Anthony Main is the founder of an app development company called The Distance. Anthony has had an incredible and inspiring business journey, from dealing with business failure to making his business a success. In his success story, Anthony highlights everything from the lessons learnt from merging with another company to the skills gained from dealing with business disasters.
Can you give us a brief overview of your business journey?
I’ve always seemed to have clients of my own, even from a young age creating menus for a neighbour’s sandwich van. This continued throughout my career, snowballing as I started picking up clients through my fast-growing network. Ultimately, the part-time hours were matching my full-time commitments, and I had no choice but to step out.
Originally working as a freelance web developer, my skills turned to mobile along with my focus. After three years of building a successful reputation in the app industry, I merged the business with a peer who inherited my web clients into his existing portfolio.
Following three more amazing years, we evaluated the value of the partnership. Despite the success, we felt it would be a better opportunity to demerge and focus on each avenue separately. Due to the rearrangement of resource in the combined business, the outset of the split left my half of the business without a qualified pipeline and a depleted market position.
With these concerns in mind, we invested heavily in sales and marketing. Despite the uplift in leads, the approaching referendum was limiting budget decisions. The subsequent decision to Brexit only compounded the matter.
The drought ate through the cash reserves and unfortunately lead to short-term working, and eventually redundancies. Luckily, a newly retained contract allowed us to retain two essential staff.
Almost overnight, the tides changed and confidence came back in the market; clients were fighting hand over fist for our limited developer resource. From here, the business has seen unprecedented growth and has grown back to twenty FTEs in two years.
How did you feel when your business almost went bust?
It was an incredibly stressful time; I was working every hour available to change our fate, which was exhausting. Luckily, I had an incredible support network and through their confidence and, more importantly, my wife’s pure faith that it was worth fighting for, we stayed focused and never gave up.
What kept you going during those low points?
I had put many years, as well as blood, sweat and tears, into the business. Despite the immediate situation, the business was in a really strong position. With the support of my peers, customers and family, I was confident we could turn our fate around.
What skills are required to deal with such disasters?
Over the years of business, dealing with the various challenges of client and staff relationships has given me a great deal of patience and allowed me to develop a thick skin. These qualities have allowed me to stay level-headed and work towards solutions rather than putting my head in the sand. Being able to reach out and ask for help also proved valuable and allowed me to be supported by a much wider audience.
Now that your business is thriving, how do you prepare yourself for any problems?
Our biggest failing was the lack of focus on sales and marketing; we now have an active strategy to ensure its momentum even when we are inundated with leads. Not only does this ensure our pipeline, but it also allows us to opt for the quality business relationships.
How did you deal with letting staff go?
Announcing the state of affairs to the team was incredibly hard – one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I’ve always nurtured a close-knit staff to ensure the quality of their work-life balance. Mutually, the team agreed to a short-time working agreement in order to prevent any redundancies, but I was open with them and made no promises, giving them the freedom to look for other opportunities. Fortunately, I had an amazing team and being open allowed us to work together for the least disruptive outcome for all. By the time we reached the inevitable, all members of the team had already found a new future.
What advice would you give to someone who is struggling to keep their business afloat?
Don’t be shy; talk openly about your challenges with friends, family, peers and if possible even your staff. I was introduced to the book “Hope Won’t Pay the Wages” and was lucky enough to meet the author (Andrew Miller) who lent me an ear as well as his insight.
What are some of the biggest lessons you have learnt?
- Never stop marketing – especially in a digital age. In order to stay relevant and maintain your search engine rankings, you need to stay active
- Transparency has allowed me to find the support and insight from my network to help me make all the necessary decisions to support the business
- Have faith in the business – we had created an amazing business which stood up against the competition, we just needed to solve our immediate challenges
What did your experience with merging with another company teach you?
Merging the business offered a great opportunity for both parties, it allowed both MDs to play to each other’s strengths to grow all avenues of the business. Having two heads to face the business challenges made the decisions far easier, and as a result, we grew swiftly and were able to present ourselves as a much larger presence in the industry.
What are your future plans for The Distance?
We’ve been growing rapidly over the last few years and the intention is to level off and create a succinct boutique agency. Our culture is a key focus for us as it brings out the best in our staff and ensures long-term employment opportunities. This allows us to develop individuals to fulfil their career. Therefore, we have been honing the business on its strengths by focusing on the projects/clients/industries where it thrives. To support our client relations, we have been developing a number of products in order to add extra value and efficiency to our development lifecycle.