The Business Owner: Sean Hoban, Kimble Applications
The founder talks about the importance of cash management in modern business, and about creating the right culture
Name: Sean Hoban
Company: Kimble Applications
Founders: Sean Hoban, Mark Robinson and David Scott
Location: Headquartered in London with offices in Boston, Massachusetts and Park City, Utah
Proposition: Kimble is a leading cloud professional services automation vendor
Size: Over 50 employees (and growing)
How is your business different from what’s already out there?
The founders of Kimble had all previously founded, grown and sold professional services organisations and Kimble came about due to our frustration with the business systems we had previously used.
Running a project-based consultancy brings with it many specific challenges, such as ensuring that the management team has the right, reliable information that allows them to delegate decision-making to the right people.
Perhaps most importantly, project-based work differs from product sales in that it sells people, knowledge and expertise.
Accordingly, resource planning has to be spot-on: project-based consultancies can’t afford unpredicted spikes and troughs in activity – it can’t suddenly make its year’s revenues in the last quarter.
We created Kimble to address these myriad challenges.
How did you finance your business?
In our previous business, we’d had a really good experience using a mix of venture capital, angel, friends and family investors.
Having given a big return to these investors previously it was relatively easy to get them on board again.
So we were in the fortunate position of being able to select the angel investors from people who we felt would not only provide equity but would also be able to provide a contact network for us to leverage.
What is the most important thing to keep track of in business and why?
“Cash is king” is an old adage but it is just as true in today’s cloud software world.
If cash management is not an issue, then I’d question whether you are growing your business fast enough.
In an annuity-based model like ours, it is important that the cash we receive when our customers sign up for their annual term is used to maximum effect to grow the business.
If we don’t deploy the cash sensibly in hiring new staff, or building our brand with marketing activities, we would generate cash, but not grow our business.
It is key to continually invest in the necessary infrastructure to support existing customers and acquire new ones.
What is the biggest day-to-day challenge you face?
Getting to spend enough time with the people in our organisation.
There’s always so much going on that it can be tough to catch up with people to see what’s happening in their world and get their point of view of how everything is going in the business.
We do make a point of celebrating successes we have as a team, whether that’s an in-office catch-up or a trip to the pub.
What marketing techniques do you use to attract new customers?
We focus on identifying the key personas in our target audience using products like LinkedIn.
We then create content focused on thought leadership rather than our product features to engender their interest.
We also use a broad mix of marketing such as events, webinars, and exhibiting at trade shows and conferences as well as re-targeting.
We alter the channel we use depending on who we’re targeting.
Do you think it’s important for small businesses to export, any tips?
It depends on the business, but for us exporting is something we’re really focused on.
For example, the US consulting market is around ten times the size of the UK so there are huge opportunities for us there.
However, I’d make sure you are exploiting your local market first, before expending significant funds in an unknown market.
Ask yourself: “If I looked out two years, would I be more likely to be successful in another market than by doing something new or having increased focus in my local market?”
It is vital to be involved personally in any expansion activities, as these are typically the most risky.
If you are serious about opening up outside the UK, then make sure you are responsible, rather than relying on someone new remotely.
You are the best qualified to fix problems or capitalise on opportunities.
What’s the business app you couldn’t do without?
But I am also passionate about using Salesforce.
Even if you are a start-up, having a 24×7 handle on your business pipeline is essential and no-one does it better than Salesforce.
Describe your company’s culture in three words:
Innovative, focused, passionate.
What would you like the government to do for small business?
Having been doing business in the US of late, where regulations vary state-to-state, has made us realise the UK is pretty good in comparison!
I do think that the government could make it easier for small businesses to take on new staff, especially with high-tech skills.
It is vital that new graduates are given the opportunity to get on the first rung of the job ladder.
Who’s your biggest small and medium enterprise hero?
Stephen Kelly, the CEO at Sage, is a great champion of both UK tech and small businesses. I am fortunate to have been able to work with him through our partnership with Sage and his advice and passion is always welcome.
Where do you want the business to be in three years?
We plan to grow at around 70% each year for the next three years and from the reaction of consulting firms to our product, I see no reason why we can’t achieve that.
I’d like to think that our brand will be known as the de-facto tool for helping ambitious consulting firms achieve their growth plans.
What’s your top tip for keeping it lean and making profit?
Create a culture in which forecast accuracy is valued by every person in your business.
If you are confident about what numbers you will hit, you don’t need to waste time reviewing past performance, as there is not much you can do about it.
Focus everyone’s time on reviewing the forecast and pre-empting impediments, to positively impact the future.
Even if the forecast doesn’t make pleasant reading, if you have confidence in its veracity you have time to take the appropriate action.