Ms. Wethered is the co-founder and CEO of Qudini, a cloud-based technology platform that enables brands with physical locations (stores, restaurants and clinics, for instance) to manage queues and take bookings for appointments and events online. In its simplest form, a customer walks into a shop, enters some details onto a digital screen, including a phone number, and is given an estimated wait time. They are then free to browse or leave the shop until they receive a text informing them it’s their turn, increasing efficiencies and customer satisfaction.
Now, Qudini software provides what they coin as a “retail choreography software,” allowing retailers to manage their store operations and customer experience, as well as capture data on their physical locations. Ms. Wethered started the company seven years ago, at 23 and straight out of Bristol University with an Art History degree. Last year, she was featured on Forbes’ Tech 30 Under 30 list for Europe.
In the UK, Qudini is a smash hit. By the end of 2018, about 16 million customers had joined the Qudini platform to avoid queuing. In addition to Samsung, Qudini counts as clients the British National Health System, National Westminster Bank and travel agency TUI. This year, Qudini is expanding to New York.
The headquarters are located in East London close to the tech-centric neighborhood known as Silicon Roundabout. To interview Ms. Wethered, I’ve been asked to arrive early—pre-9 a.m. It’s a huge open-plan space, high windows and beams, no desktop computers but a few young men hunched over laptops on white chairs and tables. Dressed all in black, with heavy boots and jeans, she welcomes me and makes it clear that, if the scene looks like a “start-up,” Qudini has actually moved beyond that. “We are a scale-up,” she tells me definitively. “At the moment we’re in growth mode, but looking to get to profitability in the next two to three years.” From the start, Qudini has had the backing of Spain-based mobile phone giant Telefónica, which is also a client.
How does Qudini help retailers? ‘‘We significantly reduce walkouts,” she said. “One of our clients reduced them by 62 percent within the first couple of months.” In addition, Ms. Wethered talks about the shift to an experience mindset. “You’re seeing a lot of retailers move from a transaction focus to an experience and service focus. Beauty retailers are now doing hand massages on the side so that customers get to experience their moisturizer products, and then customers are more likely to buy it as a result. These kinds of services are things that you can book appointments for, and manage walk-ins.”
Ms. Wethered believes tradition and heritage favor the High Street. Retailing, she says, is an industry where someone can start out stocking shelves and wind up “running the company. Or a big department. You just don’t get that in other industries.”
It was a “hackathon,” hosted by Telefónica, that led to the birth of Qudini. The task was to create a product that used smartphone technology to ease queues in theme parks. At the competition, she met and teamed up with Fraser Hardy, a young tech star. Their entry was Qudini. ‘‘We actually won the hackathon for the most commercially viable idea. We then got investment from Wayra, which is Telefónica’s accelerator in London. Over time we’ve raised $2.2 million from angel investors and we’re currently closing a series A of $4 million to $5 million.” Mr. Hardy is Chief Technology Officer. The co-founders claim a very happy partnership, not least because they are both clear on their roles and responsibilities. “I found the most important thing in finding a co-founder is someone who has opposing skills. Where there’s crossover, you’re not both needed in the early stages.” She grins. “It’s definitely helpful having someone on your team. It makes the start-up process less lonely.”
Knowing you can have a coffee down the street while you’re waiting your turn with an experienced suit salesman takes the pain out of queuing. “It’s like when you’re waiting for a bus or a tube and the dot-matrix display isn’t there. The wait feels a lot longer when you don’t know how long you’re waiting. It’s the same in a store. We all immediately relax when we know how long a queue is and yes, you might be able to use a clipboard and pen but you’re not capturing any data.