Wouter van Ooijen and Koen Lavrijssen - Mr. Winston
Mr. Winston cash register system: an IT solution to daily issues in the hospitality industry.
"With Mr. Winston, we are actually playing two ‘games’. The first game is ‘look what we’ve got, and how we’re marketing it’. The second is, literally: ‘sell it for real’. A game might not sound that business-like, but it perfectly reflects our background. We both feel that we are proper entrepreneurs, for sure, but above all we are programmers. That did slow us down a lot in the beginning, but then we heard about Starterslift*. They made it clear to us that we also had to spend time on ‘selling it’, and not concentrate exclusively on ‘making it’. We had some great software, but no company. That all changed on January 1, 2016: Mr. Winston is now 'in action'."
Talking to founders Wouter van Ooijen and Koen Lavrijssen about the Mr. Winston hospitality system feels like a history lesson. Koen Lavrijssen: “I’ve been working in the hospitality industry since I was young, mainly at De Paal campsite in Bergeijk. The boss and the cook were always moaning about the cash register system. It looked handy, but too many things went wrong. ‘You are a programmer, aren’t you?’ they asked. ‘Can you make us a system that works ...?’
As a budding programmer, I saw it as a challenge. I had seen first-hand all the stuff that went wrong with the current system, so I took things from there. Three months later, I had a prototype ready, but it was more an idea than an actual running program. What I needed was someone who had more experience, so I got in touch with Wouter."
Long research and development process
"Koen came to see me, and told me what he was up against," says Wouter van Ooijen as he picks up the story. "He asked me if I wanted to work with him. I didn’t take long to decide, and got on board. It was the beginning of a long research and development process."
A market analysis quickly revealed that the owner of De Paal campsite was not the only person in the hospitality industry suffering lots of common problems. As Koen Lavrijssen explains, "Many business owners complained about a lack of overview, unverified bills, orders that were processed at the wrong time and in the wrong order (which meant that a beer was often flat before it was even served) and staff wandering around like headless chickens.
In other words... we saw that there was a market, and our system would keep the chickens’ heads on, in a manner of speaking.” It did have to be a system that was much smarter than all the existing systems, and based on solutions that would work in practice.”
Everything at the right time
In the Mr. Winston hospitality system, a lot revolves around perfect interpretation and processing of the workflow. According to Van Ooijen, "That is different for every order, if you want to be able to serve every item perfectly. For example, if someone orders a coke, a beer and a soda, then the system processes it as coffee, soda, beer. It is prepared in that order (make coffee, open soda bottle, tap beer). Everything is then perfect when it is served: hot coffee, cool soda, and beer with perfect head. This is just a simple example, but every combination is possible, so it’s a great solution for the kitchen."
Focus on sales
The jointly-developed prototype was rolled out at the campsite, and was a success from day one. “Koen and I were just stuck with one tricky problem: we weren’t focusing on sales!” says Wouter van Ooijen. “How could we sell our system, without having to drive around and knock on doors?
From that moment on, we decided to concentrate on wholesaling. Our thinking was that if wholesalers were interested, they could help us get the system to market. If we could give them proof of the system’s capabilities, they could transmit it to the hospitality sector. A time came when we virtually stopped programming, just to concentrate on contacting breweries and brands and other potential customers. We did a lot of networking, and sought publicity, and it brought success. Lots of parties expressed interest, and now they are the ones to come knocking on our door.”
Getting beyond anxiety
Even though both Wouter and Koen say that they have ‘felt entrepreneurial from an early age’, they also talk about their ‘fear of entrepreneurship’. “The main fear is ‘what will happen if things go wrong...' That’s something you have to deal with, and it’s tiring, because in practice you find you're doing well."
Growing with experience
What is true for these two entrepreneurs, is also true for their product. According to Lavrijssen, “A growing number of Mr. Winston systems are now in use. We use the feedback we get to continually improve the process, because there’s always room to improve a cash register system. Especially since it’s really the heart of an organization. The number of options is huge, from properly processing a beer order to linking to accounting, time tracking and reservations.”
"That’s also a trap we don’t want to fall in to,” says Wouter van Ooijen. “Workflows vary from company to company, so to get our system properly matched, we have to get the hospitality and technology aspects synchronized. We look for solutions within businesses which won’t get in each other’s way. That means lots of talking on the work floor, and in this respect our information management studies have come in very useful. We have learned to look at data and IT in a very commercial way, for example how processes can be standardized and communication flows optimized. That is where we are now reaping the benefits as Mr. Winston."
From IT to Sales
“Even though we had learned how to find our way around in the world of business, in no sense were we real sales and marketing men. Starterslift gave us a real kick in that direction. They addressed us on points where we were falling short, and pushed us to take the step of commercializing our product. As IT guys, we had to get out from behind the safety of our desks and computers. That was daunting at times... Suddenly we would be at big companies, and we had to talk and pitch in front of audiences. Starterslift helped us get the hang of it, and now things are now going well.”
More product ... more business
"That was quite a discovery for us," says Koen Lavrijssen now. “We are finding the combination of technology and entrepreneurship increasingly fascinating: a great challenge."
There are still more than enough technical challenges. In addition to the Mr. Winston product, Lavrijssen and Van Ooijen are making headway with the DUODEKA company. "That's a real development club. We work both on behalf of customers and our own initiative. It’s really varied too, as we are in contact with a whole range of companies, from hospitals to a tire business." What started as a ‘bit of fun' during a summer job at a campsite, has now become a flourishing business.
*Starterslift has continued under the name Braventure
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