IN this week's SME Focus we hear how two members of an entrepreneurial family found the challenges they faced in kilt retailing led them into the software development business.
What is your business called? Opinurate. We also own MacGregor and MacDuff Kiltmakers.
Where is it based? Glasgow
What does it produce, what services does it offer?
Opinurate is a software company that specialises in Customer Experience Management (CEM). It enables businesses to gain a true understanding of who their customers are and to develop a loyal customer base through its cloud-based tailor-made customer analysis platform.
Who does it sell to?
We have spent a lot of time developing a product that we think can be adapted to suit businesses of all sizes in all sectors, from SMEs to multinationals.
What is its turnover?
The business has been focused on developing the product to date and is yet to file its financial accounts. However, we are close to concluding contracts on a number of clients and project a turnover in excess of £3 million by 2017.
How many employees? Nine including myself and brother Dominic, who is also a director.
When was it formed? Opinurate was formed in 2010 and to date has been product-focused thanks to significant investments in December 2012.
Why did you take the plunge?
The idea for Opinurate was created when we spotted a gap in the market whilst running MacGregor and MacDuff Kiltmakers. The kilt market seemed to be a stagnant industry and we felt a number of cheap imported tartans were diluting the sector. We took on this challenge by adding new quality tartans and putting the customer at the heart of what we did.
As our customer base grew, we found ourselves looking for a software solution that could help us better understand and analyse our customer's experience so we could enhance it further. We quickly realised that there was no product to meet our specific needs. With the technology available we knew we could build a product that could meet our and other businesses needs, which inspired us onto a very different path.
What were you doing before you took the plunge?
Before MacGregor and MacDuff we had been working for several years at the family business, which is The Orchard Park Hotel in Giffnock. We learnt the importance of service and creating a good customer experience. We come from an entrepreneurial family so when the opportunity at MacGregor and MacDuff came up we knew it was our chance to take what we had learnt in hospitality and apply it to the retail environment.
Our accountants and lawyers thought this would not be a profitable business. Yet within eight years we grew it from two shops with seven staff and a turnover of £240,000 to a turnover fast approaching in excess of £2 million, at six locations, including Scotland's only full-time ex-hire shop, a new manufacturing unit, and with a team 50 staff. We credit this to understanding what it is our customers were looking for and meeting their needs.
How did you raise the start-up funding?
We were very fortunate to obtain £650,000 investment in 2012 from Kelvin Capital and Scottish Enterprise as part of the Scottish Co-Investment Fund. This enabled us to hire a skilled and passionate team to build the product to the quality and flexibility we wanted, and allowed us the time to develop the platform to where it is now. We also recently made the finals of the Scottish EDGE Awards where we were awarded £40,000 of funding.
What was your biggest break?
Finding our team of software engineers has definitely been our biggest break and enabled us to build the platform we sought to create. Our initial funding was instrumental in being able to do this and definitely empowered us to hire such a talented team.
What was your worst moment?
When we realised what we wanted to create in Opinurate, but lacked the finance and technical skills to build it ourselves. The time it took for us to gain both of these was frustrating, with many would-be investors taking the view that we were in the wrong hemisphere and that CEM was an American fad that would never take off!
Even when we had gained the necessary funds, finding the right technical team with the skills we were looking for took far longer than we had expected.
It has taken us four years to finally get the product to where we wanted it to be and to launch it to the market.
What do you most enjoy about running the business?
We still have a start-up mentality and work extremely closely as a team. This means that everyone is fully involved in the business, sharing ideas and learning from one another.
As a result, we are constantly opening our minds to new technology and learning about exciting methodologies from our programming team.
What do you least enjoy?
The recruitment process.
What are your ambitions for the firm?
We have global growth aspirations; which is why we chose to develop our product in the way we have - making use of mobile-based technology.
What are your top priorities?
To expand our client base as we get ready to grow our market presence; to expand our team of talented software engineers; to raise awareness of the importance of customer experience to businesses; to embrace new technology and continue to push boundaries to ensure our product is always at the forefront of the industry; and to practice what we preach and learn from our users, incorporating their feedback to continuously evolve and grow the business.
What could the Westminster and/or Scottish Governments do that would help?
Scotland has been noted for falling behind in the digital revolution with businesses complaining of a skills shortage in the software engineering sector. As a result many of these jobs are filled by overseas graduates.
With graduate unemployment still an issue, it is essential Westminster and the Scottish Government invest in Scotland's universities' computer science departments to ensure students have the opportunity to learn these innovative skills and to make sure that school-leavers see it is as a viable option.
It is expected that 9600 entrants will be required for the e-skills sector each year for the next three years. This is a huge opportunity for Scotland's students and indeed the economy.
What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?
To believe in your ideas and to embrace change. Self-belief was instrumental in the development of both our businesses. With MacGregor and MacDuff we were advised it would never be profitable and with Opinurate we were told we would never raise investment. However, the belief in our own ideas and determination to succeed has seen us make an ambitious change from retail to software.
How do you relax?
Dominic and I are both married with young daughters, so when not working we both like spending us much time as possible with our families.