Paul Black is the CEO and co-founder of Solihull-based business software company sales-i. The business supplies a sales intelligence system which enables firms to accurately target potential customers.
Paul explains: ‘‘If you were selling building products it would tell you every single customer that bought bricks off you but didn’t buy mortar off you. It would tell you every single customer that bought roof trusses off you but didn’t buy roofing materials that go on top of them. It tells you every single customer that’s buying your least popular products but not your most popular ones.’’
Before sales-i Paul worked with Hewlett Packard where he was instrumental in setting the sales strategy and processes for its newly formed Direct division. He also held senior business roles at Barclays B2B and Cap Gemini and established and ran yourhci, a home computing initiative company which grew to a multi-million pound business in less than 18 months.
The 41-year-old co-founded sales-i in 2008. It was recently placed 28th in the Deloitte UK Fast 50 which recognises entrepreneurial businesses that exhibit fast growth driven by innovative technologies.
MBN: According to the Deloitte UK Fast 50 sales-i has grown by 916% since 2008. What is the secret of your success?
Paul: It has actually grown a lot more than that because our American figures are not included. The secret of the success? It’s a great product and a great team. We get out into the market place, creating what we call the right eco system, selling in all parts of the supply chain – the manufacturer, the distributor, the wholesaler – and creating brand awareness. If you’ve got a decent product you’ve got to just get out there and sell it. I think there are a lot of people that have created a decent product or a decent service, they open up a website and they think it’s going to sell itself and it isn’t. You’ve got to get out there and sell it.
What lessons have you learnt that you could pass on to would-be entrepreneurs?
Fail, fail a lot, but fail fast. Learn from it, improve, change. My whole company understands that philosophy. It doesn’t matter who you are in our organisation, I expect you to fail and it really is not an issue for me. But I expect you to learn from it and I expect you to move on. Learn from your mistakes. If you fail fast and continue failing on the same thing I’m not impressed.
Apart from learning from your mistakes what qualities do you need to be a successful entrepreneur?
Employ good people. Every single good decision I’ve ever made has been around employing a good person. And every single bad decision I’ve ever made has been around employing somebody else. You’ve got to employ the right people.
People are talking about the green shoots of recovery. What’s your experience of that?
I’m in a very fortunate position, I’m able to take hundreds and hundreds of customers’ systems and see if that’s true or false. Marketplaces are responding in different ways and because some of our customers are right at the start of the supply chain, i.e. the wholesaler before it gets to the distributor and retailer, we know of the effects and how their sales are changing, if they’re improving, decreasing or flatlining. I definitely think it’s getting better. The building industry, which is always the mainstay of it all, is doing very, very well. I actually think it’s always done very well, even through the recession. I think it’s just been the case that the guys who are fast, smart and clever have continued to do well and the ones that were a little bit more traditional, a bit slower, have continued to not do as well and they’ve lost market share. But there’s no doubt about it, there’s a good vibe out there, both in the UK and the States.
What are your plans to ensure sales-i continues to grow?
We already have Fortune 100 customers in America, some very big billion dollar companies that use our software, both in the UK and USA, but I want at least five of the Fortune 100 companies to be using my software. That would be pretty good. That’s probably a short-term target, an 18 month target. I’d like to employ ten new people every four months in the USA, 30 people a year, which is quite a target. We currently employ just short of 50 people and I want to continue to increase our employee base in the UK, particularly in development and delivery, and to continue developing the product. In my terms it’s nowhere near finished but then again it probably never will be. We need to continue developing it and creating other pieces of software to complement it.
What are the advantages of being based in Solihull?
Its central location is absolutely fantastic. It is so easy on two different train lines to get into the centre of London. My board is based in London so it’s perfect for them to come to me or me to go and see them. It is so easy to get to every corner of the country without any hassle. The airport to get to Scotland is perfect. We haven’t had much difficulty finding employees. Every now and then we get a bit of an employee shortage but overall we don’t have a huge problem. I think it’s a great place to work out of. Our offices are fantastic.