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Vend signs exec involved in $170m startup sale, updates on US push

Chris Keall
Thu, 10 Oct 2013

High-flying retail software maker Vend has signed another high-profile player.

Kiwi-expat Anton Commissaris has been named to the new position of President, US Operations.

Mr Commissaris was business development manager at Canadian/Americian startup, where he's said to have played a pivotal role in the personal finance software company's $US170 million sale to Intuit just two years after launching.

The Auckland University law school grad will now expand Vend's push into the US, where the company says it already has payment partnerships with PayPal and, plus startups like Swarm Mobile and Stitch Labs.

Vend's Auckland-based CEO, Vaughan Rowsell, tells NBR ONLINE that Mr Commissaris will hire sales and sales support staff, and sign up new channel partners.

The president will be based out of San Francisco. Vend currently has six full-time staff in North America, all based in Toronto - which Mr Rowsell says was chosen as its regional base because it it's much cheaper than putting people into Silicon Valley, covers Western Europe and US time zones, has a thriving local scene and, being in a Commonwealth country, the Canadian city had fewer barriers for an NZ company.

Vend also has space in the Kiwi Landing Pad in San Francisco, but Mr Rowsell says this is mainly used for staff hot-desking on their way through, or making short stay visits.

The CEO says he's been spending a week a month in San Francisco, but that the company will benefit from having an executive full-time on the ground, given the city is the US' high tech and venture capital hub.

"It's easy to hop on NZ8 and pop over to San Francisco, but it's not the same as being there all the time and being able to push on with opportunities," he says.

Xero made a similar move when it hired Canadian Sage veteran Jamie Sutherland to head its North American sales operation.

And, like Xero, Mr Rowsell says the move doesn't change his plan to keep R&D in NZ.

In fact, Vend just moved from a 300 square metre office to new 1000 sqm digs in Newmarket - smack in the middle of an upmarket Auckland shopping district (in the building that used to house Sony's PlayStation division before the Japanese company consolidated its various operations into a new office in Ponsonby).

The CEO says it helps to be able to just walk out the door and talk to customers (Vend makes cloud-based point-of-sale software, which can replace a traditional cash register with an iPad, or any device that can run a web browser).

In May, Vend raised $8 million (taking total equity raised to around $11 million).

Then, Mr Rowsell told NBR the company had 40 staff, servicing 6500 customers across 100 countries. 

The privately-held company's revenue was around $3 million. The CEO wanted to triple it to $9 million in 18 months.

How are things going five months later?

Things are "scarily on target", he says.

"Most of $8 million is still in the bank," which means an IPO is still more of a medium term than short term goal.

Vend could be profitable inside two years, he says - unless it chooses to shoot for faster growth.

Staff numbers have doubled to 80 since May.

The company is still hiring at a pace (another four started in its Auckland office this week), but Mr Rowsell says it's not "piling on warm bodies for the sake of it." He wants Vend to keep following the Kiwi ethos of doing more with less.

Mr Rowsell says NZ companies have little experience in scaling up in quick time. The market for cloud-based retail software is taking off, and imitators are starting to pile in, but the CEO also fears "hitting a pothole" if Vend makes a willy-nilly dash to hire 300 or 500 staff.

The new market entrants are a validation of Vend's original strategy, he says. And while the competition is flattering, he says it's two years' behind.

Lastly, Mr Rowsell recently finished a dry year - one of a series of quirky annual challenges he's set himself, including cycling the length of New Zealand, giving up watching rugby, and running 1000km.

How is it being back in the land of the booze-hounds?

"I have had a few beers and wines. But it's been a weird experience getting back into the drinking culture," the CEO tells NBR. "It’s an occasional thing."

Chris Keall
Thu, 10 Oct 2013
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Vend signs exec involved in $170m startup sale, updates on US push