- Tech & Gadgets
- BRW. lounge
Published 27 July 2012 07:33, Updated 31 July 2012 06:28
First Telstra took an undisclosed stake in online booking platform Dimmi. Now Optus has spent $6 million on Australian restaurant review and community website Eatability.
Optus’s Austin Bryan, who is vice-president, communities and eco-systems, group digital l!fe (yes, that is an exclamation mark in his title) shrugs off suggestions the acquisition was in response to Telstra’s move, saying “we don’t let someone else’s strategy determine ours”.
I’m inclined to believe him, but I’d stop short at saying the two are unrelated.
Entrepreneurs have what corporate investors want, and they need to use this to their advantage. For $6 million, Optus has bought a website that boasts 1 million unique users, 37,000 venue listings and over 200,000 reviews. Compared to the 445 million customers that Optus’s parent company SingTel has throughout the Asia-Pacific, these numbers are small fry. But it’s not numbers that the telco seeks, but community . . . and credibility within that community.
Eatability sits in the “sweet spot” of consumer activity – people going out in their local area; finding, doing, connecting and sharing – that Optus wants to be a part of and is targeting with its Digital L!fe division, Bryan says.
Start-up entrepreneurs that are attempting to blaze a trail in the social discovery app space might feel a bit exasperated by Optus’s decision to buy a review website that, really, let’s be honest, is a bit old school. But Bryan reckons the combination of Eatability’s “trusted brand and loyal community” and Optus’s ability to take that community mobile with its own location based services will be “far more formidable” than the latest start-up in the SoLoMo (social, local, mobile) space.
Eatability first began a partnership with Optus in 2011, providing content for the telco’s Go Places app. The founders Celeste and Hui Ong say they had never worked with an exit plan in mind.
“We didn’t start off with an exit strategy,” Hui says. “It was an idea that we were passionate about. The main goal was that one day we could leave our day jobs and work on the site.”
After returning to Australia following a period working in London and Malaysia in 2003, the newly married couple established Eatability. Celeste remained “the breadwinner”, working as a lawyer, while developer Hui worked on the website. Hui achieved the “main goal” after six months, while Celeste left the legal field in 2008 to work full time on Eatability.
The pair were 90 per cent owners of Eatability. The remaining 10 per cent was held by a London-based web developer friend who took equity in 2009, in return for helping with a website redesign.
The pair are looking forward to working on adding extra features to their website, but did not indicate how long they will stay with Optus, nor if they are contracted for a period. Bryan says they “can stay as long as they like . . . we don’t want them to go anywhere!”
Hui adds that although the pair “haven’t really thought that far, we’d love to have a decent break. Running your own business all the time – it’s one of the things where you can never really step away from it.”
“We’d really like to buy an island,” Celeste laughs.
Jokes aside, the Ongs will enjoy a payday that other entrepreneurs could achieve too. They just need to understand how their start-up fits the strategies of corporate investors and acquirers.