Determined to take control of his destiny and to create something meaningful to the world, Mark Calabro went into business straight out of university, taught himself the ropes of running it, learned from the real world and helped establish one of the biggest Point of Sale providers in the food and beverage industry.
Ordermate Co-founder and Director of Sales Mark Calabro has the best job in the world. He gets to enjoy two of the things he loves: technology and food. As an engineer, he has a knack for technology and innovation. His affinity for food, on the other hand, can be traced way back from his childhood with his family. Surrounded by his grandpa and adults in the family, Mark loved watching them cook and share a meal as he was always very curious as a kid.
“I love how food brings back emotions. These are warm, loving and caring emotions from childhood. And I love to share experiences. I love to share things that I make. I love to share learnings with other people. As for me, food is about sharing, and sharing is a part of me,” he expresses warmly. On top of that, he loves to cook as he finds it very calming. As a matter of fact, cooking is a form of meditation for him.
Thus, Mark’s authentic zeal for food eventually extended to his business, Ordermate, which develops technology that helps improve the way restaurants, cafes and bars run their businesses and grow their profits. “We all have a genuine passion for the food and beverage industry. It translates to the quality of our product. It shows how we recognise and celebrate working with the very best in the industry: the best chefs, the best operators, and the best barmen,” the food-loving engineer articulates.
Ordermate’s early beginning was not as opulent as the industry it now caters. It simply started at a garage in 2002. “We were straight out of university, myself and my then business partners. We were at the university together taking up a double degree in engineering and multimedia. We started up our business as more of fun. It was just a project,” he describes.
Young and fresh out of university, they didn’t have much money to put into the business. “We lived on just water for the first few years,” Mark laughingly puts it as they weren’t taking any wage during the initial years of their business. It was all self-funded and its growth was purely organic. Since they had to take in a software developer and hire more people, their team had to expand. In effect, the ability to pay wages for their staff kept them up at night as cash flow was a real problem.
Add to that was the fact that Mark and his partners had no idea about sales and marketing. That part was just self-taught. They learned on their own feet as they went about running the business. What they did, however, was link up with friends who had some background in marketing to help them go about it.
The challenging part, however, was that marketing was crucial to their business during the early stages as they had to convince those in the food and beverage industry why they need a software to run their operations. When Mark and his partners were starting out, the industry wasn’t used to the modern way of doing business, such as paying for a subscription service.
“The perception of the industry was just to buy a cash register that comes out of a box, have someone unbox and program it, then pay them the money. For us, we went better in a different way as we took a consulting approach rather than a box product. Back then, 90% of the market would buy the box product. A cash register was cheaper than our software,” Mark shares his sentiments.
Mark and his partners spent the first 5 to 8 years presenting to businesses the value of their product and the wisdom why they had to spend 5 to 10 times more on this technology. “It was then very much about showing our value proposition whereas today, everyone knows you have to buy a Point of Sale system. It’s now just a matter of which brand to trust and which one has great service or good after sales or great tools.”
As competition is growing, the challenge for Mark and his team is to set their business apart from the rest. Their approach is to provide genuine care, interest and passion for the industry that will contribute to the betterment of the industry. On the other hand, they try not to be everything to everyone. Instead, they carved their niche by focusing more on bigger, larger and more professional, aspirational hospitality venues. While they deal with anyone in the food and beverage industry, channelling and focusing their initiatives towards businesses that give value to everything they do was a more efficient method. With that, they cater more towards serious business establishments where there’s a marketing function or stock inventory.
With the constant ordeal of maintaining a positive cash flow, acquiring new skills, getting new clients and facing competition, Mark realises that running a business entails a lot of hard work. He loves what he does, that’s for sure. But people regard owning a business as something like a walk in the park. In reality, nothing can prepare a business owner with the challenges ahead when it comes to growing and building a business until he becomes one. “You have to live being a business owner. I think you don’t know it unless you’ve done it. Thousands of people may think it is glamorous and it is a nice thought. What they don’t see is that there is a lot of sacrifices, like in relationships and personal life,” he shares. “For me personally, I never switch off,” he remarks.
The biggest heartache in his entrepreneurial journey was a business relationship that turned sour. There were some people in the organisation that they had to let go. Mark acknowledges that his mistake has been knowing that they have a big problem but not facing it head-on. So, apart from honing the various job functions that he has to learn and then excelling at them, managing people and building better relationships were also key learnings that he found on his journey. He finds that relationship-building and people skills are necessary for sales, marketing, recruitment and leadership. Part of that learning includes getting the right people on the team.
“As they say, ‘you’re as good as your weakest link.’ I learned that we have to get the right people to keep going. When it comes to systems and processes, we’re good on that stuff because we’re engineers. I didn’t value marketing and HR before, but as the business was growing and evolving, those are probably two of the most important things in any business. So, it’s about people, which is HR, and marketing, which is creating value for the market segments that you want,” Mark answers thoughtfully.
Recognising the significance of the different aspects of the business that they have not given much attention before, Mark learned to surround himself with business coaches and mentors that cared about the business and guided him through his entrepreneurial journey, particularly in areas where he didn’t have previous skills.
Earlier this year, Mark also joined EO Melbourne, where he has picked additional knowledge that he has applied in his business. “I learned the importance of execution and strategy. I also understood that having the absolute clarity and unity at the top of the business can penetrate all the way down to the staff.”
Putting all those tools together and applying them in his entrepreneurial voyage, Mark has seen the fruits of their labours. Their biggest win is getting customers in the Middle East. “We are in the UAE since 2 years ago. It’s nice to see people from various walks of life in other parts of the world smile and enjoy using what we developed way back in 2002 out of a garage. We’re on that path of growth now, which is about getting the team right and consolidating our brand and our position in the Australian market. Next year is about extending that and also growing internationally. We have 3 countries earmarked in 2018,” Mark eagerly shares.
In fact, Mark is ready to take on the world. They plan to have offices in each of the major continents. The expansion, however, is not only geographic. It also extends to having more services and products in the pipeline. Mark takes their plans further as he sees more changes to occur in the market and, in effect, in their business within the next few years. “It is going to be totally different from what it is now. The market will be different. Technology is open to disruption, so we have to be the one that must disrupt so as not to be disrupted.”
Mark remains hopeful despite the constant changes happening around him. “As the business is growing and as we are getting more resources and people to do the operational stuff, I see myself spending more time on the innovation flow. I really enjoy that. I think there is a lot of exciting change that is already starting to happen. I think it excites more people to come on board and have a career with us as well,” he retorts.
As he looks at the 15 or more years of his entrepreneurial journey at a macro level, Mark cites the important ingredients for a successful business cuisine. “I think that perseverance, hard work and continuous learning are the key things that I attribute to what I have, where I am, and what I achieve. Also, it’s people and passion first before anything else. It’s the passion you have for the right people.”
While he continues to cook up more ideas that will help develop the food and beverage industry and take it to a higher level, he imparts an important message to other aspiring entrepreneurs. “You need to be determined to get through every day. You must be determined to keep learning. Determination and discipline. These are the key behaviours that you need to keep you going to the next stage and the next stage and the next stage.”
These are the same qualities that enabled him to take control of his destiny and led him to create something meaningful to the world. And with determination and discipline, he is ready for the next stage of his journey.