Restaurant reservation platform OpenTable today reported quarterly earnings of $52.3 million and used the day to put out some other news: the company has acquired Ness Computing, makers of the personalized restaurant recommendations app Ness. It’s an all-cash transaction that OpenTable says is worth $17.3 million, although it comes with cash in Ness’s coffers that brings the net value to $11.3 million.
OpenTable says that the Ness team will work in its San Francisco headquarters. The Ness app and site, meanwhile, will be discontinued with the technology getting integrated into OpenTable’s product “and other development efforts.”
Ness had already been integrating with OpenTable but this will give it potentially a much bigger audience using its recommendation platform. OpenTable says it seats more than 14 million diners each month and covers some 31,000 restaurants and clocking up some 575 million diners seated since being founded in 1998. It might also mean Ness finally coming to the UK (yay).
But it’s not a great return for Ness’s investors: in its lifetime the startup had raised $20 million with investors including Khosla Ventures, Alsop Louie Partners, Bullpen Capital, TomorrowVentures, SingTel Innov8 and American Express. Before today, we’d been hearing other names as possible buyers of the company.
Ness started out its life in 2011 as personalised search engine technology for mobile that quickly adapted to a specific vertical — restaurant recommendations — but always had its sights set on eventually developing to cover other areas. That ambition fuelled its 2012, $15 million Series B investment.
It’s not clear if that wider idea ever found traction, or whether Ness simply decided that it was a stronger company by focusing its algorithms and platform on one subject in particular. Or whether Ness found it too much of a challenge to compete in the wider world against the likes of Google. It looks like Ness’s technology, and talent, will be tasked most immediately with enhancing OpenTable’s mainstay of restaurant recommendations.
“The Ness team and I are incredibly excited to take the technology and insights we’ve developed over the last four years and incorporate them into the OpenTable product offering. As the world’s leading provider of real-time restaurant reservations, OpenTable will provide us the opportunity to introduce people to new and memorable dining experiences on a much broader scale,” said Corey Reese, CEO and co-founder of Ness Computing.
OpenTable, which started out as a platform for the web, has been making a lot of moves to add more mobile cogs to its machine — a logical strategy, given that going to restaurants, by definition, implies being out and on the move. Just earlier today, the company announced a pilot of a mobile payments service in San Francisco. Diners in that city can now not only book a table, but pay for their meal through the app, too.
Adding Ness to that is a way for OpenTable to extend a user’s time with OpenTable even more. “In the future, we believe that mobile will represent the vast majority of our reservations,” said Matt Roberts, OpenTable CEO. “Mobile is the cornerstone of powering great dining experiences.”
And, given that Ness does have the technology to search and personalise recommendations for much more besides where to eat, you might see OpenTable tap into that, too.
In all, the Ness technology should help OpenTable add more features to attract more restaurants to its platform and potentially take home more returns on the commission it charges them. In guidance for the next quarter, OpenTable says it expects sales of between $53.3 million and $54.9 million with non-GAAP EPS in the range of $0.39 to $0.43. OpenTable says that the Ness acquisition will be recorded in those Q1 2014 earnings.
Ness is the latest in a string of acquisitions that have included Quickcue in December 2013 for $11.5 million; JustChalo in June 2013 for $11 million; Foodspotting in January 2013 for $10 million; Treatful in August 2012 for an undisclosed amount; toptable in 2010 for $55 million and GuestBridge in 2009 for $3 million.
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