Empty rooms have always been a problem for hotels, especially during off-peak seasons. Besides the lost revenue opportunities, hotel operators have to contend with fixed costs like staff wages, insurance premiums, and marketing expenses.
One way to solve this problem would be to match unfilled inventory with a market of last minute vacationers. We already know that this market exists. Hotel Tonight, a San Francisco based startup, has developed a hotel booking mobile app catering to spur-of-the-moment travelers. It appears to be doing very well, having raised a USD 23M Series C round in June last year.
Now, Hong Kong startup HotelQuickly has brought a similar concept to Asia. Launched in March this year in Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Indonesia, and Malaysia, the iOS and Android app has almost 200 hotels available for booking. It isn’t the only one getting into the act — CheckInTonight is also hoping to attract vacationers to book accommodation on its platform.
There’s no better time to capitalize on an idea like this. While Hotel Tonight is expanding outside of the United States — Europe, and not Asia, appears to be its next destination. This leaves a possibly unmet demand in Asia, as we’re certainly seeing a lot of intra-Asia travel to hotspots like Bali, Phuket, and Singapore.
HotelQuickly fits a classic ploy that has been honed to perfection by opportunistic entrepreneurs: Find an idea that is working well in the West, figure out if it’s viable in Asia, and replicate the idea there. The exit strategy is also clear: Hope that you get acquired by a competitor or a larger travel site.
While it’s challenging to recreate a Facebook or Google in parts of Asia, the hospitality sector, which is riding on Asia’s thriving reputation as a vacationer’s paradise, holds a lot of potential for replicating ideas.
HotelQuickly’s five co-founders know this game very well — two of them were from Rocket Internet after all. Christian Mischler was the former COO of FoodPanda while Raphael Cohen was the managing director of FoodPanda Vietnam.
Tomas Laboutka (CEO), Michal Juhas (CTO) and Mario Peng (CFO) round up the rest of the team, which has so far raised USD 500k from private investors in US, Europe, and Asia. The team can’t reveal names yet as they’re still in the midst of fundraising.
Tomas tells me that the idea to do this startup first emerged in July last year. From then on, the company hired a team of developers that worked remotely from Brazil, Pakistan, and Thailand. While having a team in disparate locations was challenging, the arrangement sped up execution by taking advantage of varying time zones to work around the clock — sort of like passing a baton.
Getting the development process down pat is important for a tech-oriented startup like HotelQuickly. Its mobile backend compares rates and displays the hotel rooms with the best value on the app. Payment on the app has to be as seamless as possible despite the lack of an ubiquitous payment gateway across Asia.
Then there’s the matter of developing a web platform for hoteliers to indicate the rooms they have available and the rates they’re going for. The platform also facilitates real-time or delayed money transfer from the startup to the hotel, with the company collecting a commission before passing on the rest.
With the technology is more or less in place, the startup can start devoting some effort to marketing the app. It has set other parts of Asia in its sights.
Spotify, a popular music streaming service, has just launched in Singapore, Malaysia, and Hong Kong. The service, available in both free and premium versions, enables users to listen to an unlimited amount of music.
The free version is ad-supported and works only on a laptop or desktop while the paid, ad-free version enables offline listening on mobile devices as well. Its mobile app is available on iOS, Android, and Windows Phone. Users can also create playlists and share it with their friends. They can search for music and follow their favorite artists to find out their latest activities.
Since starting in 2006, Spotify has generated USD 500M in revenue for rights owners, and now has a buffet spread of 20M songs globally. It has 6M paying subscribers in 23 markets.
We first got wind of Spotify’s interest in the region when they began hiring teams in Singapore and Hong Kong. Then, last week, invites were sent to a press event, fueling speculation as to when exactly the service will launch in Singapore.
While Spotify is certainly among the first music streaming services to expand into Asia (StarHub and KKBox’s Music Anywhere beat it to the punch in Singapore), others are expected to follow in rapid fashion.
Apple is reportedly on the brink of launching its own version this year, to be offered through iTunes. It will be made available in UK, France, Germany, Australia and Japan.
In rapid fashion, Qoo10 has become a major e-commerce marketplace in Asia, processing SGD 278M (USD 224M) in its five countries last year, up from SGD 150M in 2011. However, it’s still a smidgen of the USD 175B worth of global transactions that are taking place on eBay — roughly equivalent of what China’s Taobao was processing in 2012.
The company makes between three to six percent off every transaction. To fund future expansion, it is gunning for an IPO within two years on the Nasdaq.
Qoo10 is also operating in China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, and Malaysia.
The company behind the marketplace, Giosis, is a joint venture between eBay (49 percent stake) and Ku Young Bae (51 percent). Ku, who also founded GMarket, sold his South Korean operations to eBay before working on Giosis and rebranding all international GMarket sites to Qoo100.
