A small team of Cape Town entrepreneurs who invested R22 000 in 2006 to start up a fledgling business recently saw a phenomenal return on their founding capital.
They sold their business to US-based organisation Ecolab, a major global provider of technologies and services to the water, food, energy, healthcare, industrial and hospitality markets.
Lobster Ink, a technology platform that provides online training to the deskless workforce in the hospitality and tourism sector, was acquired by Ecolab for an impressive multiple on their annual $24 million (R352m) turnover.
From small beginnings, Lobster Ink has grown rapidly and has trained people digitally in 133 countries across 13 languages for the world's largest and most luxurious hotel groups.
Lobster Ink is now based in Geneva, Switzerland.
Fasie Malherbe, the co-founder and president of Lobster Ink, says that he and his business partners - Dale Den Dulk, Paul Rowett and Tim Nel - started Lobster Ink out of a desire to travel more and experience the best in hospitality while developing skilled employees within the industry.
They came up with the idea of providing personalised and customised training to the hospitality staff to maximise the guest experience.
“Whether it was food, wine, housekeeping, guest relations, the focus was always performance and development, ensuring that a considerable return on investment was presented after every major initiative.
"We developed training modules for the relevant staff members and went out and conducted this training ourselves. It was centred around providing hospitality staff with the skills required to deliver on the luxury expectations of some of the world's most discerning travellers.
“The hospitality industry is one of the only industries where you can take someone with no experience off the street or fresh from college or out of the military and rapidly train them with the necessary skills to enjoy years of career success and growth.”
Malherbe, who was a chef and studied hospitality, says that many of the staff they trained in some of the most expensive tourist destinations in Africa had no previous experience in luxury hospitality. “Things like fine wine, for example, were like a foreign language.”
It turned out that there was a huge need for the training provided by Lobster Ink, and things evolved from there. Lobster Ink went from face-to-face training into video production - developing video-based African-focused versions of their training modules, which were loaded on to 68cm Apple Mac screens that were sent to clients all over the African continent for their use.
Following this, demand saw their product evolving to become mobile-friendly and online based.
“This was our break into the global space,” says Malherbe. “From there it was an upwards trajectory and the business has grown to service over 1million learners in 130 countries.
The Lobster Ink training focuses on five essential key elements in hospitality performance: the guest experience, increased sales, decreased costs, maximised talent and seat time. We connect disjointed workforces. We up-skill them with the expertise, knowledge, and behaviour that is 100percent relevant to their job in the industry.