2021: a year of innovation and ambition, laying the foundations for growth

2021 End of year round up

It feels like yesterday that I was writing our year in review for 2020. What a whirlwind the last 12 months have been. You think that when your business comes out of the start-up phase, things slow down. In fact, the pace increases alongside your own drive and ambition. Every success spurs you on to the next.

For us at BigChange, 2021 was a crucial year: we won significant investment and began building the foundations that will allow us to achieve incredible growth over the coming years. Here are some of our standout milestones and achievements.

Starting the year with a bang

In February, we announced that BigChange had raised £75m from Great Hill Partners, an growth specialist based in Boston, and that post-deal, BigChange was valued at £100m. This was an amazing time for me and the whole team here, as it crystalised that we were a market leader in our industry, and that we were really going for growth. We are aiming for unicorn status within the next few years, and we know we’ll get there.

We have gone from strength to strength since Great Hill came on board, bringing enormous expertise across international expansion and more. We have been able to invest across all areas of the business, and I have been able to move into a chairman role, which has been an exciting new challenge.

Consistently wowing customers

It’s easy to talk the talk but sales prove you can walk the walk. BigChange continues to win new customers and this year alone we secured £23m-worth of new contracts, taking our annual recurring revenues towards £20m. We have brought in 300 new customers over the past 12 months and now have a total of over 1,700 customers, with 50,000 users on our system.

Some of the brilliant new customers who came on board in 2021 include: double glazing specialist Anglian Windows; Sapphire Utility Solutions, which maintains water, wastewater and gas utilities; state-of-the art car repair centre Vertu Accident Repair; JBC Industrial Services, the leading industrial boiler and burner service and maintenance provider; Genting Casinos; and document-management company Shredall. It brings me great pride to see BigChange helping such a broad range of sectors.

Loyalty and customer satisfaction

It’s not all about new customer wins; at BigChange, we never stop trying to wow and delight our existing customers too. This is why we are so proud that we have retained our world-class Net Promoter Score of 80 plus. This compares to an average of 32 for most companies, so we are chuffed to bits with that. As we have grown, we have always tried to stay approachable and customer centric. We may be a technology company, but we still have a beating heart, and this NPS proves we are striking the right balance.

A lot of new faces

There can be no growth without a winning team, so we have made a significant investment in people this year, going from 170 to 250 colleagues. We have bolstered every part of the business, from our development department to the executive team. We now have the talent and expertise in place to give BigChange every chance of a storming 2022. It’s not always straightforward for a fast-growth technology company to find skills but we have managed to increase headcount by 80 because the culture here is second-to-none, as proved by our Best Companies to Work For two-star award this year.

Innovation at our core

We never rest on our laurels here at BigChange and in 2021 we completed 20 new development releases with lots of new features and innovations. Our customers have more control than ever before and are able to tweak the platform to the exact needs of their teams and business models. To ensure a steady pipeline of new, great features, we have also created The Big Ideas Portal so that customers can see what we’re working on and vote to prioritise the changes they want now. To make sure that everyone is kept up to date on the powerful new tools available, we have introduced lots of new modules in our BigChange University. We have now welcomed 5,000 students to these online webinars, which help users understand the breath of functionality we offer.

Charitable work

As regular readers of my blog will know, I have always been committed to giving back, both to my local community and to charitable organisations that are making a big difference to people’s lives across the world. Last year, BigChange linked our Motivational Monday series – our monthly events that welcome inspirational speakers – with charitable giving. This has been hugely successful and over the last 12 months, we have welcomed the likes of: Janet Street-Porter, the journalist and media personality; Kevin Sinfield OBE – or Sir Kev – the rugby player and campaigner; Tracey Neville MBE, the netball star who played for and coached the England team; and Benjamin Mee, who bought and reopened Dartmoor Zoo. Among the charities that the series has supported are: Living Potential Farm, which offers work experience to those with learning difficulties and disabilities; men’s mental health charity Andy’s Man Club; PhysCap, which works to improve the quality of life of children suffering from severe physical disabilities; Homeless Street Angels, which helps those sleeping on the street of Leeds; the community action charity CATCH, and veterans’ charity Help for Heroes.

