60 seconds with… James O'Sullivan, CEO - Kobas Technologies

What trends are you seeing emerging off the back of the pandemic?

I don’t think I’m going to say anything revolutionary here when I bring up ordering and payment apps, along with track & trace ones too. What’s less obvious is that it’s massively increased the public knowledge of QR codes, something that has been struggling for mass adoption for a while. At a more macro level we’ve seen operators looking / needing to bring in technology to other parts of the business that were paper based before, things like allergens, HR and rotas are common examples.

What ways has your business adapted to the changes in hospitality in 2020?

As a business we’ve moved to a ‘remote first’ way of working for all non-client-facing roles. We were most of the way to being there before COVID, so this was a very minor change and as a tech company, we were well placed to make the change. Indeed, there really hasn’t been a noticeable change for most people. As we deal with hardware (tills, printers etc), we have retained an office in Central London, but have reduced the size of it to reflect the fewer people that need it regularly. We also opened a 2nd office in the north for new staff that were located up there and didn’t have adequate home-working setups.

How do you see this changing the face of hospitality moving forward post COVID?

I think it’s going to be very much style of business as to what the impact is. For typical restaurants, I don’t think there will be much change long term, they can’t wait to get back to taking orders at the table and offering the service. Some will adopt ways to pay your bill at the end of the meal from your phone, but I think that’s as far as they’ll go. The same is true for cocktail bars and traditional pubs, where the interaction with staff, normally at the bar, is part of the experience. For QSR and other high-volume locations, the move to tech is probably here to stay, and many of them were already a long way down the order ahead path. This is just a win for everyone so can’t see it changing.

What techniques have you used to build sales and re-engage customers?

We’ve been very lucky here for several reasons. Firstly, we’ve got a very diverse client base, both by industry, geography & scale, which spreads our risk. We’re also the choice of more forward-thinking, growing, operators, and for the most part they are well resourced. As we’re not the biggest company, we have about 75 clients, I know most of my counterparts well, so we’ve chatted a lot (normally just consoling them!).

From a sales perspective, we’re lucky that the Kobas product is suited to addressing the challenges operators are facing now: we’re technology led, cover a wide array of business areas and thus consolidate many separate costs into a single, lower one. 

Finally, sales have been something only I’ve been involved in for the whole life of Kobas. This is because we’ve not wanted to grow too quickly while the product was evolving and too quick a growth would have been problematic. We started talking to potential sales staff late last year and with the help of a bounce back loan we were able to take the plunge and employ 3 people with excellent track records, and they’ve all very much hit the ground running.

What positives are you able to take away from this year?

The 3 months of April, May and June presented, literally, a once in a lifetime break for business as usual. We will never have a situation where most of our costs are covered but we have close to zero clients to support so can really focus 100% on the areas of the business we want. We used it to write a customer order and payment system, a process that would have taken us close to 9 months when dealing with the normal needs of the business was released in a little over 10 weeks. You just can’t buy that type of focus. It also allowed us to look at the business from the ground up: how did we want to work, who did what, which providers do we use, what are our processes etc. Incredibly valuable.

What would be your advice to a small business in hospitality on what tech to use?

Look at the whole business, rather than just sections. For example, moving to a digital rota over a paper one is a good change, but a better change would be one that allows staff to clock in/out on the till… and the best would be one that also uses historic / predicted data to suggest over / under staffed period. By looking at the bigger picture, you’re likely to end up with a more joined-up system, either from one supplier or maybe from a few that work together, but the result will be the best for business. To my mind, a single system that might not offer everything is significantly better (and cheaper) than 6+ “best of breed” systems that are their own silo.

What are your top 3 apps?

  • Business Related: Slack, Revolut, Net Analyser
  • Industry: Dominos, Nando’s, Deliveroo
  • General: Stitcher (podcasts), WhatsApp, PUBG (game)


Date Published: 29th October 2020