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Vaughan Rowsell: In the cloud and on his bike

Vaughan Rowsell: In the cloud and on his bike

For Vaughan Rowsell, it wasn’t enough to build a completely new cloud-based solution for New Zealand retailers. If he was going to ask retailers to trust his business, he would have to “walk the walk”. So Rowsell built his online cloud-based POS system, Vend, and manages it solely through the cloud.

It has been six months since Vend entered the market but the uptake, according to Rowsell, has been huge. “We thought perhaps we may be a little bit too bleeding edge for the market but no, we have been inundated with requests from retailers.”

According to Rowsell, Vend does more than the average POS system. The cloud-based point of sale is more like a “retail management system” and functions include stack control and reporting, among other features.

The company hasn’t spent any money on advertising, but word of mouth goes a long way and Rowsell has seen a lot of interest from New Zealand retailers. “It has been crazy.”

According to the founder, businesses are adopting cloud services mainly because of the cost savings that the cloud represents. “A POS with stock control and reporting represents a large cost to a small retailer. With us, people can spend about $80 per month and they love that,” says Rowsell.

He adds that the cost-saving margins are even bigger for larger retailers. “One of our retailers was spending $30,000 to $40,000 per annum on their POS system and now they’re spending $450 per month.”

Rowsell is proud to practice what he preaches and runs Vend in the cloud, using tools such as storage application Dropbox, available to any common computer user. Vend has a physical office in Parnell.

“We have desks and a coffee machine but no server room.” Vend can be managed from wherever he and his laptop and cellphone are at any given time.

Rowsell spotted this gap in the market a couple of years ago, when he saw what the Xero team was doing with their online accounting software. “I was inspired by Xero, taking industries that have outdated software and innovating beyond that.” After looking around to see what other industries could benefit from the cloud, Rowsell realised that “retailers were being badly treated by software. I was shocked by the lack of innovation, by how closed the systems were,” he recalls.

The founder of Vend understands the ins and outs of software programming, so building the solution was not an impossible task. Rowsell is a software developer by profession and has years of experience in innovative projects. His career started in the telecommunications world, where he developed New Zealand’s first (and possibly the world’s first, as he claims) tele-voting system, among other projects. Five years ago, Rowsell was the architect behind Trade Me’s accommodation booking website, Travelbug. At the time, he was the CTO of Vianet, the company bought by Trade Me. Vianet built Travelbug and managed all the tourism operators who listed on the website.

He and his team spent about one year prototyping Vend before launching it into the market. Since then he has seen a couple of other cloud-based POS systems pop up worldwide, further suggesting that the market is ready for the solution.

According to Rowsell, local retailers are embracing the cloud. “They really don’t think too hard about it because they have more pressing issues. Those that do think about it aren’t too concerned,” he says.

The cloud is undoubtedly one of his passions, but there is more to Rowsell than his prominent moustache and IT experience – although he is very proud of both.

Two years ago, with the country in the midst of a recession, he took on one of his biggest adventures to date. Leaving his wife and two daughters in Auckland, he cycled the length of New Zealand, from Stewart Island to Cape Reinga. The solo ride lasted six weeks and raised money and awareness for The Agency of Spinal Concerns.

The inspiration for his bike ride came partly from his mum, who has since passed away. “My mum was a solo parent in a wheelchair who raised three sons,” he says proudly. “She was the one who taught us never to give up.”

The ride was a personal adventure but it also served for Rowsell to prove a point: “Don’t get stuck, find something hard to do and prove that you can do it.” He hadn’t touched a bike in 15 years prior to making this decision. “It was pretty hard but time softens it,” he says, looking back.

“I was just a guy with a big moustache on a bike. It showed my perseverance.” The trip ended up being his last holiday to date, having worked almost non-stop since then. Along with Vend, Rowsell owns software development agency Voom Studio and lends a hand to start-ups.

A typical day, as he describes, involves lots of emails, some Skype calls, at least one meeting and three cups of coffee. After work, all his free time is dedicated to his family. “I’m actively working on trying to find a balance between work and personal life.

Being a business owner, you can quite easily get wrapped up and work 18 hours a day,” says Rowsell. “But at the end of the day, you need to make sure that your family is there.”


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