BonAppetour, a startup that connects travelers with hosts who prepare meals, has raised a $500,000 seed round.
Participants in the equity investment include Wong Toon King of FarSight Capital and Arya Setiadharma of Prasetia Dwidharma.
During the past few years, the Singapore-based company had survived on about $70,000 in personal savings and government grants. It was a recipient of the ACE startup grant, money awarded by the Singapore government to promising startups, that was worth $35,000.
It says that since its founding it has connected more than 500 passionate hosts on the platform with “thousands of guests.”
CEO and cofounder Rinita Vanjre says the team plans to use the money to expand its presence in foodie capitals, such as Barcelona, Rome, and Paris, where they already have some users, and new markets, like Tokyo and Cape Town. It has scheduled the launch of iOS and Android mobile apps for July.
BonAppetour was co-founded in 2013 by Vanjre, Inez Wihardjo (COO), and Giovanni Casinelli (CTO). It has three other full-time staff members, who vet hosts. The startup offers training programs and photography services to boost consistency.
Its business model is a charge of a 15% commission on every transaction, charged to the guest.
The eating-with-locals market is tough to crack, despite its high-concept, glossy magazine, intrinsic appeal.
VizEat has had the most success. The French startup now claims to have more than 10,000 hosts in 90 countries. EatWith is a close competitor, claiming hosts in 150 cities.
But Cookening.com was swallowed by VizEat. In recent years, KitchenSurfing has closed, despite raising $3.5 million. WithLocals continues. Kitchen.ly, SupperKing, and Kitch.it didn’t cut it.
Yet Vanjre is confident there is room for multiple players to thrive. She told Tnooz by email:
“Travel today has changed and travelers are looking more and more for experiential activities that allow them to delve deeper into the city’s culture and traditions. We often hear of travel tales which tell of meeting friendly residents, where friendships blossom, but in truth, these encounters are few and far between.
We want to enable travelers to discover unique dining experiences with local hosts in a much more easy, trusted, and safe manner.
Inez and myself, both with engineering degrees, have always been passionate about startups since our days in university.
Inez was the president of Aseanpreneurs, an organization to empower the youth about entrepreneurship, and I was the organizer of Singapore’s largest business plan competition, Startup@singapore.
We were chosen by our university (National university of Singapore) in 2012 to go on the NUS Overseas colleges program which is a program geared at sending entrepreneurial students to top startup Hubs around the world (including Silicon Valley and NYC), for a one-year internship program in a startup company.
We went to Stockholm, where we came up with the idea of BonAppetour while backpacking.
While validating the idea of BonAppetour in early 2013, we flew to the gastronomic capital of Europe, Italy, to pitch the idea at Startup Weekend in Milan, where we were also the winners, despite being the only English speaking team there.
It was there that we met Giovanni, our CTO. He is a computer engineer, and has worked on several startups in the past including Asteroid and Hovion. He was courageous enough to move with us to Singapore, so that we could work on the idea together during the early stages.
We have been mentored by serial tech entrepreneurs from Singapore, including Dr Virginia Cha and our current investor Wong Toon King.
Over the past 6 months we have been seeing a 40% month on month growth in our traction and guest figures and have already had thousands of paying guests.”
The startup has promise. A niche focus may help assure quality. Meanwhile, Airbnb has begun asking hosts to throw dinners for strangers.
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