Robin Morris, CEO at Bookster tells us about rental property management software.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Robin Morris: We are doing fine. This week my 3-year-old was back at nursery, which has freed our time up a lot! We are still doing homeschooling for the 8-year-old, so that is a difficult balance to strike. We are lucky to live where we do (in Edinburgh) as there are plenty of interesting things within walking distance from our house. Woodland, hills, canals and of course a castle!
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Bookster.
Robin Morris: I studied Civil Engineering at Edinburgh University, and from there, I worked as an Engineer within a consultancy firm. I was far too interested in computers to stick it out, so I embarked on my career in technology by doing a Master’s degree course in computing.
I joined a small start-up, Caravan Sitefinder as a software developer where we were building a content management platform and booking system for the camping and caravanning sector. I became part-owner of Tribalogic Ltd. by accident which was formed when Caravan Sitefidner was sold to a publishing company. Somewhere along the way, I became the MD (now trading under the name “Bookster”) which is what I am doing now.
How does Bookster innovate?
Robin Morris: Bookster, a SaaS Property Management System (PMS) for holiday rentals, started in 2009 and has been the result of a meandering evolutionary process.
We try to be Agile and follow some basic principles. We want it to be possible for someone to sign up to Bookster themselves and use it without having to contact us if at all possible. We are very proud of our support but are really keen for our clients to be able to do it on their own if they want. We try not to look too far into the future and be realistic about the size of change/improvement we can implement.
Trying to understand what will make your clients’ lives easier is key, but also Bookster is not going to suit all businesses, and we don’t want to introduce incongruous features at the behest of a small number of clients.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Robin Morris: Working in the tourism sector has not been great. Pre Pandemic, we were growing our revenue substantially and looking forward to expanding – basically, the Pandemic has stalled our growth (in terms of revenue), so we have had to put some things on hold. Oddly, we have continued to grow our client base at a strong rate, so I am hopeful that things will bounce back quickly as we exit the Pandemic.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Robin Morris: We have had to use the government furlough scheme as the workload has dropped off, but luckily up to this point, we have managed to keep all of our staff on. We are a small, tight team, so losing anybody for any reason would be a blow – hopefully, we can avoid that.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Robin Morris: Our clients were quickly and directly hit by the Pandemic. It has been very tough for them, with more uncertainty ahead. Many of our clients moved into a kind of hibernation mode, furloughing staff and not really being in touch with us other than for critical functions. We have had to be a shoulder to cry on (literal people over the phone in tears).
We are available on the phone during office hours. We use ZenDesk (email+chat) as our primary support tool. We do also use Slack (instant messaging/chat/video) with some clients to help communicate quickly and efficiently. We onboard every new client using one or more video calls and try our best to get them as autonomous as possible. The Pandemic has put things into perspective and made us humble – an old client took his own life at the start of the first lockdown, and a long-term client is currently in hospital on a ventilator.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Robin Morris: We had some initial relief from business rates and have used the furlough scheme. As we gave up our office in September, that has excluded us from a number of grants which we did not foresee. We have applied for a number of other grants, but we seem to have fallen between the cracks a little when it comes to other support.
Your final thoughts?
Robin Morris: Like everybody else, we are desperate to see the back of Covid-19 and are crossing our fingers that this summer will return to some form of normality. The mental health of our team and the future prosperity of Bookster are tied to tourism (domestic or international) happening again soon. I am confident that Bookster can play its part in the recovery.