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.
Rakuten, the e-commerce giant from Japan with a global presence, announced today that it has set up a USD 10M fund in Singapore that will be investing in startups primarily from Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. These are countries that Rakuten is focusing its business activities on.
That said, Shin Hasegawa, director at Rakuten Global Marketing Office, does not exclude the possibility of investing in companies outside of these countries.
Shin talked about the fund during the Startup Asia conference held in Singapore. Read more
FoodPanda, a Rocket Internet online food delivery company, has launched a new mobile app for iOS and Android.
The app allows users to filter restaurants by location and order food using their mobile phones. They can also see details like minimum order required, delivery fee, and delivery time.
It is available for download in 14 countries: India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Morocco, Senegal and Russia. Read more
Following an announcement of its expansion into Taiwan, Singapore’s VanityTrove has today revealed that it has acquired Glossybox Taiwan for an undisclosed sum. For Glossybox, a Rocket Internet company, this move completes its exit from several countries in the region in order to focus its efforts on larger markets in Europe and North Asia.
Both Glossybox and VanityTrove are subscription commerce companies modeled after Birchbox. Every month, they deliver ‘beauty boxes’ containing cosmetic samples to subscribers, while at the same time acting as a marketing platform for cosmetic brands. Read more
Plurk, like Friendster, is a forgotten player in the long-drawn social network wars. But it has earned a resurgence of sorts lately, getting 1M daily active users and passing 8 billion ‘Plurks’, or status updates. While far from its peak of 100M visits a month, it still shows a lot of promise.
By demonstrating its potential for a second act, the Taiwan-headquartered Plurk has received a Series A round from WI Harper Group, which typically invests more than USD 5M in healthcare and technology companies. But according to TheNextWeb, the deal is in the seven digit range but no more than USD5M. Plurk made the announcement in a press release today. Read more
Taiwan’s largest food review site, iPeen, announced in a press release on 24th January that it has raised USD 5M in investments from Japan’s NEC Corporation, a provider of IT services and products.
The investment is one of the largest for a Taiwanese tech company in the past few years. It’s also among the most substantial in recent memory for any Asian consumer web company that’s not named Rocket Internet.
In total, iPeen has received three rounds of investments. CyberAgent Ventures participated in the first two, and according to TechinAsia, the first round in 2011 was worth USD 1M at 20 percent equity, making for a valuation of USD 5M. That’s the equivalent of NEC Corporation’s investment — which means that iPeen is meeting investor’s expectations. Read more
Japanese investment firm CyberAgent Ventures has invested an undisclosed amount in FashionGuide, a fashion social network from Taiwan, reported TheNextWeb this week.
Launched in 1997, FashionGuide enables users to post their own reviews of cosmetics products, which turns the website into a top destination in the country for crowdsourced reviews in its category.
Catherine Chang, investment manager at CyberAgent Ventures Taiwan, said that the site sees “millions” of unique visits each month. Alexa’s web ranking puts it as the country’s 125th most popular site. Read more
Wireframing tool app Pop
Hangovers are usually unpleasant affairs. But for Ben Lin, Leo Lin, and Shao-Kang Lee, the three Taiwanese co-founders of POP, their post-revelry hang-ups came with a dose of good news: People started downloading their app like crazy.
To call this a pleasant surprise is an understatement: It’s like they’ve struck the lottery. Startups can slog for months without hitting any traction, while POP found theirs in the midst of a launch party two months ago.
They were all drunk when it happened — except for Shao, who was sober enough to track the explosion that was happening right before his eyes. To date, they’ve scored 304 votes on Hacker News and received 65,000 downloads — significant for a niche wireframing iPhone app targeted at designers.
It’s more than luck — there’s something intriguing about POP, which stands for Prototyping on Paper — that makes it stick in the minds of users.
Put simply, the app allows users to capture and upload pen-and-paper sketches of their mobile app designs and link them together to create interactive prototypes. It makes designers’ lives much easier, liberating them from the need to learn the UI of a standard wireframing software. Read more
Glossybox, a beauty box clone by Rocket Internet, is by many metrics a wild success. The subscription commerce company recently revealed that it had shipped 2 million boxes to customers in its first 1.5 years of operations. To date, it has raised USD 72.3M from Holtzbrinck Ventures, Kinnevik and Rocket Internet itself.
Two million boxes is a whole lot of revenue. Here’s a back-of-the-envelope calculation: Assuming every subscriber has signed up for Glossybox’s recurring 3-month package for one year — the company would easily pocket an annual revenue of about USD 26M.
||What is subscription commerce?
||A new e-commerce model where consumers typically pay subscription fees to have products sent to their doorsteps on a regular basis.
There are a couple of catches though. First, we don’t know what Glossybox’s global operating costs and profits are. It could be that the venture is in the red since it would have pumped tons of money into global expansion just to get to its market-leading position.
Second, Glossybox has had some missteps. Namely, it entered Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Australia, only to withdraw after realizing the markets aren’t as plump as it thought they would be. Apparently, the Samwer Brothers are capable of misjudgments. 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