[INTERVIEW] GOPIZZA discovers allure of single serving

By Kwak Yeon-soo

Lim Jae-won, 30, is the founder of a pizza startup that now has over 30 franchise stores across the nation. He started the business in 2016 by selling pizzas from a food truck, and then moved to open up shops and make a foray into India.

In April, he was listed on the Forbes 30 under 30 in Asia. Surprisingly, however, he confessed that he never wanted nor intended to become an entrepreneur.

“Honestly, I never imagined myself starting a business because I’m not the type of person who likes challenging the status-quo. I’ve always wanted to work at large global companies,” Lim said.

“Nonetheless, the idea of GOPIZZA struck me one day all of a sudden when I wanted a pizza but thought it was too big and expensive for a single person. I also didn’t want to wait a long time for it.”

He wanted to make single serving pizza that could be easy to make and fast to consume. So he started selling small pizzas from a food truck nearby the Han River and at festivals.

“The reason I sold pizzas from a food truck was to prove that I, a nerdy guy, can get tough too and have great business ability,” he said. “But again, I never thought I’d become a full-time businessman. It was GOPIZZA that I wanted to bet my youth on, not just any business.”

Lim graduated from Singapore Management University and got a master’s degree in engineering from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology.

For one year, he continued to operate the food truck while keeping his day job at an advertising firm.

“Of all things, it was not safe to stick my hand into a 500 degree oven for hours, constantly moving the dough around so it didn’t burn,” he said. “That’s why I focused the next two years making a ‘Goven.'”

The Goven is a patented oven that cooks single serving pizzas to perfection in three minutes. The oven improves efficiency and allows employees to spend time on less tedious work.

Lim attributed GOPIZZA’s whirlwind expansion to the Goven. By end of 2018, GOPIZZA received over 2 billion won ($1.6million) in investments and surpassed 500 million won in monthly sales in April.

All pizzas are made and served on the spot, while the dough is produced at a separate processing factory.

“As for the dough, processing is more important than mixing. That’s why we produce them at a factory,” he said.

Lim explained that GOPIZZA products are fairly easy to make from simple recipes and ready-made ingredients, and this differs the brand from other relatively cheap pizzas.

“The store is easy to manage because you just have to add toppings and put it in the Goven. The process can be done by a small number of people who are not well-trained,” he said.

Lim Jae-won, founder and CEO of GOPIZZA, poses for a photo at a store branch in Sangsu-dong, Seoul, May 20. Courtesy of GOPIZZA
Indian customers pose for a photo in front of a GOPIZZA store branch in Bangalore, India, May 17. Courtesy of GOPIZZA

Regarding the company’s foray into India in April, he said there is great potential overseas because pizza is a universal food.

“We decided to enter the Indian market because pizza is popular in India. Naan, which is similar to bread, and paneer, which is similar to cheese, are ubiquitous in India’s native cuisine. Tomatoes and sauces are also prevalent everywhere.” Lim said.

He also pointed out that a middle class is emerging in India as some rural areas are seeing increasing prosperity and the country has about 65 percent of its population below the age of 35.

“India is the second largest market for the U.S. pizza brand Domino’s, which means there are a lot of possibilities for smaller players to share the market,” Lim said.

Lim said the business environment in India is much better compared to Korea, citing that Indians have immense pride in operating restaurants.

“There are about 10 people working at the India branch in Bangalore, including two employees from GOPIZZA headquarters and four part-time workers,” Lim said.

“The city’s per capita gross domestic product is about $8,000, and since the store is located near Tech Village, most of our customers are coders, developers and consultants,” Lim said.

Speaking of his future goals for GOPIZZA, Lim said he is planning to expand retail channels by lending Govens or supplying pizza recipes to pubs.

“Compared with January 2018, December monthly sales grew over 25 times. This year, we expect to reach 5 to 7 billion won in annual sales, from 1.5 billion won last year,” Lim said.

GOPIZZA also aims to reach 100 outlets this year and make the best pizza possible. “I personally don’t like stiff competition. I don’t plan to win over other major pizza franchises. I just want to focus on making the best pizza in the world,” he said.