite small and close-knit. I was introduced to Iacopo by a common friend in the industry who became our pre-seed investor and is now our board member at CloudEats. Iacopo insisted that our first meeting be at a busy food court and seeing that multi-brand, multi-cuisine setup thrives in a physical environment inspired us to develop the primordial concept of CloudEats’ online-only house of brands.

How do your personalities & skills complement each other in running CloudEats?

KY: I believe our strengths and skills complement each other greatly. Iacopo is highly strategic, extremely detail oriented and data driven while I am very tactical and agile. We are good at different aspects of the business, learn a lot from each other and that makes us a great team.

IR: Kimberly is a force of nature that tirelessly pushes to reach the next goal. She is also incredibly resourceful and intelligent, and these qualities make her excellent at delivering results in a short amount of time. This complements my skillset which is focused on scale and large numbers.  

What are the differences and big challenges between launching CloudEats in different countries and cities?

KY: While we have a playbook for the cloud kitchen infrastructure and the smart kitchen tech that we built, we need to work on the brand & commercial side of the business as we expand to different markets.

The demographics have some marked differences in terms of cuisine preferences and behavior that we remain very sensitive to. Our local teams in the markets develop clear positioning and “where to play, how to play” strategies to maximize our reach, conversion, and loyalty.

How did CloudEats handle the COVID-19 outbreak in the Philippines and what were the big challenges and opportunities?

KY: The global pandemic has brought on significant supply chain disruptions and mobility restrictions, resulting in inflated costs for raw materials and services. We actively mitigated the impact through more robust procurement strategies, increasing operational efficiency, streamlining our brand portfolio, and strengthening our technology.

For CloudEats, the pandemic was a huge opportunity since it accelerated adoption for online food delivery and solidified ordering food online as a new permanent customer behavior. What would have taken years became a period of a few short months for us. This surge in demand allowed us to move our business to the next phase and raise a Series A round in late 2021 plus a fresh funding round a few months later, in September 2022.

What is the 5-year plan with CloudEats?

KY: At CloudEats, we are building a technology powered food service ecosystem. As one of the biggest yet most traditional industries today, food service needs a significant infusion of technology to propel it into the future. There has been no significant technology developments in food service for decades. It is a high-touch industry that involves a lot of manual processes, requires a lot of capital to expand, and generates notoriously low margins.

We believe that CloudEats can significantly change the industry by introducing online-optimized brands, building high efficiency cloud kitchens, and developing integrated SaaS solutions to solve many systemwide pain points. In the next 5 years, we expect to be in at least four markets in SEA and have built multiple verticals within the food service industry.

Female founders and females in senior positions are still a rare breed in the venture capital and startup space – what is it like being a female founder in the Philippines? What challenges did you have to overcome?

KY: Well, to be honest, just like anything else – being a Filipina female founder has its pros and cons. On the positive side, since it is uncommon in the startup space, I find more opportunity for myself to carve out a unique space in the ecosystem for female leaders.

Regarding the cons - one big challenge for me since I am in my mid-30s now, is having to decide between personal or professional growth. In an environment such as the Philippines or in Asia, where women are expected to perform very traditional roles in society, we struggle to manage our personal and professional lives and this greatly affects the career trajectory of many women.

Unfortunately, this gender bias still exists today and while we have found some success in fund raising and in business, I cannot say the same for many other female founders. Hopefully the success of CloudEats and other similar female-led companies paints a path forward for women leaders to gain more confidence and drive to build great businesses.