Recognition for BigChange

Not so long ago I posted about the importance of entering awards. Winning trophies really does have an extraordinary effect on morale, and it’s an opportunity to stop and think about all you have achieved. This year, we finally collected our 2020 Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the Innovation category. We also won the Yorkshire Post’s Best Company 2021 in the £10m to £50m category. In the GP Bullhound Northern Tech Awards 2021, BigChange was recognised as one of the Top 15 Fastest Growing Larger Technology Companies in the North of England Scotland and Ireland. We were also nominated for several other awards and it’s always a pleasure to see your company listed among the great and the good of British enterprise.

So that’s it for 2021. I truly believe that we have now stepped onto a springboard and that the next five years will deliver exceptional growth and success, both for BigChange and our customers. Next year is set to be a big year for us: we will celebrate our 10th birthday, a real milestone for any growing company, as half of all start-ups never reach their fifth birthday. Thank you all for reading and for coming on this journey with me. Season’s Greetings! And my very best wishes for the New Year.

The leaders taking BigChange into an even brighter future

BigChange Leaders

When you surround yourself with talented, driven people, wonderful things happen. That’s always been my experience, anyway.

Over the past eight years, BigChange has been on an extraordinary growth journey. I have been blessed to have many outstanding individuals by my side for this epic ride. People have hopped on the bus at various points, bringing their skills to bear, and helping us all get to the next big milestone.

I’m so grateful to all the leaders, managers, colleagues, customers and supporters who have helped us get to where we are today.

Right now, we’re at another inflexion point for the business: the moment that BigChange goes from a mid-size contender to a global superstar. To help us on this next leg of the journey, a few more brilliant people have come on board. I’d like to tell you a bit about them and hopefully provide some insight into how the talent you have at the top evolves with the needs of the business.

Firstly, as most of you know, I moved into the role of chairman earlier this year. This was an important move, which freed me up to focus on big strategic projects, and gave the other leaders on the team the space to make an impact, while still supported by me. This has been great for the business and the team.

Richard Warley, who became our CEO, has been a talent manager of the business since taking the reins in July. He is passionate about BigChange and has an extraordinary depth of experience running billion-pound companies. Together, we are working towards turning BigChange into a unicorn – and we hope to do this in just a few years. When you go from start-up to scale-up, you need an experienced grower of businesses on the team, and Richard is the steady hand on the tiller we need during this time of intensive growth.

Andy Fielder is our new Chief Technology Officer, joining just three months ago. He has 30 years’ experience building technical projects and growing hi-tech businesses. In his last business, he led a team of 120 people, based across the UK and Poland. He understands how to engage and motivate technical teams across the world, and how to put the customers’ needs first in a technology platform.

Jo Godsmark remains our COO but her role has evolved to focus even more on our people, our key objectives and results (OKRs) and our ISO accreditations. Jo is an engineer with 30 years experience in logistics and supply chain, which means she gets our marketplace better than anyone. She is also Chair of Transaid, the transport charity we have supported for many years.

One of the great things about having Richard on board is that he has been instrumental in bringing in great new talent. One of his recruits is Ian Burgess, now our Chief Customer Officer, with whom he worked at Lumen Technologies. Ian’s approach to customer excellence is much like mine: he’s not afraid to pick up the phone and talk to our clients about what they need. He’s comfortable at the coal face and is passionate about effecting positive change. It’s great to have him on board.

Paul Witter, who has been with BigChange three years, is our Chief Partnerships Officer. He started at BigChange in Network before joining the finance team in an interim CFO role, so has a wealth of experience from across the company – which is essential in his partnerships role. Before joining BigChange, he was a customer, so he understands the needs and pressures that our customers face each day. His background in facilities management has been invaluable to the company.

Our new CFO, Claudia Munn, who joined in August, has worked at some of the world’s most successful companies, from Johnson & Johnson to Tesla and Volvo. She is bringing rigour and process to the finance function to ensure we are ready for the next phase. She’s only been here five months, yet we are already seeing the fruits of her labours across the company. She has taken all that is valuable from her blue chip career but is also an agile and innovative thinker – exactly what you need at this stage of a business’ growth.

Heading up our marketing team is Nick Gregory, who joined us earlier this year. Nick is a former athlete – he was on the GB canoe team back in the day – and brings that focus and energy to his role at BigChange. He previously worked at IRIS and Oracle, so his understanding of business/finance software is unrivalled, which helps him really communicate our USPs to our customers and the broader business community.

