Moving sales into the cloud

By Nick Smith

Kiwi point-of-sale specialist says $1m funding boost will aid overseas ambitions.

Vend's Vaughan Rowsell says it is looking beyond the US market. Photo / Paul Estcourt
Vend's Vaughan Rowsell says it is looking beyond the US market. Photo / Paul Estcourt

As a statement of corporate purpose, Vend's choice of name is apt: the company is a point-of-sale (POS) cloud computing provider to the retail sector.

Founder and chief executive Vaughan Rowsell wants to revolutionise retail POS by providing a better, easier and cheaper system for large and small businesses alike.

Barely 14 months old, the Wellington company has already managed - with investment assistance from Trade Me compadres Sam Morgan and Rowan Simpson - to sell its subscription product to more than 3000 businesses in 90 countries.

It has also been nominated for the Bayer New Zealand-hosted Innovators Awards.

"A big chunk" of Vend's clients are New Zealand and Australian, but Rowsell always envisaged it as a global provider, as the geographical spread of his client base suggests. But lack of capital was holding the company back.

Last month it got $1 million from German-based technology investor Point Nine Capital and existing shareholders to secure its immediate expansion plans.

It has now opened a San Francisco office, using the "landing pad" established by Morgan and The Warehouse's Stephen Tindall, and "the US market is growing rapidly". Rowsell expects US sales to overtake sales in New Zealand and Australia by the end of the year.

"We've reinvented POS to be online and cloud-based, so that all a retailer needs is a computer and web browser and they can manage an entire retail store or a chain or enterprise for a low monthly fee [of $80, on average]," he explains.

Point-of-sale networks - including maintenance of infrastructure, servers and data protection - can cost retailers many times that amount, he says.

"But the real opportunity for us is the revolution around mobile [phone] payments and customer loyalty, and we're in the thick of it. You're using your phone as a wallet, instead of carrying around an Eftpos card. There's a wireless chip that transmits your card information, or it could be an application that you run on your phone that you use to initiate a transaction.

"There's lots of different ways and it's a new, emerging market and everyone's going after the mobile payment space, so that's a huge opportunity for us."

Every retailer needs a point-of-sale system to track inventory and pricing, as well as process transactions, but Rowsell argues that many existing systems use old technology and do not connect well to new forms of paying.

The interesting aspect of the new mobile payment market is that its uptake has been much bigger in developing economies, compared with traditional high-tech markets such as the US, Europe and Japan.

"One of the mistakes that other start-up or technology companies make is they [solely] chase the US market," says Rowsell. "Right from day one we focused the company on being a global company, and we have [clients] in India, South America, Asia and Eastern Europe - there's a lot of emerging economies looking for smarter ways to formalise the retail process.

"Mobile internet is fairly prevalent in a lot of these emerging markets."

The revolution is still emerging in developed countries such as New Zealand, but when it does arrive, the company is already capable of integrating with that change, he says.

Rowsell is keen to emphasise that Vend doesn't "hang its hat" solely on mobile retail. Vend is software any retailer can run on existing equipment.

"It's a great platform for retailers to do exactly what their existing retail system does, but for a tenth of the cost and online, so they can access information from anywhere," Rowsell says.

The information is stored in the cloud and is as secure as any online banking system, he says, "and probably more secure than most retailers' current [systems]".

Rowsell has been involved in software for about 20 years and initially started developing the software that evolved into Vend as a hobby project. "I saw what was happening in other vertical markets like accounting, where everything was going into the cloud, and the engineer in me wondered if you could do the same with something that is front-line, where the rubber meets the road - the checkout."

He could and, after some initial seed funding, Vend has grown fast. Last month's new money will allow it "to go from a couple of guys working out of an office to build a team of 20 people to grow our sales channels and product team ... world-class Kiwis to help us take on the world".

- NZ Herald

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