Entrepreneurial IT: From struggling developer to successful start-up

Vend is a finalist in the Hi Tech Awards, its CEO Vaughan Rowsell discusses the company's beginnings

Arguably the road to becoming a successful IT entrepreneur has been a relatively short for Vaughan Rowsell, whose company Vend was this week named a finalist in this year's Hi-Tech awards.

Rowsell was a struggling software consultant when he came up with the idea for his cloud-based point-of-sale software business.

“I was lucky in my unluckiness when I started Vend,” Rowsell says. “I was a software consultant in the middle of a global financial crisis. I had no work so I had to find something else to do.”

Rowsell started working on his POS software project in his “downtime”. Once he had a prototype up and running and got a couple of retailers to trial it, “it all happened very quickly”, he says. But he didn’t have enough money to work fulltime on Vend so he went out and raised capital. He did this by taking any chance he got to talk to people about his idea – industry peers, investors, journalists, potential customers, anyone how was willing to listen, he says.

“I had lots of cups of coffee with a lot of people.” And the word spread.

“You don’t have to go and talk to VCs,” he says. “There is plenty of capital available in New Zealand but it can be a bit tricky to find.”

His initial financial backers were Sam Morgan and Rowan Simpson from TradeMe.

After about a year, in 2011, he took on his first employee. Today, the Parnell-based company employs 37 people. A large portion of the staff has sought out Vend, not the other way around.

“I’m blown away by how many people have come to us, literally off the street, with their CV in their hand, saying, ‘I love what you’re doing, how can we help?’,” he says.

These people really want to be part of building the next big thing, he says. He stresses the importance of hiring the right people. At Vend, skills take a backseat to cultural fit.

“We won’t hire somebody who doesn’t fit in. You can teach skills but you can’t teach culture.”

Since starting Vend, Rowsell has learnt to delegate and trust people, he says.

“Hire smart people and let them go at it,” he says. “Get out of their way. Your job is really removing the roadblocks so they can keep focusing on what they are doing.”

“That was big lesson for me. I have an awesome team of people that I trust inherently. I sleep like a baby at night now.”

He also recommends celebrating your wins. When you are a startup, you feel like you are in a constant treadmill, going from one thing to the next, and it’s easy to forget to look back on all the things that you have achieved.

He says a big part of the success of a startup is being at the right place at the right time. But the main thing that holds entrepreneurs back is a failure to start, Rowsell says.

This article is part of a Computerworld series about IT entrepreneurs. On Tuesday we talk to Stuart Speers, from Enterprise IT.

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