Interview by Mike Sullivan of Sully’s Blog
Jason Morehouse has been engulfed in the world of e-commerce for over 10 years. With a strong technical background as an asset, he has played an important role in the development of several successful e-commerce companies which include Netconcepts, Vendorama, and Revenuewire. While Jason has lived and worked in Toronto Canada, Auckland New Zealand, he now resides in Victoria, BC, where he has co-founded Checkfront, Inc.
Founded in 2008, Checkfront, Inc. provides a leading online booking management system, based on a secure Saas (Software as a service) platform. Checkfront allows businesses to integrate the system into their existing websites within minutes, with no programming knowledge required and integrates with most popular payment gateways. Plugins for many of the popular content management systems, such as WordPress and Joomla make adding Checkfront services simple and effective.
You have been self described as a “Technical Architect” and “Linux evangelist”. Tell me a little bit more about what that actually means and why it’s an important part of your success.
The title of Technical Architect was given to me at a previous company. I suspect it was a clever way to make sure I had nothing to compare myself to on the monster.com salary review, but it has stuck with me. I’m at my best when taking a concept and building it into a product from the ground up. I’m a geek at heart, but I also have a good grasp on what it takes to make a successful company.
I’m more of a Linux enthusiast these days than I am an evangelist. I use to care a lot more that other people use Linux, but now I’m just happy I do. If you want to run your infrastructure on Windows NT, I say go for it — just don’t ask for my help when it goes to pot. And don’t get me started on Windows Azure.
Linux is playing a huge roll in cloud computing and that is very exciting as a long time user. For Checkfront, Linux has allowed us to build a secure, scalable and distributed network at a low cost.
You have an extensive technical background with some of the e-commerce businesses you contributed to. Checkfront seems unlike any of those, where did the concept originate?
In some ways Checkfront is very different than my previous companies, in other ways it’s a natural progression. Checkfront is e-commerce for companies with schedule and service based inventories — albeit significantly more complex to develop.
Back in 2008 I was approached by a friend and former colleague Grant Jurgeneit. He was looking for some advice on implementing an online booking system for a friend of his with a travel / tourism based operation in Whistler BC. By that time I had been developing e-commerce applications for almost a decade and it was a fairly mature market. I was horrified at the backwards and cumbersome solutions that were available to companies looking to take and manage online bookings. Like good entrepreneurs, we said (somewhat naively) “we can do better than that”. Of course we did, but it took us over a year and a lot more work than we had anticipated.
A quick Google search revealed several online booking systems. What is it that differentiates Checkfront and places you as an emerging leader in the industry? What are some sample industries that are leveraging Checkfront and in what ways?
We didn’t invent the concept of taking reservation and bookings online, but we think we are poised to seriously change it. A lot of what is out there are traditional web services: sending your users off to an external site to make a booking, or iframe in something at best.
Checkfront is less a service than it is a platform. We have an extensive API that allows developers to build rich websites with an integrated booking solution. We have a plugins that tie into the most popular content management systems, blogging software and syndication to social media. We have an upcoming mobile platform that will allow operators to manage their businesses in the field. We are bringing technology to this industry that has long existed in other e-commerce verticals and we are putting operators back in the driving seat.
A good majority of our customers are in the travel & tourism business. This is an easy fit for our system. We have inns, resorts and vacation rentals. We also have an eclectic mix of companies using us for a variety of services including equipment rentals and entertainment bookings.
What were some of the struggles you faced (or are facing) in building Checkfront as a business? What did you do to over come those obstacles? What advice do you have for others that are looking to start a company based on a solid idea?
Our initial problems were much the same as most other self funded startups. A lot of late nights, a lot of second guessing, and a lot of risk with little upfront reward. Both Grant and I have a mortgages and young kids. Quitting well paying jobs for a world of uncertainly isn’t an easy ask. Luckily we have had great support from our family and friends. Most of all we’ve had great support from our customers.
We started accepting paying customers in April of this year and we’ve seen steady growth since then. Our struggles now are mostly resource based. We need to stay lean, but also grow out a team capable of scaling with our customer base.
There is no shortage of advice for startups these days. I frankly find it hard to process it all – there seems to be a lot more startup gurus than there are startups. The best advice I’ve had is this: “build a great product”.
Build something your customers like. Build something customers pay for. Try not to get caught up in all of the startup / VC hoopla and stay focused on your product. If you don’t go to bed every night thinking about it, and wake up asking “how can I make this better”, keep your day job – it pays better. It’s important everyone on your team share that mentality.
Checkfront promotes the “Fully Managed Cloud Environment.” Cloud computing and storage has been the buzz for a couple of years now. What is your vision of the future state of cloud computing?
Storing applications and data in the cloud puts the onus back on the vendor to keep software up to date and secure — not on the user. This is a natural evolution of computing. The people debating cloud computing are the same ones who were debating e-commerce a decade ago.
We’ll no doubt continue see more applications taken online and off the desktop.
Checkfront is a relatively young company. Can you provide any insight into the future direction and evolution of the company?
We’ve created a solid application that is built to scale. We have some amazing features on our roadmap that will continue to build out core product. Some of these features will open up the service to new markets, and some will help existing customers grow their businesses online.
We have some pretty aggressive goals for the next 6 – 12 months and are looking forward to executing on them!
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