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Bernard Zimmermann, Founder of POS Solutions

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Bernard Zimmermann is a software developer and designer who was one of the first to see the potential of computerising retail and so founded in 1983 POS Solutions with the purpose of helping retailers. Today POS Solutions with offices Australia-wide is one of the largest and leading providers of point of sale and e-commerce software to Australian retailers which has been and is still used in thousands of stores.

He is also a highly regarded retail software blogger whose blog “POS Software” is widely read.

He consults to many large organisations such as News Corporation and the Australian Taxation Office.

Most importantly, Bernard provides tools and advice to help make retail thrive through his writings, speeches and workshops. He is dedicated to helping grow the businesses’ capabilities and connections and to get each and every client to that next level of success, no matter where they are in the process right now.

Bernard lives in Melbourne, Australia with his wife, a French and German teacher and real estate developer, their daughter and a dog. In his spare time, which he rarely gets, he enjoys reading about history, politics and science, as well as play chess.

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In your own words what do you do?

I consider that I am trying to help small, medium and independent retailers use technology to improve and grow their own businesses.

What led you to your current business?

After a lot of research, I knew retail very well having been born and raised in a small family retail shop and then having worked in many retail stores. Once I graduated from engineering, I became a software developer and consultant with Zac Varga, who later became my business partner. What we noticed was that there were few decent softwares for retail shops in those days. What we saw were generally modified accounting programs, which in practice tended to be unusable for retail. So we wrote a list of requirements that retail needed. Then in one month, I wrote our first point of sale system. It says much about the existing systems back then that this quickly written POS software was considered better than what was out there. This package became one of the most successful point of sale systems in Australia.

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Could you walk us through your process of developing your business?

What we were aiming for was long-term growth. We were first of all two technical people, who were willing to work our butts off, and we knew that although we could not compete with the marketing budget of our competitors, we knew we could technically produce something remarkable and outproduce them in quality. If we had a few sites, word of mouth would spread our products. This became our plan.

It worked. People started to hear of us; they came to see our system, our sales figures increased dramatically as our software increased the productivity of our clients’ businesses. We then spent nearly all our profits on technology and actively chased emerging technology and followed industry trends and used them to improve our product and make it more relevant. It cost us practically everything, but we knew we had to have the best point of sale system.

Did you encounter any particular difficulties in the beginning?

I had a dream, yet when I tried to get going, like many startups, at first it was all vapour but it still was my dream. Until I became firmly established, there was always a doubt. With pos software, this is a critical challenge or barrier to entry as people tend to buy major point of sale software on lease, which is generally five to seven years. If they have doubts about you being there in this period, they will not buy your product. Our competitors, jealous of our success and knowing that they could not compete with us technically often spread half-truths and lied about us. Although we were never outclassed technologically, we certainly had much to learn about the commercial realities.

What is your long term plan?

I love what I do; I want to keep doing it, as long as I can. I love being productive and useful. I love helping people get the most out of their business. I love to learn about technology. Basically I do not work, but I get paid to do what I like doing.

Could you share with us some industry insights?

There is a saying ‘count the pennies and the pounds’ and the business will look after itself. This is so true. Every business has to count every penny. Margins are rarely high today and it is in the pennies where the profit is but remember although the lack of profit may kill you in the long run, the lack of cashflow will kill you immediately. Cashflow must be monitored at all times as lack of liquid capital is the major cause of business failure. No matter if the creditor is big or small, every creditor must be watched.  The biggest creditors including goverment departments can be the slowestpayers. You must always ask yourself: ‘Can I afford this contract?’ I have seen many businesses go under with no cash yet on paper they had good profits.

Technology, the politics of a country and society change dramatically today but industry changes even faster.  Do not count on what you are used to be continuing. It will not. Recently, I have seen some shops that were in existence for years, suddenly devastated when a rail development closed most of the roads servicing that shopping centre. A fish shop lost much of its traffic when the supermarket decided to put a line of fish products.

What are some important lessons you’ve learnt about entrepreneurship?

Planning, just a little, can give you direction and purpose.
The first point is to develop a mission statement. What I see far too often is people who do not make one or make one like for a Uni assignment and eventually disregard it. Soon they forget why they went into business or their goals altogether. They run their business with no purpose.

Before you do anything create a mission statement for your company and ensure you also list the benefit to your clients as one of your foremost company goals.

