STARTUP

This Southeast Asian Start-up is Taking on Yelp and Zomato in the Philippines

No reservations for food discovery app Booky when it comes to growth

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BY Tricia V. Morente - 22 Mar 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

When it comes to finding the best restaurants in a city with a flourishing dining scene like Manila, Ben Wintle, the founder of Scrambled Eggs Pte. Ltd., is not a fan of user-generated reviews.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily a fast and concise way to figure out if I want to eat in a certain restaurant—there are a lot of unqualified people out there writing reviews and thinking they’re experts,” he says, adding that some of the latest reports he’s read reveal that “eighty percent of restaurants listed in user-review sites are usually rated between 3 to 3.7 [out of 5]—that doesn’t tell me anything.”

It’s exactly this aspect that Wintle opted to veer away from when his team created Booky, an app that enables users to discover and learn more about Metro Manila’s over 15,000 restaurants. “At the heart we’re a restaurant directory, but a key differentiator between us and other local and global players is that we don’t rely on user-generated content,” he shares.

Instead, Booky opted to build an editorial team that takes on a more journalistic approach to writing about the latest developments in the restaurant industry. This doesn’t mean, however, that user opinions are totally irrelevant—among the site’s most shared content are top 10 lists of dining destinations across different categories, and the ranking is culled out of data from the app. “Users are encouraged to create a list of their favorites and must-tries, and our editorial team creates content out of all that data. It’s a formula that’s straight to the point, and our users like that,” says Wintle.

 

A hit among both diners and restaurateurs

No establishment likes a bad review, and the Booky formula eliminates the chances. “Members of the public can easily rant about restaurants, and a lot of it is really unfair for the owner,” asserts Wintle.

The site’s fair and unbiased reportage on the city’s dining scene has made it a hit among restaurateurs, such that when Booky launched Booky Prime—a membership program that gives users P100 to P500 discounts off their bill at Prime restaurant partners—restaurant owners were keen on the collaboration. The fact that Booky has a massive user base of diners didn’t hurt either. “We’re now at a million users a month. Last 2016, we had about seven million people coming to the site, which is six to seven percent of the population,” says Wintle, adding that Prime restaurant partners now total “about 700, and that’s been growing really well every month.”

That’s quite a feat for a three-year-old, 30-strong start-up. “We have a handful of developers, an editorial team, customer support, and a restaurant and operations team who go and find partners and make sure the restaurants comply with our system,” he says.

Booky’s ultimate vision is twofold: “to become the most used digital platform and best-known brand for consumer technology in the Philippines,” shares Wintle. The first part is already set to come true this year, as Booky’s app is gaining more users now than Zomato, another food discovery app. “Their website gets used more than ours, but we’re catching up there really fast. This year, we will be the biggest in terms of raw traffic,” asserts Wintle.

Being one of the few local start-up companies successful in technology innovation, it looks like Booky has the second aspect covered, too. “The apps we see everybody use day today are foreign,” he points out, “but we’re one of those few local apps people use quite often. We’re excited because that’s still going to grow.”

In the drawing board for Booky? “We might go into some other verticals, but not any time soon. The food space alone is so huge and we’re putting laser focus on doing a good job of that this year,” shares Wintle.