Angus McLachlan says he’s hardly slept in three weeks.
In that sense, he’s probably not unlike a lot of small business owners in Australia reacting to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis – particularly the restaurants and bars he deals with on a daily basis. But while just about everyone else’s business is slowing, his is booming.
McLachlan is the founder and CEO of Bopple, a Brisbane-based online ordering platform that has suddenly found itself at the centre of the fight to save this city’s best restaurants, cafes and bars during the coronavirus-driven shutdown. In the past two weeks, Happy Boy, Gauge, Umami and Proof BBQ & Booze have all signed up for the service, as operators across the city swerve hard into takeaway and delivery in an effort to keep their businesses afloat.
It’s a long way removed from a heaving London restaurant eight years ago, when McLachlan dreamt up the app as a simple way of streamlining how punters interacted with servers and bar staff. The answer back then was to connect customers’ smartphones directly to a point-of-sale system inside a venue.
“It was about customer experience,” McLachlan says. “[On that occasion] we didn’t mind waiting to be served – it was how you waited. I thought, if I had a bit of transparency in the transaction, it would ease my concern and I could simply enjoy the environment.”
McLachlan describes the first years of Bopple as a “scratch-your-own-itch scenario" – a side project. But when he finally formed the company last year with chief technology officer Jon Cullen and product manager Tim Dart, things got serious.
“I find the problems,” McLachlan says. “Tim interprets them, and Jon goes and fixes them or creates an improvement.”
Bopple began to change rapidly. No longer would it be just a mobile app, but a more flexible web-based online ordering tool. It allowed McLachlan, Cullen and Dart to explore not only on-demand services but future date and time ordering.
“You could, say, order a cake from a gelato shop three weeks in advance,” McLachlan says. “There’s so much noise in that online delivery space – it’s all click-and-collect and time-saving and convenience for the customer … Rather than stretching ourselves to compete on that front, we decided instead to create a platform to be a layer underneath popular brands such as Zambrero, Coco Bliss, Acai Brothers, Pawpaw and Nodo.”
Suddenly, Bopple wasn’t building its online service for diners but for operators. If it addressed the needs of the restaurant or cafe, McLachlan says, that would flow on to the customer experience.
“When you partner with good restaurants, they give the best customer experience,” McLachlan says. “That approach was the magic sauce, really.”
It helps that Bopple takes a relatively small 5.9 per cent fee per-order from its partner restaurants – less if they sign up for a year-long subscription package (subscription fees have been waived for between one and three months during the Covid-19 crisis). Also, venues can opt to handle deliveries themselves rather than deal with a third party, giving them greater control over the customer experience and giving their staff more work.
The other “sugar hit” for Bopple’s growth has been Sydney-based Kounta’s popular point-of-sale platform. While Kounta isn’t necessary to use Bopple, it has pushed the Brisbane company as a solution for its venues that are looking to get into takeaway and delivery.
Happy Boy co-owner Cameron Votan says Bopple was a game-changer when it came to kickstarting takeaway and delivery at his enormously popular Fortitude Valley restaurant.
“Delivery we’ve never done [before], because we run on such lean margins,” Votan told Broadsheet last week. “The cut taken by the big delivery operators doesn’t work for a restaurant like ours … We’ve always done takeaway but it’s never been a priority, so we’ve really needed to retool how we think about it.
“I’ve been really impressed by the response … Bopple allowed it to happen. Their system plugs into my point of sale and they take only 5.9 per cent, allowing us to invest that much more in casual staff.”
“We’ve got venues all around the world,” McLachlan says. “In Vanuatu, Fiji and New Zealand. We’re in uncharted waters right now but it’s incredible to see people jumping on at this time … We thought we were powered by insomnia and caffeine, but I think the whole social-good message has put a rocket up our arses as well.”