The Challenges of Starting and Growing a Company
By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO
Reaching the ten year mark as a company really does make you reminisce. There are many good stories to share of course which we are doing as part of our #CV10Years series of blog posts; but as the Founder & CEO of Creative Virtual I wanted to share some of the *interesting* challenges we have faced over these ten years.
Trying to get money from the bank
The biggest challenge at the start is always one of funding. I believe the UK was then a relatively difficult country to start and grow a successful business. I think the start-up environment has certainly improved, but problems still exist – the banking environment being one area that still needs significant improvement. I decided to invest my own money in the company and at the same time apply for funding from the bank. The amount of forms and bureaucracy one has to go through with the bank, and the time it takes, is simply not compatible with a start-up situation. I was literally faced with making a choice between spending time focusing on dealing with the bank or winning new customers and partners. I was fortunate enough to be in a position to fund the company myself in the short-term so I made the choice to concentrate on winning sales rather than spending time jumping through the various banking hoops. I really feel for the start-ups that don’t have that luxury.
That first big deal
We were fortunate enough to quickly land one of the UK’s largest banks (ironically!) as our first customer which meant the decision to focus on sales rather than funding was definitely the right one! – and I never underestimate how much luck plays a part in situations like this. I’m very proud to say that they remain a customer to this day.
The legal battle & developing our own software
In 2007 we were faced with two of our biggest challenges. At that time we distributed a product for another company. To cut a very long story short, that company was taken over and the new owner decided they wanted the UK market for themselves and set out to try and remove us. A long legal battle ensued, and I became an amateur expert in UK and German corporate law around asset purchase agreements and copyright (it’s funny how life takes you down routes you never planned to go!). We won the case at the High Court in London; the entire episode went on for nearly three years and took an enormous amount of time and money – and although we got back the majority of our financial costs, the time is not compensated, which is something that I strongly believe should be addressed in cases like this.
In parallel with the court case, we embarked on a journey to develop our own software. This was an enormous task but gave us the opportunity to develop something unique in the marketplace, and I’m proud to say that our technology is now serving our customers and partners well, is winning global awards and is critically acclaimed as a key differentiator in the market.
With these challenges out of the way, the credit crisis and the associated global recession were just around the corner. Actually, with our own innovative software, together with a good customer and partner base, we were in a relatively strong position to weather the storm. We also embarked on our global expansion at this time – and in fact I’m writing this blog post on a plane heading to Australia for the official launch of our Australia and New Zealand business.
As our growth steps up a notch, fuelled by our global expansion, the next challenge will be to manage this properly; especially as we have grown the company organically without any external funding. It’s a real honour to lead a company that is truly defining a new technology space; and this is made possible through the quirky, fun and dedicated people that make up the Creative Virtual team.
Inevitably, company announcements are spun to be highly positive by the marketing and PR teams, but as part of our ten year blog series I wanted to highlight some of our challenges over this period; every start-up will have their own set of challenges of course, and my advice is that if it’s something you really believe in then stick with it!
Most entrepreneurs tend to be optimists by nature, myself included, but it’s really important to balance this with a good dose of realism. In the words of the late Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.”
Here’s to the next ten years and the new challenges that lie ahead!