A lot has changed for Rob since he began programming in QBasic, to starting his first business at age 15 calling local businesses with a offer to build them a simple brochure site.
All of which were successful, but he wasn't until his time at Cambridge University where he graduated with a BA Hons in Computer Science that he started developing technology, some of which they currently use at his company FusePump today.
FusePump, like any successful business was born over beers one evening, Rob and his co-founder Lee brainstormed the idea for the business on a sheet of wallpaper. FusePump helps create a better online shopping experience for consumers by delivering a consistent user journey.
In my interview, we discuss some of the keys that has helped him build his business into a succesful company, his background, FusePump and his advices for less-experienced entrepreneurs.
Hi Rob, How are you doing, great to have you on YHP?
I’m good – thanks for inviting me to contribute to YHP. Hope you’ll be interested in my story so far!
Could you quickly give us some background information about yourself? Tell me about yourself growing up?
I am Yorkshire born and bred and grew up in Bradford, where I went to the Grammar School. Thanks to one or two inspiring teachers, I became very interested in computers from a young age – but whilst all my friends were gaming, I was programming in QBasic!! It meant I was the butt of the jokes for a few years, but it served me well later in life as I eventually went on to study Computer Science at Cambridge and that is where I started developing the technology we use today.
How did you get into business? Were you exposed to entrepreneurship as a child?
I have been an entrepreneur since a very young age. I started my first business when I was 15, calling local businesses from a directory that had no website listed and offering to build them a simple brochure site. After a while, I started to come across more and more businesses who not only wanted to have a presence online but wanted to sell online too and that was when I started building ecommerce websites.
After my first few experiences, I quickly learned there was no point in building an ecommerce site unless you could find a way to drive users to that site, so I became very interested in Digital Marketing and in particular the ability to leverage other websites as sales channels. At the age of 16 I decided to start my own ecommerce site to put to work some of the techniques I had used for other people’s sites, and by creating an innovative web site that used dynamic price comparison to create offers in real-time as users browsed the site, I was able to make really healthy margins selling DVDs online.
Who was your inspiration growing up and why?
I took a lot of inspiration from my family – my dad had his own small business as an Independent Financial Advisor which really highlighted to me the benefits of working for yourself. My uncle was an entrepreneur too and did some really exciting things in Information Technology. I still don’t fully understand what those things were, but he must have done them very well and it was his success that really got me interested in high growth businesses and the lifestyle that goes with them!
So tell me how the idea for FusePump came about?
Over beers one evening – my co-founder Lee and I were brainstorming on a sheet of wallpaper because he was having his kitchen decorated.
What were you doing before you founded FusePump?
I had been working on ecommerce websites, including the DVD web site of my own. During my time at Cambridge I used my dissertation project as an excuse to build a platform for web data extraction and I was lucky enough to meet Chris whilst I was there. Chris has remained one of my best mates and is now the other co-founder of FusePump and our CTO – he is a technical genius and has been instrumental to our success.
What is FusePump? What are you guys trying to solve?
Our aim is to make multi-channel ecommerce simple for online retailers who sell many different products. We improve the online shopping experience for consumers by delivering a consistent user journey, and make our clients more money in the process!
What was your biggest challenge during the starting up phase?
Our biggest challenge was balancing supply (or production capacity, for us) with demand. We always seemed to have more clients who wanted to buy our services than we were able to service at the time. It might sound silly to turn business away, but it’s not easy to find and train staff on-demand and we were not prepared to compromise on the quality of our service by taking on more than we knew we could handle. Perhaps we were victims of our own success.
How were you able to fund the business?
We didn’t raise any funding from VCs or investors at the start and kicked off with only a relatively small amount of cash that we borrowed from the bank. We must have had a great business plan as it was slap bang in the middle of the recession and their purse strings were terrifyingly tight, according to the press. This meant we had to grow completely organically, generating enough cash from sales to cover our overheads at all times. It’s really hard work to achieve the level of growth we have in this way, but it’s satisfying to know we did it on our own and managed to retain our valuable equity.
What are the most crucial things you have done to grow your business?
Businesses are all about people – you cannot grow a business on your own, so it is crucial to find the right people who you can inspire to share your motivation and drive in the early stages. It took an awful lot of work to grow out each area of the business in the early stages, but I am now fortunate enough to be surrounded by a fantastic management team who I can trust to manage and grow their own business areas. That’s why I would say hiring sensibly and strategically is one of the most crucial things we have done to grow the business.
Would you say the business has changed from the first initial idea?
Absolutely – any successful technology business needs to be prepared to evolve constantly as market conditions and client demands change. We did a great job of listening to our clients and keeping agile during the early stages, and this was a key factor in our success. Now that we are bigger, it’s about creating an environment where innovation is encouraged and new ideas can be realised with minimal resistance. It takes some getting used to, but innovation doesn’t last forever and it can’t continue to come from the founders alone – it’s really empowering now to see newer and better ideas being developed all the time within the business.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
I am a bit of sales person at heart, so signing our biggest deal to date was probably one of the highlights for me. Before that, my highlight was probably signing what was previously the biggest deal to date and if you ask me in a few months, it will hopefully be signing the next biggest deal to date! Seriously though, the buzz of growing a business is that the highlights keep coming. There are over 40 of us in the office now, but I still get a massive kick every time I am able to go into the office and introduce myself to a new employee – people are the physical evidence that we are getting bigger.
What can we be expecting from your company in 2012?
We are releasing some exciting new products, which are going to really shake things up for our new and existing clients. We are also entering some new markets – including France, Spain, Germany and possibly the US. On top of that, we will be doing plenty more of the same stuff we have always done to help us achieve our target of another 100% growth year on year.
What three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
1.Make sure your idea rocks – don’t be secretive, talk to everyone you can and tell them what you are planning. It’s human nature to look for problems so don’t be disheartened when they inevitably pick your idea apart, just make sure you learn from their awkward questions. Once you have convinced yourself you are onto a winner, just go for it and don’t look back!
2.Surround yourself with the right people – you can’t do it on your own, even if you own the whole business you will need to hire if you want to get bigger! In the early stages, there is no substitute for enthusiasm so pick people who share your passion for the business above all else.
3.Always have a plan – your plan will probably need to change every 15 minutes so there is no point in writing it down, but always try to make sure you have one in your head. Entrepreneurs are takers of risks – but if you’re doing enough thinking, you should rarely encounter a situation that catches you off guard.