We love self starters here at BigChange, and Paul Monaghan is someone who is capable and adept at turning opportunities into great things. He spent 12 years at West Unified Communications, rising through the ranks to become Vice President of Sales EMEA, before joining Lead Forensics as Global Sales Director. He joined us as Chief Sales Officer last month and we’re very lucky to have him on board.

Our most recent hire is Jason Nash, whom I first met during my Masternaut days. Back then, he was working for Microsoft and I was impressed by his people skills and technical competency. It was a great coup when he agreed to join us (after just six months of my badgering). He led a 100-strong team in his last full-time position at Travelport. He was the only person I could see taking on our Head of Product role and he is ideally placed to ensure that BigChange remains the best-in-class platform out there.

It’s taken nine months to refine the leadership and now I feel like we’re ready for the next chapter. We have the absolute best team for the challenges and opportunities that BigChange faces right now, and we are all pulling in the same direction, as one.

It means a lot to me that our customers and partners all get to know these leaders within the business, and that they feel supported as they transition into their new or evolving roles. I can’t wait to see what the future holds in store for us all. 

The right to disconnect leaves founders high and dry

The right to disconnect leaves founders high and dry

This month, Portugal passed a law making it illegal for employers to contact their teams outside of official working hours. Any bosses found breaking the law could be subject to steep fines. Every company in the country employing 10 people or more is bound by this rule.  

Portugal isn’t the first country to adopt such a law. France introduced its own ‘right to disconnect’ rules in 2016, followed by Italy in 2017 and Spain in 2018.  

There is a similar movement gaining traction in the UK right now.  

I understand the principle behind laws like this. Governments want to protect workers from burn-out and being forced to work round the clock by tyrannical bosses.  

But the truth is that most bosses are not tyrants. They don’t want to push their teams to the limit. They just want their growing business or start-up to survive. This means that – occasionally – people may need to work late or answer emails over the weekend.  

Most of the people who use BigChange’s platform started as one-man bands. Through hard work, talent and perseverance, they grew their businesses from the ground up. They never turned their phones off at 5pm. Their teams wouldn’t refuse a call out because it was outside normal working hours. The world doesn’t simply shut down between the hours of 5pm and 9am.  

BigChange may be a technology company but we exist to serve the global mobile workforce. This gives me a unique perspective, and it seems to me that the right to disconnect widens the divide between so-called “white collar” and “blue collar” workers. 

Engineers on the road can’t clock off until they’ve fixed all the issues on their list. They may get up at 5am to drive to their first site across the country. Are you telling me that these people are less important than office workers? Laws like this seem to pit the 9-5-ers against tradesmen, presuming that one group needs protection while the other group just has to get the job done.  

Call me old-fashioned, but I believe a little hard work never hurt anyone. I may be a founder now, but I have also worked for other people. I know what it’s like to get up at the crack of dawn and put in long days to help someone else’s venture get off the ground. I did it because I believed in the vision of the founder and was proud to contribute to the growth and success of a new business.  

How many of the innovative companies changing the world today would exist if the right to disconnect had been in place when they were first formed? My guess is: very few.  

There’s no getting around it. If you want to bootstrap a start-up, or to grow an existing business, it takes hard work, and lots of it. There is no substitute for hard graft. And no founder can do it alone. You need a motivated and enthusiastic team beside you.  

I believe that legislation like this is a mistake. It presumes that people hate their jobs and can’t wait to clock off at the end of the day. Not that they are driven, capable people who take pride in their work. It also presumes that all bosses are slave drivers who don’t properly incentivise or reward the hard work of their teams.  

Why are these European countries infantilising workers in this way? Why can’t individuals talk to their managers if work is getting too much for them? What has happened to old-fashioned conversation?  

As a founder, I fear that movements like the right to disconnect are pushing people to give the bare minimum at work. It stifles the overachievers. BigChange is a big business today but, back when we were starting out, we survived only because of the extraordinary commitment of our first employees. They worked late, and we laughed together over pizza once the job was done. It was a privilege to work alongside these people and, of course, their loyalty was rewarded as the company grew. So this post is for them, and for all hard-working teams and founders. Let’s look after our mental health and each other without smothering our entrepreneurial ambition.

September – time to put the pedal to the metal

September Sales

September is here, and that means one thing: just four months to go till the end of the financial year for many businesses. 

This is a critical time for leaders. Summer is fading and, as we move into the final quarter of the year, the focus shifts to sales.  

