Q & A with eStar’s COO, Kevin Rowland


Can you tell me a bit about eStar?

eStar is Australasia’s leading eCommerce solutions provider, delivering an outstanding experience for some of the region’s best brands through a combination of thought leadership, user experience development and design and partners. We are a company that, in many ways people haven’t heard of, but I would say that most people have used our sites at one time or another. Currently we are working with clients such as David Jones, Country Road, Witchery, Taking Shape, fashion brands in Australia. In New Zealand, our most recent go-live was Freedom Furniture a couple of weeks ago. The next will be Snooze. We also work with Swanndri, Briscoe Group and many, many more.

Something we’re incredibly proud of is that we’ve got 80 team members from many different backgrounds, and 43% are female, which is almost unheard of in IT.

It’s down to the culture we’ve been working on here. We’ve created a team model based on Patrick Lencioni’s ‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team’. If you think of a company like a house – the foundation is trust. I trust that our employees are coming to work to do a good job. I also know that our employees are humans, and people make mistakes. That’s actually okay. And the pillars are robust debate, commitment and ownership. The robust debate is so we can have real discussions and engagement and problem solve.  We’ve created an atmosphere where that discussion can be had. And if you get all those bits right, the results will come.

We focus on four things for our results:

  • Team Members
  • Clients
  • Execution
  • Profit

Where do you see the retail industry changing over the next 10 years?

I think online and physical are going to move even closer together than they have been. When I was growing up, you would go into a shop and ask the man behind the counter for everything. Then we came to what we call self-service retail in the UK. From there we moved into what became known as multi-channel with the advent of the internet in the late 1990s and early 2000s. We now call it omni-channel. Pretty soon we will just call it retail and every retailer is going to have to be in a position where they can offer their products anytime, anyplace, anywhere. Consumers have great power and are often more informed than sales representatives. So, online and physical purchasing is going to get closer and closer together until it’s a seamless solution.

Do you think that because of that there will be less traditional bricks and mortar stores or do you think they will still have quite a big role to play for retail?

I think there will always be a huge place for them. One thing that we say to everyone is that the flagship store is the digital store and there’s lots of reasons for that. To make a change into a physical bricks and mortar store is incredibly expensive compared to what you can do in an online space. But worldwide online is less than 10 percent of all retail. We are always going to want physical bricks and mortar stores. There are certain things that really do lend themselves to eCommerce. So, while we say and agree that everybody’s online store is going to be the most visited store in the network, there’s always going to be a place for bricks and mortar stores as well.

Why did you decide to start working in the technology industry?

It’s very simple, I’m a retailer. I started working in retail when I was 14 years old and I spent 20 years in stores. And it gets to a point where you realise that retail, in a forward-facing environment, is hard. I started learning programming before I started in retail. I attended a very forward-thinking school and started learning how to write code in 1976 and did it as part of my degree. So, it came to a point 20 years ago where I thought, I wonder if I could combine my knowledge of computers with my knowledge of retail. eCommerce is still retail. Later this year I celebrate 40 years in the industry.

Do you think that for the people working in retail now, there is an opportunity for them to add a technology side to their job role?

Yes, I think there is. Particularly with the people coming through now. Everybody talks about digital natives and it’s true. They are used to technology being a large part of their lives. They are used to thinking ‘technology first’. So, there is a lot of room for retailers to move into this space. We’ve sort of reversed it at eStar if you like, we’re retailers first. Andrew Buxton is the CEO and his background is in logistics and supply chain side whereas mine’s store side. Which means it gives us the ability to look at things from a client’s perspective.

What advice do you have for people looking to advance their own career in technology?

I think you need to pick an area. I really think there’s massive opportunities out there. We know that technology, or IT, is going to be the number one industry in New Zealand in the next couple of years. We don’t have enough people with the right skillsets to support that. So, it’s a case of deciding what you want to do and going for it.

Canterbury has got the most amazing, innovative, technical group of people that I’ve come across. I lived in Auckland for eight or nine years and the Auckland scene is totally different to the Canterbury scene. There is such an amazing infrastructure of people here that want to work with each other.

Is there anything else that you think is unique to the Canterbury technology sector?

I think there does seem to be much more of a ‘can-do’ feeling here as opposed to ‘can’t-because’. I think the biggest thing here is just the way that the Technology Cluster, for example, brings people together every month from a wide range of different technologies and it offers the networking opportunities, understanding what’s going on and learning from each other. I’ve not come across this anywhere else and there really is a feeling that everybody will try and help everybody else where they can; try and really push technology. Push Christchurch, push Canterbury because the more that is going on, the better it is for everybody.

Why did eStar decide to support the Canterbury Tech Summit?

It’s the second year we have sponsored the Summit – we started last year. When I relocated here in June 2015, I got involved first with Canterbury Development Corporation. They got us talking to people in the Software Cluster (as Canterbury Tech was called then), and I was just amazed by the work that was being done. We quickly became a business partner and then we sponsored the Canterbury Tech Summit.

It’s just an amazing event, the Summit itself. To have more than 500 people in a regional conference like this is just amazing. And last year it was opened by John Key and then Ray Avery was the keynote speaker! I mean, you can’t get much better than that!

We also want to make sure that people are aware of who eStar is and what we do. It’s all about raising awareness of eStar.

What advice do you have for tech companies looking to expand overseas?

Know your market. For us it was easier, as we’ve gone into Australia on the back of already having a strong Australian client base.  Clients like Country Road Group and Taking Shape, want to see you present in their market, so we opened a Melbourne office to be closer to our clients.

I have seen all types of companies go overseas and fail, and that failure is from not understanding the client and market. The important thing is to understand your strengths and if you are going overseas, understand your market before you go.

What are you looking forward to the most at the Canterbury Tech Summit this year?

I’m just looking forward to meeting everyone. It’s a really good event. I learn something every year from both the speakers and from going around talking to the other people who have stands there. It’s all about learning and talking to people. It’s just an incredible event in many ways and we are very glad to be a part of it.

Estar are Silver Sponsors of the Canterbury Tech Summit

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