From a stylishly renovated former church in the quiet Yorkshire town of Market Weighton, Simplytrak has been committed to developing some of the most innovative remote asset tracking and monitoring devices in the world…. and has sold them internationally to great effect. Going from strength to strength and now considered a leading company in remote tracking and monitoring systems, Simplytrak’s story is a model for entrepreneurs and start-ups desperate to succeed.
But like all success stories, it wasn’t always smooth sailing and the company has learned many lessons over the years. Now in the spirit of giving back, owner and director Andrew Johnson offers some top tips and advice designed to help start-ups succeed.
“The story of Simplytrak is one of change, of adaptation and innovation. One of seizing opportunities and being professional over taking short term profits” says Andrew, “because the big picture for building a sustainable company was always there.”
Part of Simplytrak’s success is the fact that, from the outset, the founders anticipated change. In the 14 years since it was founded, the company’s core technology has changed massively. With the arrival and widespread adoption of broadband, GPRS, smartphones and cloud computing, every technology change meant investment and adaptation.
From Windows 95 to Windows 10, since the inception of Simplytrak there has been numerous new operating platforms and browsers arrive on the market too, not to mention all the versions of iOS. Add in Android, Google Chrome et al and our developers have been kept very busy.
When Simplytrak’s first products were launched none of these technologies existed but today they all play a key role in the company’s products and what they can achieve for the company’s customer base..
Learning to adapt
The key to Simplytraks’ growth, as it is with virtually every successful business, has been its ability to learn how and where to adapt. According to Andrew Johnson, “few real entrepreneurs make good business growers over the long term. So you have to bring in smart people and basically make yourself redundant as much as possible from the day to day business”. Whilst the personality traits required for each business might be different, the need to change with your business or move on when it’s time to hand over the reins is a fundamental requirement in nurturing growth and success.
Think BIG, think globally
It’s a big world out there and another component that has led to Simplytrak’s growth is its penchant for tapping into the global market.
Simplytrak has sold into over 40 countries worldwide, using the internet extensively to find international clients and distributors. It did this because it had a global vision from the start. When enquiries came in from abroad, we made the trips overseas to bring on new customers and distributors. And in 2009, Simplytrak turned a simple enquiry about monitoring generators (something they didn’t do at the time) into a $2.5 million contract in West Africa, which took a full year to install and a lot of development to create the solution.
As Simplytraks’ owner describes, “technology is there as a tool but not as a crutch and it can drown you as easily as help you”. As technology can be prohibitively expensive, it is crucial that companies pick and choose their technology well. “Technology can be expensive, so choose well and ensure it is working for you and not the other way around”.
Even on a basic level, over the years Simplytrak has been through dozens of computers and laptops, most lasting just a couple of years each. Now the company essentially runs on MacBook Air’s. The initial investment for these might cost more but the user experience and lack of hardware issues has proven to be a huge saving for the company – most definitely an example of how companies should and can exploit the right technology to their advantage. Staff are happy and feel valued and the machines work with few issues. “Our servers are also out in the Amazon Cloud now. So maintenance is minimal once the correct setup and back-up’s are established”.
Watch the outgoings but focus on the incoming streams
Andrew also speaks of how a wise (and very rich) man once told him to focus less on what you spend and pay in tax and more on maximising your income. “It is easy as a start up to get bogged down in watching every penny and it matters initially that you run a tight ship. But once you get past that point, focus on revenue streams and take away the barriers to progress. You can’t do that if you won’t spend to allow it”.
Simplytrak took this advice on-board by sorting its income streams early and is always looking for new ones. It also deferred short term profit to build a 3-5 year revenue stream that saw it comfortably through the credit crunch that took down dozens of its competitors.
Don’t be afraid to invest to grow
Andrew Johnson warns that as your chosen niche will almost inevitably be invaded and become increasingly crowded, you shouldn’t be afraid to invest and land-grab now and build fast. “This was a lesson that we learned late and almost missed to some extent. When we started we had maybe four UK competitors. Now there are hundreds in the UK alone. A few of our competitors concentrated on winning Regional Council business, often tendering at a loss to win in the first place. Now, nearly ten years on, many still have that business and they have really cleaned up. If what you are doing is new, invest and land grab whilst you can. Your market will be busy before you know it”.
Look after employees
All businesses, big and small, are likely to lose people on their journey. People have lives outside of work and have many reasons to change jobs. Andrew advises that you should not take it personally but be aware why they leave when they do. It’ll stop you repeating the same mistakes.
“Some of Simplytraks’ employees have been with the company for more than nine of its thirteen years and for the first three years we didn’t hire anyone anyway. However, we did lose some quality people too on the way. Just now because of anything we did wrong necessarily”.
“It is vitally important to hire great staff and then treat them well. If you don’t, you will regret it later”.
Consider shareholder agreements systems and scalability carefully
In-keeping with Simplytrak’s wider business aim from the outset to ‘think big’, Andrew Johnson advises start-ups and entrepreneurs to set up everything from the start with future growth in mind.
“Firm friendships and business partnerships might not last forever – and lawyers are expensive. It is much cheaper to cover yourself now, even if you start full of enthusiasm as a team or partnership,” advises the founder. “Systems must be scalable or they will drown you in repetitive tasks and take your focus away from your core functions”.
And finally, don't forget to work ON the business, not IN the business. This might be easily written and hard to achieve, especially when you are lean and mean at the start and watching every penny and doing everything yourself. But without taking people on and delegating then you'll never grow beyond your personal capacity.
This blog post was written by Simplytrak, specialists in remote tracking and monitoring systems. Since entering the asset tracking industry in 2001, Simplytrak are one of the longest established companies in the business. Experts in fleet management systems and tracking, Simplytrak are committed to saving companies, including start-ups, money and time, and helping them operate with greater efficiency.
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