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Getting ahead of the game in event and ticketing software

IN this week's SME Focus an entrepreneurial veteran of the care sector explains how an interest in horse racing led her into the software business.

AMBITIOUS: Nanette Aitken, founder of Serendipity EMS, aims to expand the company towards a stock market flotation and initial public offering within the next five years.
AMBITIOUS: Nanette Aitken, founder of Serendipity EMS, aims to expand the company towards a stock market flotation and initial public offering within the next five years.

Name: Nanette Aitken.

Age? 47.

What is your business called?

Serendipity EMS.

Where is it based?

Troon, Ayrshire.

What service does it offer?

We have developed ticketing and Event Management Software (EMS), which makes the entire sales process transparent, highlighting where sales originate and which marketing collateral was responsible for driving sales.

Who does it sell to?

Our clients include racecourses, theatres, sports halls, arenas, stadiums and other venues across the UK. We recently won our first contract within greyhound racing (with GRA which operates four tracks including Belle Vue in Manchester) and are presently targeting other sports clubs. Key clients include: Arena Racing Company, which operates 15 racecourses across England and Wales - including Doncaster and Royal Windsor ; Grampian Police; Glasgow City Council; Inverclyde Council; East Dunbartonshire Council; Irish Revenue; Dell; Virgin Media and the NHS.

What is its turnover?

Our projected turnover for this year is £1.2 million rising to £1.8 million within 18 months.

How many employees?

Five.

When was it formed?

November 2011

Why did you take the plunge?

As a shareholder in Ayr racecourse, I'd become aware of counterfeit tickets and, together with my husband, established Serendipity to develop software to address this issue.

As we had no programming skills ourselves, we put together a team of programmers which, over a two year period, developed software that could effectively resolve the issue and prevent ticket fraud by making each ticket unique and fully traceable. I also believed our Cohesive Sales & Marketing Module could help win them new business. There is nothing worse than receiving a discount offer the day after you have made a purchase - our software stops that kind of thing happening. The system makes it easier to sell online and integrates directly with our clients' existing websites. With hospitality and table planning tools, it also allows users to organise hospitality as well as weddings and other non-racing functions. When we put the system into Ayr racecourse the result was an immediate uplift in revenues of 21 per cent in year one. We then took the system to Northern Racing PLC, who were initially sceptical that ticket fraud was an issue, until they trialled our software and soon discovered a significant uplift in their takings.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

I worked in the care home sector for many years and operated Glenfairn House, Carrick House and Suncourt House in Ayrshire. But I found the care home sector required all my time and, ultimately, felt it was time for a change because my work was impacting on all other aspects of my life. I decided to sell all but Suncourt House last year in a multi-million pound deal.

When I came to run Serendipity, I found out how much simpler running a business could be! When you're used to complying with all the rules and regulations around operating a care home, then delivering the service that Serendipity does now is relatively straightforward.

What was your biggest break?

Landing the Arena Racing Company contract in 2012. Arena operates 15 racecourses across England and Wales and other racecourse owners quickly followed suit on learning of the benefits that our system delivered to Arena, it's very satisfying when I pick up a paper to often see that all the day's racing throughout the UK is being managed by our system.

What was your worst moment?

Probably when designing the reporting systems for EMS - I remember being surrounded by around 22 different spreadsheets and having to navigate my way through reams of data.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

Meeting people and getting out and about. A day at the races is a great day out. Some of the racecourses we deal with are fabulous places to visit - Royal Windsor, which is overlooked by Windsor Castle, being a fine example. It's the only one I've been to where you can arrive by boat as the Thames meanders through the course.

What do you least enjoy?

The bulk of our client base is south of the border so travelling is a necessity, but not something I relish particularly, especially if the journey is longer than four hours or so.

What are your ambitions for the firm?

To provide a fantastic service for our clients and to continue to grow the business organically, expanding towards a stock market flotation and Initial Public Offering within the next five years.

What could the Westminster government and/or Scottish government do that would most help?

Both governments could help by accelerating their commitment to cut back on the amount of red tape associated with running a business, thereby helping small businesses grow.

What was the most valuable lesson you learned?

We operate within a dynamic market with ever changing competitive threats and opportunities and I'm learning how to address both head on.

How do you relax?

I go show jumping with my daughter Annaliese, a prize-winning show jumper.

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