2 Years, Marmite and £600,000
Image credit: Chris Lawton
Jai, you have a Marmite approach
At least 4 people [respect to you all] said that to me in the last 2 years. When I heard that for the first time I didn't know what it meant. You see... English isn't my first language. I asked the person that said it and they are right. Either people love my approach or hate it. There's no in-between and I am fine with that. Over the last two years, I came Face to Face with a few haters but for every hater, I met 10s of people that supported me.
I left my full-time job at the end of 2016 and launched TheTechForce. At the time the idea was to offer IT Support to SMEs. I had a chat with two other potential co-founders but they both had a different vision to mine. Ended up going alone. I have had 3 months savings in the bank. I was very confident that I can make it happen. However, doubts started creeping in my mind when I was faced with continuous rejections. I was working from home to keep the overheads low. Took up a job in Dominos delivering the deliciousness. January 2017 we were up n running. Got the website, business cards, social media stuff, etc... but no customers. Had numerous coffee catch ups with a number of business colleagues. Most of them genuinely tried to help and some just wanted intel on my previous employer and how they can get in there. I remember someone invited me for a coffee saying 'we have a potential IT support opportunity with a customer but can you tell who provide the printers to your previous employer and who the decision maker is?'. In reality, they never had an opportunity for me.
It was the end of February now and I had exactly 0 customers. I applied for the ElevatorUK's Accelerator program and was rejected. The reason 'Your approach was salesy and your business is not innovative'. By this point, my wife started panicking. We were expecting our first baby. The best thing ever happened to me. I was over the moon and shit scared at the same time. However, I promised my wife
If I don't secure a customer by the end of March I promise I'll go back to a full-time job.
I hired Jack Pirrie, a Marketing student at RGU to help me with marketing and proofread my English. Paid in cash and beer. I then asked a few business owners for the advice. Thanks to Judith Thorpe she advised me to join the Chamber of Commerce. I did and I downloaded the member list and started calling all of them. Managed to get a few meetings and on 14th March 2017, we received our first order. Thanks to Debbie from Bryant Group. The order was very little but the confidence boost was enormous. I then discovered Grant Cardone and Patrick Bet David's YouTube channels. After listening to them for a while I felt more confident and more strategic about cold calls, sales and the business. Read a number of blogs and articles on cold calling. I was told it wasn't a great time to start a business in Aberdeen at the time. I would be lucky to take a salary in the first year. My first year's projected turnover was £55,000.
29th March we secured our second customer and a couple more in April. Time to leave Dominos and focus more on securing more customers. Thanks to Ana Eardley who offered a special deal on office space for startups. Moved into Waterloo Quay in May. Building an IT Support business is very slow and hard for the most part. Sale cycles are usually long. To survive I had to do something unique. Started posting blatant promotional posts on LinkedIn which backfired. Lesson learnt!! The first transaction we had was a customer purchased Antivirus software from us. That was the hint. I asked myself where would all the IT Managers buy Antivirus software from? That was it. Started reselling an AV software I used in the past. That kept our head above the water. On the other hand, we were still struggling with our marketing efforts.
Then came SMS Oilfield. We secured a large contract with SMS. Another big confidence booster. August 2017 was the gamechanger month in the history of TheTechForce. Why? Two reasons. We discovered KnowBe4 and It was the month LinkedIn announced native video and I was one of the few people in North-East Scotland to have it.
I started journaling my business journey. A few potential customers resonated with me and the impact of video on our business was huge. The people who used to ignore my calls/emails were not ignoring me anymore. That's when I heard;
Jai, you have a Marmite approach!
I am not a perfect human being and am just being myself. I am an Indian. I am an immigrant. I started speaking English 11 years ago and it isn't perfect. I have an accent. I particularly had a challenging time securing meetings with IT Managers that are in the same role for more than a decade. Same is the case with the professionals that are into their late 40s and early 50s. Coincidentally their views on the usage of Social Media are very different from mine. It didn't matter whether people loved me or hated me whether I was a Marmite or an Elephant. End of the day, I got the attention I was looking for and so did TheTechForce. As Grant Cardone says;
Attention is where the money is!
