14 Minutes of SaaS

14 Minutes of SaaS

E43: Vaughan Fergusson – Founder & ex CEO of Vend – 1 of 7 – the Importance of Timing

Vaughan Fergusson in conversation with Stephen Cummins. Part 1 of a 7-part series focused on the founder and ex CEO of Vend and the co-founder of OMG tech. Episode 43 of the 14 Minutes of SaaS podcast is called ‘The Importance of Timing’.

E43: Vaughan Fergusson – Founder & ex CEO of Vend – 1 of 7 – the Importance of Timing

This is episode 1 of a 7 part series with Vaughan Fergusson, sole founder and former CEO of Vend, a SaaS company that empowers you to run and grow your retail business. More specifically it’s a POS, multi-outlet retail and inventory management systemUsed by over 25,000 retailers in over 130 countries globally.
Founded in 2010 in Auckland New Zealand, it has raised 47M US Dollars in investment and grown to over 300 employees with offices in Auckland, Wellington, Melbourne, San Francisco, Toronto and London. In this episode Vaughan talks about a no frills upbringing, how he got into software and the importance of timing for startups. And he changed his name since the interview from Rowsell to Fergusson – in tribute to his late mother, Pam Fergusson – to whom he credits much of his success. It’s in the leadership quadrant in G2’s Retail POS Systems quadrant and has an 82% recommend to a friend rating in Glassdoor.

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Transcript
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Vaughan Fergusson

Most of the hungriest and most successful entrepreneurs that we knew didn’t really come from a position of privilege. They had to fight for what they built. And I guess that’s true for me as a kid. You know, I came from a poor neighbourhood. My mother was a solo parent. Paraplegic. Raising 3 boys by herself and so we just had to make do, you know, at the time when I was a kid I didn’t think anything different about it.

Stephen Cummins

Welcome to 14 minutes of SaaS, the show where you can listen to the stories and opinions of founders of the world’s most remarkable SaaS ScaleUps.

This is episode 1 of a 7 part series with Vaughan Fergusson, sole founder and former CEO of Vend, a SaaS company that empowers you to run and grow your retail business. More specifically it’s a POS, multi-outlet retail and inventory management system
Used by over 25,000 retailers in over 130 countries globally.
Founded in 2010 in Auckland New Zealand, it has raised 47M US Dollars in investment and grown to over 300 employees with offices in Auckland, Wellington, Melbourne, San Francisco, Toronto and London. In this episode Vaughan talks about a no frills upbringing, how he got into software and the importance of timing for startups. And he changed his name since the interview from Rowsell to Fergusson – in tribute to his late mother, Pam Fergusson – to whom he credits much of his success. But there’s a lot more to Vaughan than the founding of Vend as we’ll find out over the series.

 

Hi Vaughan. It’s great to have you with this on 14 Minutes of SaaS here at Rise Hong Kong.

Vaughan Fergusson

It’s great to be here. Yeah, thanks for having me here.

Stephen Cummins

Tell us a little bit about your youth. Always sounded interesting when I watched you speak of the videos.

Vaughan Fergusson

My youth. How far back do you want me to go?

Stephen Cummins

As far back as you’re comfortable?

Vaughan Fergusson

Well … my earliest memory … I think it was when I was two years old. [Laughing] …. No I get it ….

I had a pretty modest upbringing. Probably a fair way to put it. And it’s actually interesting…. like sorry to segue but …  I was having an interesting conversation the other night with somebody and talking about like the back stories behind entrepreneurs ….and… how we both realized that most of the most hungry and successful entrepreneurs Most of the hungriest and most successful entrepreneurs that we knew didn’t really come from a position of privilege. They had to fight for what they built. And I guess that’s true for me as a kid. You know, I came from a poor neighbourhood. My mother was a solo parent. Paraplegic. Raising 3 boys by herself and so we just had to make do, you know, at the time when I was a kid I didn’t think anything different about it.

It’s just like my mom was in a wheelchair. Whereas. My friends… my friends’ parents didn’t come with wheels. And, and yet I had a pretty cool childhood. You know, just the usual things that kids did. But, but I think I fell in love with computers about the age of eight and this is back in the eighties. And then from there on I’ve always lived in the world with computers and… and obviously I didn’t found a startup when I was eight but, you know, always dreamed about the possibilities were …. you know, what the computers could do for us and how it could change the world.

Stephen Cummins

And, I’m going to ask you a little bit more in depth later on about your Mum …. but very briefly. How would you sum her up because it was very touching …  one of the reasons I want to interview you was when you spoke about your Mum. How would you sum your Mum up?

Vaughan Fergusson

She was in an eternal optimist. Was the happiest person I knew. So I guess a lot of that rubbed off on me. People always tell me how I can always see the brighter side of any situation –  that was just the environment that I grew up in – being a solo parent, paraplegic in a wheelchair. You couldn’t let things get in your way. But she went one level up. Not only did she plough through all of the daily challenges that we take for granted. She did it with a smile and an infectious laugh that just meant everybody gravitated towards, and, and so, yeah, she was one of the happiest people on earth.

Stephen Cummins

Cool. That’s a great tribute. Talk me through your key formative professional experiences you’ve had …  you know amongst them AmVia, Blueday, Salt, Vianet …. Were there one or two of those that were particularly important for you in becoming the entrepreneur that you are today.

