Where did it all come from?... a mistreated computer
Think Fluid began as an enterprise (read adventure) straight out of University when my brother Dan graduated - we'd been working together since I was 14 years old. Two fresh graduates with a student loan to pay off, going straight into business without a budget - a bank manager probably wouldn't have invited us in for the right reasons. Fortunately we didn't need one - our first office was a bedroom where we shared a computer that needed the occasional kick. I'd like to make it clear that no computer was ever really mistreated, it was all friendly, though we worked it hard.
Your first client?...a Lotus user
Our first opening came when we found out that one of the technological gurus who worked for a large Estate Agency Franchise was a fan of trance. That helped because back then I had the most comprehensive collection outside of the Ministry of Sound - not that I'm proud of that fact now, in fact - can we remove that from the record? Oh never mind.
After we had prepared the ground and had him ahem...entranced...we convinced him that their systems needed updating and showed him a little of what we could do (in fact we'd previously cross examined him regarding their practices and were cunningly prepared). They were using Lotus Notes to run a business I think and they were making headway through sheer grit and determination - working non-stop.
The deposit for that first project was £300 I think - I remember being absolutely overwhelmed at the investment. Shortly afterwards we had several other offices from the same franchise... good news travels fast.
Your next member of staff?...Rudy
At this point, somewhat incredibly, Rudy (a friend from University) threw his hat in the ring and made us musketeers. He had a relatively lucrative job at that point and our takings were still fairly small - we were using the money to build our business. However, he really added to the dynamic and completed our skill set, so we weren't complaining.
What happened next?:..a war on inefficiency
Naturally we hit the exhibitions for the Estate Agency industry. We had the smallest stall in the furthest corner. We were up against competitors with grandstands spending about £50k per exhibit. However, we had a secret weapon and that won us our next large client. The others all sold their products, we sold a service. Rudy promised everybody whatever they wanted. I remember he would start by saying - 'What are you here for?' We were certain we could deliver exactly whatever it was they wanted and we managed to communicate that.
Another advantage we had was that we weren't at all afraid to get our hands dirty working with hardware and infrastructure - we'd already got a lot of experience with that from setting up networks and development environments with friends. So once we got working for clients we began to provide IT support without even meaning too - it was a natural development. We no longer focus on this field but it's been absolutely invaluable that we know how to set up networks, servers, and generally maintain systems and infrastructure. Now we usually work with our clients' existing IT support partners but we're talking the same language and can jump in where required - and we know what to bear in mind.
I think what came across was our genuine desire to eliminate wasted effort and inefficiency and give our clients better tools. I can honestly say that enthusiasm motivated me as much as my clients or any business gains. So we got on with our clients and began to take on more and more responsibility for their IT concerns.
And what have you learnt since then?....don't sell the wrong stuff
Well, we still say the same really... as in, what do you need? But of course our experience means that it's more of a two-way street, we really know how to analyse what a client does and help them find efficiencies and new ways of making their efforts count. We're also experienced and creative in new fields of course - web development being one.
Here are my top three tips:
1. When dealing with a specific client, don't make them dazzling things they don't need and that won't really benefit
them - it's a waste of time for both of you...look and listen and then focus on making them cool things that will make
the most impact. To do this, spend time in your client's shoes - visit them, don't wait for them to come and see you.
This will also lead you to innovate - necessity (or at least reality) really is the mother of invention. Then let your
2. Don't subcontract ever. Collaborate openly if a good opportunity presents itself but sub-contracting puts you in a false position without true control. It also means you miss out on growing your skill set.
3. Frequent communication and delivery is key. Be prepared to change things in order to get a quality solution.
How do you see your current position?...good, obviously
It's been difficult to believe the ground covered over the last ten years. But I believe that we're about to cover more in a shorter period. We have 14 staff and are about to take on more, we manage and develop clients' full business software, including ones with an annual turnover in excess of £60M. We have brought our own successful consumer products to the market and are about to launch more products aimed at consumer markets. We have a very experienced support team for all our software, and skill-set wise we're adept with traditional software, web development, infrastructure, email management, branding and SEO. We can provide a one stop shop service level. Our sails are set...
Whats the future?... blurring of lines
The bar is constantly being raised. Take websites...the distinction between websites and software is becoming blurred and will become increasingly so. Websites are becoming progressively sophisticated as people wake up to the possibilities; they are becoming sophisticated software applications in their own right. Software is getting simpler and better adapted to the user. Mobile devices are having an impact too...we feel in a good position to deliver on these fronts and we're looking forward to it.
We have built a 'way of doing things' - which we may evolve but will never go back - we know this because although our method of working is built to be flexible, it reflects all the basic unalterable truths that relate to how a business, such as ours, can best serve another business, time after time.
We discuss the processes and methods we employ on our website and I've covered some of our principles just now. Anyone can see them in practice by getting in touch.