A basement cinema by Finite Solutions
Simon Mathieson was one of three former Leeds University students who set up Finite Solutions in a back bedroom in 2003. Today, the smart home specialist is set to turn over £4m and is on the verge of opening its fourth UK office. BQ found out how they made it happen...
Tell us about Finite Solutions, what does the company do?
Finite Solutions provides consultancy, design, installation and servicing for smart home automation, entertainment and security systems. We also provide complete turn key solutions to cinema and media room design and fit out encompassing all aspects of building, joinery and interiors work and have a fast-growing lighting design and control department.
How did the company go about? What inspired you to launch it and why did you decide to go into the services industry?
I started the business with two friends from university as we all shared a love of music, films and technology. At the time, I was working for a HiFi retailer, and my partners were working as an electrician and computer programmer respectively. We identified a need in the market for professional installation for more complex home technology and with our combined skills we saw a great opportunity.
How did you first get the company off the ground? How did you get the word out there?
We started out by installing for the HiFi store that I worked for. At the same time my business partner created a website that was very well optimized for the time and so we quickly gained new clients through this channel. Word of mouth and recommendations from clients and influencers such as architects brought further business and we soon became a successful business with capacity for growth.
Why did you choose to launch the business in Yorkshire?
We all lived in Leeds at the time so why not. Back in 2003 Yorkshire was really starting to embrace home technology but more as a luxury feature. These days, technology is seen as a must have, not least for adding value to property.
Were you faced with any challenges along the way? If so, how did you overcome them?
Yes we have faced many challenges technically, operationally and financially but as a team we have always overcome them with perseverance and strong resilience. It can of course be very difficult I some cases but I believe that our ‘hands on’ approach allows us to experience them first hand and learn how to deal with them. We always do our research so don’t often experience unwanted surprises. We also retain financial stability in the business so cashflow is always strong.
Did you receive any support in terms of advice and funding?
No. We make sure that the team is fully trained on latest technical developments so that we are well equipped to advise clients. Our people and our knowledge is what sets us apart, not necessarily the product. We have always been self-funding, preferring the stay cash rich that borrow. After six years in trading we did appoint an non-executive who has been very valuable in advising on business growth.
How has your product offering since grown since 2003? How much have you seen the business and the industry change?
There are now of course many more companies in the sector and many electricians claiming to be able to provide the complete service. Approximately one third of our work is correcting the mistakes made by these companies that are simply not trained adequately, which is always frustrating to see.
In recent years we have seen a huge growth in demand for lighting design/control and home security is also becoming an ever larger part of what we do. Since most things are now reliant on the internet, installing a home wifi network of high quality is now a priority for every project. This certainly wasn't the case when we started the business and so high level networking technical skills very important.
How much has the company grown year-on-year since then?
In our first year Finite Solutions turned over £70,000 and went on to double its turnover year on year for the next five years with no outside investment. We now operate with offices in Yorkshire, Cheshire and London and employ a team of 33. We have achieved 15 CEDIA awards (the industry governing body) – more than any other installation company across Europe.
We are committed to drive the business to exceed targets year on year and in 2015 were delighted to report a 40% increase in turnover to £2.7m and a 25% increase in 2016 to £3.4m. We are well on track to achieve our 2017 target of £4m.
What do you put the company’s continued success down to?
Hard work, integrity and a desire to complete the job to the highest standards. It sounds twee but we all share a passion for what we do so any compromise would let us down individually.
We also work well with our partner companies of which there are many, from product suppliers to sub-contractors and of course advisers such as architects and builders. We treat them with equal respect which is important in this industry, especially when working together for a seamless result for our clients.
Our ability to follow fast moving technological trends and intuitive skill in recognising the next big thing keeps us on top of our game in providing the best possible systems and products that are future proof and reliable. We have an award-winning show house in Leeds and great demonstration facilities in London and Manchester which are critical to showing clients what we can achieve and product performance.
What are now your most popular services?
Home cinema, Smart Home automation including integrated smart lighting, AV, Heating and security… all controlled from anywhere in the world.
You also have offices in Cheshire and London now – how did they come about? Why those areas?
We always knew there was a strong market in London but felt that base was essential so when the time was right (we won a huge London contract) we appointed a business partner who knew the market well and could run the day to day operations. Since then the office has seen great success and there is so much more potential for growth.
Cheshire was simply where a lot of our work came from and it reached the point that an office with sales, engineering and local service support was needed.
Looking forward, what are your plans for the future? How do you see the business growing?
We will continue organic growth in each existing office and open a new base in the midlands.
We also intend to add electrical services to our offering, not just to make the process easier for the client but also for us in taking responsibility for the entire job.
We expect to see a huge growth in lighting as our clients become ever more aware of how much impact a good lighting can have on their homes.
Corporate business is also a key growth area for us and we have just completed a fantastic boardroom system at our show house in Leeds for demonstration.
As a successful entrepreneur, what is the secret to your success? What tips would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Hard work, determination and working in partnership with people that you know well and trust completely. A non-executive and the advice and experience that they offer makes a huge difference and I think in hindsight we would have made this appointment sooner had we realised.