Vaughan Fergusson

I think all of them. Each came with its own journey. Its own lessons. And on reflection I don’t think I’ve ever had a real job. I dropped out of university twice and, and then went to work in AmVia … basically Dave who was the founder reached out to me and gave me a job. And I was like, you know, ‘what you’re gonna pay me to do stuff with computers?’ ‘Absolutely!’ And… and it was just him and I… and so that’s where I learned. I’m really grateful to this day to Dave because that’s where I learned …those early lessons of being a small team – founder led team. You know, I was the technical guy. He was the business guy and I was like I didn’t know anything. So that was incredibly formative because he just threw me in at the deep end … and he was rocking me up to a client meetings in front of the Inland Revenue department. And I was having to be a sales engineer to a room of, you know, suited grey haired dudes who had 30 years more experience than me. So that… that was an incredibly formative experience … and then from there on …  that was pretty much just doing my own thing. I mean that was, I guess it was the only real job I had. I did the compulsory Kiwi OE ‘leave the country for a couple of years … travel around Europe and the world.’

Came home and then decided I just wanted to build my own things. And so from… from that point on decided founding tech businesses in all sorts of areas was the way. It was back at the beginning of the internet really and so … Blueday and Salt were 2 consultancy companies but… but I mean like every… every other week you’re with on somebody else’s interesting projects which got you thinking about what the possibilities were. And then… Vianet came along. Wayne, who’s the founder of Vianet. He was actually one of my clients. And we were building out a mapping platforms before Google maps. And he had 2 crazy ideas that he’d we welded together. An open booking system for accommodation that anybody could use, whether you had a caravan or a Hotel. And a mapping platform. So you could find all the accommodation easily on an intuitive map.

And so back then like none of those things really existed on the internet – so we built them! And we built a mapping platform which… It was as good as Google maps at the time – using the same technology … and we built a booking platform which was before Airbnb, but basically did the same thing. And you know, I love telling these stories because it’s like it’s a classic case of get your timing right. Like we had the product. We were executing well. We had some capital. We just got the timing horribly wrong. People weren’t ready for an open platform like Airbnb. And then things happened and we ran out of capital. So that came to an abrupt end. And, and but yeah, incredibly grateful for those experiences. Because that was a roller coaster, that was the first real ups and downs, you know, getting close to hitting the wall and then swerving at the last second to survival.

Stephen Cummins

How did the idea for Vend come about?

Vaughan Fergusson

Well after wrapping up Vianet … I took a bit of time off … because after being on the setup roller coaster … I just needed to take time off. And so I actually started another business …  this is my idea of taking time off – started another business called Voom.  You’ll spot a trend of like starting companies that start with the letter V.

Stephen Cummins

Like Vaughan!

Vaughan Fergusson

Yeah. Like me! And I was playing around with an idea. Like I was doing, you know, doing some work for a bunch of retailers. And. This was just after Xero had launched from New Zealand – a SaaS company. You know, they were reinventing accounting by making it all on the cloud. And so, you know, that… that planted a seed in my head.
I was like, ‘Wow! I wonder if these small businesses … obviously being an accounting platform … it’s obviously a massive market for small business. What’s another really big market for these small businesses?.’

And I was just happened to be doing some work for a bunch of retailers in the e-Commerce space. And I was like … I was just taking a look at the software they we’re using .. being used in retail stores over the counter … it was like it was written in the 90s … and they hadn’t really innovated ever since. And so that planted a seed – and I just – I  just started doing some mock ups and ideas about how you could design a web-based retail system for point of sale and inventory and customer management that ran on the cloud. And then I went on a bike ride. I decided that I wanted to cycle the length of New Zealand. Just to clear my head before I committed to another five years plus of the startup life. I thought, you know what I’ll ride a bicycle from one end of New Zealand to the other. And if I get to the end and I still want to do the startup thing, then I’ll do it. And so yeah, that… I took a bike all the way down to a little island down the bottom called Stuart Island. And then started riding my bike all the all way up to the top of New Zealand. And New Zealand is a very long, skinny country. And that was about six weeks of cycling. And I was like … at the end … yeah, bring it on!

So that was about year five into the journey. And for Vend, you know, right from day one it was a rocket ship. Like the idea … so to look back on what I was saying before about getting the timing right .. this was an idea that was ripe! Like people had been waiting for it. So I built the prototype for Vend and started giving it to retailers to say ‘hey, is this any good? Would you use this sort of software?. And they were like ‘OMG, this is like we’ve been waiting for years for a cloud based platform to run our retail store.’
Because, you know, these were like the growth hacker retailers or the more entrepreneurial retailers, the next generation of retailers who were using Gmail and they were using Shopify. And they were using Xero. So this might just seem natural to use cloud based software – but there wasn’t anything and so we launched…. and then we just found an instant product-market fit.

And so we were just growing like crazy for those first few years. You know, we rapidly raised a whole bunch of capital. Customers, you know, thousands of customers signing up every… every month. It was great. And we grew to become New Zealand’s fastest growing tech startup, and we were the private capital raising New Zealand for a tech company. It was awesome.

Stephen Cummins

 

In the next instalment – episode 2 of 7. Vaughan talks about more than a decade of personal annual challenges. And how he worked out how he would create Vend over a very long bike ride from one end of New Zealand to the other.

Stephen Cummins

You’ve been listening to 14 minutes of SaaS. Thanks to Mike Quill for his creativity and problem solving skills and to Ketsu for the music. This episode was brought to you by me, Stephen Cummins. If you enjoy the podcast, please don’t forget to share it with your network, subscribe to the series and give the show a rating.

 

14 Minutes of SaaS