IN this week’s SME Focus we hear how a business started in a Glasgow living room is helping international giants harness the power of apps.


Andrew Duncan.



What is your business called?

SwarmOnline Ltd.

Where is it based?

Glasgow’s Digital Media Quarter.

What services does if offer?

We help businesses move their applications to tablets, smartphones and wearables. For example we developed a tourist app promoting businesses and services for the city of Aberdeen, an app that allows engineers to track divers as they’re working on oil rigs and an insurance app that helps companies set premiums by tracking the claims history of specific properties.

The rapid increase in tablet and smartphone adoption means nearly every business is interested in how apps can help them improve their efficiency and reach more customers. Estimates show one million internal business apps will be developed in 2015 alone.

Whom does it sell to?

A range of large and small businesses in the private sector and across the public sector. We have enjoyed particular success in the energy sector having won contracts with companies such as E.ON and Scottish Power. We are also beginning to make in-roads into

the property market and have just secured a partnership with Vodafone, which is an excellent marker.

What is its turnover?

Last financial year it was £422,000 and we are on target to hit £1million this year.

How many employees?

12 multi-disciplinary experts from a range of industries. Most staff have PhDs and Masters qualifications and many have years of experience across international markets.

When was it formed?

2011 from my living room.

Why did you take the plunge?

When smart phones took off, it was clear to me that they had the potential to change the world. I was already passionate about technology and as a 17 year old built a WIFI network across the entire village of Drymen and connected homes together in an area where broadband didn’t exist.

Mobile technology took my interest to a whole new level a few years later. This combined with a tie up with a Silicon Valley software company, Sencha, to support their customers gave me the confidence to take the plunge. More than half of Fortune 100 companies now use Sencha to run their apps and I am one of the few recognised experts in this particular software that works across all mobile devices.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

After graduating from Glasgow University with a business degree, I was employed as a lead enterprise developer at the NHS, which basically meant I led a team to build groundbreaking web apps. One of the projects I worked on, that I’m most proud of, was a payment gateway that processes millions of pounds of payments for NHS Education for Scotland. This system is the new national learning portal for doctors and dentists, which enables them to book and pay for professional training and development. It’s responsible for a 33 per cent saving in admin costs.

How did you raise the start-up funding?

I worked hard, built clients and made money to fund the business organically. It was a bit hand to mouth at the outset, but I was determined not to start off with debt or obligations to anyone else. It was a calculated risk but it’s paid off and today we’re still organically funded.

What was your biggest break?

Winning our contract with E.ON in 2012 to build an app for their field team. Their technicians use the app to help them install smart meters across their customers’ homes and businesses. We’re still working with them today.

What may turn out to be our biggest break however, was an invite to speak at a major tech conference in Silicon Valley a couple of months ago to 700 industry leaders. I was the only UK speaker. I’ve spoken in the States before and was approached by one of the delegates afterwards, who told me he’d flown in from the UK specifically to hear my talk and check me out. I obviously said the right things as they offered us a major contract at the end of it.

What was your worst moment?

Growing the business from a home start up to 12 staff in eight months was a challenge and we suffered with a lot of growing pains. Recruiting the right staff in such a technical field is always going to be a challenge when you are competing on an international stage.

It has been a slower process than I would have liked to establish our international credentials, but overseas speaking engagements have really helped. I’ve also written two technical textbooks, which are now being used by developers around the world.

What do you enjoy most about running the business?

Running my own show, talking to people, growing an empire and the feeling of success after a good hard day’s work. There is also nothing better than hearing the impact our solutions have on our customers’ businesses and we work very hard at relationship management.

What do you least enjoy?

I get frustrated by the red tape involved in running the business. I also have very firm views and find it difficult when people don’t agree with me. I’m learning to be more diplomatic when dealing with difficult situations.

What are your ambitions for the business?

I want us to move from being solely a services company into a product development company that sells products and licenses in the property and utility space. Over the next three years I’d like staff numbers to hit 50 and we’re looking at a turnover of £10million in 2018. When I left university I set myself a goal of running a business with turnover of £10 million within 10 years – I rather grandly called it my 10/10 vision, but it’s now possible.

What are your top priorities?

Building pipeline and gaining traction in our key markets; keeping an eye on our competitors and seeing where we’re different; recruitment, which isn’t easy; to give back – teaching young people about IT and business; to play a major role in positioning Scotland as a leader in the field; to produce solutions which are used across millions of homes in the UK.

What could the Westminster and/or Scottish Governments do to help?

Westminster could firm up on the legislation around Smart Metering. Uncertainty is never good in business. The Scottish Government needs to make it easier for SMEs to get grants – the application process is incredibly time consuming. Governments need to shake off an inertia to change in the public sector.

What was the most valuable lesson you learned?

In our early days we perhaps rested on our laurels after achieving some success, but quickly realised that our customers expected more of us. Managing relationships with our key stakeholders is now a massive part of our business and we have got much better at it.

How do you relax?

I’m a bit of a foodie and think Glasgow has a fantastic choice of restaurants. I live on the coast in Helensburgh and enjoy sitting in the garden with a glass of wine. I also enjoy driving and find my trips to and from the office are ideal for unwinding and thinking.