Bringing Small Businesses Online: an Interview With Delicio Founder Socheat Yi

After moving to the U.S. two decades ago and working for Microsoft, Socheat two years ago founded Delicio, initially a Yelp-like startup to help people find delicious food before pivoting to e-commerce amid Covid-19.
D Market of
D Market of

Software engineer Socheat Yi’s ambition is to bring all local, offline stores online. After moving to the U.S. two decades ago and working for Microsoft, Socheat two years ago founded Delicio, initially a Yelp-like startup to help people find delicious food before pivoting to e-commerce amid Covid-19.

Socheat, who has also worked on U.S. startups and has a diploma from Harvard Business School, is passionate about entrepreneurship and enjoys learning about business, finance and investment. In an interview, he talks about building up the business, the problems he is trying to solve, adapting to change, and pitching to investors. startup founder Yi Socheat startup founder Yi Socheat

Note: This interview has been edited for clarity.

Kiripost: What is Delicio App?

Socheat Yi: It’s a marketplace taking local stores online.

KP: When did you conceive this concept and start executing it?

SY: A bit of history here: in early 2018, I had an idea about a food discovery app. It was similar to to let tourists as well as local people find foods easily around their locations that matched with their preferences.

In 2020, as you know, Covid arrived, businesses got impacted heavily, the tourism industry closed down almost entirely. Sixty percent of restaurants and food stores closed or postponed operations with us. We pivoted the original plan from food discovery to e-commerce marketplaces.

The goal is to help those local businesses go online, have a platform that they can sell [products] for pickup. Most small businesses close because they don’t have an online presence, they don’t know how, existing platforms were expensive — those were just a few of the problems. You know, local companies and startups were booming for food deliveries, like FoodPanda, Bloc, E-Gets, Nham24.

We didn’t want to get into the fight or compete just to make money. There are other reasons that I will detail later. But the goal is that all kinds of stores were impacted, not just food businesses. That was how D Marketplace initiated in July 2020: We launched properly for 14 stores to use it in a beta program around March 2021. Originally, we had 40 MoUs signed with us.

KP: What difficulties does Delicio App want to solve?

SY: The three main problems are that 80 percent of retail stores are still offline-only; high rental costs; and, for existing online stores, high commission or transaction fees.

A fourth problem is direct communication between stores and their customers.

KP: Why did you want to start it? What inspires you?

SY: Reasons: Problem-solving is the key, and the size of impact. It is not because of money. Our vision and mission are to help local stores go online fast in this modern era; it would be hard for those businesses if they do not go online. Just to note: Going online does not mean they have to close their stores and go online completely. What we mean is they can open another channel to their businesses, new ways to present their products and services to customers. It is more efficient, fast, saves costs, and so on. The market and the problem is huge, and we are not trying to solve it just for Cambodia, but the starting point is Cambodia.

It impacts hundreds of thousands of small businesses, which [is] millions of jobs in the market. Local stores and small business are the backbone of the economy.

Sales of e-commerce is estimated at $200 million in Cambodia, $65 billion in Southeast Asia, and $4.2 trillion globally.

KP: What are the challenges facing your startup?

SY: Human resources. I spent a few years just building good human resources to use.

Financially, we have a limited budget from small investors, but we have a lot of things to do and massive things to achieve.

Regulations in our country are not friendly yet. Data availability and reliability: It’s hard to find accurate data for our research about the market, which is quite different from the U.S. We need to point to various sources and make assumptions in the beginning about how big of a problem we are trying to solve.

KP: Any thoughts of failure when building your startup? How do you cope and overcome this?

SY: Well, per data, 95% of startups fail, which is the fact, I was aware of this before I started this company. What I learned about was how they failed: I read, watched as much as I could. But at some point, if the problem [we are trying to solve] is great enough and we are passionate about it, I put aside that “fail” vocabulary and focus on what I am trying to achieve.

Not just the word “fail,” but even the word “success” we rarely or never use in our team. What we know at the end of the day is that we are happy regardless of the reasons. By failing we learn to do better things in the future — it is as simple as that. My personality is that I get bored when I do the same simple things. I always have problems to solve, and do different stuff. Even if this company is successful in the future, and this problem we are trying to solve gets addressed, I will move to other problems.

KP: What have you learned as a startup founder?

SY: I learned a lot of things that are different from being in school or being just an employee. It is like how we raise a child.

Build a good team.

Feed them by any means.

Motivate them to learn and to grow — drive the vision, make sure the team understands the vision well.

I learned to be a leader, not just a boss or an employee.

Note: Every startup in the beginning is about confusion. Original ideas are always vague, it is like being blindfolded. We try to go slow but in the right direction.

KP: Tell me about your pitches to investors so far.

SY: So far I’ve only pitched to two types of investors, VCs and individuals.

Two VCs based in the U.S. and Hong Kong:

One of them is focused on later-stage startups. They want to see more traction and we are going to talk to them.

Another one I pitched last week, it is based in the U.S. I learnt and got feedback, connections among the investor community, which may lead to future investments and partnership

Pitching to individuals:

Two existing investors have committed to investing a small fund.

There is one new and close, one newly committed to funding, another showing interest and need to talk more.

I will do fundraising actively from November, when my deck and documents are ready. It will be 100-plus pitches per month.

KP: What’s the plan ahead?

SY: Per our plan, in these few years, we will try to make sure we have product-market fit, scale inside Cambodia as a startup from Phnom Penh. Bring 10,000 stores onto the platform by June 2023. If things go as planned, we could raise funds to expand from Cambodia to Southeast Asia in three to five years, then globally.