Singapore restaurant booking site raises $8M, eyes further Asian expansion

The Chope Group has booked US$8 million in its latest investment round, and largest to date, with plans to expand into more Asian markets.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

Singapore's restaurant booking site, Chope, has chalked up US$8 million in its latest investment round, and largest to date, and plans to direct the funds into product development and market expansion.

The latest funding exercise was led by Asian investment firm F&H Fund Management, and Singapore-based NSI Ventures, which is part of Southeast Asian private equity firm Northstar Group. The latter had invested in Chope's previous investment round.

Founded in 2011, the Singapore startup two rounds of investments in October 2011 and March 2013 had raised S$4.4 million (US$3.26 million) in total, making this current round its biggest to date. Its investors had included Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), Innosight Ventures, and private investors.

The booking site has seated more than 20 million diners since its inception, serving restaurants in five markets--Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, and Bangkok. In 2013, it seated 1.2 million diners in Singapore alone. The startup expanded into the Chinese market last year after inking an agreement with media company Ringier, which integrated Chope's reservation service with its lifestyle news site City Weekend. The Singapore startup also has an ongoing partnership with travel booking site TripAdvisor, which allows its users to make restaurant reservations with Chope's engine.

Chope CEO and Founder Arrif Ziaudeen told ZDNet the new financial injection would allow the company to further increase its investment in research and development and support its focus on product development. "For example. we're experimenting with social dining via our 'What's Happening' beta feature that combs massive amounts of dining data to show you where all your friends are eating."

He also pointed to development efforts in the Chope Watch app for the Apple wearable device.

"The biggest challenge is anticipating how people are going to use technology in four to eight years' time, [amid a market where] everyone's building apps. So the funds help us reach further into the future," Ziaudeen said in an e-mail.

F&H Chairman John Wu, who once served as Alibaba's CTO, said in a statement Tuesday: "As demonstrated by their remarkable growth, Chope's service provides real value to both diners and restaurant operators. We hope to help Chope expand its platform to more Asian cities, and accelerate the company's pace of product innovation."

Chope's founder-CEO Ariff Ziaudeen

Ziaudeen added that it doubled its revenue in the past year, but declined to provide specific numbers. He did say, though, that the company generated revenue from three key businesses: through a monthly subscription fee for restaurants using its table management system; a booking fee for every reservation or diner it confirms; and other promotional and marketing channels requested by its clients such as its monthly Chope Exclusive deals.

He also revealed that the company was eyeing further expansion into Southeast Asia, including markets such as Jakarta, Bali, and Kuala Lumpur. "I'm personally very excited about China, which is the fastest-changing market we are in," he noted.

According to Ziaudeen, six firms participated in the latest investment round, including two existing and four new investors. He added that Wu was experienced at growing startups in China and Southeast Asia.

Investors involved in this funding exercise included returning investor SPH, DSG Consumers Partners, and Frontier Ventures.

Chope also said it was adding a new executive to its board of directors, Duncan Robertson, who is CFO of Katerra and also a board member on OpenTable, a US-based restaurant booking site that serves more than 32,000 restaurants globally and seats more than 16 million diners a month.

Ziaudeen said: "Thousands of restaurants still use paper, and a lot of education is needed to make them realize the potential of being available to mobile-toting diners 24 by 7."

The company last November acquired local startup Appic Technologies, tapping the latter's Ticktok queueing service to boost its booking engine.

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