What I Wish I'd Known
Five years ago Adam Stafford’s search engine optimisation (SEO) and web design agency Fresh Egg was on the brink of bankruptcy. Now the business has sales of over £2 million and Dragons’ Den star James Caan recently joined as chairman.
I started the business as way to escape the pain of cold calling for a software company. My sister took voluntary redundancy from her job as head of health and safety at the Body Shop to join me, and my friend Lee got involved too; he was finding it difficult to get work back then because he was in a wheelchair. Anyway, we did the classic internet start-up thing and just worked from home in the beginning.
Four years later, we had an office and were extremely aggressive about hiring new staff. I think we were almost measuring our success by the amount of staff we had. Crucially, we failed to concentrate on our core strengths by diversifying too much, for example partnering with another company to sell mobile phones. On our side, we delivered everything as far as marketing and how the website functioned, but the other company didn’t fulfil its obligations. Customers ordered phones that weren’t in stock. Orders were cancelled. I had to think about bankruptcy and make a number of staff redundant.
The whole experience proved to be a very steep learning curve, but I turned our fortunes around.
Enter the Dragon
Last April James Caan’s private equity firm, Hamilton Bradshaw, invested in us. I had met James at an event and we went for lunch a couple of times and he became interested in the business. He’s now our chairman and the investment has had lots of different benefits. It creates kudos with customers, as most people have heard of Caan, but aside from that we’re working with people who know what structure a business needs when you’re looking to grow quickly.
The company is now changing and evolving on a month-by-month basis. We’ve hired a sales manager and have a sales team in place, whereas for the past nine years we didn’t have one as it was just me who went out and won new business. Stepping back and allowing the new sales manager to take over has not been a problem in the slightest. I absolutely love it. I recognise that when people are better than me at something, I can learn from them as well.
Over the years, we have succeeded through word of mouth and having good customer retention. The downside is that this has made us lazy in winning new business. If I could have done anything differently, maybe I would have put those things in place a few years ago.
Up to this point, we’ve been extremely good at keeping ourselves quiet, but now that’s changing as we promote ourselves more, winning awards and industry accreditations in the process. That’s all welcome as the company pushes for growth; we’ve hired 20 new staff in under a year, bringing the total to 40.
Let's be candid
The working environment at our office in Worthing is a good one. I like people who are honest and I don’t have any time for office politics. There’s a big media hub in Brighton, which is nearby, and we attract a lot of people from there.
There are big plans to grow in 2010 and 2011. We want to increase turnover and hire new staff each month, so the goal is to be one of the biggest media companies in the UK over the next five years. It’s an exciting place to be and I think we’ve learnt from the past how important it is to retain focus and concentrate on what you’re good at; spreading yourself too thinly can be a costly mistake.