Wherewolf riding digital wave

SHARE

Face-palming exasperation with sloppy data entry prompted two entrepreneurs to build Queenstown’s latest flourishing tech business.

Ben Calder and Wulf Solter established Wherewolf back in 2013. The company builds custom software for adventure tourism businesses, allowing them to manage guests digitally rather than on paper.

That includes iPad check-in, digital waivers and marketing tools.

And like most great business ideas, necessity proved the mother of invention.

Calder is the former owner of Queenstown nightlife specialists Big Night Out – which sourced some of its customers through backpacker hostels.

But it kept missing out because hostel staff weren’t accurate enough when writing down people’s email addresses.

“They were working for accommodation, so as you can imagine their attention to detail was minimal.

“All the data was wrong.

“We actually got kicked off MailChimp – the bounceback rate was too high so they thought we were spamming.”

Calder asked Solter to create a digital form and he went one better, adding questions to enable target marketing.

“It worked a treat.”

They started using the form at Big Night Out check-ins and continued to modify the questions.

By the end of 2012, they realised it could work for other businesses too, and added waiver forms to the check-in, then logistics information, etc.

Paraflights was the first Wherewolf customer, then ThunderJet. Calder sold Big Night Out in 2016 to focus on the burgeoning business.

Solter says: “It’s been an organic growth – one small need, then another, then another.”

The company is enjoying a huge surge in business.

In January it moved to prime office space, 220sq m above ASB Bank on Camp Street, overlooking the Village Green. It now has a dozen full-time staff, including four employed in the past month, and space to handle twice that as it expands.

American James Burnes sees the potential – he recently invested in Wherewolf and joined as chief marketing officer in May.

It has tourism firm clients in 21 countries, but Burnes hopes to double that as quickly as possible.

Word-of-mouth has played a big part in the growth so far, with satisfied customers in a small town big on business.

Solter says: “And you get direct feedback here.

“You can just leave the office and walk over to a business to see how their check-in works.”

Calder says operators elsewhere see what’s working here and don’t want to get left behind.

The resort’s also surprisingly well-stocked with tech talent here for the lifestyle.

“Our top developers – one was working at the airport duty-free selling alcohol – saw our job and said ‘please, please give me a tech job’,” Calder says.

paul.taylor@scene.co.nz