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Julian Hucker: “Quality is our USP, not price”

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Name:

Julian Hucker

Role and Company:

CEO of Esendex, the UK’s leading business SMS company, providing over 16,000 global companies with a fast, reliable and cost-effective way of keeping in touch with their customers and employees.

Company turnover:

Esendex is currently a £10m business, having grown every quarter since inception in 2001.

Growth forecast for the next three years:

If we continue on our current trajectory, we’ll become a £20m business in the next three years and a £50m business in the next five years.

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

Quality is our USP, not price. Everyone else competes to be the cheapest so corners get cut and quality suffers – we compete to be the best. We don’t compete in this “race to the bottom”. Our mantra is that every message matters and we believe that SMS is an investment to be optimised, not a cost to be minimised.

What’s the big vision for your business?

To be the global leader in SMS business communications, without losing the elements that make Esendex special: great people and technology that consistently delights our customers.

Current level of international business, and future aspirations:

The UK is still growing strongly and receiving a text message from your bank, your dentist or your supermarket is still the exception rather than the norm – so there’s loads of room for SMS to keep growing. However, almost half of our revenue now comes from overseas and with the rapid growth we’re seeing in Europe, it’s predicted that this year we’ll see the majority of our revenue coming from outside the UK. And it’s fair to say we haven’t even begun to really exploit these markets yet. So, getting France, Spain and Germany to the same size as the UK would see Esendex more than double in size.

Biggest career setback and what you learned from it:

Before Esendex my business partner and I were working together on a campaign and needed to find a platform to send volume text messages, one that would be accountable for delivery from beginning to end. Seeing that one didn’t really exist, we built our own. The initial business didn’t turn out to be viable so we decided to create a business out of the problem we solved.

What makes you mad in business today?

The obsession with celebrity culture and how it’s creeping into the business world. People don’t seem to realise that programmes like The Apprentice and Dragons’ Den are entertainment and have no place in the real world of business.

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

Continued fragmentation of media and the proliferation of social media. Fragmentation is actually helping us at the moment because businesses are realising that SMS is the most effective method of communicating to customers en masse. It cuts through the thousands of messages we’re exposed to every day and it’s ubiquitous.

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

It’s difficult to say, my co-founder Adam Bird and I funded our business on our credit cards and bootstrapped it for the first six months. Would it have been a success earlier with more funding? Perhaps, but actually for us, running a lean business from the outset has taught us important lessons and kept us in good stead further down the line. 

How would others describe your leadership style?

Informal and straight to the point.

Your biggest personal extravagance?

Bikes. Someone once told me that the ideal number of bikes is n+1 where n is the number you have at the moment – which is probably how I’ve ended up with five and have my eyes on a sixth. If I was honest with myself my bikes are probably worth more than my car.

You’ve got two minutes with the Prime Minister. Tell him how best to set the UK’s independent, entrepreneurial businesses free to prosper: 

We’d love to see government invest in soft landing zones for businesses looking to expand abroad. Providing a space for companies to set up in for, say, a year after entering a market could be useful in so many ways. It would reduce the cost and time taken to find the right place to be and contain all the things needed out of the box, such as broadband access and meeting space. More importantly it would create an instant like-minded community for entrepreneurs and technologists to help with networking, mentoring and so on. These could be established in markets that are particularly attractive for UK companies – not just the emerging markets like Brazil, India and South Africa, but countries closer to home that might be easier enter.

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