Interview with Vaughan Rowsell (Vend)
Vend is a online retail point-of-sale system for bricks and mortar stores.
I interviewed Vaughan Rowsell, Vend founder and CEO to find out more. This is the hundred and fortieth in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Vaughan!
How would you describe Vend in under 50 words?
Online retail POS, Inventory, CRM and analytics for offline retailers. “Offline” meaning “not-online”, which we are making a bit of a misnomer now as with Vend all retailers are online. Online offline retail. Also it’s called Retail 2.0 now. It is a thing.
Describe yourself in one sentence.
Guy with huge mustache who rides bikes long distances and revolutionises retailers lives the world round.
You say Vend does more than the average POS system. What makes Vend different from other POS systems?
Firstly it doesn’t suck. Vend is really nice to use and all our customers tell us so.
Secondly, it wasn’t coded in the 90’s. Seriously, look at the software most retailers are using in their stores. It looks like it was written in Foxpro or Access by the store owners 2nd cousin who “knows a bit about software”.
Thirdly, it’s 100% online baby, which means Vend is uber-connected (Not with Uber, but you know what I mean). You can connect your eCom, your accounting, your customer loyalty, your email marketing campaigns and your customer reporting all to Vend. We have APIs too so you can build on top of Vend to build your own Retail 3.0 service. Perhaps a mobile app to find Jumpers for Cats on special near by. Try that with FoxPro.
A software developer by profession with years of experience in innovative projects, your career started in the telecommunications industry where you developed New Zealand’s first (and possibly the world’s first) tele-voting system, among other projects. What made you decide to start working on Vend?
I developed a mobile blog platform in ’99 called Soapbox. I wrote it so I could blog about my European holiday from my Compaq iPaq, loading photos from my canon 1mp digital camera via SD card and uploading it all by hacking into french pension’s phone lines with my iPaq modem jacket. I never finished productising it, and to be honest the code was a little bit crap. But it worked for me and my parents could keep tabs on me in real time and see I wasn’t dead.
I started Vend completely by accident. I actually had another idea, as awesome as Soapbox, that was mobile and could let you find Cat Jumpers in stores near by from your phone. Well that was one of the premises, but basically it was a social network for shopping. A little before it’s time, but it made me look at what would be required to make something like this actually work. The further I dug into it, it became obvious that the whole offline retail platform needed to be rebuilt from the ground up, starting with the software retailers used to run their businesses. Product, inventory, payments and customer data all needed to be on the cloud. So I started there, and that became Vend.
Congratulations on being named a finalist in the Innovative Software Product category at the 2012 New Zealand Hi Tech Awards! You have based your career on solving the hard problems using innovation. What is the biggest challenge you have faced?
We have won a few awards now, Best Small Workplace, Innovator of the Year and so on. They are all very flattering, but the BEST award and BIGGEST challenge to date is to have 10’s of thousands of customers loving Vend around the world. A trend we plan on continuing.
Who do you see as your target audience?
Any retailer with a bricks and mortar store. We have customers with 1 – 100 stores in one hundred countries. Anyone can use Vend.
How did you come up with the name?
I wanted something short and memorable. Also I have this thing with the letter “V” with the last three of my gigs being with “V” companies. Vianet, VoomStudio now Vend. Might be a “Vaughan” thing too.
Vend is a verb, to sell. I thought that was perfect.
What technologies have you used to build Vend?
We are your bog standard PHP mySQL *nix stack with a few other things thrown in too. HTML5 plays a big part of our approach to delivering Vend to devices, but we also have native apps too.
How long did it take to put together Vend?
I was working on version one for about 6 months, then found customers wanted to pay me money to use it, so I launched. There were 6 months of doodles, thinking and impressive data models drawn on the kitchen fridge with whiteboard markers prior to that.
Do you have any new features in the pipeline?
Always. We have a lot of great features planned, but what I am most excited about is the amount of third parties who are developing other apps on top of Vend. Customisations for hospitality, loyalty, integration with scheduling apps, eCommerce and more more more. We have a fast growing developer ecosystem which means there will be a wave of great innovation on the way for retailers using Vend.
What do you wish you’d have known 5 years ago that you know now?
That I would still be in a technology startup. I have been in the startup space for 10 years or more now, and I promised my wife on day one that me being unemployable and on minimum wage would be a temporary thing. So if she had known back then it would be 5 more years she probably would have divorced me on the spot.
In retrospect I should have set her expectation around me getting a real job to be never.
Has Vend got the feedback and growth you expected since launch?
Oh yes, we are growing like crazy. We have grown 400% in the last year and have more ambitious growth planned ahead. The feedback we are getting is amazing. We are really changing retailers lives all around the world, and they is pretty cool.
Where do you see Vend in 5 years time?
The #1 retail platform for small to medium sized retailers.
Who would you say is your biggest competitor?
The incumbents and their FoxPro databases. Them and dumb-ass cash registers.
In 2009, you rode the length of New Zealand. What prompted you to undertake this huge challenge?
A few reasons.
1) It was the start of the global financial crisis and everyone was saying it was the end of the world. I didn’t agree, and wanted to make the point that in the times of adversity is when you need to do something different and make a change. So not only did it push me to do Vend, I wanted to make the point in another way by doing something I thought was impossible and people were also telling me I couldn’t do. I was unfit, overweight and riding a bike 2,000 miles solo was something no one for a second thought I was capable of.
2) I was about to launch Vend and so I knew I was committed to making Vend a success for the next 5-10 years. I wanted to go for a bike ride before I got busy :)
3) I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. And to loose some weight.
For the full reasons go visit my cycling blog.
Have you passed up any opportunities which you now regret?
I once had the chance to sail a charter launch around the world, and then work on it in Greece for a year. That would have been cool. But I went to university instead to do a computer science degree, and that has worked out OK so far too.
What’s the impact on your home life been like?
Being married to a startup husband, and having a startup Dad is not easy, and so I need to be very considerate to the beautiful girls I share my home with, my wife and two daughters. But it is all about balance, so not working 12 hours every day, being at home to put the kids to bed, and taking weekends for the family. They are all very supportive. I am a lucky guy.
Who helped you get to where you are today?
Most important person? My Mom. Honestly, she has always taught me that nothing in impossible. A paraplegic who raised three sons on her own, she taught me a couple of things I live my life by. It is all about people, be good to others and they will be good to you. Never give up. All success is 99% perseverance. Also smile LOTS.
What one piece of advice would you give to someone starting up their own business?
To start. Seriously, it seems to be the biggest stumbling block for most people. Just do it, there is always 10 reasons why you shouldn’t. Ignore them, those reasons are just distractions and are often wrong. Like, who needs a salary when you can live the startup lifestyle?!
What are you most excited about at the moment?
Vend. 24/7. We are changing the retail world and peoples lives, and that is really exciting.
Can you convince the reader to start using Vend in under 50 words?
Yes. Visit vendhq.com.
Finished reading? Check out Vend!