On the up · 27 July 2017

A nicer problem to have: How do you cope when consumer demand grows faster than you can supply?

Electricians and plumbers are part of the huge consumer demand facing Okappy
Electricians and plumbers are part of the huge consumer demand facing Okappy

Richard Harris created a platform to help businesses communicate and better manage workloads. But with so many businesses clamouring for the product, how can a growing business prevent feeling overwhelmed by consumer demand?

Okappy is a B2B communications and collaborations platform which aims to help business owners re-think the best ways to manage their day-to-day workload.

The idea was born when an electrician approached Richard Harris, founder-to-be of Okappy, with a problem – he was seeing a lot of time going to waste by himself, his customers and his subcontractors as information was copied between their individual job management applications. It was also leading to silly mistakes, disputes and missed invoices.

Okappy applies social and market networking technology to a real business need, the need to communicate and collaborate when working with lots of employees, multiple sub-contractors, across different sites and with different clients. It streamlines processes, reduces paperwork and increases efficiency.

logo2-345x250-345x250Yet no small business is without its challenges, and despite so many companies crying out for a solution like Okappy, getting the idea off the ground with a small team can be hard work. Here, Richard outlines the challenges he has experienced with his business so far, as part of our Problem Solvers series.

What does a typical client look like?

At the moment, and given our resources, we’re targeting niche sectors such as electrical contractors, plumbing and drainage contractors. We find the companies that get the most value typically have between five and 250 employees and more than £2m in turnover. They are often family owned and are all ambitious, wanting to grow and be the best in their field.

What challenges have you faced since starting the business?

The lack of support was one of the hardest things to get used to.  I used to work for a Tier 1 investment bank where support is available for everything from IT problems to HR. If I have any problem, it was just a case of picking up the phone and someone would be there to help.  Starting a business from scratch was a big eye opener. If I wanted something done, or had a problem, I was pretty much on my own with only Google to help.

The other big difference I found between being in a big corporate and being in a startup is going from a stable (arguably boring) atmosphere to one with constant change and massive ups and downs. Working for a startup is like being on emotional rollercoaster ride. One minute you’re on a massive high when you win a customer, the next you could be running around trying to fix issues.

What has been your biggest challenge?

As a startup company with big ambitions, there’s so much you want to do, but so little resources with which to do it. With 20,000 connections on our platform and interest from such a wide cross section of business across many countries around the world, the opportunity is massive. But with limited resources to satisfy consumer demand, we’re currently only scratching the surface.

With such limited resources, product development is also constrained. We currently have to limit the customers we take on and even turn customers away if they are the wrong type or that are looking for a particular feature, which we don’t currently offer.

How have you overcome this challenge?

We have overcome this challenge in two ways. One, by working smarter, and two through a successful fund raise.

We have spent a lot of work over the last year analysing where we spend our time, automating processes where possible and providing more information on our website such as help and support and forums so that our customers can get answers to questions without having to come through to us. We’ve also tailored our pricing and been stricter on which types of companies we allow on to the network so that we concentrate on the best companies and the companies that are going to get the most value.

We’ve also successfully raised our second round of funding, which provides runway for the next 18 months. Funding has enabled us to take on more resources and spend more time on sales and marketing, product development and testing.

How has KPMG Small Business Accounting helped your business get to where it is today?

KPMG has been extremely helpful. Our dedicated accountant has always made themselves available to help with our queries (payroll, raising funding). We always get a prompt response and professional advise we can trust. This is particular beneficial especially we are a small team and it’s nice not to have to worry about financial administration.

What is your favourite part of the job?

In the past, I worked for large corporates and was a very small cog in a massive wheel with little real influence on the company or their customer’s lives. What I love about working for a small company is that now, not only do I have a direct impact on people’s working lives by changing the way they manage their work.

What advice would you give to any other businesses?

No matter your business, building a network of contacts is of prime importance. These contacts can help you find the right resources and the rights to channels to help you grow your business.

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Letitia Booty is a special projects journalist for Business Advice. She has a BA in English Literature from the University of East Anglia, and since graduating she has written for a variety of trade titles. Most recently, she was a reporter at SME magazine.