Have a real robust plan of what you are doing and clear understanding of where the business is going
5 October 2018
Tell us about your entrepreneurial journey, from Oracle to Kimble
Kimble was founded by Mark Robinson, David Scott and myself in 2009.
I met Mark Robinson while at Oracle and it was Mark who convinced me to leave Oracle and join a new start-up. The start-up was a company called Fulcrum Solutions, and the company grew in a little over 2 years to over 200 people. Fulcrum was sold at the height of the dot.com crash, which was entertaining, a useful learning experience but definitely not lucrative!
After this experience, David Scott and myself set up a company called HindSite, a software company focussed on ‘business process automation’. Hindsite was later acquired by a consulting firm Edenbrook which coincidently, Mark Robinson had founded. It was at Edenbrook that the 3 of us came back together and we helped sell Edenbrook to Hitachi Consulting in 2009. Hitachi was a great company to be acquired by, but it did make the 3 of us think, what do we do next?
Why did you start Kimble and what is the dream?
The 3 of us like building businesses from scratch rather than for large corporates and hence Kimble was born. Kimble has been an exciting journey of 8 years and who knows where we’ll end up!
The premise for Kimble was to build a piece of software we could use at the various consulting firms we’d worked for, from Oracle through to Edenbrook. The Kimble vision is to be the de facto SaaS solution for running services companies. We don’t however want to be just about great software, we wanted Kimble to be a place for best practice, guidance and community. I look at companies such as Hubspot, well known for being the marketing experts and if you want to learn customer success, you go to Gainsight.com. Therefore if you want to find out about professional services, or service automation, we want you to visit Kimble.
The dream is to grow as big as possible. Our view is that any company where people are their core assets, could potentially benefit from using Kimble. We could therefore, be the ERP for all services companies.
How did you decide on the name KIMBLE?
When we set up the company, Mark, David and myself, hid away for a week at my house in France. We did our business planning during the day, and our marketing in the evening over a glass or 2 of Rose. The name came during one of our Rose evenings, with a little help from my wife who is in advertising. Bizarrely we have friends called Kimble/Kimball and one of our investors has the same name too. So the choice was easy!
What makes you stand out from your competitors?
We never set up the company with the view, “we’ll do what everyone else does but faster and cheaper”. One of our business values is innovation and hopefully that comes across to our customers. It is really important everything we do has some form of innovation, from the brand, to the product or even the way we run the business. We look at our product through the eyes of ‘what problem are we trying to solve’, rather than, ‘what new features can we add’. When we speak with customers and they ask for x or y, we ask why and then find an innovative way of finding a solution.
You were initially invested by a large group of angel investors. What lessons do you have on how to manage a large investor base?
In total we have around 36 angel investors, which is an unusually large group. I really didn’t know what I was letting myself in for!
The key point to make is, either Mark, David or myself know every one of our angel investors. No-one is investing who doesn’t know at least 1 of us, which allows for a huge degree of trust.
Our investors have either worked with us or invested in us before, and consequently they trust us to get on with it. Annually we bring all investors together and we present company information. Occasionally I’ll send out investor updates and we encourage our investors to follow us on LinkedIn and Facebook. Therefore our investors are always on top of relevant Kimble news. If we are doing funding rounds we provide investors with lots of regular updates.
Have things changed since Accel-KKR came on board as investors?
Our journey has been angel investors, to Sussex Place Ventures and recently we took investment from Accel-KKR. Since our latest investment there really hasn’t been many changes. Since Day 1 at Kimble we agreed to put good structure and governance around the business, ensuring we keep ahead of the governance game. We have always had productive board meetings, with good structure and effective information. When PE investment came along we simply increased the quality. Yes we’ve tweaked a few things but it’s more subtly rather than a huge step change.
How did you find the change from predominantly angle investors to VC investment?
It’s probably accelerated our need for predictability, not necessarily because of Accel-KKR, but more a catalyst for change. For example we’ve brought in a new Chief Revenue Office (CRO), and changed a few areas to help with our predictability. Its 5 months since they invested and I don’t feel Kimble has changed too much. The brunt of the change is on me rather than others, which is how it should be. This allows the team to get on and grow the business.
