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Experimenting, failing fast and moving on has worked wonders for me

A surprise accolade confirms Richard Blanford’s view that continued innovation is the way forward, while failing fast is no bad thing if quickly abandoned.
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Getting the mix right between introducing innovative new services and focusing on what is working well and meets our customers’ current requirements, is a constant balancing act. So last week we were delighted when Fordway was included in a list of “1000 Companies to Inspire”, published by the London Stock Exchange Group. This suggests that we must be doing something right.

The report points out that fast growing, dynamic SMEs – which I’m sure describes many of the companies featured in Founders Diaries – tend to grow through innovation, either offering new services or reimagining the provision of existing business models.

That’s certainly how we operate, constantly looking for innovative technologies and challenger brands that will enable our customers to be more effective and competitive, whatever their sector. It’s reflected in one of our company values – adapt and thrive.

Last month I spent a lot of time working with our consultancy team developing four new services for submission to the ninth iteration of the government’s G-Cloud framework, which provides a catalogue of accredited cloud IT services for UK government and other public sector organisations.

It meant some long days working out what businesses needed in the light of changing legislation such as the new Global Data Protection Regulation, defining our offer in the very specific format that’s required when completing public sector tenders and then submitting it by the Easter deadline.

All this of course while continuing with business as usual for our existing clients. The good news is that we’ve just received confirmation that all of the new services have been accepted, and will be available alongside our existing cloud services.

The framework was set up to help SMEs compete with much larger suppliers for public sector contracts and enable the public sector to benefit from their innovation and agility. It’s certainly been advantageous for us, enabling us to win a number of contracts which we would not have been eligible for previously. We’ve also learned a lot from working alongside much larger IT suppliers. So despite being a time-consuming process, it’s something we’ll continue to do, while making sure that our offer is continually refreshed and updated.

The other key aspect of innovation is that you have to be able to identify when something is not working. This is something that companies such as Amazon are masters of – what’s often described as “experiment often and fail fast”. We need to be brave enough to try new things but smart enough to understand when they’re not working and it’s time to move on.

Few business decisions are black and white. Due to time pressures and business need you typically have to make them based on incomplete information. For us the key is to make the decision but then regularly check on progress and relevance.

If it is obvious that something is struggling, or that the commercial acceptance is not there, make the decision quickly to stop and focus your efforts on the next idea. It’s also possible that it’s a great idea but the timing is wrong. Whilst we introduced four new services into the new framework, we also withdrew three services which had not proven commercially viable to free resources to work on our more compelling offerings.

At the same time as innovating, however, it’s important that we continue to offer the core services that Fordway has been built on. We take the same approach as when we re-defined our company vision and values last year – keeping the good stuff that made us what we are today, while recognising and stopping anything that could hold us back.

This article is part of a wider campaign called Founders Diaries, a section of Real Business that brings together 20 inspiring business builders to share their stories. Bringing together companies from a wide variety of sectors and geographies, each columnist produces a diary entry each month. Visit the Founders Diaries section to find out more.

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About Author

Richard Blanford

Richard Blanford set up Fordway in 1991 and grew it through winning and delivering increasingly larger contracts. In 2011 he led a major investment in infrastructure, staff and training to enable Fordway to offer managed cloud services, which now provide approximately half the company’s total revenues.

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