This year, Forfusion celebrates its 10th year in business. Starting from humble beginnings, white labelling services from a ‘broom cupboard’, Forfusion has grown into a multimillion pound consultancy hiring almost 40 staff, with international customers.
Why and how did you start Forfusion?
It’s simple really. Forfusion was founded on the belief that there was a better way to run a technology consultancy. Both by empowering colleagues to be the best they can be, and by ensuring customers get the maximum return from their technology investments. This meant from day one, return on investment was at the top of our agenda.
The founders had all worked for, or with the big technology systems integrators. So we set out, first and foremost, to build a business on what not to do, rather than on what to do!
And so, this founding belief has enabled Forfusion to displace much larger and longer established incumbent suppliers, but more importantly why customers regard Forfusion in such high esteem – by being a trusted, strategic advisor with long-term relationships. Not the high volume, transactional-based ‘throw enough s*** and it’ll stick’ approach.
We didn’t have it all our own way in the early days however. We had to start off by white labelling services, based in an office in Battersea no bigger than a Broom Cupboard to generate capital required to change our business model and deliver directly into end clients (now dubbed the ‘Broom Cupboard to Boardroom’ story).
None of the directors had any money to speak of, so with no capital injection, and no interest from venture capital. We had little in the way of options to get started.
Surely enough, over the years, Forfusion grew its customer base on its founding belief and ‘how not to do it’ philosophy. Before we knew it, Forfusion’s reputation for customer-centric ethos and of course outstanding capabilities spread far and wide, domestically and internationally. This meant we could stop white labelling altogether.
Thus, we no longer had to let others take all the reputational credit and lion’s share of the revenue for the cutting-edge work we were doing – and not a moment too soon!
What was the vision?
The initial vision was plain and simple. First and foremost, we knew we had to avoid making the mistakes that existing IT companies were making daily. The directors agreed on this one very important point, which even 10 years on, still rings true. I believe this has, and continues to prevent us from becoming complacent and taking things for granted – I like to think we will never lose sight of our initial vision.
How has that developed / come to life?
We progressed slowly and deliberately; arguably more slowly than we could have done. It was probably this approach that allowed us to lay foundations and make the right decisions early on in our journey. We were always planning and making provision for change, which looking back may well have hindered our progress slightly; however, it also provided us with a stable platform from which to grow. The fact we prepared well, meant we would later ride the waves caused by the recession; ironically, the awful events in 2008 and fallout thereafter probably presented the biggest opportunity. Customers began looking for agile and flexible partners, and so this gave us our chance.
What have been the proudest achievements?
That’s a great question… We’ve been growing so quickly recently it’s been easy to forget to stop, take a look around and reflect. In all honesty, I do think we’ve achieved an awful lot, but I’m also aware that we have so much more to do and to accomplish.
There have been a few proud moments, but I think the proudest moment of all, has got to be bringing our HQ back to the North East.
Four of our directors were born and bred in the North East; we all share a strong sense of pride in knowing we’re contributing to the region’s economy – we make it a top priority to bring youngsters up through the ranks via formal apprenticeships, as well as fast-track programs, which we’ve developed from scratch in-house.
What challenges do you face / have overcome?
We’ve had to overcome many challenges, mostly relating to cash flow and HR; probably one of biggest challenges was recovering from an incident that happened in the early days, when we needed cash the most. We were owed £15k by a serial rip off merchant (we didn’t realise at the time) – the individual in question took monies owed from a customer for services we had delivered, and then decided to file for bankruptcy, hence we didn’t receive payment. This single event very nearly led to the demise of Forfusion, it was our first very harsh and painful lesson.
What have you enjoyed the most?
That’s an easy one – tackling the unknown and testing myself as well as others. Tackling the unknown has been terrifying and exhilarating in equal measure, which to an extent is what has kept me on my toes, and as strange as it may sound, it’s helped me find balance. Working at an even pace without change doesn’t really suit me; I’m a risk taker at heart, so constant positive change works very well for me.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve found a real passion for all things business development and marketing, and have a vested interest in matters relating to mergers and acquisition (especially given some very exciting news we are due to announce soon!), but these topics are all relatively new to me and I have lots to learn.
What have been the inflection points in technology over the last 10 years?
From my perspective, these have been the rapid development of unified communications, security and cloud (inc. virtualisation) services and products.
New technology and the shift in working behaviours have both worked in conjunction, which has fuelled change across all market sectors. Remote working policies introduced challenges in respect of education, culture and trust; security became more prominent as a direct result of world-wide events such as data breaches; whereas cloud computing encouraged annuity based, arguably more economical service models, and is a topic that still very much divides opinion.
How have they impacted the business?
The inflection points have had a very positive impact on our business; it has however been necessary for us to adapt and change direction very quickly to accommodate change, which is a challenge we thrive on, and in fact something I feel we are well set up to tackle.
We tend to encourage change, whether it be technology, economics, or politics, because we know we can move more quickly than most. We’ve proved that agility and flexibility found in smaller organisations often trump other attributes so often promoted by larger businesses.
How will these impact the future?
Like they say, change is the only certainty in any business. The key is to be able to react quickly, and most importantly, to never ever become complacent. Fortunately, we have a very forward thinking and dynamic team. One thing I’m sure will happen, is that competition will become even more fierce, and margins will likely be squeezed further, but it’s then up to us to continually push the boundaries and innovate.
How is Forfusion preparing?
We focus on skilling up our in-house teams and apprentices across multiple technologies and vendors to ensure we’re prepared for the future. We’re always tweaking and refining the services we promote and sell to ensure we deliver in-line with market demand and changing trends. We’ve recently taken on two more directors, both of which will be helping us drive our managed services portfolio/ catalogue. One of the guys brings experience in the world or process and procedure, including deep understanding of ITIL and ISO. The other brings strong business development skills with extensive experience in relation to cost modelling and packaging of managed services.
Advice to other tech entrepreneurs?
Don’t be afraid of the unknown; instead, embrace it and meet challenges head on with every fibre of your being. In difficult and particularly stressful times, I will often look at myself in the mirror and say, ‘if you don’t give it a go, you’ll never know’. It’s amazing how much can be achieved through shear guts and determination, which if bolstered by a bullet proof and trustworthy team that possesses diverse skills and attributes, can be very powerful. Diversity counts for an awful lot in my opinion; it encourages tolerance, team work, moral responsibility, and just as importantly, it keeps things fresh and interesting.
Advice to yourself 10 years ago?
Be open to advice and constructive criticism, but don’t listen to the doubters. Always trust your gut instinct, never be afraid of failing, and always push the boundaries. Oh, and work even harder to be more tolerant and patient! I’ve had to work very hard over the past 10 years to become a more tolerant and more patient person, which I really did struggle with at the outset, and guess to an extent I still do. These are two of the many things I’ve learned from my business partners, which I most definitely could not have picked up from reading a book; this is evidence that building a diverse team and taking time to learn from one another is imperative.
How will the business develop over the next 10 years?
I hope we will continue to learn, adapt, grow, and use our knowledge and skills to give back to the North East of England. We will do everything we can to move with the times. We will continue to invest, for the good of our business, and for all employees that dedicate their time and effort to help our company meet its wider strategic objectives. We’re in business to build something special, a business that has longevity, not a lifestyle business that focusses on quick wins. We will always strive to deliver in-line with our slogan of ‘De-risking Digital Transformation’ for all our customers and partners alike.
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