Chinese New Year begins February 12, which means Chowbus will be delivering lots of dumplings.
Chowbus is the food-delivery platform hooking aficionados up with authentic Asian food. Started by Linxin Wen, who came to the U.S. in 2013 to study public administration at The Illinois Institute of Technology, Chowbus’ genesis occurred when Linxin was using food delivery apps to order Chinese food. Not only was the food unappetizing but the delivery fees were exorbitant.
Motivated by exasperation, Linxin decided to launch his own delivery service. It would link local Asian restaurants with people looking for delicious Asian food. Along with delivering tasty food, Chowbus recommended restaurants to mainstream customers, who had neither the time nor the inclination to seek out excellent eateries.
In effect, Chowbus was “your Asian best friend,” the one who knew where to go for the best food.
So in 2015, Linxin implemented his idea, visiting dozens of restaurants in Chicago’s Chinatown, explaining the concept, and asking them to sign on. Only one restaurant, Lao Ma La, realized the potential and enlisted.
Undeterred, Linxin erected his website and set up social media accounts to promote Chowbus. It was 2015, and lo and behold, his friends used it. Word of mouth advertising amplified the app’s use exponentially, going from 12 users to 50 users to hundreds of users.
Unlike most delivery services, Chowbus utilized a shuttle service to pick up orders en masse, delivering them to central locations within walking distance of users. The fee? One dollar.
Initially, Chowbus was only available on desktop computers. Enter Linxin’s friend, Suyu Zhang, a mobile app developer who put Chowbus on smartphones in 2016.
For two years, Chowbus operated without outside financing or support, relying solely on cash generated by sales topping $500,000. That changed in 2019 with “seed” funding from Greycroft Partners, FJ Labs, Hyde Park Angels, and Fika Ventures to the tune of $4 million. Since then, Chowbus has raised over $60 million in additional funding from venture capital.
Now in 30 cities across the U.S., Canada, and Australia, the company’s growth has skyrocketed: 285% growth in active users; 327% increase in orders; 271% increase in participating restaurants; 365% increase in revenue.
Uniquely, Chowbus refuses to sellout. Chowbus focuses on independent restaurants rather than big chains, which are not allowed access. And because of Chowbus charges a flat rate, larger restaurants can’t pay for superior placement.
Moreover, Chowbus provides participating restaurants with marketing and sales support free of charge, including specifics on top-selling items, ratings, and the effectiveness of promotions, along with professional photographs of outstanding dishes.
Restaurants apply the detailed information to expand their business. As Linxin says, “We don’t survive if they don’t.”
By means of “bundling,” Chowbus allows customers to order individual dishes from multiple restaurants, without adding to the cost of delivery. “Bundling” generates additional revenue for the restaurants, simply because the feature is available.
If that’s not enough, Chowbus offers long-distance delivery of close to 100 miles, from Chicago to Milwaukee, from Lansing, Michigan to Ann Arbor, Michigan, and from Houston to College Station, Texas. Delivery fees never exceed $6.99.
Circa half of Chowbus’ users are subscribers, who for $9.99 per month enjoy waived delivery fees on orders of $15 or more.
In keeping with Linxin’s communal philosophy, during The Chinese New Year, from February 10 to February 17, Chowbus will donate $5 for every order over $60 to organizations supporting Asian communities across the U.S.
Linxin Wen’s modest idea, born out of frustration, mushroomed into a full-fledged international business employing 250 full-time people, as well as 7,000 drivers, demonstrating how great things almost always start small.