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Sparked in Beijing, Launched in Hong Kong: BistroChat’s Journey from Idea to App

A lot of the time, it’s hard to predict where an idea can take you.

The inspiration for this up-and-coming app, for example, was sparked at a restaurant in Beijing a couple years ago, where one of the cofounders was working.

“A lot of friends sent me WeChat messages to reserve a spot at our restaurant,” says Hacene Taibi, Co-founder and CEO of BistroChat. “‘We’re gonna be five people today, please leave us a table,’ for example. I’d tell them, great, but just call the restaurant. And despite that they kept messaging me, simply because it was just convenient for them.”

While it had been a bit of a bother at first, after a while Hacene started to see these chats in a different light: a window into the shifting consumer behaviours of how people wanted to interact with businesses.

And that was an opportunity he decided to reach for.

BistroChat: Making restaurant reservations through chat

Based in Hong Kong, BistroChat is the first chat-based restaurant booking app, where you can reserve a table directly through chat – the “WhatsApp for businesses” as Hacene likes to say.

Through it you can browse restaurants in Hong Kong by area, or through curated groups of restaurants based on themes like “Fancy Date,” “Vegan and Vegetarian,” and “Late Night Eats”. You can even chat with their own chatbot, asking it for recommendations based on budget, occasion, cuisine, and more.

As a team of three co-founders, the BistroChat team is a lean and early startup.

The 3 co-founders: Alexandre Sonier, Xavier Besnault, Hacene Taibi

Yet despite being relatively new to the app store, they’re already seeing organic month-over-month growth of 30%.

“This growth is pretty cool, we’re not complaining. Churn rate is low and growth is high,” says Hacene. “But it hasn’t always been like this; it took a long way to get here.”

It took a change in environment in order to dive deep and focus

“We weren’t moving fast enough,” said Hacene, about the product development. “So we moved to Phuket.”

The goal was, Hacene said, to isolate themselves from the social distractions of life in Hong Kong. In Phuket, they rented a house and worked from there with 100% of their focus on developing their app. “We stayed there for over 3 months.”

When the team returned to Hong Kong, BistroChat was fully fledged and ready to be introduced into the Hong Kong dining scene.

Opening a business account and finding Neat

When they were just kicking off, one of the items they needed to get done was open a business account. After going through two traditional banks and finding the processes frustrating, in searching for an alternative solution, they found Neat Business.

“Yeah that’s what we need,” Hacene remembers thinking. The simple, streamlined, online application was refreshing. “It was obvious that this was the way to do it.”

This was in stark contrast to their experience going to traditional banks, where everything was more complicated. Some of the documents the banks requested, for example, simply weren’t relevant for them at their size and stage. “They were asking for a full business plan, which honestly we don’t believe in. As a startup, we subscribe to the method the folks at Y Combinator promote – using milestones and focussing on one north star metric to guide our processes, over building a formal business plan.”

According to Hacene, one of the biggest advantages of Neat Business is the quick time to process and hassle-free experience.

 “As a startup, our biggest asset is time and we have to build fast,” he explains. “So doing the whole application online, and getting the cards delivered two weeks later is amazing.”

Hacene along with Iris ten Teije from Neat, Amit Oz from Conspiracy Chocolate, and Morten Fillipsen from Vivino at Neat's community meetup.

Today, the team at BistroChat uses their Neat Business cards for everything, from online payments to subscriptions and more. They’re so satisfied with Neat that they can’t help spreading the word.

“All my friends, I told them to use Neat.”

With smart features on the horizon, everything is falling into place

Having established a solid foundation for their business, today BistroChat is hitting their stride. Through continuous user-testing and feedback, they have a solid roadmap of features they’re building to enhance the experience their app.  

One of those includes a smart, social ratings system for restaurants.

“BistroChat will specifically give you your ratings based on your network,” said Hacene, “because we noticed that most of the time you have the same taste as your friends. You have the same budget, you like the same food, go to similar places, etc.”

This smart ratings system accounts for different tastes that people have, to give you more personalized restaurant recommendations.

“We’re also building a feature where you can see the favourite restaurants of your friends. Because I trust my friends, and I know who I can trust for what. If my French friend recommends a new French bistro, because I trust his taste, his recommendation might mean more to me than coming from someone else.”

Advice for entrepreneurs: It’s about grit

From one entrepreneur to another, Hacene’s advice has to do with seeing the finish line even when seemingly no one else can.

“When you have an idea, at first everyone says go for it, I love it! But there’s always a phase after one to two years where people eventually lose hope because they thought your idea would work within a few months,” he explains. 

“You have to hang in there. Hang in there for more than a few months – 4-5 years even because that’s how long it can take. It's normal for people around you to lose hope because they’re not the ones with grit. You have to go through this phase.”

At the end of the day, and once you’ve hit the ground running and found the right fit for your business, Hacene says it’s worth it.

BistroChat Neat Community Meetup
The BistroChat team at Neat's F&B themed community meetup.

“We love the F&B industry because it’s always about gathering people. Whether it’s with family or friends, it’s always about quality time. We were very careful in picking an industry where we love spending time – and we love it. We just love it.”

A big thanks to Hacene Taibi from BistroChat for taking the time to share his story with us! To learn more about BistroChat, go to www.bistrochat.com.

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