Chope: A Technological Twist on Restaurant Reservations (Part 1)
As the buzz around Tern 2016 gets bigger, we sat down with Arrif Ziaudeen, CEO of Chope for a chat to get a glimpse of what he’s got in store for our ‘Yummy Careers’ segment. As expected, he did not disappoint. His timeless words of wisdom and fresh take on the new economy are not to be missed. Arrif undoubtedly blazed a trail for the intersection between food and tech, creating a career for the storybooks.
What were you doing before you started Chope?
I was working in finance. I was working in investment in private equity in Singapore and Indonesia.
Would you say there was a defining moment in starting your business?
There were many different defining moments. You can say it was the day I quit my job, you could say it was the day I copyrighted the company at three in the morning. I don’t know if there was just one.
How did the idea for Chope come about?
I started the company after getting inspired by the successes of how easy it was to book online in the travel space (like with flights and hotels). I think one of the biggest day-to-day difficulties people have is restaurant bookings… that was the problem I was trying to solve.
How did your passion for food help form Chope?
I am a foodie, but now it’s a different situation, there’s a lot of data everywhere, we have a lot of analysts, we have different tools and it’s a lot more like a tech company than a food one.
But early on it was certainly driven by our knowledge of where the best places to go were. We saw it as a personal recommendation from our team to [the customer].
That DNA has carried on until today, we value quality over quantity, and that carries through to how our sales team approaches things. We’d rather work with a few good restaurants than a lot of dodgy ones.
What brought you to the decision to name the company Chope?
I remember very clearly the moment we picked the name for the company and I knew it was right. Actually, I can tell you the defining moment, there is one that sticks out in my memory.
I was with a friend who later became an advisor in the company, and we were talking about the idea that was still an idea.
He asked what I would call it [and] I said, “Seat”. He said, “that’s a stupid name, how is anyone going to know you spell it… why don’t you call it Chope?”
In Singapore, it’s a brand in itself already. But I said “no, somebody must own the website.” During those days, [I was] on an iPhone 1 [and] it takes two minutes to load up the website ‘Chope.sg’… “damn, that’s gone”… then Chope.com.sg was available to buy at the price of $12.99.
T said “if you don’t buy it in the next 24 hours, I’m going to buy and it and I’m going to sell it to you for a thousand bucks.” I went back to the office… [and] I bought it for $12.99. It started to burn a hole in my pocket, I already invested twelve whole dollars in this thing, so that was the moment I had an asset in my balance sheet. It wasn’t just an idea anymore.
What forced you to get started?
I saw some other competitors had started. They had similar ideas and they had by no means had failed or anything, but it pushed me to action. I felt like “if this guy can do it, so can I. I should move fast, if not this guy’s going to take the entire market.” He’s going to steal my idea.
How did you make the move from having the idea for Chope into action?
To be honest, I sat on the idea of Chope for about two years before starting it. I didn’t feel that I was well placed to start a company but I felt that it was an idea that had a huge market and would inevitably start. So after two years when no one had done it, I just thought “you know what, I’m tired of waiting for someone else to do this, let me give it a shot and see how it works out.”
How did you know the market was right?
When I felt like the market was in the right place, I also knew a few restaurant owners and restaurant managers, who started to feel the same way. People think, ‘I’m going to the cinema tonight, I’ll book it on my phone, I’m done’, ‘I’m going to go to the restaurant’, ‘people are calling me left and right, I’ve answered my SMS’s, everything.’ It’s all about communication. The gap between what was achievable in other verticals in dining became so obvious by that point, it was inevitable that somebody was going to do it. It wasn’t just that I thought the market was right; actual operators who shared that sentiment validated it.
What would you say are the most useful attributes for someone working in a startup?
Having a passion for the industry and having an understanding and willingness to wear many hats is [what] you want to look for… if you are trying to work at a startup, in any industry.
If you’re one of the first eight employees, you’re going to be doing multiple things…sales, administration, HR, marketing, general management, even finance…Those were the qualities I think our early team really had. They were generalists, more than they were specialists.
What qualities did you look for in a founding team?
At the starting stage, we had people who had come from different backgrounds, and had no specific skills in restaurant reservation platforms, because they didn’t exist.
Dinesh, for example, was one of the earliest employees, number 2 or 3. He had previously worked in finance at the St. Regis, which is about as unrelated to being the general manager or sales manager of a restaurant reservation platform as it gets. But he understood the dynamics of the business, and that was key for us.