‘It’s just fantastic to be in the early stages where anything’s possible,” says hotelier-turned-tech-boss William Gorol, brimming with enthusiasm for his latest venture. “It’s just fantastic to be visualising what we could deliver.”
The Glasgow-born entrepreneur has effervescent ambitions for his start-up TriSaas, seeing great potential for the tendering-focused software firm to scale at an even faster clip than his first foray into technology with Procure Wizard.
That software firm, focused on the post-tender procurement cycle, was sold last year having become – in Gorol’s words – “the market leader by a considerable distance” with clients including Marriott and DoubleTree by Hilton.
By then, he had been keen to return to the buzz of the creative stages of entrepreneurship, having identified a gap in the market at the pre-purchase stage. TriSaas aims to revolutionise the complex process of tendering with the launch of a “cutting-edge” cloud-based platform, and has already picked up customers including Scottish hospitality firm G1 Group, behind venues such as Ghillie Dhu in Edinburgh.
So confident in TriSaas is Gorol that he has poured £650,000 of his own cash into the company, partly from the sale of Procure Wizard to The Access Group, a UK provider of software to mid-market businesses.
Terms were not disclosed, but it was reported to be a multi-million-pound deal.
Procure Wizard by then had more than 4,500 suppliers, 40,000 active users and 2,000 hotel and restaurant clients using the system each day – as well as a team of 70-plus. It had picked up a Queen’s Award for Enterprise in Innovation in 2016.
Its success was only possible because Gorol had made the leap from hospitality manager to tech boss (“that was as much a surprise to me as it was to anybody else,” he laughs), remortgaging his house to start the business.
Procure Wizard harnessed his in-depth, frontline knowledge of the hotel and leisure sectors, with which he had been smitten since his early teens when he took on a job washing dishes at the Ardlui Hotel at Loch Lomond. “It wasn’t hard work at all – it was brilliant,” he has said. “I loved the buzz of the kitchen, and from that second I was just hooked.”
He left school with few qualifications but armed with people skills and determination, progressing through the ranks at the likes of the Old Waverley Hotel in Edinburgh, where he was made general manager at the age of 28. Gorol also worked across many properties in the Macdonald Hotels portfolio, with his duties including responsibility for the opening of its Cardrona property in Peebles, and Holyrood Hotel in Edinburgh.
That was followed by taking the reins as general manager of Ayr Racecourse, and he highlights the enjoyment he took in both developing the on-site hotel, and the logistics of playing host to as many as 15,000 customers at a time.
“I absolutely loved meeting that challenge because the expectations of those 15,000 people were huge,” he says, also pointing out that the racecourse needed to serve a wide range of demands, including those of staff and jockeys.
Gorol left that role in 2009, with his working environment switching to “effectively sitting on my own at a table, writing a list of things that I’d like developed”, and able to look back and earmark opportunities in a hospitality sector that had not evolved greatly since his arrival. “It’s unlike, perhaps, other industries where your knowledge effectively diminishes over time. Actually, it’s stayed very static.”
His business offering has grown to encompass food, drink, and laundry control, and its progress saw it attract the attention of private equity players, but that was not a path Gorol wanted to pursue. “If you take someone’s money, then the focus has to shift to giving them a return on their investment. And I wasn’t prepared to start sacrificing the critical part of that business, which was the staff and the customer success, to deliver profitability for somebody else.”
The Access Group provided the right suitor, he explains, having snapped up products such as Selima – a specialist in cloud-based workforce management software and managed payroll services with customers.
The group recently reported its 11th consecutive year of profitable growth, and has outlined its aim to grow its presence in the UK’s hospitality industry, which according to UKHospitality is the third-largest private sector employer in the UK.
“I knew that they were serious,” says Gorol, adding that the firm promised not to close any offices or make any redundancies, and instead focus on keeping and continuing to develop its products.
By then, Gorol was already planting the seeds of what would become TriSaas, which operates from Edinburgh’s South Gyle, and says the new venture provided him with crucial space to be creative and innovative.
That could have come with, say, bringing in a chief operating officer at Procure Wizard, but he doesn’t believe that a “one foot in one foot out” scenario would have suited his all-or-nothing approach. “I think secretly I’d have had one hand on the steering wheel and another foot on the throttle, so the idea of creating the space to solve problems was just super exciting.”
The start-up has a team of ten, has already notched up a client base including SBE, which is behind a global portfolio of restaurants, hotels and nightclubs, and motorway services specialist Roadchef – while Gorol says that its software focus provides the opportunity to “scale significantly faster with a much, much smaller team” than Procure Wizard’s more service-heavy offering.
He also sees strong potential for TriSaas to expand into many other sectors beyond hospitality, such as construction (“that would be an absolute simple one that we could drop into”). Additionally, overseas expansion is a possibility, but “I think sometimes you need to walk before you can run”.
None the less, he notes that Procure Wizard is now available in South Africa, Ireland and Belgium, even though “we didn’t start off trying to conquer the world. I think we started off being clear over… ‘let’s be really good in the UK, and let’s see where the journey takes us’. I think that focus is important.”
Gorol’s foray into the software side of hospitality has dovetailed with the sector facing a storm of increasing produce and staff costs, for example, and the looming spectre of Brexit.
The Scottish Licensed Trade Association in August unveiled its half-year on-trade market review, covering Scotland’s blossoming food and drink sector, which found that 56 per cent of outlets surveyed reported their business as growing or stable, with local food and drink and online bookings key drivers.
However, 28 per cent of respondents said Brexit had negatively affected them, up from 17 per cent at the end of 2018.
Gorol believes that while buoyant economic periods may bring about complacency, a tougher backdrop sees players closely scrutinising their businesses. “I believe that the timing of Procure Wizard was just about perfect. I think that the timing of the TriSaas group is equally perfect,” he says.
The entrepreneur is also pleased with the timing of his involvement with Social Bite – the venture aimed at helping the homeless, where he spent five years, three as chairman, helping co-founders Josh Littlejohn and Alice Thompson realise their bold vision. “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with them over the last five years to harness that energy and turn it into something really productive.”
Social Bite has famously grown from a sandwich shop to an empire now boasting a purpose-built village, and celebrity endorsement from the likes of George Clooney and Leonardo DiCaprio. The World’s Big Sleep Out, the annual event it pioneered, takes place next month backed by the likes of the Malala Fund and Unicef USA.
“I stepped down this year at what I think was a turning point… it felt like it was a new chapter in their life,” says Gorol.
He has embarked on a new chapter of his own, saying that in ten years he would like TriSaas to have become a “major provider” of its services, with the same kind of widespread presence as Procure Wizard – which now follows him wherever he goes, whether its on a visit to Ikea or Dobbies or one of his many former workplaces in the hospitality sector.
“It would be quite nice if I could replicate that kind of reach with TriSaas.”