- Benson Chang singlehandedly builds restaurant reservation platform
- Learnt various business skills and met angel investor through CGP
BENSON Chang is living proof that one person can achieve anything if he sets his mind to it. The former iPhone app developer jumped into entrepreneurship when he formed a company with his university classmate in 2013.
When his cofounder had to exit for personal reasons, Chang was left with the heavy load of being a solo entrepreneur who had to do everything on his own.
Not one to give up, he carried the torch alone to make TableApp the successful restaurant reservation tool it is today.
Cooking up a solution
It all started with Chang’s desire to solve a problem he observed from his childhood. While growing up, he watched his parents run an F&B (food and beverage) business. During high school, he helped out by working at one of their five restaurants.
As resources were limited, he had to juggle a few different roles in the restaurant: Waiter, cashier, and answering phone calls.
Drawing from his frontline experience with customers, Chang recalls those hectic peak hours when staff were simply too busy to pick up a phone call. He knew that whenever this happens, the restaurant could be losing potential customers calling to reserve a table.
This memory from his youth triggered Chang’s need to create a solution that would simplify the process of table reservations at restaurants, so that staff can focus on serving customers.
Recipe for success
With prior experience in developing iPhone apps, Chang knew that the solution would have to be one that could handle online table reservations without the need for live interaction.
He felt that another advantage of creating an online solution is that it becomes a smoother and more convenient process for the customer, who doesn’t have to wait for someone to pick up his or her call or struggle to communicate with staff, shouting over the din of a busy restaurant.
The resulting product? TableApp.com, a free online restaurant reservation service for diners and a guest management solution for restaurants.
Unlike many of its competitors, TableApp works in real time and is capable of giving instant confirmation, which means it does not require a restaurant worker to log in manually to confirm a reservation.
Since its release in late 2013, TableApp has turned the frustration of reserving a restaurant table into a seamless, hassle-free experience for both the restaurant and the diner.
The simplicity of the solution has propelled TableApp to claim itself as the leading restaurant reservation platform in Malaysia, with an impressive record of having booked restaurant reservations for thousands of hungry customers.
The early startup days were tough for Chang. One of the biggest challenges was convincing the first 20 restaurants to believe in what they were doing and sign up to be listed under TableApp.
As a startup and solo entrepreneur, he didn’t have any track record or base, so he had to convince mid- to high-end restaurants through a passionate vision of an idea.
It involved a lot of cold calling that saw him approaching restaurant owners with presentation slides. He received a lot of rejections, but he also got some leads that expressed interest, convincing him that it was worth developing a prototype.
To keep the leads in the loop, Chang sent them weekly progress updates of the development. He also offered a free trial period to secure trust before finally sealing the deal.
Once he got past the growing pains and signed on the first few restaurants, it became very easy to attract others. One of his proudest moments was when he signed up his first five-star hotel because it proved that his product offered true value to restaurants.
Today, TableApp continues to grow, with over 500 restaurants in the Klang Valley signed up. The company has also expanded overseas, with 80 restaurants in Bangkok listed. Chang’s next target is to have at least 1,000 restaurants signed up.
Chang loves life as an entrepreneur, especially when he sees his ideas and products solving problems for customers. It is what motivates him to always be on the lookout for product ideas that make people’s lives easier.
One of these is Birthday Dining, a spinoff of TableApp. Just like TableApp, he came up with the idea by drawing on his personal experiences.
He was frustrated that he couldn’t remember every friend’s birthday and would only be reminded by Facebook on the actual day. By then, it would be too late to organise a birthday dinner or celebration.
So he came up with an app that makes it much easier to organise birthday celebrations, by leveraging on the same instant confirmation platform developed for Table App.
Released in August 2013, Birthday Dining allows users to import their list of friends from Facebook. The app will then give advance notice of a friend’s birthday. Users can then book a restaurant reservation through the app.
To give Birthday Dining added value, Chang has also incorporated exclusive birthday offers from participating merchants, cutting down on the need to look around for a place to celebrate.
While Chang values his independence, he also understands the need for support and help when it comes to building a successful business, and this is why he is glad to have joined the Coach and Grow Programme (CGP).
The CGP helped him learn various business skills such as pitching and fundraising, and how to review shareholder agreements. He also received advice on potential acquisition offers.
The CGP even became an avenue to meet investors. It was here that Chang met a CGP coach who then became TableApp’s angel investor.
Chang went on to secure US$88,200 (RM360,000) in seed funding in August 2014 from a Singapore headquartered venture capitalist, who coincidentally was also a CGP coach.
[Edited with the correct amount of funding raised.]
It appears that TableApp is booked for more success. The company has since expanded its network of partnerships, becoming a Groupon Malaysia Restaurant Booking Partner, for instance, and, in November 2015 even signed a three-year exclusive partnership with RHB Banking Group. It also recently launched a 30% cash back if you book restaurants using TableApp and pay using an RHB credit card.
This success did not happen overnight, and Chang advises aspiring developers and entrepreneurs that they should “do market validation first before you build your product. Don’t think your product will be a hit when you launch. It will take time.”
After all, it was time, persistence and vision that cooked up Chang’s solo success.
Discover TableApp at www.tableapp.com.
The above is an excerpt from the book Startups to Scaleups published in October 2015 by Cradle Fund and Proficeo Consultants, the programme manager for Cradle’s Coach and Grow Programme. DNA will be featuring every entrepreneurial story from the book in a special commercial arrangement.