Name: Samantha Deeks
Job title: Founder, CEO
Time in current role: 2 years
Why did you decide to start your business?
I saw an opportunity and I was in a position to take it. So I did.
The company I had previously co-founded and which had been sold to a large corporate was being dismantled. It still had a good customer base so I took my payoff, contacted some talented designers, developers and security experts and decided to meet the needs of that customer base.
I was able to do this because every last scrap of cash I earned from the acquisition went into my mortgage so I could afford to earn nothing while the business established itself. Being prudent with your finances can really open up the opportunities that are available to you.
What are the key functions of your role?
My role is to ensure the success of the company and to have a good time doing it. And that’s everyone else’s role too. We all work together to make sure we retain and expand the customer base in a way that makes us all proud and happy to come to work.
To be more specific, I have taken on the twin roles of sales and product development. Now product development is my true love as I’m a problem solver by nature. I can’t bear to see things done badly or inefficiently without immediately going into ‘fix it’ mode (which is why I hate going to my doctor’s office) and working out how to make things better.
When I hear of a report taking all day to prepare I turn into Monica from ‘Friends’ when confronted with a dirty fridge. I positively salivate at the thought of working out how to make it better with the help of my great developers and designers. Then there’s the fun of unveiling it to the customers and new business leads and hearing the ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaahhs’ – I do rather live for the praise.
Sales does not sit as comfortably with me, however it’s possibly the most important role for any founder to have because this is what keeps you on the straight and narrow. It doesn’t matter how cool you think your product is – will it sell? And if it doesn’t sell now, what could make it sell in the future? Without being in front of people day in and day out and hearing their feedback, their problems which need solving and their objections to buying, you won’t get anywhere.
Talk us through your typical working day
This question really made me laugh. I have no typical day other than I typically have to deal with:
- my six-year-old son, his social life, his quirks and his general nuttiness
- London transport if I’m going into town for meetings, or my cat if I’m working from home
- new business calls and new business leads
- product roadmap juggling based on customer feedback and new business leads
- chatting with my team over Slack / hangouts / video conferencing (we all work from home)
- trying to get some exercise by running a couple of times a week
- networking via LinkedIn and seeing what the industry is up to
- trying to make sure I have something interesting to talk to my partner about over dinner
- working hard to make the company successful and my team and I happy.
My life is organised chaos and I like it that way. I’ve tried to have a routine but I routinely fail at that so I prefer to embrace the wonderful weirdness of daily life.
Your favourite part of the job?
Building a web feature that the whole team and customer base loves, seeing the team swell with pride as we win another customer and feeling part of a really wonderful team who all support each other.
…and the part you could do without?
Most forms of procurement and tender writing.
How would your staff and clients describe you in three words?
Very annoyingly optimistic.
Plans for the future?
Wow. Plans are big for the product and the company. Our fantastic customers keep giving us more and more ideas and we’re eating them up. So for me, more of the same. Plus slightly less eating of cheese.
Do you have any advice for other aspiring entrepreneurs?
God this is hard. Advice is something you give away because no one would pay for it but here goes:
- In your normal job, act like an entrepreneur. Work out ways to make yourself heard and get what you want done. Network, think imaginatively, be bold or be diplomatic, be whatever it takes to get your end goal.
- Build up a network of contacts and make time for people. Now I don’t mean just collect them like stamps, I mean get involved. If you deal with customers or suppliers make sure you find out about what makes them tick. Look out for opportunities for them. Help your colleagues get ahead, understand them and what motivates them. Even the twits. If you walk a mile in their moccasins you’ll normally find a nugget of goodness there. My contacts have been my greatest source of wealth in my journey so far. And by that I don’t just mean monetary – they’ve helped to keep me sane with encouragement and kind words – two things whose value can never be underestimated
- Partner with someone you trust because you can’t do it all. Or it is unlikely that you can and that’s really not a bad thing. I know that I’m good at talking to people (customers, new business leads etc.) and truly amazingly bad at managing people. I had also never run a company before and was terrified of falling foul of any financial rules and regulations. So I partnered with my colleague Paul Stubbs who is without doubt the best people manager I have ever met and has tons of commercial experience with managing his own business. Add to the mix that we really like working together and it is a business partnership made in heaven.
- Take care of your mental health. Every day you will be faced with challenges which, whilst being professional in nature, are felt very, very personally. It’s your baby right? There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t hear those voices saying: “What were you thinking of? This isn’t going to work,” and when those are combined with losing a sale or a feature which isn’t working as well as expected then you can have dark moments. The key is to know that everyone has dark moments. I go running for my mental strength. Other people do yoga or swimming or walking. Whatever it is that centres you and brings you back to the here and now – where you are alive and building something great – you need to build that into your plan. After all you start a business not just to make money but to make you a happier person. Never forget that criteria of success or it can all go horribly Pete Tong.
- Oh, and don’t forget to keep your costs low. LLY