As a direct/indirect result, we made connections with like-minded professionals, secured good customers, contracts, turned over £600K in 2 years combined [way beyond our projections], shortlisted for Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year award by ElevatorUK, created a few more jobs, launched Hackers on Tour, partnered with the law enforcement, moved to bigger offices and reached 50 customers. At the time of this writing, we have more than 65 customers on our books.
How was the ride so far? Bumpy. As most people would tell you business is tough. More lows than highs. However, No regrets what so ever. The only regret was that I should have started earlier. There is an awful number of times you question yourself during the process and finally, the business will change you as a person.
You will make a ton of mistakes. Learn from them and move on but as Garry McEwan once said, 'don't make all your learning come from mistakes'. A few mistakes to avoid
- Not investing in yourself [not Read books, exercise, etc...]
- Sticking with something that's not working for too long. I wasn't able to make the IT support work for us.
- Trying to do everything yourself. This will only work until you get 1 or 2 customers.
- Make decisions when emotions are high.
- Taking the foot off the pedal. I think I did that early this year and the results are not nice to look at.
- Worrying about what others think of you.
What did I learn in the process? Learned so much. Most of them will sound cliche but here you go
- The biggest learning is to believe in yourself. If you don't nobody else will.
- Ask for help. Pick your mentors and be careful whom do you take advice from. Entrepreneurial community in Scotland is great. Most people genuinely like to help.
- Be careful on who do you partner with or share your intel with. A large local internet company backstabbed us in the early days. In the end, we secured the customer. CEO of the internet company went on to take a dig at me on LinkedIn and eventually blocked me. The person still does.
- Have a plan [I need to get better at this] and think big. I am sure you heard 'Aim for the sky and you will land on top of the tree'.
- Hire smart people and don't step on their toes. Delegate! Jack, Atulit, Mike and Nicole have been absolute gems for TheTechForce.
- Pay for an accountant, HR and the lawyer when needed. They will keep you right.
- In Iain Hamilton words, grow some crocodile skin in business. I am still not good at it. More you put yourself out there more haters you will get but the magic only happens outside the comfort zone.
- Make sure the sales pipeline is really good. Less the opportunities more desperate I sounded.
- Stay alert - Lack of Sales and CashFlow can kill your business within a blink of an eye.
- The excitement of winning a new customer/contract will last for a few minutes then on to the next one.
- Take risks. Throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks. Figure out what's not working and move on. Go with your gut!
- Get attention. Market yourself/services well. Get creative. Hint: 85% of internet bandwidth in 2019 will be video.
- Work super hard and Optimise, optimise and optimise!
- It is lonely. Look after yourself and don't lose yourself.
- You are not going to please everyone and don't even try.
- The most important lesson of all is to love what you do and have fun! Building a business takes time.
The tools that helped us? Hubspot, Xero, Expensify, MileIQ, LastPass, Canva, Upwork, LinkedIn, Slack, Neverbounce, FindThatLead, Hootsuite, Gocardless, Eventbriteand Stripe. I may have forgotten a few. Happy to have a chat if need info on how we used them.
What's next for TheTechForce? We have been a value-added Cyber Security re-seller with a bit of Managed Security Service so far. We did IT Support too. In all honesty, I thought we were thinking big but having spoken to some of the peers in Central belt of Scotland and London I realised we have been thinking really small. Time to change! We have ambitious goals this year, big hairy goals. We will need to shed some weight to get to our goals faster. In other words, streamline what we are doing and get focused. Go narrow and go deep. Watch this space!
What's holding me back? It's me. Often, I have to overcome my thoughts. I also don't fully understand the local culture. Coupled with not able to articulate my thoughts well in English I have ruffled a few feathers. Challenging but once I master them the outcome will be better.
I hope this my story helps someone. I would be happy to talk if you think I can help you. To everyone that's been part of our story, I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart.
"To those that tried" - Martin Gilbert, Vice Chairman Standard life Aberdeen
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