More stats on Qoo10
Traction in Singapore:
Founding to 31 December 2010
(As of March 2013)
Number of employees: 450 (40 in Singapore)
Overall total sales from mobile: 20 percent
Downloads for Qoo10 app in Singapore/World: 500k/1 million
Growth rate in Singapore: 20 percent a month (fastest among all countries)
Registered Singapore users in March 2013: 900,000
New registered users a day since January 2012 in Singapore: 1,000
Profile of Qoo10 user: 27 years old on average, 75 percent female
We’ve been hearing more about online private sales in Singapore lately, with companies like Reebonz offering members-only discounts for branded fashion items and ImpulseFlyer doing the same thing for boutique and luxury hotels.
ChateauAsia is bringing the same concept to wine. The one-year-old startup, which is operating in Singapore and Hong Kong, works with French producers and importers to sell wine at discounts of between 20 percent and 50 percent.
The website’s backend tracks the tastes of its customers, and one day, the company hopes to match them with a database of French wines and their characteristics so that it can offer recommendations. Read more
The company behind Candy Crush has revealed that the game is played by around 1.3 million people a day in Hong Kong, which is almost 20 percent of the city’s population. Candy Crush is a puzzle game where players earn points by matching candies — sort of like Bejeweled.
This nugget of information was revealed on TechCrunch by Riccardo Zacconi, the CEO of King, the mobile and web gaming company behind the smash hit. Read more
AcceleratorHK, a YCombinator-style startup accelerator in Hong Kong, is now open to applications for its second batch. The three month bootcamp, which will start on 13 May, focuses on mobile startups doing cross-platform development with HTML5. Interested startups must register on F6s by 5 April.
The accelerator had 80 applications for its first batch, out of which six teams were selected. A demo day was held in February this year. Each startup received USD 15,000 in seed funding. Similarly, for this cohort, AcceleratorHK will only accept five or six teams.
The program is organized by Paul Orlando and Stephen Forte, who have experience starting up and working in tech companies. Some of the mentors at the first run of the program have included Matt Meeker, co-founder of Meetup.com, and Neeraj Arora, a business development executive at Whatsapp.
Here’s a video showcasing the going-ons leading up to demo day:
Mandarin is notoriously hard to learn, especially for Westerners who often get tripped up on Chinese intonation. It’s a real problem, since varying tones of a same-sounding word can actually have different meanings.
But if there’s anything close to a global lingua franca — and I mean among straight guys — it’s hot women. It turns out that one such siren, 26-year-old Japanese model Kaoru Kikuchi, has combined the world of language learning and soft porn to create a product that is weird, offensive, and wonderful — all at the same time.
I’m talking of course about SexyMandarin.com. Here’s how it works: Users pay a monthly fee to watch videos of girls frolicking in bed or doing other silly things. Footages of lingerie models speaking in Mandarin will be interspersed by sequences where an animated, pervy looking teacher will explain the phrases used. Think softcore lesbian porn with Mandarin lessons in place of non-existent plots. Read more
Handy's smartphone rental service prides itself on being comprehensive. Photo: Tink Labs
Getting a data connection overseas can be a traumatic experience, especially if you’re a data freak obsessed with sharing every waking moment of your life on social networks.
Usually, it involves heading to an airport counter, getting prepaid data plan, swapping your SIM cards, and activating the service. Not to mention scrutinizing confusing price plans to decide among them.
Handy, a new smartphone rental service that’s available in Hong Kong and Singapore, is simplifying the whole process. In essence, it wants to give travelers the feeling that they’ve never left home. Well, at least data-wise. Read more
The job openings follow Spotify’s announcement in 2011 that it would be expanding to Asia, although there’s been not much news since. Ex-Googler Dan Brody is leading Spotify’s operations in the region.
There’s also no word on when the music service would be made available to Asian consumers, despite already serving users in 20 countries, including Australia and New Zealand. It was a similar situation with iTunes, although that changed last year. Read more
Rocket Internet is a Berlin headquartered company that is well-known for cloning successful online startups (usually from the US), replicating them elsewhere, and turning them into million-dollar businesses. It was founded in 2007 by the Samwer brothers — Alexander, Marc, and Oliver, who have together created and sold a number of successful Internet businesses before starting Rocket Internet. Most of their businesses are e-commerce related.
The company tends to hire MBA-trained executives and management consultants to become ‘founder’ and ‘managing director’ of its businesses. However, unlike startup founders, they do not hold as much equity or have as much decision-making power to shape the direction of their companies. They are primarily executors who could be fired for underperforming.
Rocket Internet has polarized observers in the startup and technology community for its practices. Critics pour scorn on the company for blatant copying, mischaracterizing its ventures as startups, an over-aggressive and results-oriented corporate culture, and rapid turnover rates. At the same time, it is widely admired for its rapid execution ability. Read more