Brightpearl: Chris Tanner and Andrew Mulvenna

Chris Tanner and Andrew Mulvenna explain how they’re giving the accountancy software giants a run for their money

‘If you want a job done properly, do it yourself’ goes the expression, and that’s exactly what Brightpearl founders Chris Tanner and Andrew Mulvenna have done. Frustrated by the high cost and low functionality of the business management software they encountered working on Tanner’s start-up Lush Longboards as students, the duo set about building their own software to grow the firm – and in 2007 this sideline grew wings of its own.

Despite entering a market dominated by long-established giants Sage and Netsuite, Brightpearl excelled. Mulvenna puts this down to there being “very few tools out there for small businesses [when] there are more businesses of that type than any other in the UK.” Consequently, they have got former Dragon Doug Richard on board, secured a $5m investment from Notion Capital and Eden Ventures, are experiencing a 400% growth rate and in the 12 months to July 2011 have grown their team from five to 35 employees.

With a predicted turnover of “tens of millions” next year, the recruitment drive is set to continue. Mulvenna is about to relocate to the United States, where he will lead the company’s first international office, recruit an overseas team and grow the already spiraling demand across the pond. Further down the line, he would like to see the business expanding further into Australasia and to be better equipped to fulfill the demand for the product from South America, India and China.

So what has been Brightpearl’s appeal? “We aim to level the playing field, giving small businesses access to the kind of software normally reserved for the big corporates with deep pockets,” Mulvenna says. To this end, they’ve set a shallow-pocket friendly pricing structure, with costs starting at £20 per month (and a month’s free trial in advance).

The pair has a very firm idea of who it is forking out for their services, with Mulvenna saying their typical client is “a retailer or wholesaler of finished goods, selling in shops or online, and they have between one and 20 staff – the majority have less than 10 staff”.

The number of businesses of this kind in the UK alone is well into six figures, yet the software’s application has even wider prospects. Already, it has been adopted by a social enterprise which flies disadvantaged children with cleft palates to Great Ormond Street Hospital for treatment. The directors claim Brightpearl has saved 300% of the organisation’s work time by improving operations between their 20 staff, based across three countries.

For Mulvenna, it is the firm’s focus on the small business market which he believes has given Brightpearl its advantage, and he admits regret that it didn’t focus on this market sooner. “Businesses don’t fail from too much focus. Focus on the market that you’re strongest in and make it cut through everything,” he says.

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The Brightpearl team certainly has much wisdom to share. On acquiring investment, Mulvenna claims patience is key. “You need a couple of years of actually doing the business, in order to develop a really strong business case – we needed two years. Secondly, work on your own personal network. If you are well connected to well-connected people it will help you to get the right introductions. Thirdly, you need good mentors to help you understand the language that investors speak.”

But the best way to grow a successful business, Mulvenna insists, is to “make a great product which people love using and they’ll talk about it.

“Word of mouth is the most powerful form of marketing.”

Pictured, L-R: Andrew Mulvenna; Brightpearl CEO Salman Malik; Chris Tanner


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