Adam Cooke shares his frustrations about awful software, his hope in small businesses, and what can go wrong when renting an office.
Role and company:
Founder and managing director of aTech Media
Growth forecast for the next three years:
Over the last 24 months our turnover has doubled and we are hoping to triple our current turnover over the next three years.
In under 50 words, what makes your business distinctive in its marketplace:
Like many of our customers, we’re a small business ourselves and use all of our own products, so we understand the challenges that other businesses face – which puts us in a great position.
What's the big vision for your business?
To continue to produce fantastic web applications, which are easy to use, secure and reliable. This will involve us shifting some of our development focus into the mobile marketplace to support the fast growing rise in smartphones and tablet computers.
Current level of international business, and future aspirations:
Our business is fully international – we have customers in over 50 countries; from our very first big breakthrough in 2008 when we launched our first product we have been servicing a worldwide audience. This enabled us to step back from some of our routine client work and concentrate on designing a great product of our own. We launched our first customer partner programme in February, which is currently solely focused on the UK market but we hope to expand it to the US in the near future.
Biggest career setback and what you learned from it:
I wouldn’t say there were any career setbacks – personally, I wouldn’t do anything differently. From a business point of view, we ended up renting an office in a thoroughly undesirable location next door to a sewage works. We didn’t actually occupy the location for longer than a month but we still had to fulfil our obligations under our lease for 14 months. This was a pretty expensive mistake as it cost around £20,000 in total, including rent, rates and legal costs. We learnt the hard way to be very cautious when renting offices.
What makes you mad in business today?
It’s frustrating how expensive but awful most software solutions are, despite supposedly being designed to help small businesses operate more efficiently. In many cases, if I’m only interested in a certain feature in the software, I have to pay for a full suite just to access it.
Businesses are inadvertently signing themselves up to use convoluted, bloated tools with hidden costs and superfluous features. These bad decisions happen when they haven’t done enough research and don’t understand what a quality, credible endorsement is. There are plenty of excellent blogs that will explain and recommend software in layman’s terms. Instead, too many are easily fooled by magazine adverts from massive companies promoting products that are actually terrible.
What will be the biggest change in your market in the next three years?
The growth and popularity of smartphones and tablet PCs means that we, as software developers, will need to focus more of our efforts on designing and developing for mobile devices as well as traditional computers.
Can businesses in your sector/industry access the finance they need to grow? If not, what can be done to improve things?
One of the fantastic things about our industry is the exceptionally low barriers to entry. When aTech Media was founded we had very little funding and bootstrapped our entire product range from reinvested funds. After all, in our very early days the company was run from my bedroom! We’ve never taken any loans and everything we do is funded from re-invested profits.
If you jump right in and try to get yourself an office and employ staff from day one, accessing finance can be quite a challenge. When you take into account business rates, insurance and all the other costs that come with starting up a business, the costs will quickly rise and without external support, it can be easy to become overwhelmed.
I believe that nurturing small businesses is what will get our country out of the current economic crisis. Whether this support comes from lower taxation, VAT relief for certain start-up costs (for non-VAT registered businesses) or just some funding to help new and existing businesses grow, something needs to be done.
How would others describe your leadership style?
I like to keep things as informal as possible at work. We nurture mutual respect among everyone in the office and keep things as relaxed as possible. We find this leads to excellent employee loyalty as well as a dedication and passion for their work.
Your biggest personal extravagance?
I don't really spend extravagantly on many big things, other than the usual large necessities like a car. However, I do spend a fair amount on luxuries like Blu-Rays, books, computer games and software.
You've got two minutes with the prime minister. Tell him how best to set the UK's independent, entrepreneurial businesses free to prosper:
I’d encourage him to look at improving or increasing the support that is provided to small businesses. I’d advise him to consider the corporation tax levels, as well as providing some sort of relief when it comes to the costs of getting a business off the ground and improving funding methods that will encourage small businesses to prosper.