Simon Bland in Tech & Digital

16/01/2015

Interview: Laura Baines, Co-Founder of Flowify

In a few days, we'll be showcasing the very best in UK creativity at our third anniversary live event in central London.

We'll be bringing along a selection of the people we've supported during our three years working in the creative industries, including the people behind the innovative hospitality app 'Sofia'. 

Developed by Flowify, this unique app helps people in the restaurant and hotel industries deliver the best service possible. We talked to Flowify co-founder Laura Baines about the inspiration for this product and how Creative England assisted its development...


Tell us a little bit about your background and how found yourself in this line of work?

That’s an interesting story! Whilst I was at college, I started my very first part time job which was for McDonald’s Restaurants. I ended up staying with them for three years, progressing from a Crew Member, to Crew Trainer to Shift Manager. McDonald’s gave me a great, flexible job, where I learnt a lot about the processes within hospitality and this is where my love of service started. Alongside McDonald’s, I was also studying for a degree in Primary Education with the aim of becoming a primary school teacher.

In my third year of teaching and just 20 years old, the direction I was taking my career in changed direction...

Benjamin, now my CoFounder, had also worked in hospitality and shared a love of the industry. He’d worked in every role imaginable, from waiter to management. His deep passion for service had encouraged him to create a tool, using an old till, a number of years ago to solve a problem they were having in the restaurant he was working in. The tool helped the team to manage the tables in the restaurant and so, improved the service that was being delivered.

Many years on and while I was in my third year of my degree, we applied for accelerator programmes to get this old idea up and running again. We were accepted on to the Dotforge Accelerator in Sheffield, a fantastic programme which gave us mentors, office space and funding to fuel this idea into a startup business.

We relocated from Cheshire to Sheffield and I made the decision to continue my university studies and run Flowify at the same time. Not quite what I had planned at the start of a teaching degree, but very exciting all the same!

How would you describe the service offered by Sofia?

Sofia, our app for the hospitality industry, is best described as like a “sat nav for waiters”. Sofia is able to guide the waiting staff through the correct steps in the guest journey, ensuring nothing is missed. Through product pilots, we have seen an increase in revenue for sites through the use of Sofia due to team members being in the right place at the right time to upsell.

What was the main inspiration behind the idea?

The main inspiration behind Sofia came from Benjamin’s experience of working in the industry for many years previously. What he saw in one particular site, which is echoed across the industry, is that guests do not receive a consistent service across a brand. This was particularly evident in a site he was working in through Mystery Guests who assessed the site in accordance with brand guidelines.

What problem in the hospitality market did you notice that you felt Sofia could improve?

There are many problems which Sofia can help to solve, but the main one is inconsistency in service which leads to a loss of revenue.

How can restaurants use Sofia to improve their quality of service?

Sofia can be used to improve the quality of service in restaurants and other hospitality sites by ensuring that all team members are in the right place at the right time. The beauty of Sofia, is that it can be customised to suit any environment, with the correct service steps for any brand included.

What inspired the name of the product?

Firstly, we were keen to give our app a human name as it helps when referring to it in the environment – “Just tell Sofia I’ve cleared Table 2” for example. Secondly, we wanted something fairly easy to pronounce and that could work across the world.

What kind of feedback have you received from customers and businesses?

The feedback has been great, even when we had initial conversations with businesses before we had a prototype up and running.We’ve ran product trials in a number of sites which have all received great results, our most recent case study can be found here

How did you get involved with the Dot Forge accelerator?

We got involved with the Dotforge Accelerator after applying to be part of their first cohort.

What was it about the accelerator process that made you want to apply?

Although we had experience of the hospitality industry, we weren’t sure on how to get our idea up and running. The Accelerator was offering exactly what we thought we needed; mentors, funding and office space.

What did DotForge allow you to achieve?

I think it is fair to say that the process an Accelerator puts a start-up through is like no other. We achieved so much over the 13 weeks from having just an idea, to having a working prototype that was being piloted in a small number of sites. Dotforge gave us access to fantastic mentors, some of which we have built relationships with and still help us on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.

How did you find working with Creative England?

Working with Creative England has been an important part of our start-up journey. As well as being supportive of our venture, they also provide additional funding, access to events, public speaking opportunities and PR.

In your opinion, what is the most challenging part of launching a new product?

For us, the most challenging part has been the fact that enterprise product sales cycles are very long. As most consumer products are quick and easy, enterprise products have to jump through a lot more hoops before they are in use by a corporate.

In your opinion, what is the key to survival for small enterprises?

Definitely being able to manage your cash flow and planning far enough in advance.


To learn more about Flowify visit their website

Laura and the Flowify team will be attending our Creative England Live event in London on January 20th. To keep up to date with the latest event news follow us on twitter using the hashtag #CELive2015.

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