5 June 2021|Brand Story, Latest Posts, Meet the Successful Founder
Glenn is a business advisor who helps companies of all sizes scale up their businesses and align intention across senior leadership. With over 20 years’ of experience working with household names ranging from Hive to The MailOnline, Glenn founded his own software solutions business, GuideSmiths. Glenn specialises in advising businesses from start-up to exit – as well as everything in between – to enable them to reach their full potential. We recently caught up with Glen to discover more about his entrepreneurial journey.
Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?
I grew up in the western suburbs of Sydney and left school at the earliest opportunity, moving straight into employment for a large bank.
At the age of 21 I decided to set off with a backpack and see the world. I based myself in the UK and travelled for eight years until deciding to lay down some foundations in the UK. Over the next 20 years, I gradually built a career as a business analyst/project manager working in IT projects.
At 41, having seen my fill of expensively delivered and mostly failed IT projects, I felt it was time to have a crack at it myself. I knew that it could be done with more quality and care and in 2014 GuideSmiths was founded alongside an excellent senior software engineer. After a couple of years, he decided it wasn’t for him and I bought him out in 2017. In that time, a couple of great engineers from Spain and Hungary came together on the project that built our reputation. Seizing on some key opportunities, the company pivoted to a nearshore model in 2018 and I executed a successful merger with the Spanish entity at the end of that year. From this point, my business partner Felipe Polo and I grew the company to reach 125 people, ultimately selling in March 2021 to DCSL Software. We have stayed on in advisory roles as non-executive directors and are now looking to build an advisory and investment business together.
How did the idea come to you for the company?
It never really came to me as an idea, but grew out of frustration at seeing companies waste so much money and time on failed IT projects. Hearing things like ‘land and expand’ from big consultancies and seeing leaders double down on bad decisions infuriated me. In the end, I decided I could do it better and needed to do it my own way. I walked up to the best engineer I knew who was also keen to strike out on his own and asked him if he was interested and away we went. I was also fortunate to have worked with a real tech moderniser who showed me that modern software delivery methods, DevOps and Microservices were the foundation of transforming legacy business applications (at that time at least).
How did you achieve awareness?
I’ve always been good at seeing more than what is front of me. A combination of a reasonable level of emotional intelligence, a vast amount of varied experiences and a great network of people that I trust for advice and reflection has also been integral to my success. I doubt that I could have founded, grown and sold a business at the scale I have if I hadn’t set off to see the world. Travel removed so many barriers to my general mindset and made me incredibly independent.
How have you been able to gain funding and grow?
The company grew organically and never took on funding. My founding business partner and I worked incredibly hard for the first two years on multiple concurrent projects and built a strong cash foundation which allowed us to make our own choices later. We were then joined by the Spanish and Hungarian teams and we were all very driven to succeed and maintain the highest of standards. The combination of early capital and a strong reputation meant we never needed or wanted investment.
What are the key successes?
We were lucky to have our first client from day one but adding and ably supporting a second client concurrently felt like overcoming a massive hurdle at the time. It’s impossible to be perfect, but I think the greatest success was maintaining our high standards whilst growing from £1m to £7m in less than two years.
Attracting and retaining great talent was incredibly key and we had a staff churn rate of less than 2% for the duration of our tenure, which was all down to our focus on culture. Finally, bringing on the right senior people and rewarding them correctly allowed for a succession plan to be executed and meant we really became a ‘business’, and not just a group of people dependent on a small number of key personalities.
What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?
Everything can be a challenge in its own right, but being resilient is so important to success. Winning business was always a huge high and an unhappy client or staff member an incredible low. I learned never to get too ahead of myself or too down. I’d process things quickly and just get back to keeping people focused on the bigger objectives. Having great relationships with clients was vital as the foundation was always set to have honest, two-way dialogue when things weren’t happening as expected. We only had one nasty client and I was so used to dealing with a wide scope of challenges after seven years that I dealt with it way better than if it had happened within the first two.
What are your plans now/for the future?
To take my experience and help other companies on a similar journey. I really enjoy helping businesses and get a kick out of seeing my input have a positive impact. My business partner Felipe and I are starting up a joint business advisory and investment company and we’ll work together for as long as it’s possible as we’ve become very close over the last few years. Finally, I’m doing individual mentoring on the Change 2020 programme and loving it already.
What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?
It is hard owning a business and it can wear you down at times, but I found the whole experience life affirming. I was never happy being told what to do by anyone and really found my place as a business owner. The tools and knowledge providing a platform for starting a business are widely available now and I just think, what’s the worst that can happen? (negative visualisation)
Surround yourself with good people and advisors; you simply cannot do it all on your own. Continually soak up advice (and don’t be afraid to ignore it), but always remember that it’s your call in the end and make sure those calls are decisive.
Can you share your top 5-10 tips for entrepreneurial success?
· Stay resilient, quickly process challenges and bounce back.
· Surround yourself with great people/advisors and don’t stick with people you know are holding you back, they’re never as important as you think.
· Value your time and stop doing tasks that could easily be managed elsewhere.
· Don’t let your business become about your own ego, it will hold everything back.
· Stay laser focused on your objectives and always keep them in mind when making decisions.
· Take on lots of advice, but don’t be afraid to pave your own way if you think it’s right. So many people told me that starting a business is ‘too hard’ and I thought: so what?
· Set a clear vision and strategy and distil it succinctly to everyone who needs to know.
· Be thankful, honest, kind and transparent. Your people, suppliers and clients will appreciate it and pay it back when it matters.
· Don’t value money over long-term relationships.
Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most?
· Clifton Cunningham – Without Clifton, I would never have started GuideSmiths. He showed me how to get things done in tech.
· Danny Meyer – Author of ‘Setting the Table’ an inspirational book about service.
· Tim Ferriss – Anything from him. Hundreds of inspirational podcasts to call on at key times whether you’re up or down.
· Felipe Polo Ruiz – My business partner and great friend. We smashed through a lot of walls together and will continue to do so.
· My brothers Russell and Lindsey O’Grady – We’ve all worked damn hard and succeeded, but stay close friends and look out for each other, even though we’re on opposite sides of the world.
What are your favourite inspirational /motivational quotes?
· Never overestimate the competition.
· The one who plants trees, knowing they will never sit in their shade, has at least started to understand the meaning of life.
What are your social handles and website links so our readers can connect with you?