Susan Spence is the co-founder of SoftCo, one of the country’s largest indigenous software firms. Founded 29 years ago, the firm employs almost 150 people and has offices in Ireland, Finland and the United States. Its financial software has more than 1.6 million users with clients including Lloyds, Primark and Volkswagen.
As part of the Shapers series, run by KPMG Private Enterprise, Susan gave valuable insights across a range of business issues including sales strategies, marketing tactics, customer acquisition and how to build an international business from Dublin.
Here are the 12 key takeaways from the Shapers’ event:
“We had an ethos from the very beginning that we are going to be self-funding. When we set up in business we were not well funded. But it was our belief, our sheer determination that got us to the next stage. That was the first brave move we made: We are going to fund our business from cash we create ourselves.”
“We built up our warchest of cash. When 2008 happened it was so what. We could sit there and sit back and let the world pass us by in terms of turmoil. Recurring revenue is beautiful. We love it. When you build up your warchest you are back in control. This meant in 2014 we could make the decision to develop our technology in Finland. We could invest €5 million in new technology. We could expand into the US.”
If we don’t sell, why are we here?
“I have always been the salesman. Unashamedly. My job is to make sure that we continue to sell. In the end of the day we can all have beautifully structured finances. We can all have great support structures in place. But if we don’t sell guys, why are we here?”
“We sell the same product in multiple markets but we can turn on and off functionality. In the US 70% of businesses still write cheques. In Finland the last time someone wrote a cheque was in 1993. It is about being local in different markets. The most important thing is that you have your DNA in different locations. That is absolutely vital as you do have lost in translation moments in different markets.”
“70% to 80% of our business comes from existing customers. You don’t love them at your peril. They are your recurring revenue They are absolutely vital in a business. They are your references as well when you are trying to win a new customer.”
“We have spent a lot of time on content based marketing. This is people writing blogs, white papers, all the rest. We have spent a lot of time, effort and money getting people who are in the buying cycle onto our site. As opposed to us sending out 20 million emails and hoping to get one response. We are getting to companies, as opposed to trying to find companies that are in the market. How we market has been a big change in how we do things.”
Find someone who will be your pilot for you.
“You need to stay alive. If you have to do consulting or whatever, you just have to do it to stay alive until your product is there. You have to then find someone who will be your pilot for you. Even if you have to give them your software for free the key thing is for them to use it and become a reference for others. “
“We already knew it worked having brand ambassadors. Irish hockey was a no brainer. It matched in with our strategy perfectly. The key to sponsorship however is activation. It is like investment in business. You have to get the right investor who wants to work with you. We didn’t just give them money. We really got involved.”
“The times of crisis are the best times. You see how resilient you are. Determination is the most important trait you need - determination to succeed and not give in to the challenges that face you. On average if it feels wrong it is wrong. I have become better at questioning things over the years. Today I question. You need to create an atmosphere in your business where people feel confident enough to come up to you and say Susan I don’t believe we should do this.”
Encourage people to make decisions. If you get it wrong, so what?
"We have the 24 hour rule in SoftCo. This is when somebody sends you an email and you want to kill them. So you write the email and you send it one of your colleagues. You just sit on it for 24 hours and then they next day you come in and you realise ‘I had a bad day yesterday!’ And then you find your actual response is a lot more refined and better thought out etc.”
“Don’t beat yourself up. People make mistakes. You are always making decisions without the full information. Make decisions. We always encourage people to make decisions. If you get it wrong so what.”
“As a smaller company you can be more flexible. We have the M50 project for example to keep people off the M50 in rush hour. We have built a gym to allow people come in early. In the US we have given our team European holidays. There are very simple ways of attracting staff. We also have bizarrely ukulele lessons. Being flexible is the key thing: think about what you can do for your people.”
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