Adrian Stanbury, Rob Stanger and Ben Davison of Axiologik
Ben Davison, one of three co-founders of Leeds start-up Axiologik, tells BQ how the company is making complicated processes simpler for businesses across the country...
Tell us about Axiologik – what does the company do?
We provide programme and technical leadership for complex, technology-driven transformation programmes and also advise clients on how to improve the effectiveness of their transformation delivery.
Our background is in turning around and delivering some of the world’s largest, most complex and most challenged IT programmes and we now use that expertise to help clients maximise the value they get from their IT spend, whether just starting out or looking to dramatically improve delivery performance. Unlike many consultancies, our background is not in theory, but in practice – all our people have performed on the highest stage and in complex environments.
How would you describe your business to your grandma?
Businesses today spend a lot of money trying to use technology to establish an advantage over their competitors. We help them spend that money effectively and make sure they get the benefits they were looking for.
What did you do before you started this business?
Before we started Axiologik, we had held senior positions in large organisations with responsibility for delivering transformational IT projects, either for clients or for the business itself. Ben was joint managing director for Mastek, the global IT services firm, whereas Adrian was CTO and interim CIO at Morrisons, the FTSE100 grocer. Rob worked with Ben at Mastek, where he was their head of programme management.
What inspired you to start up?
We’ve known each other for over 10 years, having worked together on BT’s Spine programme, the mega-digital transformation programme to modernise the NHS and improve patient outcomes through better access to information.
From that point onwards, we spent a lot of time turning around struggling transformation programmes and, wherever we worked, the same set of issues have generally been the root cause.
We wanted to use our experience to help organisations avoid getting into difficulties in the first place and really get value from their IT spend. We’re passionate about delivering projects and programmes and we want to help clients fundamentally get better at delivering technology change.
Where do you get advice, support or help?
Over the course of our career, we’ve built up some really great contacts across various support disciplines – financial, legal and commercial. We’ve been very lucky in that our network has helped us set up our business or referred organisations to us. Specifically, we’ve used Serenwood for legal and commercial help and TLC Accountants for financial support.
We strongly believe in the value of networks and eco-systems and the support we’ve received from our network has reinforced that belief.
Finance is one of the most common barriers to starting up. How did you access the finance you needed?
Ours is a people business, so we didn’t need a huge amount of capital to start up. We obviously needed some investment for premises, infrastructure and other matters and we’ve paid for that ourselves. We’ve also retained a fair chunk of our consulting fees to date as working capital, so hopefully we won’t need to access any external capital for the foreseeable future.
What has been your biggest achievement so far?
We’ve won consulting engagements for some pretty big clients against some of the large, prestigious consulting firms. We’re really proud that, as a start-up, we managed to get ourselves considered alongside such prestigious names in the first place and really, really proud that clients chose us. For us, it gives us confidence that what we’re providing is a valuable service and something that the marketplace is looking for.
How do you differentiate your business from others?
At heart, we’re delivery and transformation people – i.e. what gets us out of bed in the morning is the ability to drive through a project, programme or business improvement. What makes us different is our track record of delivering those results in particularly difficult or challenged environments, again and again and again. In terms of what this means for clients, then it means that they can take confidence that our advice is pragmatic, practical and achievable as opposed to theoretical and divorced from reality, which can be the case with some advisory firms. We’re also incredible value for money when considering the benefit we bring.
What’s it like to be your own boss?
A peculiar combination of liberating, terrifying, stressful and hugely rewarding. The ability to shape something and build it from scratch is something that we all really wanted to do.
Where do you see your business in five years time?
Our philosophy is to employ the highest calibre people we can find and never to trade scale against quality. For that reason, I expect we’ll have experienced sizeable growth, but at the same time maintained a spotless reputation. For us, recommendations and word of mouth referrals are prime indicators that we’re providing value to customers and we hope that the majority of our business will still come from this route.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Be brave, but don’t overextend. It’s a rarity that business plans and projections survive first contact and you need to be prepared for the eventualities, either positive or negative. Also, make sure you have good advice available to you – there are lots of people who will help you now with a view to building long term relationships with you as you grow. Spend time finding them and make sure they’re prepared to tell you what you need to know, not what you want to hear.