Singapore startup bites into China, new markets with F&B booking service

Singapore startup bites into China, new markets with F&B booking service

Summary: Online restaurant reservation service, Chope, inks partnerships with a lifestyle news website in China as well as TripAdvisor, as the three-year-old startup looks to reach more diners and F&B outlets in the region.

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Singapore's restaurant booking site, Chope, has inked new partnership deals in China and with travel reservation portal TripAdvisor as it looks to reach more diners and F&B outlets across the region.

It signed an agreement earlier this month with global media company Ringier, putting its reservation service on the latter's lifestyle news site City Weekend. The entertainment and dining guide is touted to be popular among expats and English-speaking residents in China, clocking 5.8 million pageviews a month and boasting a print circulation of 120,000.

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Chope's founder-CEO Ariff Ziaudeen

With the new partnership, diners can book tables via the websites and mobile apps of both City Weekend and Chope, said Arrif Ziaudeen, CEO of the three-year-old startup who founded the company soon after graduating from Stanford's Graduate School of Business with two other partners.

The agreement currently covers F&B outlets in Shanghai and Beijing, but will eventually expand to other Chinese cities, he said. City Weekend also serves readers in Guangzhou and Suzhou.

In an interview with ZDNet, Ziaudeen further revealed a new as-yet-announced partnership with TripAdvisor, integrating Chope's booking service with the travel website. The revelation came in response to a question about whether he had plans to expand the startup's presence into other related markets, following OpenTable.com's new partnership with on-demand car rental service, Uber

"People go to TripAdvisor obviously in search of hotels and the next logical step from there is to look for places to dine. They look at reviews of the restaurants [on TripAdvisor] and can directly proceed to make a dining reservation via our booking system," he explained, adding that clicking on "Find a table" option on TripAdvisor will pull up Chope's reservation tool. "Just as with taxi booking [in the Uber-OpenTable partnership], we feel that there's a nice synergy between hotel and restaurant booking."

The integration between Chope and TripAdvisor has been lived for just two weeks, but he said the early numbers of reservations "are promising". He said the new partnership has a revenue-sharing component, in which Chope is powering TripAdvisor's reservation system and sending diners invitation to submit their reviews on the travel site.

Eye on China

Asked if he had plans to expand into other Southeast Asian markets, Ziaudeen said the company's focus for the near-future is China. He noted that he had looked at the region and found it too fragmented, making it challenging to to address as different marketing teams would have to be set up in each country.

In comparison, China's various cities were "homogeneous enough" for one major service to support the entire country, he said. In addition, its sheer market size offered more growth potential even within the cities, where Shanghai's estimated population of almost 24 million dwarfed several cities in Malaysia, for instance.

The scale is significantly different, he noted, adding that this meant that the number of potential F&B reservations in markets like Malaysia would be exponentially less than China. 

In addition, the Chinese reservation market is still young and largely untapped, giving Chope plenty to "chew on", he said. "We're lucky to find a partner in Ringier and leaning quite heavily in the partnership. They have 16 years of experience in the market and very F&B focused with great relationships with the restaurants there."

According to Ziaudeen, the Ringier partnership will also have some revenue-sharing component, and Chope will plow back its earnings by buying up advertising space on the lifestyle website. Restaurants listed on the site can now also tap the Singapore startup's reservation system as well as table management software.

Chope collects a booking fee from restaurants for each dining reservation. It also provides a table reservation system designed to help F&B outlets optimize their seating and turnover. Delivered over Amazon Web Service and Microsoft Azure, the software-as-a-service offering is available to restaurants on a monthly subscription fee. 

This and booking fees collected from dining reservation contribute equally to the company's overall revenues, but Ziaudeen declined to provide exact numbers. He did reveal that Chope was recently profitable in Singapore, while its business in Hong Kong--launched in April 2013--is still in the red, though, the company is "happy" with its growth there revenue-wise.

chope-site

Chope last year seated 1.2 million diners in Singapore and currently lists over 400 restaurants across four cities, helping 100,000 diners on average monthly with their F&B reservations. It currently employs 30 staff in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Beijing, and is now putting together a fourth team in Shanghai.

Founded in 2011, the startup shored up two rounds of investments in October 2011 and March 2013 when it raised S$1.1 million (US$880,800) and S$3.2 million (US$2.56 million), respectively. Its investors included Singapore Press Holdings, Innosight Ventures, and private investors.

Ziaudeen's two co-founders have since left the company's management team, though they still hold shares in the company. Asked where he hoped to take Chope three years from now, the CEO pointed to a vision where Chope would become Asia's dominant booking platform.

"We also want to expand beyond that and help restaurants attract the attention of diners," he said, noting that Chope is sitting on valuable dining data that can be mined to provide useful insights for F&B players.  

"We know who has eaten where, when, and how often…but we need to balance our users' privacy as well. So it's something we're trying to explore and figure out how best to tap all the data we have," Ziaudeen said.

Topics: Start-Ups, Singapore, Social Enterprise

About

Eileen Yu began covering the IT industry when Asynchronous Transfer Mode was still hip and e-commerce was the new buzzword. Currently a freelance blogger and content specialist based in Singapore, she has over 16 years of industry experience with various publications including ZDNet, IDG, and Singapore Press Holdings.

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