What do you currently do?
I’m currently MD of Ormsby Street, a Software-as-a-Service business based in Old Street, London. We recently launched an entirely new version ofCreditHQ, which enables small business to access over seven million company records for free and monitor not only their own financial stability, but also that of their clients, suppliers and competitors. It’s my job to oversee all aspects of the business and so I am very involved with a number of functions.
What is your inspiration in business?
I’ve worked in small businesses almost my whole career, and I’ve had a lot of sleepless nights worrying about whether customers would pay on time so that the business can continue to fund its own growth – and pay staff salaries! So my inspiration for this business is that we’ve identified a really big problem for every small business, and now – by creating an entirely free tier to our product, – we can help every small business to manage cash flow better. In all the businesses I’ve worked with, my inspiration has started with the identification of a problem – and the creation of a solution to that problem that helps people, so I guess that’s your answer, the eureka moment that happens when you realise that you can solve a problem for someone, and that you can figure out how to build your own business around that, I find that’s what gets me up in the morning.
Who do you admire?
That’s a really difficult one. I think the single person who’s had the most influence on me business-wise over the years is Seth Godin. He has a way of seeing things from the point of view of other people which I think is at the heart of a business that’s around for the long haul. I think today’s startup scene is way too interested in smoke and mirrors get-rich-quick schemes, and Seth’s long term authentic approach to building up relationships and trust with customers is something that I continue to learn from with each new business venture I’m involved with. That’s not what you asked though, is it! I think that the people I admire most are those who have decided to start a business and who – when things get tough – stick with it and put all of their passion and effort and their creativity into something they really believe in.
Looking back would you have done things differently?
If there’s one thing that I’ve learned over 20 years in business it’s to listen – in fact to go and seek out people to listen to. In starting your own business, it’s very easy to focus everything on the problem you’re solving, and the customers you’re serving. But your ability to carry on serving those customers in the long run depends on your business’ resilience, growth and stability. Most people who start businesses, like me, start one in an area where they understand the problem, and can provide a solution which customers will buy – so most, like me, start out inexperienced in the basic moves of business – marketing, sales, operations, support, finance, and HR. In the early part of my career, I was so focussed on those customers and the solutions we were delivering for them, that – quite honestly – the business suffered. As I started to get some great shareholders on board, however, I started to realise that I was missing a trick. So now, I listen at every possible opportunity. An unhappy customer? I want to understand why they’re unhappy, a missed deal, I want to understand what choice the customer made, an interesting competitor, I want to sit down for a beer with the founder and compare notes. I find that people are almost always willing to share their experiences and concerns, and I always learn useful things when I listen. I wish I’d started sooner.
What defines your way of doing business?
At the heart of what we do, we want to support small businesses. CreditHQ helps SMEs manage their own financial health, and ultimately gives them the opportunity to level the playing field with larger corporate organisations. But in order to do that, we need to connect with customers at the point where they realise they have a need, and then help to inform and support people as they learn more about business in general and go on their own business journey. We believe every UK business should credit check the companies it trades with, and without Freemium package they can cover the basics, and when they’re ready to grow, or when they need to tackle a more serious cash flow issue, then they know they can come to CreditHQ for help. Being authentic about this means that our way sets us apart. We get some funny looks when people say “so we get all this for free?” or “so I can cancel at any time?” because more traditional competitors work in a different way. What it comes down to is that honest conversation with our customers that says, we’re a small business, you’re a small business, everything about working with us is geared towards helping you from our free service to our highly experienced UK based customer support team, it’s all about real people solving a real problem to help small businesses.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out?
I’d remind them that finding a solution to a problem is only one side of the business coin. You need a business that operates in a way that’s resilient and which can grow when it needs to. And to afford to have that, you need cash-flow. The basics are not hard to master, but use the tools that are at your disposal and don’t take on contracts with customers with high risk or a poor payment record unless you know how you will handle the risk and the cash flow. And find some experienced people in your industry, invite them out for a coffee, and listen.