What advice would you give to new start-ups hoping to raise investment?
That’s a huge question. The obvious advice is to have a real robust plan of what you are doing and a clear understanding of where the business is going. Make sure you have a strong idea of your 3 and 5 year horizon, where money will be spent and what it will generate. If there is more money on offer, take it, as you probably will need it. Rather than taking the £.5m you asked for take the £0.75m they offer. Yes it will dilute you, but it will save a huge amount of time.
There is something about starting with a smaller investment and building a better business with money from friends and family. Rather than higher investment from those you don’t know. When you start out, there is massive expectation and you won’t know exactly what good looks like. My advice would be, don’t go too big too early, get your business in good shape, and get real clarity on what your business is going to achieve. Once you have achieved this, you can go and raise additional money from an institutional investor.
How have you adapted your product to the changing markets/environment?
Right from the start we created multiple releases each year. Now we have a cadence of 2 releases per year. We listen to the customer, we listen to ourselves and then combine the best of both into our product. If you are not continuously enhancing and developing your SaaS products, you will be left behind.
What was the reason behind your expansion to the US?
We were pulled into the US prematurely. Part of the reason being, we are in the salesforce ecosystem, and on their marketplace called the app exchange, and customers were finding and contacting us. It got to a point were doing business on west coast time and flying colleagues out regularly, just gets unmanageable. Secondly the US market for Kimble is seven times the size of the UK market, so an obvious place to focus and capture a percentage of that market.
We next see Germany as a big opportunity for Kimble. It has a similar size of market to the UK, and is 2/3 years behind the UK in terms of adoption of cloud and new service automation solutions. After Germany, the obvious place will be Asia, but we have to get more momentum in the US and Germany first.
What lessons do you have for expanding a Tech company overseas?
The lessons we’ve learned is to spend a lot of time at the location yourself, or one of the leadership team, and that is going to be the determining factor. You will also spend a lot more money in another market than in your own market, simply because you’re not there 24/7. When you do expand, it needs to be when you can spare the time to be out there yourself. Mark, Co-founder lived in Boston for 12months, and those we hired in the US were people we knew and trusted. Despite all this, it still cost a lot more than expected.
Travel is also an issue. In London I can walk easily to a big percentage of my customers. If I’m in Germany or the US, I can’t, which costs additional time and money.
What is your view of the Tech Sector in London and the US?
I am proud to be part of the UK and London Tech scene. There really are some fantastic innovations at the moment. The British culture means we build great products and businesses, but don’t recognise how really good we are. Whereas people in the US often built an inferior product/business but are great at promoting what they do. There are some fantastic British Tech companies out there, who sell out too early to predominately US or Chinese companies.
The government has been superb in terms of EIS and R&D tax credits but this only gets companies to the size of Kimble. Where there is a real issue is what happens next! Kimble were approached by predominantly US Funds. The US PE Funds realise there is some good Tech innovation in the UK and make the effort to come looking for you. I don’t think UK PE funds knew we existed. There needs to be some incentive for UK PE Funds to invest in Tech, otherwise great products will continue to depart to the US. If we are really serious about building large Tech companies in the UK, there needs to be some government assistance.
What are the biggest challenges Tech businesses should prepare themselves for post Brexit?
There is definitely an impact in terms of hiring technical people, which if you’d have asked 6 months ago, wasn’t the case. Today, it is much harder to hire great technical people, for the reasons there is huge demand for technical skills and exacerbated by experts looking elsewhere in the EU.
At our last investor meeting, I was asked what Kimble was doing to prepare for Brexit. I answered ‘we are going out and selling more stuff’. I can’t second guess what is going to happen and the best protection for Kimble is to have more customers and more revenue streams.
How do you see the Tech landscape developing over the next 5 years?
I think a number of milestones have been ticked off by now. Cloud is the standard, and a majority of purchasing decisions are cloud based. AI is obviously the hot area at the moment and those with true applications will really start to shine. As for mobile, connectivity is almost ubiquitous, which means mobile is almost de facto. I think we will also start seeing more Tech in other machines, e.g. tech in cars, tech in your toaster etc., which will be very exciting to see. We don’t know how from a software perspective, what is going to be next, but there will definitely be something around tech in other objects.