Stellarise, founded by Nick Maxwell in 2009, is a completely outsourced IT team, covering support, development, customer relationship management (CRM) delivery and IT strategy. As well as migrating customers to cloud services such as Microsoft Office 365 and Google Apps, they run their own private cloud, hosting custom applications such as remote backup and Microsoft Dynamics CRM.
Well the first one is hiring your first person. That’s really difficult. Sometimes you can’t actually believe that anyone would want to work for you. When you’re in a big company and you’re hiring somebody you think “we have this company, we have all these people”, but when it’s just you, you think why would you want to work for me? That’s something I’ve learnt: that people do actually want to work for me and I can teach them and bring them along the journey. It’s quite an amazing feeling when people that you’ve hired look at what you are trying to achieve and think it’s a good idea and want to go along with it.
We’ve started to win some really big development projects which is really exciting, and when you start developing within bigger businesses you can really start to change the way that those businesses work; you can completely transform them. That’s something which makes us different. We’re not just an IT support business, we do a lot of development and in my opinion you need both. You need that day-to-day running bit, but with development you can actually push organisations forward.
Celebrating is all quite measured, and being IT people it’s very important not to have a few too many so that the next morning we can’t function! When we celebrate we go somewhere like here (the cafe bar we are currently sitting in) – nothing too fancy.
I had some funding in order to kick-start the business. We agreed a sum and I committed, took an office and started hiring people. When that funding was then pulled from me, it was pretty tough. But I think the thing you realise is that, remarkable as it seems, you can move forward from these situations. They’re terrible when they happen, you think “what the hell am I going to do?” but there is generally something that you can do and you can move forward. I think you have to have the knocks to build confidence. It’s all in a day’s work.
Starting a small business, especially in a recession, is pretty difficult. It’s very hard work. With big risks it’s very easy to lose and fall over. I was recruiting last year, looking for one person to grow the team, and I actually came across two who were both really good, both complementary in terms of their skills, and it was very difficult to work out which one I should hire. So I hired them both. And that was quite a risk in terms of taking two people on instead of one, especially when you’re not huge. But it’s worked out really well. I’ve now got a really good team who can handle the support side of the business which means I can step away a bit more and focus on business strategy.
(Laughs) well you know I do a couple of hours every day and I’m on the beach by about 10am.
In all seriousness, it’s getting better; although you should have my wife here to answer that. The first few years, and we started in 2009, is when we incorporated the company. I was working seven days a week, and more often than not they were 18 hour days. Until last year, every holiday I had been on I had worked every single day and sometimes all day every day. Holiday used to mean bringing a laptop, finding some Wi-Fi and working in a different place. Last year I actually did have a holiday, which was good, and now I’m not working every weekend or at least nothing like I used to. It’s definitely getting better.
When I started out it was really hard. It was literally me and someone else and I was doing the IT work, trying to sell, doing all the admin, the invoices, the payroll, everything. Now it’s slightly easier because I have outsourced some of the finance stuff. I’ve got various other things that I just oversee now with a team to help on the day to day IT support stuff.
I left university and joined a small company and we grew that business over the next 10 years to about 300. We did some really exciting things like building groundbreaking websites for large companies. I had lots of exposure to hiring and managing people and constructing teams. Then, unfortunately, we became a sort of boom and bust story – we basically went up to 300 people then we went down to four and then two and then that was it. I literally turned the light off in the office; shut it down and it was over.
That was in the early 2000s. After that the two of us that had been left partnered up to consult on our own but we just couldn’t face hiring and firing people again. We carried on for a few years and it was all great, then I got the urge to grow the business again.
I saw a need towards the end of 2008 that small businesses were getting more and more reliant on technology and that’s ever truer now. The internet is absolutely critical for people – it’s things like email but also knowing how to send large files using things like dropbox, remote working, all that stuff they want to do, and they don’t necessarily have the skills in house to do it. At that size it doesn’t make sense to hire someone permanently to do it but the skills are needed. I’d got all that experience from the corporate world and I wanted to bring that to small businesses and help them along their own journeys.