Interview: FHL co-founder Andrew Peddie on creating a £2m-turnover scaleup
FHL’s rise from being an obscure Cheshire-based business software startup to a £2m-turnover scaleup with ambitious growth plans is the story of a gamble that paid off.
Speaking to Bdaily on the eve of the company’s 10th anniversary, co-founder and managing director Andrew Peddie explained how FHL started out.
“I worked for a conventional IT company selling Sage software like everybody else. We had about 140 customers, for whom we provided servers, networks. But in my opinion Sage was never really very good.”
Anything that could go wrong, Andrew said, did go wrong.
He wanted to tackle the problem by adopting a similar approach to a US technology company he once worked for that used a web-based application.
“I asked myself ‘Why don’t we find something like that? One that does accounting, but over the internet’. Of course, 10 years ago that was a bit radical.”
Andrew explained how research into alternative solutions led him to an application called NetSuite.
“I said to my colleagues ‘This looks amazing. What if we use this too?’ After about a year of using NetSuite as well, we took it to the customers. But every one of them said there was no way they were ever putting their data into a website. The other directors were not interested, but I really wanted to do it.”
Really, the best thing, the best feeling for us is seeing how our team has developed
Deciding to turn the potential he saw in NetSuite into a new business, Andrew parted ways with the company.
“One other guy, Darren Birt, who’s my business partner now, said that he’d come with me. So we left, with no money, and gave them back their shares in the company to start out on our own.”
FHL has since transitioned from startup to scaleup, achieving exponential growth with a steady profit and turnovers of £1m, £1.3m and £2m in the last three years.
Andrew partly attributes the success to FHL’s advocacy of in-house personal development and its apprenticeship and graduate recruitment schemes.
Looking back over the last 12 months, Andrew said: “Really, the best thing, the best feeling for us is seeing how our team has developed.
“When we get recognition from NetSuite for being its European partner of the year, everyone in the office is buzzing.
“We’re based in a little business park on Radway Green. All the companies around us are in more traditional fields. And yet we have this cutting-edge technology and are tucked away in the corner of the business centre.
“So it’s that: watching our team grow from just two of us to over 50. Watching that continue to mature and develop was definitely a highlight last year.”
Every one of them said there was no way they were ever putting their data into a website
Andrew said he also draws deep satisfaction from the variety of the businesses in FHL’s client portfolio.
“Knowing that we can help Wigan Warriors and other big names in the region, it’s satisfying.”
One of the firm’s biggest challenges, Andrew told Bdaily, is being sure to set realistic expectations.
“A lot of people want the services we have to offer, so if you’re not careful you can easily take on too much. Even if you’re well meaning, you can still end up letting people down.”
Just last year, FHL had to turn down a number of projects.
“Obviously, we’re in a lucky position to be able to turn down work,” Andrew said. “But we just didn’t have enough people to warrant taking that chance.”
Looking ahead, Bdaily asked Andrew about FHL’s medium-term vision. Where does he hope to see the business in five years’ time?
“The technology arena,” he explained, “is constantly shifting.”
He pointed to the $9.3bn deal in 2016 that saw NetSuite snapped up by US software giant Oracle as an example of the industry’s dynamism.
The opportunity’s there, and I’m talking to various people about the potential for scaling the business
“This little software firm we partnered with is bought by a huge organisation with thousands of employees. And since then, we keep getting phone calls from companies that are a lot bigger than the ones we’re used to working with.
“The opportunity’s there, and I’m talking to various people about the potential for scaling the business times five or times ten in the next two to three years.”
Asked if Britain’s departure from the European Union could in some way curtail those plans, Andrew remained optimistic that FHL would avoid any huge impact.
“With what we do, we only need to take on two customers per month, so I don’t think it will really. Something pretty drastic would have to happen for us to be unable to find the work.
“I really don’t see it impacting us too much at all. Obviously, when the rate between the pound and the dollar or the euro changes, that would affect us because we’ve got a partnership with a US company and customers in the Eurozone. We’ll have to see.”