Kent Wu ‘95, Chief Operating Officer of JustKitchen, recently spoke to an audience of alumni and upper school students about his entrepreneurial journey. After starting and successfully exiting several businesses in the US, Kent moved back to Taiwan to work on JustKitchen in 2019.
Kent’s business ventures trace back to the dotcom bubble in 2001 when he worked at AOL. Prior to investing and joining JustKitchen, Kent founded his first business, Airsplat, which became the largest airsoft retailer in the U.S. Airsoft is a combat simulation game in which players get eliminated once they get hit with round plastic pellets fired from guns made to resemble real firearms. He then launched Milk and Eggs, an online grocery delivery service that brings fresh produce directly from farms to consumers in Los Angeles.
After selling Milk and Eggs in 2019, Kent and his family moved back to Taipei, Taiwan, where he is now the Chief Operating Officer of JustKitchen, an operator of ghost kitchens specializing in delivery-only food brands for customers. Ghost kitchens are not customer-facing, allowing them to offer multiple menus in the same location. “We’ll do five to seven menus (delivering) out of one kitchen,” Kent said.
The company’s partner brands include iHOP, Applebee’s, TGI Fridays and many others. JustKitchen also owns several proprietary, delivery-only brands including BodyFit, BIT Beef Noodle and many others. “The goal is to have a full spectrum of western and eastern [cuisines] at different price ranges,” Kent said.
Central to its business model is the use of proprietary technology -- analysis of customer data in real-time, allowing the company to measure the popularity of food items and predict peak ordering times, which then furthers supply chain optimization and reduces food waste.
Experiencing rapid growth during times of COVID-19, which broke out six months after JustKitchen launched in June of 2019, JustKitchen has already expanded to over 50 locations internationally: 37 locations in Taiwan and 10 locations in Hong Kong, Singapore, Philippines and Malaysia.
However, Kent’s journey in business was not always smooth. He recalls working sixteen hours a day, seven days a week, during his first five years at Airsplat: “At 1 a.m., I remember [the work] was done, all the employees had left, and I was just beat… I just fell down to my knees, sobbing to [my then girlfriend, now wife],” Kent said. “I had a mental breakdown… [I thought] I don’t know how I dug myself into this hole,” Kent said.
“There’s a lot of work to do to run a business. For me, especially initially, it’s a grueling process… [During] the first five years, I did everything from [daily operations such as answering phone calls and receiving orders],” Kent said.
Through it all, Kent carries lessons of social and emotional confidence, which he attributes to required leadership skills in entrepreneurship, from his high school days at TAS. After moving from the U.S., Kent started junior year in Taipei, where he navigated social climates and self discovery. “In high school, I was really more preoccupied with figuring out the social circles that were present at TAS,” Kent said.
At TAS, Kent was involved in International Baccalaureate (IB) classes, school clubs including CSA. “For me, [TAS] was a good balance between studying and doing what I needed to do,” Kent said.
In reflecting back at his days at TAS, Kent encourages students to value the soft skills they learn, take advantage of the resources available at school, and relax. “I want to say my one piece of advice, if I had to give to myself [in high school], is [to] relax and appreciate the moment,” Kent said.
As an entrepreneur, and student of life, Kent encourages embracing the process of learning -- in any stage of life or career. “I’ve realized that at any point in time, the constant is that you’re always figuring it out… You’re always learning,” Kent said.
Kent now lives in Taiwan with his wife and two children, who both attend TAS in Grades 1 and 8. He hopes to continue to immerse his children in the multicultural upbringing that Taiwan has to offer. As for his business, JustKitchen has plans to expand further throughout the Asia Pacific region and North America in the coming year.