Thomas Granier is the founder of Equal Experts, a professional service firm that delivers Application Development services to blue chip clients, including major investment banks and leading Telecom companies.
I spoke to Thomas about how the idea for the company came about and how he’s managed to grow it to its current level of success.
Can you give us some background information about yourself?
For the last two decades, I have been building large-scale bespoke software solutions for blue chip clients, working in various IT consultancies in France, the U.S. and for the last 10 years in the UK. I played a lot of different roles in delivery teams from Software Development to Business Analysis to Project Management.
Tell me how you initially got into business?
In 2005, I had a great opportunity to start contracting as a freelancer. Because the client required consulting on a wide range of topics, I was able to bring on board more people and kick-off what was at the time a very small consultancy but the important thing is that it wasn’t just about me anymore.
How did the idea for Equal Experts come about?
I always wanted to build a different kind of organisation – a structure that goes beyond employee/employer relationships. After many years of working in professional service firms, I could see there was a different way to do this – by aggregating talent in a network of trusted associates, I could create a far better deal both for the customer paying for the service, and for the consultants performing that service.
Tell me about the early days, what was the hardest part of starting the business?
The early days were not the hardest actually – I had secured my first customer beforehand. It was all down to managing that relationship while securing a second client.
How did you initially get traction?
Early on, business essentially came through word of mouth. For many years, we had a very limited number of clients but developed long term relationships with them. Our big break came when my new business partner, Ryan Sikorsky, landed a major account and turned it into our longest standing client, which we still have today.
How have you been able to fund it so far?
Our main financial challenge relates to the management of working capital as the business grows rapidly. We have made the choice to reinvest a high proportion of profits to provide the required level of working capital without resorting to external sources of finance.
What is Equal Experts? And what are you trying to solve with it?
The short version is that we are a bunch of old geeks - we are fed up with the complacency of many IT consultancies and we want to do it properly.
The long one is that we are a niche supplier of bespoke software solutions to blue chip clients. Our consultants are all senior freelancers, from our highly selective network of like-minded associates, built organically through personal referrals.
With fewer overheads, less waste and a bigger concentration of talent than traditional consultancies, we are more able to provide fair value for money to our customers. Likewise, we share far larger chunks of the value created with our associates – as well as a working environment with less politics and more freedom. This means we can attract outstanding, empowered individuals.
Our objective is to scale further while staying true to our model, so we can become a disruptive force in IT professional services - effectively curtailing the waste, frivolous spending and delivery failures that are too often synonymous with large programmes within corporates and traditional IT suppliers.
What are the most crucial things that you have done to grow your business?
• Getting a business partner that complemented me.
• Focusing on developing strong relations with a small number of clients.
• Doing the right thing by the customer even when it cost us money in the short term. It’s a great way to build long-term relationships with your clients.
They are so many challenges that entrepreneurs go through trying to build a company or making it successful, can you share a challenge you faced and how you overcame it?
I’m drawing a blank – still feels like I’m facing lots of challenges and not overcoming many!
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
Having enough cash to bring on-board a few great people who do very well things I don’t know how to do, and who are a pleasure to work with.
What should we be expecting from yourself and the Equal Experts team in the next coming months?
Our newly formed product development incubator is launching a B2C product this quarter, and a few more promising joint ventures are lined-up for 2014. It is really exciting to be able to put our money where our mouth is and diversify our activity.
Lastly, what three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
I’m not sure I’ve got very original advice here:
Be persistent but not stubborn – chances are, it won’t work at first or it will nose-dive after some time. You’ve got to keep at it, especially when things look doubtful. Never do the same thing over and over again if you don’t get the expected result. Revisit your approach constantly.
Do this because you really, really, really want to create something you care about – not just to make money.
Have an exit strategy – figure out what will happen if it all falls in a heap (mine was my wife going back to work full time – thank you!), it reduces the stress and you can perform better.