Los Angeles Business Journal

Online Ordering System Hopes Eateries Take Bytes

INTERNET: Investors fill ChowNow’s plate with $3 million in funding. By Bethany Firnhaber, Natalie Jarvey Monday, January 21, 2013

At first, Tianxiang Zhuo said he was skeptical about investing in a Santa Monica tech company that helps restaurants take online orders. But ChowNow won him over.

Zhuo, managing partner at Karlin Ventures, said he decided to put money into the company after talking to 10 local restaurateurs who use the company’s services.

“I think this is almost a necessity for restaurants, where the Holy Grail is to build engagement with customers,” he said. “With ChowNow, they can manage promotions and interact with customers directly.”

ChowNow, which creates online and mobile ordering platforms for restaurants, announced last week that it has raised $3 million in funding led by local venture capital firm GRP Partners. Other local investors include Karlin and Double M Capital.

Christopher Webb, chief executive and one of the company’s three co-founders, said ChowNow will use the money to expand its sales and marketing efforts as well as to develop more tools for its restaurant customers.

ChowNow works with dining chains and independent eateries to create restaurant-branded mobile and Facebook ordering apps in addition to online ordering systems that integrate easily with each restaurant’s existing website. Its service, which includes limited advertising efforts to promote the new online ordering platforms, costs restaurants $89 a month.

Co-founders Webb and Eric Jaffe started working on their idea for ChowNow about two years ago. Webb previously worked on Wall Street as an investment banker; Jaffe worked in commercial real estate. The two brought in third co-founder Josiah Carlson, a former Google Inc. engineer, shortly after developing their first prototype for the software in 2011. The company was part of accelerator Launchpad L.A.’s third class of startups.

The company has already used some of the money it raised to hire four salespeople and three marketing employees. The company employs 20.

On the development side, ChowNow is working to help its restaurant customers market themselves online. The company has been collecting data from people who order online in order to give restaurants targeted advertising information. For example, the data includes customer addresses that restaurants could use in the future to determine how far people travel to eat their food.

That kind of information wasn’t always easily available and manageable in the past. Normally, Webb said, customers eat, pay and leave.

“The restaurant doesn’t know who you are,” he said. “But we’re collecting all this data. Using that data, we can build some cool marketing tools.”

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