A lot of hard work and sacrifice is needed to build a business. Each month we talk to an inspiring entrepreneur to show you that really, anything is possible.

NZ Entrepreneur: Tell us about your business. What is it exactly that you do?

Danny Ing: Cin7 is a cloud based Inventory and POS system. “CIN” stands for “Cloud Inventory” and “7” stands for the number of ways we saw buying behaviour changing because of e-commerce, the Internet, and mobile technology. 

We solve the global problem of giving the consumer the convenience of buying online or the experience of buying in-store. The types of industries that love us are multi-store retailers, fashion and apparel, furniture, flooring and wine distribution companies. These industries plus many more need strong inventory control and a point of sale solution. 

With so many businesses now selling via multiple channels, Cin7 manages stock and sales data seamlessly, while also integrating with other best-in-class systems like Xero, Quickbooks Online, SalesForce, Shopify and many others. Cin7 is being chosen consistently over much more expensive incumbent ERP due to its ease of use.

We provide a product that is online, so no matter whether you are at your office, home, bach or boat, you have control and can see what you are selling and what you are making.

The real beauty of what we do is combining both POS and Inventory into one system so that you don’t need two different products or systems to do something they were never designed to do.

So you could say we reduce the sleepless nights, the painful uncertainty and the difficult conversations that most businesses experience from either using spreadsheets or outdated and expensive ERP products!

NZE: What’s the story behind the business? How did it get started and why?

DI: Cin7 started out as Datum Connect Limited: a web design company. As e-commerce became more popular, more Datum customers started to experience the unique problem of selling products online that they did not have in actual stock. This caused a customer service problem of grumpy customers and refunds. 

One Datum customer was looking for an online inventory system but could not find one and asked us if we would develop some inventory functionality into our e-commerce websites. This started the foray into inventory systems development. Four years ago, we bumped into a still very small Xero company which wanted, first and foremost, an inventory add-on to their accounting system. A year later, Datum Connect was rebranded Cin7 and became an online inventory system. We took a risk that online business systems would become the mainstream and have not looked back.

NZE: How did you survive the early days? 

DI: We were fortunate to have over 1,000 happy website and hosting customers who worked with us and supported us as we made the transition. We kept it lean and did not seek funding while we tried to carve a business model from what was happening.

The great thing is we still have that lean mean survival instinct that governs our decisions even now. While we don’t have the same funding angst, we still measure our decisions wisely and make sure there is a result and quantifiable outcome from calls we make. You then have to balance that with pushing forward assertively and making the courageous calls that need to be made in order to gain and maintain momentum.

Many of those within the business have skin in this game, so that really contributes towards a focused and motivated culture, and so sacrifices for the greater good are the norm for us.

NZE: Have you experienced any bad times? What was the most painful lesson you’ve had to learn in business?

DI: Absolutely. If you haven’t had bad or at least challenging times then you don’t have something real. You really need to learn from these times and then move on. Don’t let the scars wear you out, but don’t ignore the decisions that caused the pain either.

The transition from a web design company to a cloud inventory company took a full two and half years before we could stop taking on any new website design work and only take on inventory customers: a period I have labelled “The Valley of Death”. These could have been extremely bad times, but we made it through, and with a lot of luck the cloud business systems industry became a real opportunity.

The most painful series of lessons is centred around getting caught up in the hype. There is a lot of excitement, but nobody is making any money, yet you still have to pay the rent and wages. Trust me; excitement does not pay the bills. We had to keep it real and focused on providing value to our customers.

NZE: How do you market your products, and what advice do you have for others around marketing?

DI: Many of our first customers were previous customers from our website building and hosting days. Initially, Xero also provided us with a lot of leads, and as time has gone on we have been referred a lot and have built great relationships with credible partners, which is a channel we still need to grow.

Rather than trying to be all things to all people, we really want to target industries and the size of company that we are best suited for. Fashion and Apparel, Flooring, and Furniture retail stores and chains are where we really excel, as well as in niche markets like Wine distribution. So, our strategy is to enlighten and educate these verticals and not have a scatter-gun approach that is more hit and hope than real marketing.

Our advice to others is to identify where you fit first, then target them only. Do a good job with them first: then expand. Control the controllable and don’t try and be too clever too quick.

NZE: Do entrepreneurs need lots of money or external funding to build a big business? Any advice for others looking to raise funding or for those who have little money to get going?

DI: Yes, the harsh reality is you do need a good amount of funding. However, too much funding is no good as you tend to waste it. In our experience you don’t need millions, but a few hundreds of thousands is essential.

The best advice is focus on servicing the customers with the biggest need and the most money. A customer with a big need and money will usually help you develop your product and pay you some money. Remember you are not developing software, you are trying to solve a high value problem.

NZE: What are the three most important business skills you would advise up and coming entrepreneurs to develop?

DI: Filter good advice from the noise. Unfortunately this is a painful process of not knowing you have good advice until you have had a lot of bad advice. You have to keep on asking yourself “Can I do anything with that advice?”

Surround yourself with the right calibre of people as soon as you can.

Don your elbow and shin-pads and prepare for a gritty and rough ride. Tenacity and resilience wins out over desire all day, regardless of what motivational speaker you listen to. Desire is like a match in the snow, it can disappear real quick once the temperature drops!

NZE: What does success mean to you and what do you think are the most important things to think about whilst building a business?

DI: One of the best lessons I have ever learnt was from my Market Research lecturer at Waikato Uni, Scott Koslow. After studying hard and getting my first class honours in Marketing and Accounting, I approach my lecturer and ask what I do with myself now I have got my degree. He said “Do what you would do for free and if you make money from this you will be successful.” After a year in the workforce as a number cruncher for a plastics manufacturing company I understood what he meant. I then started to follow this Internet thing which was introduced to us in my first year of University. Waikato Uni was the first place the Internet had come into NZ and we were the first batch of students to ever use it. I was a terrible speller and had extremely messy handwriting, getting consistent Ds and Es in high school, and looking down the barrel of being useless to society. When I discovered the computer and the spell checker I was hooked into IT.

Building a business is extremely difficult and I would not wish it upon anybody. The one thing that keeps you going is that you would do it for free anyway, so you keep on going regardless of the conditions. Success comes when you have done something that you would normally do for free and have done it long and hard enough to make some money from it.

NZE: What do you think are the things New Zealand needs to improve upon when it comes to creating more successful businesses?

DI: An understanding of the global market. We are so small, and while we always find ourselves looking up and wishing, fighting for air time globally is different altogether.

As a country we need to support and invest in our entrepreneurs. We are a breeding ground of amazing ideas and concepts that never see the light of day. We need to work to our strengths and stop trying to compare ourselves to everyone else. I am sure we were told we needed to copy Ireland, Greece and some other supposed ‘shining’ lights not so long ago, but imagine if we had.

NZE: Where do you see yourself and the business in five years’ time?

DI: We have just set up a presence in the US based out of the Kiwi Landing pad. This has contributed to our recent listing with Quickbooks Online as an authorised add-on partner which means we are now one (of three only) POS partners globally, and one of an elite group of cloud-based Inventory providers, so this is massive for us.

We also have some big opportunities with some large retail chains in Australia and so we have established a branch there as well, to meet these needs.

This has already opened up some amazing doors so things are happening quickly and so we need to keep up and maximise these windows of opportunity.

We are also moving into a lot larger office space this month which is another positive step forward and definitely gives us the motivation to push forward aggressively.

There is a very definite goal in mind but we will keep that under lock and key for a little longer: but keep watching this space.

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