Before we did anything, we looked at the current state of the market for our product. We immediately created a short mission statement for our software and what we considered our point of difference was. After that we had our sales pitch that we could explain to any potential client or supplier in thirty seconds for what our company stood.

Any tips for achieving success?

Get used to failure, refusal, negativity and mockery.

As you proceed with your business, you will often face doubts and criticisms from competitors, lawyers, people in the market, employees and even friends and relatives.  Some will be true as we all make stupid mistakes and we sometimes trust people who let us down; we take chances that fail, so we need to accept that it is a learning process like everyday life itself. People are going to say NO. For every contract you get, there are probably five that you will miss out on. The knockers are everywhere. This is the way business is.

Develop a thick skin. What I do, if it gets too much, is go and see some clients that are happy with our services and products. Talk to them. After all, they are what you are here for. Look how far you have come, pick yourself up, consider it a learning experience and move on.

Connect

Website: www.possolutions.com.au
Linkedin: https://au.linkedin.com/in/bernard-zimmermann-25407918
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/POSSOLUTIONSAU/

 

Callum Connects

Benjamin Kwan, Co-Founder of TravelClef

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Making music to create a life for his family, Benjamin Kwan, started an online tuition portal and his music business grew from there.

What’s your story?
I am Benjamin and I’m the Co-Founder of TravelClef Group Pte Ltd, a travelling music school that conducts music classes in companies as well as team building with music programmes. We also run an online educational platform which matches private students to freelance music teachers. We also manufacture our own instruments. I started this company in 2011 when I was still a freshman at NUS, majoring in Mechanical Engineering.

I was born to a lower income family, my father drove a taxi and was the sole breadwinner to a family of 7. I have always dreamed of becoming rich so that I could lessen the burden placed on my father and give my family a good life.

After working really hard in my first semester at NUS, my results didn’t reflect the hard work and effort I put in. At the same time, I was left with just $42 in my bank account and it suddenly dawned on me that if I were to graduate with mediocre results, I would probably end up with a mediocre salary as well. I knew I had to do something to gain control of my future.

During that summer break, I read a book “Internet Riches” by Scott Fox and I knew that the only way I could ever start my own business with my last $42 would be to start an online business. That was how our online tuition portal started and after taking 4 days to learn Photoshop and website building on my own, I started the business.

What excites you most about your industry?
Music itself is a constant form of excitement to me as I have always been an avid lover of music. As one of the world’s first travelling music schools, we are always very eager and excited to find innovative ways to a very traditional business model of a music teaching.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore and I love the fact that despite our diversity in culture, there’s always a common language that we share, music.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Hands down, SINGAPORE! Although we are currently in talks to expand to other regions within Asia, Singapore is the best place for business. I have had friends asking me if they should consider venturing into entrepreneurship in Singapore, my answer is always a big fat YES! There’s a low barrier of entry, and most importantly, the government is very supportive of entrepreneurship.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
I have been blessed by many people and mentors who constantly give me great advice but right now, I would say the best piece of advice that I received would be from Dr Patrick Liew who said, “Work on the business, not in it.” This advice is constantly ringing in my head as I work towards scaling the business.

Who inspires you?
My dad. My dad has always been my inspiration in life, for the amount of sacrifices that he has made for the family and the love he has for us. He was the umbrella for all the storms that my family faced and we were always safe in his shelter. Although my dad passed away after a brief fight with colorectal cancer, the lessons that he imparted to me were very valuable as I build my own family and business.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
You can not buy time, but you can spend money to save time! With this realisation, I was willing to allow myself to spend some money, in order to save more time. Like taking Grab/Uber to shuttle around instead of spending time travelling on public transport. While I spend more money on travelling, I save a lot more time! This doesn’t mean that I spend lavishly and extravagantly, I am still generally prudent with my money.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have taken more time to spend with my family and especially my father. While it is important to focus our time to build our businesses, we should always try our best to allocate family time. Because as an entrepreneur, there is no such thing as “after I finish my work,” because our work is never finished. If our work finishes, the business is also finished. But our time with our family is always limited and no matter how much money and how many successes we achieve, we can never use it to trade back the time we have with our family.