The topic of ‘sales’ often gets lost in the business conversation. It is easy to get distracted by other compelling subjects: innovation, marketing, CSR, company culture. But let’s not kid ourselves, sales are the lifeblood of any business. Without customers, revenue and cashflow, a business could not exist.  

Did you know that Warren Buffett, Mark Cuban and Howard Schultz all started in sales? Learning about the power of selling, listening to customers, and reacting to their needs, helped these top CEOs to become the success stories they are today.  

This is why September can be an interesting time. The decisions you will make now, as leaders, will impact whether you finish 2021 on target, or whether you lose momentum and experience dips in productivity and sales.  

Performance in the fourth quarter does not only impact this year’s numbers, it sets the tone for 2022. Will you go into next year on the back foot? Or will you start the new year on a high, confident that you have increased market share and delivered on all your objectives? 

The good news is that, come September, most of your colleagues will have – hopefully – had a break. It is up to us, as leaders, to ensure that when colleagues come back to work from their holidays, they bring renewed enthusiasm and energy. We need our people to feel fired up by the fourth quarter challenge, not bogged down by the post-holiday blues.  

The good news is that the spectre of the Covid-crisis appears to be lifting. We are not out of the woods yet, but business confidence is rising, hitting a four-year high according to data released by Lloyds recently. This means that opportunity knocks. Many businesses have been in survival mode for the past 18 months but it’s time to change gear.  

At BigChange, we remain focused on the fundamental pillars of growth. We know that this strategy is working because a third of new business still comes in through referral, which means we have a lot of happy customers out there, singing our praises. As a business, referrals reduce the cost of customer acquisitions, which is great for cashflow too. We recently won a £250,000 contract when an existing customer recommended us to a sister company within the portfolio. I love the quote from Tony Hsieh, the visionary leader and former Zappos CEO, about this approach to sales success: “Chase the vision, not the money. The money will end up following you.” 

There are many ways to put the pedal to the metal when it comes to sales. Yes, incentives and ambitious sales targets can be useful, as can a greater spend on marketing (we find that shouting about our customers is the best approach) but we believe that nothing beats making improvements to your product or service for winning new business, retaining existing customers, and increasing upsell.

How are you going to make the most of the final few months of the financial year? Share your tips below.

The goal-setting strategy that took Google to $1trillion

Key results and goal setting

12th March 2021 – It’s a strange quirk of history that John Doerr isn’t a household name. Technophiles, entrepreneurs and management experts have heard of him, but otherwise he remains relatively obscure. 

Doerr is a venture capitalist – he backed Google in the early days. But what really makes him interesting is his other contribution to the success of the internet giant – and countless other companies and organisations besides. 

Doerr introduced Larry Page and Sergey Brin to a system for driving and managing growth that has ultimately led Google to become one of the most valuable companies in the world. 

He is the promoter of a management methodology called Objectives and Key Results – OKRs for short. Don’t let the bland title fool you: this is the stuff of legend. The full explanation is in Doerr’s book Measure What Matters – which I’ve just finished reading – but here’s the short version. 

OKRs are a way of focusing the efforts of everyone in your organisation on the same important things that generate growth. The “Objectives” are the goals – achievable yet inspirational. The “Key Results” are how you know you’re making progress towards those goals. These are always number-based, measured regularly, and a combination of short-term and long-term ambitions. 

Doerr describes OKRs as “a vaccine against fuzzy thinking”. 

Regular readers of this blog will know that BigChange recently took on a strategic investor, and that we are now on a growth journey that I believe will take us from a valuation of £100m to £1bn. 

OKRs will be vital in the pursuit of this ambitious goal. 

  • BigChange want to become a global leader in field service management – both in terms of growth and by reputation
  • BigChange want to deliver all our services to customers in a frictionless way
  • Build the BigChange network and empower other businesses to grow

There are key results associated with each of these goals. Everyone in the management team has their own list of OKRs, and we have processes in place to keep all of us accountable.

The idea is to distil everything we want to achieve into a structured approach. Don’t make the shopping list too long: the team needs to feel excited and empowered to reach these goals, not overwhelmed.

Alongside Google, Intel, the Gates Foundation – even U2 – have used OKRs to achieve their goals. It is so humbling to be taking our first steps along this journey. 

I’ve shared these OKRs with you, so that any other business owners interested in this process can get some insight into our approach. I’d love to hear about your experiences with OKRs too. In a few years, I hope I look back at this post and think, “That was the turning point. The time our growth trajectory reached a new level.”