From digital food and beverage ordering to inventory management and data insights, the hospitality technology sector was galvanised during the pandemic as the once-dismissed QR codes not only came into fashion but became a permanent fixture of dining scenes across the globe.
It is a competitive space that has attracted talent, but market conditions are tightening. So begins a trend of consolidation, as illustrated by the proposed merger of Mr Yum and me&u, and today's $152 million four-course acquisition meal announced by Melbourne-based loyalty and engagement platform Liven that will bring together four disparate technology offerings from Australia, Singapore and California.
Liven claims that its acquisitions of Australian-based OrderUp and Abacus, Singapore-based Zeemart and Silicon Valley-based Copper now make it the largest end-to-end hospitality technology group. Specific purchase prices for each transaction could not be provided.
The company, co-founded in 2014 by Grace Wong, William Wong and David Ballerini, started out as a cryptocurrency loyalty service for venues but has since brought hundreds of new ingredients into the kitchen, including procurement, point of sale (POS) interfaces for menus, a QR code app builder, reservations, table ordering, invoice reconciliation and much more.
In terms of its Australian acquisitions, Melbourne-based Abacus was co-founded in 2015 by Peter Ling and Kheam Tan, and has grown to become one of the country's largest POS providers for hospitality and groceries. Sydney-based Order Up was founded in 2011 by John Saadie and was Australia's first-to-market white-labelled table ordering innovator, servicing the largest franchisees, hotels and single venues with table ordering, pick-up and delivery, catering and rich digital ordering experiences.
Zeemart and Copper are heavily focused on leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning, with the former capturing the data needed for procurement recommendations and automating back-end tasks like inventory management and price optimisation, while the latter interprets every transaction to create a unified 'view of venue' performance.
With new businesses brought on, Liven now serves more than 6,000 venues and supports billions of dollars of transactions from millions of consumers in Australia, Sth East Asia and the USA.
Customers range from large multi-venue quick-service retail (QSR) and franchisees to major and emerging brands and cafes such as Messina, The Grounds of Alexandria, Accor, TGI Fridays, Krispy Kreme, Sushi Hub, Sushi Jiro, Roll’d, Din Tai Fung, Foodle, and Ho Chi Mama.
With over 200 employees, the Group will be headquartered in Melbourne, Australia, with offices in Sydney, Brisbane, New York, Singapore, and Indonesia.
According to Liven's co-founder and chief strategy officer Grace Wong, the more consolidated group is bringing together numerous functions in an industry that has been inundated with software offerings that don't always pair so well together.
"The typical hospitality venue runs over 20 siloed applications and technologies to engage customers, run loyalty and rewards, manage the kitchen and business, and process orders and payments. The cost and complexity aren't sustainable - and are magnified whenever they need support, new features, or to train staff," she explains.
"We've been quietly building one of Australia's fastest-growing SaaS technology start-ups. Our platform is fuelled by a constant stream of innovation inspired by insights from leading operators.
"Now that innovation starts on a single unified platform, magnifying the benefits operators will see and how quickly they will see it."
Liven co-CEO Shahrooz Chowdhury, a former chief digital officer at Guzman y Gomez who became a co-founder of Liven in 2017, says today's announcement helps the business realise its pre-COVID vision to harness the power of AI and help hospitality operators "leapfrog" over industry-wide challenges that have been holding them back.
"From self-driving brand loyalty to enriched data insights and automated process management, we’re transforming how they serve their guests from the front of the house to the back," Chowdhury says.
"Where other companies are horizontally merging around single-point features like ordering or POS to reduce costs, Liven has focused on a vertical acquisition strategy that addresses the core problems hospitality faces - technology and data fragmentation that holds back innovation and increased costs.
"Most point solutions fuel a world of endless manual processing and tunnel vision. With AI, data, integration and self-driving currency, Liven has created a single connection from the customer through the supply chain.
"Hospitality is under constant pressure to reduce costs, drive customer engagement and simplify how they operate - today, we answer that need."
Get our daily business news
Sign up to our free email news updates.