There aren't a lot of companies that capture their enthusiasm like Weee! The online grocery service, which caters to the Asian-American community, puts feeling into every “e” and exclamation point in its unorthodox name.
“There are a couple of reasons for the name,” Founder and CEO Larry Liu tells PYMNTS. “First, we believe grocery shopping should be a social activity. In the early days of the company, we observed that a lot of people actually buy things together, sometimes to find food on social platforms like WeChat and Facebook. The second reason is that we believe grocery shopping should be exciting, because we also observed that when people were waiting for us to deliver those products, they were super excited. That excitement is rarely found when people shop at supermarkets, but we think it should be part of the experience.”
With 600 percent year-over-year growth and 120,000 households served across its nine major markets, it's apparent that the company's customers are as excited as its founder. The venture capital community is, as well: Weee! recently announced $35 million in Series C financing led by DST Global, bringing its total capital raised to over $100 million. Earlier this year, it picked up some more street cred when Tom Dillon, former chief operations officer of Netflix, joined the board. And in July, Weee! added four new areas: San Diego, Portland, New York City and New Jersey.
The company's audience represents an underserved opportunity, both from an online grocery perspective and from an ingredient perspective, according to Liu. Since Weee! was founded in 2015, he has heard countless stories from his customers about how they used to drive up to two hours to find an Asian-American specialty food store, where foods like Kyoho grapes (bigger and juicier than green grapes), chawanmushi (egg custard) or crab rangoon (cooked with kale) were available.
“We're very inclusive,” Liu noted. “Anyone who has an interest in specialty Asian products can find what they are looking for. And we also offer staples, things that can be found in mainstream supermarkets, so our customers can shop here as a one-stop destination. We wanted to highlight Asian-Americans at this stage because that's a very underserved community. People often have to drive hours to get what they want. And the shopping experience at ethnic grocery markets is not ideal.”
Liu doesn't take his customer base for granted. He is a huge fan of Sam Walton and reads his autobiography a few times a year. He has ensured that his value proposition goes beyond his food and its audience, and strives to serve customers' needs better than in-store grocery or in-store specialty stores. Liu has also focused on price, and says he maintains lower prices than in-store grocery or competing delivery services. Then he factors in home delivery. Even though online grocery has turned out to be an expensive proposition for the Walmarts, Amazons and Targets of the world, Weee! is profitable.
The pandemic spiked the company's business, as it did for most online grocery providers. But in the early days of the virus, Liu saw that even for his niche, consumers were buying based on panic. Part of the reason he went back to the market to get more funding was to build the staff and infrastructure necessary to serve his rapidly increasing customer base. One of the accommodations he has made for that base is to accept credit cards from some Chinese banks, as well as Alipay and WeChat Pay, partnering with a third party to accept those forms of payments.
“I think a year from now, we will be more inclusive in the sense that our customer base will be more diverse than they are today,” Liu predicted. “We're going to offer products that cater to more ethnic groups among the Asian American communities. And we'll also be in more regions a year from now. To support that, we will have significant infrastructure improvements and a supply chain upgrade. We also plan to offer more varieties of products, such as packaged goods, personal care items and cosmetics. Overall, we aim to be a much larger company and offer more value to our customers.”