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Biggerplate: Driven and shaped by community experiences

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Name:

Liam Hughes

Role and company:

Founder of the Biggerplate mind map library and community

Company turnover:

£100k+ over the period July 2012 – June 2013

Employees: 

Four

Growth forecast for the next three years:

We aim to surpass £250,000 annual turnover in 2015, and our ambition is to add a minimum of four new developers to the business over each of the next three years.

In under 50 words, what makes your business distinctive in its marketplace:

We are entirely driven and shaped by the experiences and feedback of our community members, and we take great pride in the fact that we have built a reputation for genuinely engaging with our users and building the things they want to see

What’s the big vision for your business?

Our aim is to be the best source of mind map content, learning and community in the world.

Current level of international business, and future aspirations:

Within our niche market, Biggerplate is one of very few truly global brands, which means we must engage with individuals and organisations all over the world, both in person and online. Our community of over 50,000 members is comprised of individuals from over 180 countries. Our platform will be translated into over ten different languages over the next 18 months, so we are already very international, even though we are only small!

We also host the only series of international conferences dedicated entirely to mind mapping and visual working. Two took place in London and Paris earlier this year, with the Netherlands in October and then San Francisco in March 2014. Despite being a very small business, we recognised early on the importance of behaving like a global brand, and engaging with our customers and members wherever they are based geographically, and this approach seems to be paying off.

Biggest career setback and what you learned from it:

I think I waited too long before committing fully to the business, and I think this probably means we’re a year or two behind where we should be/could have been. I started working on the idea for Biggerplate while I was at university, having experienced first-hand the positive impact of Mindjet mind mapping software in my studies. Upon graduation, I played with the idea as a part-time hobby but because I wasn’t sure how I could ever make money from it, I worked in bars and restaurants to pay the rent instead. I think if I had committed 100 per cent to the project earlier on, I would have figured out the commercial model far sooner, and be much further along the road by now!

What makes you mad in business today?

Lazy marketing. Specifically; companies who have adopted all the great online marketing tools we have at our disposal (Facebook, Twitter etc) purely to broadcast messages about themselves. We’re only four people in our team, but we take real pride in at least trying to generate interesting content and genuine discussion through these channels. We don’t always succeed, but we work hard to contribute something of relative value. I find it irritating to see companies (large or small), adopting a ‘broadcast’ approach that’s all about them, because it’s really not hard to go one step further and try to engage people in a dialogue. The only conclusion must therefore be that they are lazy or unimaginative.

What will be the biggest change in your market in the next three years?

The biggest changes will continue to result from the increased use of tablet devices, and the simultaneous evolution of ‘cloud’ based solutions. For mind mapping software developers, there is an increasing realisation that consumers want (and now expect) to be able to switch seamlessly between desktop, laptop, tablet, mobile, and cloud-based versions of an application. It’s therefore vital for them to develop these options and improve the synchronisation between them. Market leaders in our arena (like Mindjet) have moved on leaps and bounds and it’s likely that others will follow by investing heavily in this area. This is likely to bring about major changes in how the mind mapping software market is perceived and positioned in the consumer world.

Can businesses in your sector/industry access the finance they need to grow? If not, what can be done to improve things?

We don’t really know enough about the finances of other businesses in our sector to comment on this either way. A bigger problem in our sector is that the industry is still very young, so it’s not immediately apparent where the opportunities to start a business or make money within the mind mapping world might be. Unless you want to develop mind mapping software!

Biggerplate is one of very few businesses in the mind mapping sector who do not develop or sell software, and it took us a few years to develop a recognisable commercial model for our business.

How would others describe your leadership style?

I’m not entirely sure, but based on what I have done with Biggerplate my hope is that they might recognise that we have attempted to lead by example, through constant innovation and bold moves in a young arena that at times had become slightly stale. The word that matters most to me is momentum. That probably describes my ‘leadership style’, in that I’m always seeking ways to create momentum and I get frustrated if I don’t see any.

Your biggest personal extravagance?

I recently paid £6.50 for a baguette whilst grabbing lunch on the move in central London, and that strikes me as pretty extravagant. Although I must confess to not realising the extravagance of the price until the deed was done. Expensive baguettes aside, I don’t think I have any particularly extravagant tastes, although I probably spend more on my holidays abroad than I should, simply because I place a great deal of value on quality down time and interesting experiences!

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 think one of the most useful things for me over the years has been attending conferences, seminars and events that gave me an opportunity to learn from other people and businesses, and in the early days of the business, it was particularly handy if these events were very cheap or (ideally) free! I think giving greater visibility to the wealth of great events and learning opportunities that are available for entrepreneurs is important, and if more could be done to make some top-quality conference places available for free (or very cheap) then it would mean young entrepreneurs could learn from the absolute leaders in their field, without spending a fortune. The learning, and connections that can happen at good quality events is (in my opinion) unbeatable. 

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