Chapter Zero Ltd: David Walker

David Walker tells us about his new software development company.

A man who claims to be over a hundred years old is likely to be able to spin a good yarn. David Walker, 103 (he says), tells us his new software development company Chapter Zero is the first page of a very exciting book.

Name: David Walker Age: 103 Business: Chapter Zero Ltd Type of business: Software Development Start date: Spring 2005

Tell us about your business. Chapter Zero is a software development house that specialises in providing bespoke software solutions and creating innovative software before anyone else has worked out how to do it. Was it your first business idea and where did it come from? The original business grew out of the frustrations of working in former companies from dealing with PAYE and related staffing issues and also from being the victim of poor decision-makers.

Was your decision to start a business inspired by any other companies or individuals? Inspired? Maybe not – but I will admit to a certain robustness about being determined to succeed where others had reneged on important deals that felt like being set up for failure.

What makes you think there’s a market for your business? It’s an undisputable fact that there’s a market for software development, and this will grow as the technology available progresses. The trick is to come up with smart solutions that do exactly what the customer wants, that are good value and can compete with offshore rates.

Once you’d decided to start a business, what did you do first? I took a holiday. I knew it would be the last one for a good while.

What research did you do?Business Link has been a useful point of reference in helping promote profitengine and taking part in the beta testing of one of our product’s websites. But overall the government centres have given conflicting advice and I have to admit it wasted a lot of time. .

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What other help did you get? My bank has been a tremendous source of advice and support. I’ve established a very good relationship with the business manager and keep him informed of progress on a frequent basis. They’ve pointed me towards some useful contacts and even put the business forward for the Start-ups awards!

Does the government need to provide more help to people trying to start a business? Don’t get me started. The government is deplorable in its assistance for new businesses. Any concessions for new business we have discovered, have been extracted through dogged determination and indignant response to unrealistic demands on start-ups. Everyone wants to levy a charge before we’ve even made a penny. It’s a wonder any new business ever succeeds.

Talk us through the process of writing your business plan. After 103 years you get to learn a thing or two – although the basic market research and leap of faith is always a component when forecasting future turnover and profit.

How useful has your business plan been and do you think you’ll stick to it as your business begins to grow? The business model served a purpose but even in the space of 6 months, the original model has evolved in response to market demands. The original plan has enabled us to focus on being very cautious about expenditure and even now that we can see the income stream shaping up, we’re still only spending on essentials to ensure growth along with the viability of the infrastructure.

How much did it cost to start the business? Think of a four digit number, add 23, divide by four, and add two more zeros and that’s about the sum of it.

How did you fund this? I’d been fortunate enough to have surplus income from the past put aside that enabled the set up and running costs to date, but the bank has been very good in placing funds at my disposal should I need to dip into them. Similarly, how are you funding your running costs until the business takes off? There’s a steady trickle of income arriving now, and our products are now well defined and honed. We’re closing a few deals that should secure the short to mid term future. The nature of bespoke software is that whilst the costs can run quite high, the profit margins are also significant if the product is right for the market place.

Have you made any provisions for business not being as prosperous as expected? We’ve been cautious with expenditure all the way, and also had the financial clout not to have incurred huge leasing or repayment fees. Consequently our actual running costs have been minimal. We haven’t touched the banks’ available funds yet, so if we hit a dry run this could see us through for a while.

Are you working from home or from premises? The business premises are close to the Motorway and major links to all compass points. I’d previously worked in this area before and knew the benefits it could offer. For our original model this building is ideal but it’s possible we might consider a move in the future as the business grows and maybe evolves.

How many hours are you working at the moment? I sleep for around six hours a night and only then does my brain switch off – but I’ve always been like that. This is nothing new.

How are you managing your day and what steps have you taking to ensure you’re able to get everything done without working around the clock? I have good support at work and at home. We’re a close team and everybody has a stake in the business. Having just signed the deals on some new work projects, we’re now taking on contract workers to cover specific project areas to ensure we can deliver on time.

Is the amount of red tape that comes with taking on an employee something that concerns you? Frankly I vowed never to take on PAYE staff again but clearly our experiences demonstrate that not enough people in this country are willing to accept the risks alongside the benefits that being self employed can bring. Everyone in our small team at the moment each has their own business and our working methodology as been approved by the Inland Revenue. What marketing and advertising have you done so far? We’ve dipped our toes into telemarketing and because of the nature of our products, the sales skills of our MD and our ability to offer very competitive rates the feedback is good and has resulted in some promising partnerships We probably will have to advertise eventually but for the meantime press releases about products is slowly raising our public profile. Where do you hope to be in 12 months time? Part of the plan is to have floated the company on the back of the success of its current merits and to be developing new products to increase the share potential. Come back to us then and if we’re not away on our private yachts we’ll be happy to take your call.

What are the main obstacles to growth? Lack of sufficient funds would definitely be a hurdle for any business. It’s what our product is all about – sourcing funds for entrepreneurs and inventors. It’s not enough for any business to just keep its head above water and tick over if it wants to expand and grow. We will need to improve the infrastructure in the short-term future and this will be costly, but without that leap of faith growth is impossible. If all goes to plan then the income stream should be sufficient to deal with our need for funds, but like any other business at that stage, we might be balancing on the tightrope for a short while.

Tell us about your website. Being a software development house our websites are essential to the business – it’s the very shop window of what we are asking other businesses to pay us to do. Each website and product has been a team effort, drawing upon different strengths; developing and fine tuning, so that the end result is not only covetable and sophisticated but user friendly and saleable.

What are your main ambitions, to make a lot of money or enjoy what you do? I’ve always developed coding because I wanted to, and although making volatile sums of money would be a bonus, it won’t stop me from trying new projects. I have some software ideas up my sleeve that could change the future of communications. As long as there is the passion to develop and work, I will do so.

What have you found difficult about starting up and what do you wish you’d done differently? You’ll wish you hadn’t asked! Every single supplier bar one (but we haven’t fully sourced their skills yet) has give inaccurate expensive conflicting or deplorable service. One company in particular has managed all those accolades. Our launch date should have been early January 2005 but it was at least the end of April before we could consider ourselves in a position to begin working and the fallout from poor service overall has cost a fortune in money and time. We’re talking national companies here, not local Joes who ought to know better. In hindsight maybe I should have contracted a project manager but you really don’t expect incredibly bad service. It’s only when you find yourself the victim that you start to think about how it could have been avoided.

What skills and personal characteristics do you need to start your own business? Determination and the will to live.

So what advice would you give to anyone thinking of starting a business? Don’t do it in England. There are too many civil servants and not enough people working. This means the civil service demands too much which erodes on the chances of your success. Only the tough can survive in England – sadly.



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