18 July 2021|Latest Posts, Meet the Successful Founder
As part of our popular Meet the Successful Founder Series we were delighted to catch up with entrepreneur Kevin Ashley to learn more about his entrepreneurship journey and discover what advice he has for other founders.
Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?
I’ve spent the bulk of my commercial career working in the Telecommunications industry, both in the UK and overseas. I’ve had the pleasure of successfully transforming large scale operational services for companies, such as One2One (now EE), Cable & Wireless and BT. Since then, I’ve previously sold a business, worked in senior executive roles within Employee Benefits and Health & Social Care. I started myAko as part of a larger Health & Social Care group of companies, but eventually purchased it. myAko successfully supports clients of all sizes, across 7 different industries.
How did the idea come to you for the company?
I designed and developed myAko because I was frustrated with the third-party Learning Management System (LMS) we had been utilising for the Health & Social Care market. Whilst it supported a large client base, it didn’t provide the level of self-service administration that met client needs. I believed I could design a more flexible and affordable solution, especially for SMEs. I looked at all the LMS pain points and barriers, then set about designing a solution that removed them.
How did you achieve awareness?
We started by focusing on raising brand awareness, rather than selling the platform. We created a fake news social media campaign that talked about the myAko launch and how Hurricane myAko had broken the internet. It was meant in jest and created a lot of awareness and interest. We built on this foundation with social media campaigns and cold calling.
How have you been able to gain funding and grow?
Initially, the company was funded by the Health & Social Care group, but over the last 16 months I’ve funded the company myself. We’ve been one of the lucky ones during COVID, as our business has continued to grow, with our existing clients actually purchasing more online features and digital learning from us.
What are the key successes?
● Building a great team, I’m lucky to have a passionate, energetic, customer focused myAko team; a mixture of employees, freelancers and contractors, who all work together to make myAko a success.
● Proving we could sell an LMS over the telephone and via an online demonstration – something I was told could not be done prior to launch – has given my entire team great satisfaction. To date, we’ve never had a face-to-face sales meeting.
● Over the last 12 months we have expanded into Education (Primary and Secondary Schools), Not-For-Profit, Recruitment, and the Transportation and Logistics sectors.
● Increasing our digital learning content to over 2,000 courses, offering our clients greater flexibility on the content they access.
What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?
● COVID was an initial challenge as we shifted to remote working, but it created no interruption in service and the team has adapted to remote working with ease.
● Continuing to grow our revenue and sales during COVID. I acquired the company just prior to the impact of COVID and decided not to furlough any of the team. This turned out to be the right decision and I can’t thank the team enough for their fantastic support.
● Future investment. Do I seek additional third-party investment or partner with a larger organisation, to release myAko’s full potential, or continue to expand with organic growth? This is the current challenge so watch this space!
What are your plans now/for the future?
We are currently working projects such as an Induction, Probation and Appraisal solution, alongside a new App based Accident, Incident and Near Miss reporting. We’re also introducing more dynamic dashboards to give managers timely information to help make the right decisions.
I’m exploring a new AI and Machine Learning driven recruitment and assessment system that, when aligned with the myAko LMS, helps deliver a more integrated HRM solution.
We will continue to grow the myAko partners, as we offer content providers the ability to reach new markets and third-party solution providers the opportunity to integrate or connect to myAko.
What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?
I’ve always had a passion to be an entrepreneur, even before I knew what the word actually meant! There are several important things to consider and work on at the start of your entrepreneurial journey:
- Belief in yourself and believe in your product or service, because without this, it’s too easy to give up and walk away. I’ve always believed, if it’s humanly possible, I will find a way. Perhaps naïvely, and believe me, I’ve made mistakes, but I’ve learned that being positive, works for me.
- If you passionately want to be an entrepreneur and are prepared to work hard, make tough decisions, and knock down barriers, then go and realise your dreams and potential.
- Learn from others including potential competitors. Look at the wider world and other industries because there is a wealth of free knowledge that is readily available, if you take the time and effort to search.
- Be realistic about what you can achieve in your first year because it’s often tougher than you imagine. Especially important to manage and monitor your cashflow. Do you really need that new gadget or shiny offices? May look good but is it going to help you be successful?
- Remember that enthusiasm is contagious but unrealistic expectations comes with increasing pressure.
You will hit barriers throughout the process, but if you remain focused and determined, then you will find a solution. Try to connect with like-minded positive people – LinkedIn is a great tool for doing this, as you can connect with a host of great entrepreneurs who are often happy to share their experiences. Connect with me, as I’m happy to help.
Can you share your top tips for entrepreneurial success?
- Don’t take yourself too seriously and maintain a sense of humour because is important not just for your own mental health but also your team and family
- Ask for feedback from friends and family before you start your business, especially if they are your target market. You never know, they may wish to invest!
- Try pitching your idea to existing entrepreneurs that you trust, and ask how they would approach this in your shoes?
- Build an initial business plan and undertake market/competitor research. You need to establish whether anyone in the world is delivering something similar and what makes you standout?
- If possible, try building your initial business around your current job. That way, you still have an income to support you whilst you build your new business. This can help reduce your financial risk and help you establish whether your idea can be turned into a sustainable business.
- Use experts to develop a brand and initial website. It’s important to establish credibility with your target audience.
Who are the people who inspire you the most?
● Phil Knight, founder of Nike. I really enjoyed reading Shoe Dog. I liked his grow or die philosophy. He truly believed that what he was doing would make a positive difference. Plus, he hired people that others would have probably ignored, and together they developed an incredible global brand.
● Dame Kelly Holmes, like me a former soldier, who worked exceptionally hard to become a double gold Olympian. I admire the strength, determination and dedication required to achieve her dreams.
● Gary Rhodes, Chef. I had the pleasure of meeting Gary to discuss a potential business opportunity in the U.S. I loved his passion, energy and focus on detail.
● Sir Bobby Robson, who managed my home football team. Football innovator, great people manager and warm personality, even though he couldn’t always get your name right!.
What are your favourite inspirational/motivational quotes?
● “Play by the rules, but be ferocious.” – Phil Knight
● “Success is not final; failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston Churchill
● “There’s no shortage of remarkable ideas, what’s missing is the will to execute them.” – Seth Godin
What are your social handles and website links so our readers can connect with you?
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/myakosolution
LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/company/myako/