In collaboration with Jai Aenugu of Entrepreneurs Scotland and AskJai.com, we are delighted to share with you the first of many podcasts Jai has performed with entrepreneurs in Scotland.
Today we share the interview of Murray Kerr, Founder and MD of SengS
CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE PODCAST or read the full interview below:
Murray Kerr is the Founder and Managing Director of SengS Subsea Engineering Solutions. Murray left school at 15 with no qualifications and began his career with the Royal Navy. EntrIn 2012, Murray re-mortgaged his home in order to start his own business, SengS subsea engineering solutions providing Engineering Design, Consultancy, IRM Project Support, Testing & Flushing, Subsea Tooling and Repair and refurbishment of subsea and topside applications. Within four months, SengS achieved a net profit of £150,000 and within two years it was a whopping £2.1m net profit. From its humble beginnings, SengS now employs almost 20 staff and has a turnover of £2million. Murray was shortlisted in numerous awards winning almost all of them in 2015. Please see below for the list of awards won. Murray has a passion to help School leavers as well as young adults.
For more inspiring stories like this one are available at AskJai.com.
List of Awards
- EY Entrepreneur of the year in National finals for Scotland (Short-listed – Awards night in October 2015)
- EY Entrepreneur of the year in regional finals for Scotland (won)
- Emerging entrepreneur of the year in Elevator awards (won)
- Young professional award at Offshore Achievement Awards (won)
- Aberdeen’s 40under40 (Short-listed)
- Great small company award at Offshore Achievement Awards (Short-listed)
- Inspiring Leader award at Offshore Achievement Awards (was award certificate – “highly commended”)
- Business success under 3 years award at Enterprise North East Trust (won)
- Emerging industry leader at Press and Journal Gold Awards (Short-listed)
- New business of the year at Scottish Business Awards (Short-listed)
- PWC (Scotland) Private Business Award “ emerging entrepreneur of the year (Short-listed)
JA: Hi Murray!
Murray Kerr: Hi Jai!
JA: Let’s start with your success quote. What is your favourite?
MK: Success quote? Be bold and just go for it!
JA: So Murray, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?
MK: Okay, I’m 34 years old. I am a father of three. I started off very young becoming a father. I set up SengS in 2012 and this has been the best thing I’ve ever done in my life, apart from having my kids.
JA: What does your company do?
MK: Mainly, Engineering Services for oil and gas for both topside and subsea.
JA: What are your focuses at the moment?
MK: My main focus at the moment is to build on the success we’ve had to date and build up further client relationships and I just booked to go overseas, hopefully quite shortly. First point of call is to look at the Middle East. We’ve got some ideas going on at the moment. We’re working with potentially two wars there. So we’ll soon see in the next 4-8 months where we go with that one.
JA: Good luck with that. So before you launched SengS, you working for a different company, Genesis?
JA: Tell me about a typical day when you were going to work. What was going through your mind?
MK: When I was working at Genesis, my main focus was Genesis. I was there at 7am and I would finish there around 5:30-6pm. So when I was there, I was committed to them. So there wasn’t much going through my head apart from developing their scopes and the work that I was in charge of at the time. Usually when I left Genesis at night, it was on my way home, that I started thinking about what I was going to be doing with SengS and where I’m going to be going and at the same time, I was also speaking to various people that I was working with at that time, trying to bubble up support. We would talk about jobs that we were potentially looking at. Then when I went home at night, I spent a lot of time looking at strategies and developing a brand.
JA: While you were at Genesis, you launched SengS?
MK: I launched SengS in June 2012, but I actually didn’t start operating SengS till November that year.
JA: What made you launch the company?
MK: The main thing was that I felt that I could actually go and achieve what everybody else was achieving around me and I could do it more efficiently. I could do it with better quality, better control. The main thing was that I could offer the clients a better service with reduced costs.
JA: But how did you know there was a market for it?
MK: At that time, the market was very buoyant. So it was quite easy to actually gain some work. However, if you look at it in 2015, the way the oil price has dropped, I don’t think it would be so easy now.
JA: So SengS was operational from November 2012?
JA: Did you finish with Genesis by then? Or were you still working?
MK: I was doing my day job during the day and then at night-time, I was launching SengS. So my average night was usually from 7:30-8pm till about 2-3am. I was also working most Saturdays and Sundays on SengS.
JA: That’s very interesting, so tell me about one typical day where you were working with your day job and SengS at night?
MK: It was mostly subsea operations that I was looking at and then in the evening, I was trying to build up my website, my branding, my marketing. Also, working on any potential jobs that we were bidding for at that time. I was also doing networking using LinkedIn. We were also using Twitter. At the same time, I always knew from very early on that for me to get into various companies, you have to have your ISO accreditation. So I spent nearly over nine months developing my ISO accreditation for 9001, 14001 and 180001.
JA: I read that you did all of it yourself?
MK: I did. I wrote 163 documents and it was the biggest learning curve that I’ve ever had.
JA: How long did it take you to make your first sale? How did it happen?
