Aigens, a Hong Kong-based startup that provides online ordering and marketing tools for the food and beverage industry, picked up a fresh $14 million Series A funding round led by Ant Group, the fintech behemoth affiliated with Alibaba, the company announced Monday.
The capital infusion from Ant came at a time when the Chinese fintech giant is ramping up its international footprint through a network of allies. Rather than driving adoption for its flagship Alipay mobile wallet, Ant opts for an open ecosystem outside China and has built what is in effect a wallet aggregator called Alipay+.
As of early November, Alipay+ had integrated with 15 payment methods, most of which operate in Southeast Asia, allowing merchants that have integrated with Alipay+ to reach more than one billion users of those partnered payment solutions.
Aside from integrating with third-party wallets, Ant has also forged partnerships with other players working on digitizing the retail space in emerging markets, where it can try repeating its playbook of transforming China into a cashless and touchless society. But instead of targeting end consumers, Ant serves as a fintech infrastructure player for its partners in those markets.
In August 2021, Ant invested $15 million in Singapore’s Chope, a restaurant reservation and ordering startup. Chope is now using Ant’s merchant solution called D-store to beef up the type of digital capabilities it can offer to retail customers in the form of “mini programs”, which are lite apps that run within a “super app”, an idea that was first popularized by WeChat mini apps.
As Chope CEO Arrif Ziaudeen wrote in a LinkedIn post about the partnership with Ant: “[Merchants’] mini-apps can be customized to their look & feel, they can run individual promotions, and get all the user data.”
Arrif continued: “We certainly aren’t the first (or last) to have this dream, but the strategic partnership gives us the same technology that got millions of SMEs in China there, so it’s our job now to help implement it in ways that are suitably localized, with the right partners, here in SEA.”
Ant’s investment in Aigens seems to follow a similar logic. Though Hans Paul, co-founder and CEO of Aigens, didn’t go into much detail about how his company and Ant will work together, he believed that “together [with Ant] we can provide powerful offerings for the restaurant industry.”
Paul added that Ant’s D-Store will be just “one of the offerings” it provides to merchants and “it’s up to what the merchants want in the app.”
The CEO said Aigens has so far served over 4,000 outlets in Asia, including big names like Jollibee Group, Burger King, Starbucks, Shake Shack, Pizza Hut, and hundreds of other retail brands. The journey hasn’t been easy. While China is a highly homogenous society, countries across Southeast Asia vary greatly in their culture and custom, Paul pointed out. The restaurant industry is also very “operational heavy,” so in the early days Aigens focused on chains because they were easier to scale than going after family-run businesses one by one.
Founded in 2012, Aigens now has about 120 employees across the Asia Pacific and plans to spend its fresh funding on market expansion, hiring, and R&D. Other investors in its Series A round included Velocity Ventures, Phillip Private Equity, and Prizm Ventures.