Watch this space

Watch this space

Hard graft, a few risks along the way and some forward thinking has helped to cultivate a technology success story in a rural corner of the LS district. Andrew Mernin meets Blue Logic’s Dave Helm to find out more.

Hidden at the end of a 100 metre tree lined path, behind hedgerows down a country lane somewhere near Leeds, is the unlikely home of one of Yorkshire’s fastest growing IT firms.

Blue Logic, at Bramley Grange – a stately home converted into a technology hub – is enjoying a growth spurt and is now plotting expansion into new territories and product areas.

With a 50-strong team and some fairly heavyweight clients on board today, it’s hard to imagine that just six years ago the business consisted of a computer and telephone in a room without even a desk or chair. But this is how it began.

Dave Helm, having just left a well paying job, sat on the floor and worked the phone frantically as he set about drumming up clients for his new business. Helm, like fellow Blue Logic director Chris Ambler, and some other members of the team, previously worked for Yorkshire IT group BCS, which later became part of TSG following a takeover.

Having decided to go it alone in business, Helm recalls: “Myself and Chris [Ambler] raised the money to set up the business ourselves and remortgaged our houses. It was quite scary when I was seeing money going out of the business for equipment and furniture and I was thinking, ‘there’s no money coming in yet’

" I had to try and turn things around pretty quickly. “It was a bit crazy to be honest. I was speaking to as many businesses as I could, trying to become a trusted partner of companies with a customer base we could market into.”

An entire career spent in IT had given Helm a broad range of skills which shaped the services his new business was offering.

“I’m an ex-engineer from old really and moved into an account manager role halfway through my career and learned how to sell the consultancy from a consultant’s point of view. Engineering wise I had done it all from fixing printers, monitors, PCs and laptops, moving on to doing migrations and installing servers.”

The first real breakthrough for the business came two weeks into its trading life.

“I was starting to get bit worried, with my mortgage on the line, and it got to that point where I thought, had I made a wrong decision? I had left a comfortable job and was earning good money.

"But then I landed five contracts in one day. The contracts involved looking after the clients’ whole computer networks, whether that was the server, the network, PC, internet and emails. I was basically supporting their whole business from an IT point of view. I did the work myself initially so I was selling, buying [hardware and software], commissioning it, installing it and supporting it.”

By the time Chris Ambler had joined the business, it was starting to find its feet and by the end of the first year had a small team of six

It even had its first acquisition under its belt, having bought a firm called Premier IT out of liquidation for a cut-price £12,000 deal.

“Turnover wise we’d have been happy if we’d done about £300,000 to £400,000 in the first year. We actually did £650,000,” Helm says.

“In the second year, because of our reputation, more and more people started contacting us and it got to the point where we were saying ‘no, you’re too big’ to £200m turnover businesses who were asking us to deal with contracts worth £20,000. We told them we could manage them the following year, but not then with our team of six.

“I think it’s important to be honest in situations like that. Otherwise your reputation goes down, and you can end up spending all your time trying to fire-fight because you’re not ready or you don’t have the backing to do something good.

“What I was most surprised about was the fact that I had customers whom I’d been dealing with from being 18-years-old telling me they want to be on board and see what we could offer.”

Part of Helm’s motivation to set up in business initially was his frustration with an industry in which policies and procedures often hindered customer service delivery.

Since those heady early days, the company has established itself as a sizeable force, covering IT support, installation, business software, web services, networks and electricals. Helm attributes much of the company’s success to the firm’s carefully constructed team.

At the end of last year, turnover was at £3.5m and next year is expected to rise to around the £4.2m mark. In the next five to 10 years, the firm is hopeful of building up a 100-strong workforce and soaring past £10m annual turnover. As well as its office in LS14, the company has a site in Hull, which opened six months ago.

“There are only two or three major IT companies in Hull but there are some really big organisations. So we see a lot of potential in that market.”

Looking forward, the company is keen to gain a foothold in Manchester – a strategic location that would open up other parts of the country.

"The first thing we’ve got to do is master and dominate in this space but we are looking to cover the whole M62 area which at some point might mean we have a Manchester office. That would give us really big coverage when you think two hours north and two hours south covers Nottingham to the Welsh border up to Newcastle and across. That would definitely allow us to get to £10m.”

National coverage, meanwhile, is being enabled through Blue Logic’s involvement in a network of IT businesses which allows the firm to tap into the resources of others.

Should a client need some on-site assistance at its London office, for example, Blue Logic can oblige using the resources of fellow members of the consortium.

In terms of new markets, Helm outlines “the cloud,” disaster recovery and business continuity as areas bringing new opportunities to the company.

He says: “One thing we do not do is jump into new markets. We try to stay close to our competitors and we’ve found a lot of them have spent a fortune trying to put in new solutions that have hampered their growth in other areas.

“So what we try to do is look at the market and whether it’s worth doing something in-house or piggy-backing on a relationship with someone else to give a better rounded service.

“An example of this is with hosted services. We’ve seen companies pushing their clients into the cloud but they’ve been too early to adopt the technology and gone in too quickly, resulting in customer dissatisfaction.

“So we’ve researched the market and found a really good hosted provider that specialises in just doing that.” Since its inception, the business has made three acquisitions, and more could follow as it looks to realise its growth plans.

“We’re always looking to acquire new businesses,” says Helm. “We’re also looking to get into the enterprise space to deliver a fully managed service. We wanted to become the complete IT team for clients so we would have one of our guys there full time. That space is looking particularly good at the moment and we’ve already got some high level customers.”