Eatability founders reveal why Optus swallowed the restaurant review site for $6 million

Optus has acquired Eatability for $6 million in a deal the site’s founders say was based on the restaurant review website’s in-depth content and social networks.

Eatability was launched in 2003 by husband and wife team, Celeste and Hui Ong. The site now has more than 235,000 restaurant reviews and 37,000 restaurant listings.

Under the deal, Eatability will become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Optus and the Ongs will become employees of Optus, continuing in their roles as head of technology and head of marketing and business development, respectively.

Celeste Ong says Optus’ interest in Eatability started with a partnership with Optus from July last year, when Eatability worked with Optus on one of their services called Go Places. This year the partnership was “deepened” when Eatability provided content to Optus through My Doorstep.

“They were very much interested in the content that we had, they liked the whole breadth of restaurants and dining, with really in-depth content on each one. They wanted that to power Go Places and My Doorstep and they very much liked the social aspect of everyone sharing,” says Hui Ong.

“They were attracted to our user base as well. We have one million unique visitors a month; that is a very active community of people.”

Celeste Ong says it took a few years to monetise the review site.

“Initially, monetisation was not our priority. We wanted to start up the site with good navigation and make it easy to use, as well as giving a platform for users to voice their opinion,” she says.

The Ongs also did not charge restaurants to have a full comprehensive listing on the website. Everyone who had a restaurant could have a listing, in comparison to most directories, where restaurants pay to be listed.

“That’s important for users to have a look at the listing and get a feel for the venue, and that helped with traffic growth,” she says.

After a couple of years, the Ongs got an advertising network to represent the site and that was Eatability’s main revenue model.

Hui Ong says Eatability is now “bigger than both of us” and so the acquisition made sense.

“We are very excited about the acquisition because it gives us the resources to push Eatability even further. As a small company, we were very limited in what we could do; Optus has a lot of marketing clout and a huge customer database.”

The Ongs admit going from being business owners to Optus employees will require an adjustment.

“It is going to be a change because currently we work from home, but the drive will still be there and we will work as hard as we did before,” says Celeste Ong.

“Entrepreneurs have it in their blood and spirit to thrive and make sure the site does well.”

The deal follows the SingTel Group’s recent acquisition of the Singapore food website, HungryGoWhere, and forms part of the SingTel Group’s strategy to build a stable of local digital services across the region.

Loo Cheng Chuan, head of local l!fe at Singtel’s Group Digital L!fe division, said the deal would provide greater functionality for Eatability users.

“Our objective is to make it easy for users ‘on the go’ to discover what’s happening around them,” he said.

“By acquiring Eatability, we have secured a critical building block to deliver a highly engaging and distinctive local digital application.

“More importantly, we will be taking this application to the next level by extending it to smartphones, making it personalised and contextually relevant, as well as introducing an element of magic and serendipity into the customer experience.’’

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