Hosting hospitality

Hosting hospitality

Sascha Voevodin has tried and tested the entrepreneurial process. Second time around, he believes he’s got it right. His company Votech Industries has created the Net Retriever software which provides instant compatibility between hardware and software platforms in the hospitality industry. The 28-year-old advises fellow entrepreneurs to sacrifice their free time in pursuit of success.

What inspired you to start up your company?
This is actually my second company. The first one I started when I was 18 to help out another small company that needed someone to install and maintain their specialised hospitality software. That kept me very busy for nearly two years until I discovered how much tax I should have been paying.

It put me off running a business for a while and after working for another company for a few years and learning where I went wrong I got the confidence to try again. Once you have worked for yourself it is very hard to work for anyone else.

What has been the biggest challenge you have faced in your business? What has been the biggest reward?
Trying to focus on one project that will pay the bills has been a challenge. Ideally it would be our software projects but in reality our hardware projects have been a better investment so far. We hope to change that this year. There were so many opportunities and temptations to try other revenue sources but in the end it was the ones we created ourselves that make us the most money. Seeing our software go from conception to release has been very rewarding.

What advice can you give other young entrepreneurs looking to start up a business?
Be ready to sacrifice — a lot. Being your own boss sounds like the ultimate freedom to those employed by a boss that works them hard, but in reality you will be your own worst boss.
You must be prepared to work seven-day weeks until all hours of the night for several years because if you don’t turn a profit (and often you won’t), you have no one else to blame but yourself.
No sick days, no holidays, no excuses. Then, hopefully, when the business starts becoming profitable you can learn to delegate your workload. Only then will you find that freedom, well, a taste of it anyway.

Can you please explain your product/services?
Our main product that we have been developing since 2004 is our software called Net Retriever. It came about from the need for a communications platform between various hardware and software systems; primarily in the hospitality industry but we hope to expand to the health and education sectors soon.

Before we started, there was nothing in the market that adequately provided the level of communications that these systems required.
So Net Retriever was created to take the output of any hardware or software system and translate that into the format required by any other hardware or software system. Thus, providing instant compatibility.

What effect has the downturn had on your business and what have you done to overcome this?

In a way, it has actually been great for us. The beauty of the business model we developed for our Net Retriever software is that we don’t charge the vendors a cent to become compatible.
Once we add their system, they become instantly compatible with every system that we have, or may add to, our library.

Before we came along, every hardware and software vendor had to sign non disclosure agreements (NDA); negotiate over the interface details; spend several weeks or even months to implement and test the interface.
Now they just sign one NDA with us and provide their data in any format they want.

If they already output a format we have in our library they may already be compatible otherwise we have a great system for universal translation and can add their format in a matter of hours.
This saves them tens of thousands of dollars and allows them to enter a market quicker knowing they will be able to communicate with any system simply by selling Net Retriever as part of their solution.

Who are some of your major clients? What are some of the bigger deals you’ve worked on?
Even though we have been developing Net Retriever for five years now, most of that time has been spent perfecting the translation engine. It took nearly two years before we made our first sale to a site in Victoria.
Since then we have installed our middleware in many of the major hotel, motel and resort groups around Australia and New Zealand but until now have not been actively marketing.

Everything was word of mouth and our sales came mainly from our compatible vendors selling the product for us.
To supplement the income required to support this extremely long software development cycle we have installed guest broadband solutions in many hotels from Cairns to Melbourne.

Do you export?
Now that Net Retriever is finally ready for a commercial release we have plans to start exporting very soon. Starting with a trip to the USA for the Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition and Conference (HITEC). We hope to make many new strategic alliances at this conference to help kick off our global marketing plans.

How do you strike a work life balance?
This has been one of the most difficult things for me to do – and I still have trouble with it. To keep overheads low, my programmer and I worked from our respective homes for many years. This was great for keeping my costs down but not for my home life. With your home as your primary place of work you end up always working.

Combined with the pressure to succeed before our capital ran out I was working myself into the ground. Luckily I was able to start getting a return on our investment after a few years and with my wife’s help I have been able to take a day or two off each week since then. We even get a short holiday once a year.

What are the future plans for Votech Industries? What growth do you predict for 2009-10?
We plan to continue making deals with more and more hardware and software vendors around the world to grow our library of Net Retriever compatible systems. We also hope to make some deals with the major hotel chains to provide solutions for all their interfacing needs.

We will do this by attending as many meetings, conferences and trade shows as we can along with advertising with old and new media. We have already made
many great business contacts through
sites like LinkedIn and Twitter and recommend them to any business that wants to grow.

What is your business philosophy/mantra?
Work smart, not hard. Although, as any entrepreneur will tell you: it can be hard work, working smart.

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