Learning the lessons of success at latest Future50 Live! conference
The most ambitious companies in the region were urged to hold on to their founding principles in the search for growth, as they gathered to hear inspirational stories of business success.
The Future50 Live! conference on Ipswich Waterfront attracted guests from some of Norfolk and Suffolk’s most exciting business prospects to hear from Jenna Ackerley, director of former Future50 member Events Under Canvas, Karen Longdin of Hoseasons’ parent company and Jason Hawkins-Row, chief executive of Acton-based Aponic.
Together they explored how entrepreneurs of the Future50 could move into the next stage of their growth, use the power of digital technology and expand without losing the culture and values of their own business.
Ms Ackerley explained how her business had exceeded its targets every year since being founded in 2013, and was on track to turn over £1m this year, two years ahead of schedule.
She said she had built the ethos of her company, which rents out tipis and tents for events, around providing what customers want, not what makes life easy for her.
“We took a tipi half way up Mount Etna in Sicily because a customer asked we could,” she said. “Then we asked ourselves: ‘Well, could we?’”
She added: “We ask ourselves what we can do to make our business better, and we are not afraid of the answers.
“I like change, as the owner of the business, and I’m very happy with the business evolving.”
To face that change as a team, she said she had had to trust her staff to make their own decisions, and acknowledged that may get harder as her team grew larger.
The theme of change was continued by Ms Longdin, the head of IT development and architecture at Wyndham Vacation Rentals, who told guests to focus on “a business vision, not a technology vision” when redesigning their digital systems.
“How do you want to interact with your customers and do business? How will you differentiate your product?” she asked.
“If you try to keep up with all of your competitors you will not keep up with any of them because the change is too big. You need to know how you will differentiate yourselves on a business level, not a technological level.”
Instead, businesses should focus on building trust with customers, ensuring they could access the business on the platforms they require, and exciting them with the quality of the product, she said.
“People are very good at describing the limitations of their current systems,” she added. “But if you keep focusing on what you can’t do today, then you will never be able to do what you want to do in the future.”
Mr Hawkins-Row of Aponic explained how he had devised a soilless growing system after having produce stolen from his allotment.
Seeking a way to grow fruit and vegetables quickly and efficiently indoors, he patented a design for vertical plastic tubes which use just 10% of the water of conventional farming, yet grow crops 30% faster and with 30% larger yields. They are being used by farmers in areas of the developing world where soil is poor, and also helping British farmers to turn derelict outbuildings into high-yield and profitable resources.
His advice for small business owners seeking external investment to grow was to understand the value of their business.
“When it comes to investors, they are not there for your own good,” he said.
“You can have investors in the room but the only reason they are there is because they don’t have an idea. You are more valuable to them than they are to you.”
The event was held at Isaacs on the Quay in Ipswich and was open to all Future50 member from the past three years.