Establishing a business in a mature sector
Two good reasons why Shane Taylor decided to start his own business in a sector which had already reached a position of sufficient maturity that consolidators were already moving in.
First, he was inspired by his former boss and secondly, a realisation that a fundamental difference in how people were beginning to use their mobile phones would be a game-changer.
In the beginning
Before starting Mobliciti in 2009, Taylor had worked for seven years at telecoms provider Sirocom. Hw worked in a number of senior sales, product management and business development roles. After the founder, Simon Rogan, sold the business to Azzurri Communications, Taylor decided to set up his own company, inspired by how Rogan had grown Sirocom. “He had grown the business from start-up, without any investment, to about a £35million turnover,” he says. “It was great to be involved in that kind of journey. I learned a lot, it gave me a passion for the subject. I always had the ambition to do it myself when it felt right to do so.”
Having sold his own business, Rogan agreed to invest in Taylor’s and joined him as a non-executive director. “He works on the business rather than in the business,” says Taylor. “It’s a huge help to have that experience on the board.”
And having the funding available of course. “I have no idea how difficult it would have been to raise the money I needed,” he says candidly. “But I started up without knowing I would get funding; I was ready to push the button anyway but the money Simon invested gave us the breathing room to get to first base.”
Taylor was also joined by Rogan’s former Chief Financial Officer, Ian Evans and by Andy Brown, who came on board from a big banking customer as Operations Director and later Chief Technology Officer having been a customer in his previous role in banking. “Andy was the guy who had taken a risk to place a large contract with us early on, an amazing FTSE100 reference customer, barely a year into the business,” says Taylor. “He loved what we were doing and wanted to work with us. He had managed 70,000 BlackBerry devices at the bank, managing mobility on an extraordinary scale. His appointment gave us huge credibility as a managed service provider and stopped all the questions about how long we had been going and whether we were secure.”
The vision at the time was that mobile devices would one day become the primary means of accessing information and doing business with services delivered from the cloud. The market was moving fast, Taylor says, and traditional incumbents were slow to react to the rapid deployment of mobile devices and cloud services for this purpose. Taylor’s philosophy was to be focused and agile enough to help them harness the “phenomenal” potential of mobility and cloud-based services. Mobliciti would help large organisations procure, connect, manage, secure their mobile devices and cloud deployments.
It took a while for the idea to catch on, he says. “Now it seems quite obvious but being in the market so early was tough for a start-up, especially with the impact of the financial crash on the economy. It took a while for the market to really embrace the next generation smartphones such as Apple’s iPhone over the then dominant BlackBerry and to invest in the infrastructure to manage and secure them. A lot of customers had incumbent providers and getting them to move to us was a tough decision for them to make. There was a status quo of existing suppliers who were not interested in what was bubbling up, but of course now they all want to be in it, which means we need to continually innovate and offer more end-to-end services to stay ahead,” says Taylor.
“Everything took so much longer than I expected. My plan had been to get to £7million in three years, but the reality was that we took a year just to get the first bit of business worth talking about and two years to stop haemorrhaging money quicker than we were making it. I could never have comprehended how quickly you can spend money as a start-up. You do question yourself; I was discouraged to a degree, but having been lucky enough to get investment made a huge difference and meant we could give it our best shot.”
“Marketing is a challenge for a company of our size,” he explains. “We are not a Vodafone with seemingly unlimited budgets by comparison. We have a great message and clearly, we are doing something right, but it can still be a struggle to get in front of the right people.
“It’s said that most new businesses fail within the first three years and I can really see why. You start off thinking ‘great, I have investment! Where shall I go on holiday, what car should I buy?’ But after a couple of months there is a cold awakening when you realise you are slowly running out of money – investors’ money.
“All of a sudden, instead of looking five years ahead you are thinking in months. Just don’t expect things to happen overnight. Looking back, I realise how much stress we were under. You just have to keep your head down, keep the faith and get on with it.”
Taylor has very much stuck to the original business model. “Early on, it is tempting to do whatever you can do to drive revenue but we have been almost bloody-minded in not straying from what we set out to do and that has started to pay dividends,” he explains. “For example, we didn’t get into traditional WANs and LANs, which I think will eventually disappear anyway.”
The niche focus applies to customer sectors as well. “Our experience in the regulated legal and financial sector is very useful as we are used to a higher level of security,” he says. “Our technology partners have asked why we haven’t been doing anything in government or education. We might be missing a trick here and maybe the business could be twice the size if we did, but the amount of additional bureaucracy it would have involved meant it didn’t feel like the right thing to do.”
Mobliciti now have over 130 customers and relationships with leading technology partners, enabling them to integrate everything under one ecosystem. “We deliver to customers through one contract, one service support desk and one company. This allows complete ownership and accountability,” says Taylor. “Service is particularly important when what you’re delivering is not your own technology, but it comes from third parties, wrapped up as a managed service,” says Taylor.
Building customer relationships
When new employees join, they are given a book by writer and creator of situational leadership Ken Blanchard. He looks at how to achieve ‘legendary’ customer service. “That helps us to show the staff that if they do a bit extra – and it can be simple things, like not letting the phone ring more than four times and answering it personally – customers will come back again and again, which is our aspiration,” explains Taylor.
Having a knowledgeable investor and mentor on the board has been a huge help, Taylor acknowledges. “You are so in the detail when you are running a business, which makes it incredibly important to have someone who understands the sector, who can see everything and help you cut through the noise. Someone who will give you a pat on the back when things are going right and make you question yourself when things aren’t. Simon (Rogan) has a lot of experience in getting businesses to the next level; he will be brutally honest with me and tells me how he sees it.”
Recent growth has been rapid.
Turnover has nearly doubled from 2016, when Mobliciti were ranked sixty-ninth in The Sunday Times Tech Track 100. Now to an estimated £8million in 2018 – and Taylor plans to at least double that within five years.
Looking to the future
But actually his goal has never been about the topline. “The ambition has always been to grow, to be as successful as we could – however you measure that,” he says. “I started Mobliciti because what I most wanted was to be a recognised player, good at what we do, and in an industry we are passionate about.”
He says his eye isn’t on the grow-fast-then-exit strategy that drives some entrepreneurs. “There are no expectations of getting to £25million or £100million or whatever and then selling the company,” he says. “Although I know there are a lot of business owners who have that aim. I would rather carry on with what I’m passionate about and see how successful we can be.
“I don’t know where ‘there’ is, but I know I’m not there yet. This business has not shown its full potential yet. The first five years was setting out our stall. It’s only now that I’m starting to really enjoy running the business; we are doing some great deals and having great fun.”
However, he adds; “I have to have an open mind. An acquisition or being acquired might feel right at some stage and I could see us being attractive to a bigger business which wants to get new skills on board really quickly. But we would be selling ourselves short if that happened now.”
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