How do you unwind?
I am a very simple man. I enjoy TV time with my wife and a simple dinner with my family and friends.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Batam, it’s close to Singapore and there’s really nothing much to do except for massages and a relaxing resort life. If I travel to other countries for shopping or sightseeing, I am constantly thinking of business and how I can possibly expand to the country I am visiting. But while relaxing at the beach or at a massage, I tend to allow myself to drift into emptiness and just clear my mind of any thoughts.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Work The System, by Sam Carpenter. This book teaches entrepreneurs the importance of creating systems and how to leverage on systems to improve productivity and create more time.

Shameless plug for your business:
If you are looking for a team building programme that your colleagues will enjoy and your bosses will be happy with, you have to consider our programmes at TravelClef! While our programmes are guaranteed fun and engaging, it is also equipped with many team building deliverables and organizational skills.

How can people connect with you?
My email is [email protected] and I am very active on Facebook as well!
https://www.facebook.com/benjamin.christian.kwan

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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Callum Connects

Nadia Al Sheikh, Founder & CEO of Flenco & Deal’n

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Nadia Al Sheikh has created a business module which incorporates philanthropy and business to empower others, and herself, she’s called her business Deal’n.

What’s your story?
My story is mirrored in my work. Flenco and our Singaporean eco skin care brand, “Flen” combines Dead Sea minerals from the lowest point of earth with Chinese medicine, which represents the wisdom and mystics of the east and these things represent my journey. I’m a single mother rediscovering my identity at a low point in life. Throughout my journey, determination, flexibility and assertiveness are the pillars of innovation. Thus Deal’n was born after years of groundwork in volunteering with various NGO’s and pursuing my masters degree. Transforming a vision, into a module that incorporates philanthropy and business, with tools to empower others and empower myself!

What excites you most about your industry?
The endless opportunities for improvement, innovation, creativity, free thinking which is mastered through interaction with other players in the market and customers creating a virtual place for brainstorming and the exchange of ideas. An evolving industry that challenges each and every person to use their skills, talents, expertise and utilise all their abilities to claim a slice of the pie.

What’s your connection to Asia?
Asia and specifically Singapore are my second home. It’s my spiritual and business safe haven that provides fair opportunities for everyone to succeed. If I was back in the Middle East as a single mother, I’m pretty sure my struggle would have been much longer and more difficult, however, it wouldn’t have stopped me from achieving my dreams. Singapore specifically empowered me professionally and Asia spiritually in redefining who I am as a person and understanding myself better.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore, although it’s a very tough and competitive market for entrepreneurs to start a business, it provides them with support and motivation through grants, competitions and subsidising the cost of exhibiting or promotional events to promote their business.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Success is measured by achieving your own personal goals and dreams and not what others think you should achieve.

Who inspires you?
Those who go unnoticed. From senior citizens, cleaning tables at food courts regardless of their wealth of knowledge and experience to single mothers, who are fighting everyday to overcome the social stigma and manage taking care of their children while earning an income. The amazing people who give their lives to start an NGO to empower others asking for nothing in return except the success of their beneficiaries, the humble members of our community that work in silence changing lives not for the spotlight but for their belief in making the world a better place.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
To step onto the balcony! In order to evaluate situations and understand people’s motivations from different perspectives and even to understand ourselves better we all need to step onto the balcony and become observers rather than participants. It gives you the power to see life through a variety of lenses.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I’d be wiser with my decisions, evaluate situations from different perspectives and believe in myself and my capabilities. That all came with experience and the ups and downs throughout my journey so I guess, to be who I am today I would have accepted the rough times and embraced them because they were my best teachers. So I wouldn’t undo the past but I am changing my future.

How do you unwind?
Meditation, exercising, listening to music, reading a book and a walk in the botanical gardens.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Maldives, I love the peace and harmony in the simplicity of what it offers; beautiful beaches and wonderful people.

Everyone in business should read this book:
The Wisdom Of Crowds by James Surowiecki

Shameless plug for your business:
Deal’n provides opportunities for all members of the community to utilize their skills, talents, expertise, capabilities and abilities in various ways, aiming at empowering all users to become productive members of their community. Using the services of other users for all to grow and benefit, interact with each other through the Deal’n community, thus enhancing their self esteem, level of confidence and as a result, a more empathetic and happier community!

How can people connect with you?
Through my FB page Nadousheh, my email [email protected]

Twitter handle?
@nadiaalsheikh

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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