After a business studies and marketing postgraduate degree, Maitles worked in the care sector for four years and soon saw many didn’t have the time to focus on where their attention was really needed. The idea for providing a “one stop shop” for products and services specifically for the care sector was born – to help alleviate the stress of spending too much time away from the actual care process.
He left his job and spent four months speaking with 250 owners of care homes to gauge their feelings towards his idea – and the overwhelming positivity spurred the concept into fruition.
Maitles spent the first year developing the business at Entrepreneurial Spark’s Glasgow Hatchery, and he feels it was here The Service Directory really began to blossom. “It was a bit of luck finding them – a friend mentioned it and I was the second entrant to the scheme,” he said.
Already determined and conscientious in his approach to work, Maitles said the Entrepreneurial Spark experience only served to make him more disciplined and focused. “There are a lot of ideation sessions where they pick apart your ideas and question everything,” he explained. This in turn gets the budding entrepreneurs casting a more scrutinous eye over their own ideas.
While Maitles became well-known for being the first in and last out at Entrepreneurial Spark during the working day, he said it had become tricky maintaining focus beforehand. “The focus of getting work done came while I was there. It was hard doing that when I started because I was working from my parents’ garage.” He thinks new business owners often love the idea of working for themselves and setting their own schedules, but to do so you need to be able to motivate yourself.
“Hard work never bothered me, I think doing the graft made up for any deficiencies I have in certain skills,” Maitles added, though he conceded the financial side of things was probably his weakest area. Luckily enough, his brother is an accountant whose business is based in the same office as The Service Directory though, so he’s always had a useful contact for that.
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The pick-up of Maitles’ online platform has been impressive – in the first 14 months it hit sales of £1m and is projected to bring in between £2m and £3m by the end of this year. Despite this, Maitles said an early challenge had been getting those within the industry to pay attention to his offerings.
“Getting credibility was tough. It’s a very insular sector and a lot of people use a friend or the same service for years,” he said. It’s a tricky ask to then go in and tell them not only does their current model not work effectively and really they need a new one, but also they’ve been “overcharged massively” for the past 20 years.
Maitles’ own competitive spirit has stood him in good stead here. While it’s abated slightly with the company’s steady progress – he feels committed to “the long-term vision of the company” rather than set milestones. In the early stages he was driven by a desire to do better than others. “If someone came to Entrepreneurial Spark with good news, I wanted to come back with better news,” he recalled wryly.
The added incentive of having others around you with exciting ideas seems to create a positive atmosphere at programmes like Entrepreneurial Spark – it’s useful for contact-building and bouncing ideas around, but also encourages individuals to push themselves further.
An area of concern for many growing businesses is recruitment and the challenges of bringing in the right staff. Though Maitles hasn’t circumvented this, it has been less of a priority thanks to a considered approach to growth. “We’ve invested heavily in the software system and development of that, so allowing us to maintain a small staff base but increasing scaleability,” he explained. “I don’t want a call centre full of staff.”
The Service Directory is currently recruiting for a couple of additions and a key focus for the coming year will be focusing on expanding across all areas of the business, though Maitles is determined to do so at a pace that matches his vision.
The long-term goal is quite simply to “become the UK’s largest procurement group for care homes and services, and ultimately take it out of the UK too”. Conversations are currently ongoing with some North American corporations about how The Service Directory could work for them.
Maitles has been nominated for emerging entrepreneur of the year by Entrepreneurial Scotland and feels there are numerous upcoming prospects when it comes to Scottish business. “I probably have a biased view because I was surrounded by them at Entrepreneurial Spark!” They’re not necessarily widely-known about, because they don’t necessarily have a business concept that catches mainstream attention, he believes.
“It’s difficult getting coverage, because people achieve it for having a sexy business, and procurement isn’t that exciting,” Maitles agreed. “Initially it was nigh on impossible to get any coverage for us, which was tough as we had substantially more sales than our peers.” Nonetheless, The Service Directory has gone from strength to strength since its beginnings and Maitles has some advice for those looking to make their idea a reality.
“Don’t be scared of just going for it. There’s never really a convenient time to be a business owner, you just need to suck it up and go for it. If it fails, it fails,” he said. “I’d rather have given it a go than sat there wondering what could’ve happened.”
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