Kiwi app makes adventure tourism a breeze

Wulf Sölter walks around the Queenstown headquarters of his adventure tourism software company, Wherewolf, wearing the proof of his latest mishap on a mountain bike.

Even with his arm in a sling, the former DJ turned software engineer isn’t slowed down by this dislocation. After all, he created the programme for a revolutionary tourism check-in app – now used in 20 countries around the globe – while he was holed up in a hospital bed with a shattered pelvis.

Maybe his string of injuries also gives him a degree of street cred with potential customers. He certainly understands high-octane adventure.

The same can be said of his business partner, Wherewolf co-founder and CEO, Ben Calder. He’s a keen skydiver, who came up with the original idea of a digital sign-up process for his first Queenstown business, the Big Night Out pub crawl.

During the frenzied university Orientation Week each year, Calder, who has a Master’s degree in Entrepreneurship, would try to capture all of the email addresses of the students on his pub crawls. But it wasn’t a hugely successful mission.

“I was paying people to type in the addresses that were written on a clipboard. We got kicked off [email marketing service] Mailchimp for having too many bounce-backs, through incorrect spellings,” he says. “The next year I figured we should use an iPad, and asked Wulf [a tech nut who also worked as a DJ in a local bar] to write the programme."

Ben Calder is well-acquainted with the adventure sports industry, being a skydiver himself.  Photo: Supplied

“I hadn’t heard from him for a while, and then I saw a photo of him on Facebook in a hospital saying ‘I walked a few steps for the first time today.’ He’d been in a major bike accident and smashed his pelvis. But he still convinced a hospital orderly to bring him a laptop and a data stick, and then wrote the base code for the app.”

The software created to decipher a problem for Calder has evolved into a digital solution replacing paper check-ins and clipboard waiver forms for tourism companies across the world.

“It’s certainly making adventure tourism a whole lot easier to operate. There are over 500,000 different activities on Tripadvisor right now, and it’s a constantly growing market. It’s certainly one where we believe we can become the world leaders,” Calder says.

Calder and Sölter had the luxury of testing their product on Calder’s pub crawl business before taking it to the world.

“It quickly became the second-largest Facebook page in New Zealand tourism - simply because we had the ability to contact customers after they left,” says Calder. A follow-up email would prompt people to make online reviews, ratings and referrals with the ease of clicking a link. “You get such a better response that way, rather than asking your customers at the end of the trip, or leaving a card at the counter.”

Wherewolf became a company in 2013, when other local tourism ventures became interested in ditching paperwork. Its first offshore client was a jetboat tour operation in Interlaken, Switzerland.

The core of Wherewolf’s business soon changed to helping companies that needed people to sign waiver forms. They replaced the clipboard and pen with a touchscreen and finger autograph.

Ben Calder and Wulf Sölter's Wherewolf became a company in 2013. Photo: Supplied

 

"Where Wherewolf is different from other digital waiver systems, like DocuSign and Smartwaiver, is that it’s also a customer management tool. It gets people to sign in and answer a few questions too. Wherewolf takes care of customers when they arrive, while they are onsite and once they leave,” Calder says.

Take a skydiving venture as an example. Before the plane takes off, the online system can match up its skydivers with a tandem master and cameraman, tally the weight of the skydiving group, then work out the balance of the aircraft.

So far, Wherewolf has focused its business in New Zealand, Australia and North America, and tried to stick to what it knows best, adventure tourism. Through its day spa customers in Australasia and the Maldives, it’s obvious to Calder there’s a demand for Wherewolf apps in the beauty industry, and he can see potential medical users, like dentistry and physiotherapy, adapting the online consultation forms. But he’s not quite ready to dive in that deep yet.

Although he plans to set up a satellite sales team in the United States in July (“It’s a goldmine for us – a huge country with a huge number of waivers”) Calder can’t see the business hub – with its 12 staff - moving out of Queenstown any time soon. In fact, he says it's an advantage being at the centre of the adventure capital of the world.

“People hoping to start up adventure tourism businesses will come here to see how we do it here. They see companies using an iPad instead of a paper waiver form, and they want the same,” he says.

Calder and Sölter are on the board of Innovation Queenstown, a fledgling movement to connect investors, entrepreneurs and talent in the town; “trying to make people aware there’s a lot going on down here.”

“There are some incredibly talented people who moved to Queenstown for the lifestyle but wound up working in the duty free store because they couldn’t find a tech job. We actually found some of our top developers that way,” Calder says. “As we grow our brand, we’re hoping to entice great people to Queenstown, because the lifestyle down here kicks Auckland’s ass.

“It’s a great drawcard being in the adventure capital of the world. People listen to you. It’s got that nice ring of credibility.”

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