Pint-sized but indomitable, Israeli KINERET KARIN is the founder of Singapore-Dine, a one-stop-shop dining guide and food-delivery website. She tells us how growing up in different parts of the world, followed by three years in the Israeli army, have equipped her for this job.
Where are you from?
I’m Israeli, but my dad works in academia and our family was posted all over the world. We lived in England when I was four, went to the US when I was 10, and moved to Canada when I was 15.
I liked our varied lifestyle and was sorry that I missed out on the family’s Australia posting while I was serving in the Israeli army.
Tell us about your army experience.
It’s generally a two-year stint, but I volunteered for an extra year on a kibbutz, which was great. I worked in agriculture, growing grapes and avocadoes, and in the afternoons I taught Hebrew to the Russian kids on the kibbutz.
After that I was a medic in the army, and loved the experience; the three-month course I took was one of the best thing I’ve ever done. Now, whenever I get mad at my workers I remind them that I was in the army. Taxi drivers respect that, too!
What brought you to Singapore?
Nir’s [Kineret’s husband] job with Hewlett Packard brought us here in August 2008. He’d visited Singapore in 2004 and loved it. When he came home, he said that if we were ever offered a relocation, this was where he’d like to come to.
After the army, I had done a BA and then an MA in statistics, majoring in quality assurance, then spent five years working in innovative R&D for Teva Pharmaceuticals; then I spent four years in the marketing department of Teva’s international division. I continued working for Teva here for two years, but quit last summer to concentrate on Singapore Dine.
Why a home-delivery website?
Although Singapore is very high-tech in many ways, it’s also backwards in certain areas. In Israel, I would order in food three times a week and it would arrive within 45 minutes. Here, I couldn’t find anything but pizza or McDonald’s.
There are some local online restaurant guides, but most of them are part of something else – Time Out, for example. There are a couple of big restaurant guides, of course, but some of the reviews are virtually unintelligible to a Western reader; it’s like they’ve been directly translated from Chinese.
That’s another thing: in Israel, I got used to booking restaurant tables online. Often, when you try to book by phone here, you get someone who doesn’t understand you. It’s not just restaurants, either; the manicurist at my nail salon in Chinatown is the same. But she understands “red” and “express service”, and we get along fine!
So, I saw a clear need for a one-stop-shop website where you could find a restaurant you liked and then either book a table online or place an online order for delivery.
It’s funny, in Israel I would never have dreamed of starting up and managing a business of this kind. But Singapore allows you to try something new; and having a domestic helper gives you more time.
How did you go about it?
To start with, I researched the top restaurant websites in the world – in New York, Tel Aviv and London – and took the best ideas from them.
From Singapore’s total of about 15,000 restaurants in Singapore, I decided to target the mid-to-high-end range for my delivery service, though the website itself lists about 2,500 restaurants. Before approaching restaurants to sign them up, I tried to pinpoint those that were most appropriate for my purposes. Apart from the standard of food, you have to be aware that certain cuisines, including some kinds of seafood, are less suitable for delivery.
As of now, early March, there are 22 restaurants and one wine distributor on my site. The website has been up and running since April last year, the food-delivery project came on stream in August, and I’ll soon be adding the online restaurant booking facility.
How does the delivery system work? Is it popular?
We have some people who order every day – and at least three who order twice a day! Some stay in places like the Pan Pacific Suites, which don’t have kitchens. A number of people have called me up to say how happy they were to find that such a service existed in Singapore.
I run my own team of dispatch riders. Finding the right people was something of a challenge. I was amazed when they’d ask at their interview: “How many hours do I have to work?” I felt like saying: “Do you want to work, or not?”
In Israel, everyone is so hardworking. At one stage I waitressed and worked three jobs at a time; and as a student, my husband did various jobs, including deliveries for Domino’s.
To what do you ascribe your success?
Apart from working hard, we Israelis are pushy – we know exactly what we want. But I’ve been speaking English since I was four, and I’ve lived all over the world, which makes me a global person. So, though I have clear goals, I hope I pursue them in a well-mannered way.
Language is so important. My five-year-old, Yuval, started learning Japanese at EtonHouse because her first friend here was Japanese. She sang us a Japanese song this morning, and I had no idea what it meant – but it sounded so cute!
Having lived all over the world, where is home for you?
I was born in Jerusalem, lived in Haifa for a few years and spent a total of more than ten years in the Tel Aviv area. To answer your question, all of Israel feels like home to me. But it can wait …
Delivery call centre: +65 6222 4665
Delivery website: www.singapore-dine.sg/food-delivery-singapore