MK: I was approached by a company to see if we could assist them with doing some flushing work and then was basically how the first sale came about. That was it.
JA: What were your revenues for the first six months?
MK: Well, in the first year, we turned over just under £1 million.
JA: Tell me about your worst moment in your entrepreneurial journey?
MK: I haven’t had any really bad moments. I’ve actually really enjoyed it. Don’t get me wrong, you have sleepless nights, you get stressed and you just have to overcome. You just have to find your way and that’s just part of life and you just have to accept it.
JA: Not too many people can say the same thing.
MK: I’m sure there will be things coming in the future and other things will go wrong. That’s why you just have to take control of it and then deal with it.
JA: Since you started the business in July 2012 and then you were operational from November, when did you know that you were on to something?
MK: It was quite fast; we found that there was a niche in the market for bespoke engineering support but on small-scale projects and we just kept going for that kind of work. Initially, we had to go and find it, but in time, the word spread, and eventually, it started to come to us.
JA: How did you get the funds to start your own business?
MK: I’ve got a house in Manchester and I remortgaged that.
JA: Did you raise any funding after that?
MK: Yeah, I raised just over £100,000 from the remortgage. Then I had savings from my other companies that I utilized for that. Initially, the first funds I had to spend were about £250,000.
JA: So the company was self-funded till now?
MK: Yes, the company has been self-funded. We now have some facilities now in place. In the first twelve months, it was fully funded by business profits or myself.
JA: So you own the business outright now?
MK: Yes, I own the business. I have other shareholders, but they have the minority stake. I have the majority stake.
JA: What’s the vision and future for your company?
MK: Well, the main strategy at the moment is to just keep doing what we’re doing. The main aim for this business is to build it internationally. We don’t know how long that’s going to take, but that is the ultimate aim. We are setting up the foundations for that where we just need to keep working closely with the clients we have and hopefully support them as well as the way they have supported us.
JA: With the pace that you’re going just now, I don’t think it’s going to take too long.
MK: You can’t take your eye off the ball because with the oil price at the moment, you don’t know what’s around the corner. At the moment, we haven’t been affected, but you don’t what happens in the future. So we’ve just got to keep our heads strong and keep doing what we’re doing.
JA: Did you get any help along the way?
MK: We’ve had help from people along the way. They’ve given us some guidance and it’s quite amazing what other people will do for you.
JA: Did you get any help from local organizations?
MK: Yes, we’ve had support from Business Gateways, Scottish Enterprise and the bank.
JA: How was your life in the Royal Navy?
MK: Very good. I think the hardest part was that you were away from your family. However, your social life was fantastic. The experiences you had were amazing. They went out of their way to help you. If you wanted to do something, there was always some kind of support there for you. So for myself, it was one of the best things I did because I didn’t have the best time when I was younger. I left school with nothing. If it wasn’t for the forces, I don’t know exactly where I’d be at the moment. So they made into the person that I am now.
JA: You left school at 15 with no qualifications and you still achieved your HND and your HNC? What was your motivation behind that?
MK: I had to do something. The main motivation was I always knew that if ever left the forces, I need some formal education behind me to actually get a career. If I didn’t spend a lot time in the forces getting my education, I don’t think I would be in the position where I am now. You need the degrees initially and then after time, your life experience comes into play and what you’ve done. You just have to build on it. I wouldn’t recommend doing what I did, as it isn’t the best way to do it. You have to be very dedicated if you leave school with nothing and then you have to eventually get your education because then you have own family life to worry about. Potentially, you’ve got too many things in your way to put your 100% into your education. However, it’s rewarding once you get there.
JA: When you were an award winner for Elevator Awards ‘Emerging Entrepreneur’, what was going through your mind?
MK: I was shocked. I actually wasn’t at the award ceremony as I was at another award ceremony. I was getting updates from my team that was at the awards in Aberdeen. I had actually just won an EY award at the same time. I couldn’t believe it, because the other people up for the award had great stories to tell as well.
JA: Did you need a separate office for your awards?
MK: No, definitely!
JA: When I looked for your name in Google, the first pages are just filled with all the awards.
MK: Yes, that’s part of the marketing strategy.
JA: Who does your marketing strategy?
MK: It’s me. I do all the social media and marketing for the company.
JA: You must be a machine.
MK: I wouldn’t say that I’m a machine, I just like doing work and I’m very committed to it. I’ve always had that ethic that if you work hard, you’ll be rewarded in time.
JA: I noticed that your website is really great.
MK: Thanks. We put a lot of time into it. As we were a new startup, your brand is one of your strengths. If you get it out there, hopefully people will remember it. Then people will start coming to you.
JA: Tell me about your personal habits that contribute to your success.
MK: The biggest habit I have is that I’m a workaholic. I’m trying to build a successful business and hopefully in time, I’ll get my hobbies back. I am starting to take a bit more time off than previously. It is the sacrifice you have to make when you start up a business. You can’t just expect it to happen. It’s 24/7.
