Dress code symbol of success

By Adam Gifford

Involving staff at all levels proves to be a winning policy for fast-growing Vend.

Wearing what you want is de rigueur at Vend, even if it means dressing up as a white bunny. Photo / Ted Baghurst
Wearing what you want is de rigueur at Vend, even if it means dressing up as a white bunny. Photo / Ted Baghurst

If you're looking for the boss of Vend, he's the guy in the white bunny suit. That's the impression given by a recruiting film the Parnell-based start-up posted on YouTube.

It's a clue to the company culture that won this year's Kenexa Best Workplaces Award.

"We were having a recruitment drive and someone came up with idea it would be funny to make a video promoting the idea that the dress code was 'wear whatever you want to work,' said founder and chief executive, Vaughan Roswell.

"We took that to the extreme, went to a fancy-dress shop and everybody in the office picked a costume and dressed up for the day, so we had Batman and Wonderwoman and a giant cactus in the office. I was a giant rabbit.

"Then we put together a video pretending someone was turning up for an interview. The irony was the same day we were interviewing people for roles, so people did come in and were interviewed by Batman."

Vend is taking on five or six people a month to cope with explosive growth.

Rowsell had the idea for a cloud-based point-of-sale system during the global financial crisis. "I saw retailers battling every day with really bad software. There was no innovation. It was stagnant. "I didn't start Vend to be just a point-of sale company but because I could see all this innovation coming around the mobile: using your phone to pay, being able to get targeted coupons to your mobile, being able to check in at stores and share socially things that you buy.

"This is stuff that's still coming, but one of the core components that needed to change was the in-store experience. Without a point of sale that's connected or on line, you can't do any of this other stuff," Rowsell says.

With cloud computing becoming mainstream, the technology was available to turn point-of-sale software, as well as inventory, ordering, loyalty systems and everything else retailers need, into software as a service available over the internet for a small monthly fee.

Rowsell started developing such a system at his home in Kerikeri using open source tools.

"Once I built a prototype I knew it would be big so I moved the family to Auckland and set about building a business.

"In the two years since then it has grown like crazy. We now have thousands of customers in 100 countries."

Rowsell and his wife, Mel, were bootstrapped until they got support and investment from fellow tech entrepreneurs Rowan Simpson and Trade Me founder Sam Morgan.

"Vend was originally me wearing 18 hats trying to do everything. I realised I'm not the best person to do some thing day by day so I hired round those pain points.

"The idea now is to run the team as light as possible, and when you find people wearing one too many hats, recruit around that and get the right people into the right roles.

"There was also a focus on building a really strong culture.

"We're madly in love with retailers and we champion retailers. We hire based on passion rather than technical ability." More than half his team have been recruited through social media or people coming off the street with a CV. He says using social media "allows us to attract people with the same sense of humour and attitude we have, so everyone fits in".

Vend, like some of their Silicon Valley competitors has a staff share scheme.

"We are giving everybody the opportunity to be a stakeholder in the company. That gets them involved - the better the company does the more there is for them than just a pay cheque."

BEST SMALL WORKPLACE

Organisation ranking:

1 - Vend
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4 - Hilti (New Zealand)
5 - Auckland Radiation Oncology
6 - Maven International
7 - adscale Laboratories
8 - Inspire Group
9 = ADInstruments
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- NZ Herald

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