Online restaurant reservation start-up Chope get $3.2m to make its mark

A LOCAL start-up that allows diners to make restaurant reservations online has received $3.2 million in funding.

Chope, as the firm is called, will use the money to expand its business across Asia and hire more programmers and engineers, said its chief executive and founder Arrif Ziaudeen.

To "chope" a seat, meaning "to reserve", is commonly used in Singapore lingo.

The funding was led by Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) and two private equity investor groups that were not named.

SPH Interactive, SPH's wholly owned subsidiary, announced last Friday that it had invested $1.81 million in new preference shares that can be converted into ordinary shares in Chope. If the shares are converted, these will represent about 27.87 per cent of the start-up's ordinary shares.

Chope has now received investment of about $4.3 million since it was started in 2011.

The website allows diners to make reservations in 225 restaurants in Hong Kong and Singapore, with almost 10,000 people a week using the service. Chope also has mobile apps.

Mr Arrif 31, said yesterday that it recently expanded into Hong Kong and is studying expansion into other countries like Malaysia. The firm has 15 employees and will soon start hiring new technical staff.

Chope is not yet profitable. It charges restaurants a monthly subscription for using its booking software, and collects a fee for every diner who books with it.

Mr Arrif is no stranger to business. The Singaporean worked with management consultancy Bain & Co here and in San Francisco, and studied for a Master of Business Administration (MBA) at Stanford Business School.

He moved to Indonesia for a job in private equity, where investors put funds into promising firms. But his interest in starting such a website was piqued during his MBA days.

One academic exercise involved studying the success and challenges of OpenTable, a United States online restaurant reservation system listed on Nasdaq.

"Although I'd joined a private equity firm after my MBA, OpenTable was at the back of my mind. Why not start a similar company in Singapore? So I quit and started Chope," he said.

Mr Arrif got started with his savings and $1.1 million in funds from Innosight Ventures, a venture capital firm, and angel investor Hian Goh, co-founder of Asian Food Channel.

SPH invested in Chope as "it has a viable business model that has gained much traction since its inception", said a spokesman yesterday. "We also see synergy between SPH's food content in our newspapers and online, for example, SoShiok and Chope's restaurant reservation service."

Diner Winifred Chan said: "With Chope's online reservation system, I can make the reservation any time... My reservation is confirmed immediately."

Eateries using Chope include Jumbo Group, Disgruntled Chef and Si Chuan Dou Hua.

Jumbo Group's director for strategic business planning Ang Kiam Lian said: "It's a useful system. It helps us provide better customer service as customers can make reservations at their own convenience."

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