The Entrepreneur: Nigel Davies, Claromentis

From exporting Stateside to learning how to tango, read how this week's entrepreneur in the spotlight has built a multi-million pound business

Founder: Nigel Davies
Company: Claromentis
Description in one line: Integrated digital workplace software
Turnover: £2m
12-month target: £2.5m

Business growth:

Describe your business model and what makes your business unique:

  • We help teams to collaborate, share information and work smarter through our powerful digital workplace
  • Our intuitive business software focuses on three key areas: information, people and work
  • We’re a small, agile business, so we can build new features and fix bugs for our clients at incredible speed

What is your greatest business achievement to date?

Building a UK company with clients all over the world.

What numbers do you look at every day in your business?

The sales pipeline. Sales is the area I head up.

To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your plans?

Over 70% of our customers are companies in the USA.

For now, we run all our customer services from our UK head office in Brighton, but the short-term plan is to open an office in America to allow same time zone support and services.

Describe your growth funding path:

We’ve bootstrapped the business since we launched in 1998 and taken no external funding at all.

We wanted to remain in control of our destiny and wait until the amounts would be significant and on our terms.

What technology has made the biggest difference to your business?

When I used to give demos of our platform to prospective clients 10 years ago, I’d have to get in a car and spend all day on the motorway to attend physical meetings.

This meant international sales leads were logistically difficult and expensive to follow up on – and the whole process was tiring and inefficient. Now ubiquitous screen sharing apps have enabled us to expand internationally.

The cloud has also completely changed the way we offer our service. Banks still want on-premises hosting but most of our other clients choose the cloud.

Where would you like your business to be in three years?

The goal is for revenue to be at £4m – double what it is now – and to have an office in the USA.

Growth challenges

What is the hardest thing you have ever done in business?

Learning when a valuable customer is influencing our development in a way that it should not be.

We’re a small team, and it’s the same team building custom apps for single clients, as it is developing the software that goes out to all customers.

We have to assign resources carefully to make sure we’re building the best platform for all.

What was your biggest business mistake?

Allowing one of our business partners to accumulate a large debt to us. It worked out in the end but we should have been smarter earlier and put tighter financial controls in place.

Piece of Red Tape that hampers growth most:

The constant changes to EU data protection has to be up there for me. While I understand it’s crucial to protect consumer data, it seems to me the government does nothing to support implementation, other than scaremongering businesses into compliance with the threat of huge fines.

Safe Harbor is announced, next it’s the EU Data privacy shield, now it’s GDPR. Compliance with all of these is expensive and time consuming for businesses of any size.

What is the most common serious mistake you see entrepreneurs make?

I think just not really, really watching the cash. We all look at so many metrics and ratios but, for me, a trailing 12-month cash balance shows a lot of clear facts.

How will your market look in three years?

Businesses in most sectors are finding it hard to integrate technology in a meaningful way, despite the obvious benefits to productivity and the future of their business. That will change, because it has to.

Software providers are already making digital advancement easy for businesses, we just need better awareness of our solutions.

From a software perspective, we’ll see more emphasis on personalisation, artificial intelligence, engagement and integration.

What is the single most important piece of advice you would offer to a less experienced entrepreneur?

Find a mentor, and make it someone who can invest enough time in you to really understand your business model and personal capabilities.

Personal growth

Biggest luxury:

Tango lessons with the best teachers I can find – wherever in the world they are. I have three.

Executive education or learn it on the job?

For me it was learn on the job. Before I started Claromentis, a degree in geology allowed me to travel the world and live in five countries.

I worked for software vendors specialising in the oil industry because my degree had involved a bit of computer programming. But the operational challenges of entrepreneurship were learned day by day building this business.

What would make you a better leader?

I have to watch myself when listening to people in the company to make sure I don’t interrupt them because I think I already know the point they are going to make. I need to let them speak for as long as they want and invest time in a personal response.

What one thing do you wish you’d known when you started?

That it would succeed – it would have saved a lot of stress.

One business app and one personal app you can’t do without:

Probably showing my age but on the business side I remain a fan of Excel – I just use it so often. On the personal side it would be a close call between Evernote and Things.

Business book:

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t by Jim C. Collins.