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The partially sighted IT expert whose vision has created a £1m company

Setting up and running a small business is tough enough, but for those with a disability it comes with extra challenges – as Real Business found out.
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Being partially sighted hasn’t stopped Andy Hinxman from enjoying a successful career in IT – building and growing a fast-growing company and being named “London’s Coolest Techie”.

Keybridge IT Solutions is a London-based IT company offering support, hosting and specialist IT services to clients in all sectors. It began trading in January 2011 and currently supplies IT support and IT services to over 1,400 users throughout the UK, Europe, Asia and the US.

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Hinxman’s disability doesn’t mean that he can’t see, but it does mean he has to have larger fonts, certain screen sizes and colours. He says that it’s helped him in business when working with companies where staff members have similar issues – and it’s also given him a few wry smiles.

“I have to chuckle inside when a client uses a throwaway phrase like ‘honestly, you’d have to be blind not to notice XYZ’,” he said. “I don’t say anything. I wouldn’t want to embarrass them but I wonder what they would think if they knew.”

Hinxman set up his own firm after a successful career as an IT manager running a help-desk and solving IT queries. It was something that he’d always wanted to do, so four years ago he took the plunge.

“I like making my own rules and working the hours I want,” he said. “I have a young family and wanted to be able to walk them to school, help my wife and generally be there when needed. Being my own boss means I can do just that.”

He had some experience of running a business when his previous company asked him to set up a subsidiary. It gave him some valuable lessons such as juggling being a salaried employee while trying to grow the subsidiary – a tough job and one which small business owners have to face every day.

Hinxman said: “I learnt about pricing and services and also face to face selling and was able to put this into practise at Keybridge IT. I also gained valuable experience in what systems I needed to run an IT managed service provider and so this also helped keep costs low when setting up my own company.”

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Initially Keybridge IT did have an investor, but within two years Hinxman had managed to buy them out. He puts his success down to being able to work across a range of sectors from recruitment to PR agencies – and being able to deal with different personalities and different working cultures. One of his main priorities has been to build the Keybridge team using apprentices, most of who stay after they have gained the necessary qualifications.

“It is always good to have experienced staff – particularly when we are dealing with customers, whether it is devising an IT strategy or problem solving,” he explained. “However by growing our own apprentices we are able to show them how we want things done and they learn that from day one. They don’t have any pre-conceptions which helps!”

Hinxman’s his biggest moment so far has been growing his team to more than 14 and making a good profit, compared to the first couple of years when they were breaking even at best. Turnover is currently around £1m.

“I think Keybridge has been successful for a number of reasons – knowing the right people, tailoring our services to meet the demands of the market, employing dedicated apprentices and being thrifty with office space,” he commented. “The team at Keybridge all have a very good work ethic. We employ people who genuinely care and our clients tell us that that makes all the difference to the service we give. I try and reward the team for that with various incentives.”

Like most SME owners, Hinxman has found the biggest challenge involved in running his own company has been getting customers to pay on time, all the time. However, it hasn’t stopped his plans to grow the business further. His ambition is to keep growing both in size and profit and have 20 plus staff with £1.5m turnover in the next three years.

He advised others who want to start their own businesses, whether they have a disability or not, to get to know the right people in the sector and to network.

“It doesn’t hurt to email people you know or used to work with,” he said. He also advises other SME owners to be flexible in their offering but not to think that price is everything. “Provide a great service and the clients will always come back and will recommend you too. Have an interest outside of work to get that work/life balance right – I run marathons. Also keep your sense of humour.”

On the subject of humour, he remembered dispatching an engineer to someone who was convinced that their computer was broken – when in fact, they just hadn’t turned their screen on. “We all depend on IT so much that it’s easy to make a mistake,” he said. “Although we did have to tell our engineer to keep a straight face.”

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