JA: So you just eat, sleep and drink your work?
MK: Plenty of coffee. Let’s put it that way.
JA: Just to let anyone know who is listening. This interview is happening on a Saturday.
MK: Saturday is probably my most quiet day. It’s the only time that I’m in the office. I actually do more work on a Saturday than I do during the week because I’m usually out quite a bit or having various phone calls or meetings.
JA: Do you still sleep eight hours a day?
MK: I would say less, probably between five and eight a day. Very rarely that I’ll ever sleep over 8 hours a day. I’m usually in the office by 7-7:30am and I’ll be here till about that time at night. I’ll go home and have something to eat and see my children and then I’ll be working till between 11pm-1am and then back again the next day.
JA: What motivates you in the morning?
MK: Try to do better than I did the day before. Also, I love a challenge. I set myself a goal every week and I always try and achieve it.
JA: Did you achieve your goals this week?
MK: Yes, then on Monday, I’ll start with some fresh goals.
JA: Would you say that you are more of a salesperson or a strategy person?
MK: I’m a bit of both I would say. I don’t mind sales. I enjoy it. I think it’s a challenge sometimes but it’s quite rewarding, especially when you win the work. Don’t get me wrong; people think that running a business is easy. It certainly isn’t. The hardest thing in business is getting your sales.
JA: You have built a very successful business in just three years, what would you say is an important skill that an entrepreneur should have?
MK: You just need to stick by what you want to do and get on with it. Things will happen that you have no control over. Just accept it and move on. Don’t worry about it too much.
JA: Tell me about the best advice that you have received
MK: Recently, I was told to “think outside the box”. Initially, I didn’t understand what that meant until it’s starting to unfold slowly with what I want to do with business. Also, it is worth taking a step back and just wait and see. So with a company like this, sometimes you don’t always just go straight forwards. Take your time and think about it. There are lots of things to consider these days. Also, the main thing in business, you need to keep your staff happy. If they’re happy, the business is happy, there is a great buzz around the place and everybody is working to come and go
JA: How do you keep them happy?
MK: Give them a good quality place to work. You let them take control on certain scopes that they’re working on and let them develop it. Rather than you sitting in the back and micro-managing them. Give them a chance to go and develop it themselves. People do like challenges.
Although, people say sometimes that staff are motivated by money. I don’t agree with that. People like to work for a place that has got the right attitude; they can see where the company is going and they can feel like a part of it.
JA: I agree with you 200%. I heard in one of your interviews that you approached a few business gateways and a few other places but were told that you were too young to start.
MK: That was in 2009. By 2012, I got a better reception because the advice they gave me in 2009, I actually took up and developed what they told me to develop. At the same time, I was a bit wiser. I was a little bit older. I also knew how the system worked by that stage. So it actually streamlined certain things.
JA: So you set up a new company recently, SengS investment?
MK: Yes, that’s right. I set that up in December 2014.
JA: What is that?
MK: That’s my future plan. As long as I’m successful in my current company, I want to start supporting companies. I’m hopefully going to use SengS investments for that. I haven’t done anything with it yet. I’m slowly working on some strategies and doing things in the background. So we’ll see what happens.
JA: So you started your own ventures back in 2005. That’s almost been 10 years that you’ve been in the business. What are the top three lessons that you’ve learnt?
MK: People. Cash flow. Dedication.
JA: So we’ll move onto our rapid fire round. I will ask you a set of questions that you can give me a one word answer or phrase.
Do you have a role model?
JA: Do you follow any CEO locally in Aberdeen?
JA: What’s your favourite business book?
MK: I don’t really have any. I’ve read Peter Jones’ one; I’ve read Richard Branson’s biographies. I actually don’t have too much time to read because of the work I do.
JA: What is your favourite online resource?
MK: Google is the best one, isn’t it? You can learn anything off Google.
JA: So you mentioned earlier about your future plans. What is one startup/early stage company that you’re following at the moment?
MK: One that is very interesting to watch is Brewdog. They have done amazing in such a short space of time.
JA: What car do you drive?
MK: I drive one of the company vans.
JA: What is your personal car?
MK: Well besides the van, I drive a Range Rover.
JA: If someone offers you double the valuation of your company just now, would you sell it?
JA: If you could go back in time to when you were 25 years old and you have one minute to speak to yourself, what would you say?
MK: Continue what you are doing. Live life to your max. Enjoy it.
JA: What is your best advice for people who are starting up or looking to get started?
MK: The best thing to do is try it. Offer it. If you don’t commit to it right away, then it will probably never happen. Don’t invest too much money in it. Invest your time because time is nothing. Money can cause issues. Don’t spend too much money on your idea.
JA: Murray, you have achieved a lot and you have some inspiring stories. People will want to connect with you. Would you mind sharing your email? Where can we catch you?
MK: You can catch me on LinkedIn. Feel free to send me an email through there or you can phone my office and I will easily take time out to speak to you. No problem at all.
JA: Murray, thank you very much for taking your time out to speak to us.
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