In collaboration with Jai Aenugu of Entrepreneurs Scotland and AskJai.com, we are delighted to share with you another podcast Jai has performed with entrepreneurs in Scotland.
Today we share the interview of Bill Whibley, Founder and MD of Aventa Systems
CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE PODCAST or read the full interview below:
Bill Whibley: Founder and Managing Director of Aventa Systems
Bill is the Founder and Managing Director of Aventa Systems, an Aberdeen based software consultancy specialising in production data management systems (PDMS) for the oil & gas industry. Bill started the company in July 2007 and going strong ever since with latest revenues over £1million. Bill works closely with Robert Gordon University supporting local IT talent in Scotland. Dad of two Bill is great family man. Let me know tell you Bill has some very interesting hobby which I will reveal later in the show.
For more inspiring stories like this one, please visit AskJai.com.
Jai: Hi Bill.
Bill: Hi there!
Jai: So what’s your success quote?
Bill: I think there are 2 things that I say quite often. First is if your head is down, you are beaten already and second is just do it.
Jai: Tell us little bit about yourself in the business?
Bill: I am a father of 2 boys, both are doing engineering, which seems to be a common thing in Aberdeen to become an engineer. I am married for 25 Years and I am a local boy in Aberdeen. Since an age of 11 I am willing to run my own software business. So the guys of my age are very teenagers and are willing to a boom type software company. so being involved in a software systems is very exciting and glamorous thing to do for a 10-11 years old boy, so that is my dream. So I left school and went to college for my computer studies and I got a job in software consultancy firm. So it give very exciting and discipline work that IT gives to me.
Jai: What does your business do?
Bill: We are software consultancy and we supply production data management system particularly to oil and gas market. We also do business intelligence and data analytics kind of work because I work in a productivity and management area, collecting high volume of data.
Jai: Before started Aventa systems, were you working somewhere?
Bill: I started company with a friend of mine. At that time 300 people were made redundant in Aberdeen and that was the opportunity to start our company. I think not many people can leave their high paid job for start their own company. So we started ‘NDARG’ which was acquired by a Norwegian company.
Jai: So what was the first thing you bought when you got the money?
Bill: A golf clubs, a big chunk of mortgage paid and also utilise some of the money to help startup Aventa systems.
Jai: So you decided to be an Entrepreneur out of a necessity? Is that right?
Bill: At that time the easiest thing is to get a job, as the market at that time was good that’s why a vast majority of people are willing to work and I made an IT department of 35 that went down to 1. Then only 4 of us went out and did our own thing. So technically 2 companies are created out of that, one is mostly for infrastructure and back office and another is software oriented which is created by me and Calum. So I wouldn’t say it was out of necessity but it was desire and grabbing the opportunity, so we take a risk.
Jai: So how did you validate the idea? How did you know that there is a market for it?
Bill: Good question. Against everything you read, all the great advise you get from great business leader we just decided, Let’s go create our company and see what happens (nervous laugh). I didn’t have many connections at that time but when I started the company I made many new connections. It was all about talking to as many people as you can and try to find out where the opportunities are. So we managed to pick up some work then kept our overheads as lower as possible. We just went for it really but I won’t advocate that now.
Jai: How did you get funding?
Bill: Well we got some money from being made redundant. I would say that business gateway, elevator UK and Scottish Enterprise gave huge amount of assistance in terms of guidance and training and also some grants available as well. Also there are some training courses available for business startup, legal advices.
Definitely elevator was very helpful, if you want to start a company, then go talk to them, they give you good advice and also help you to make your company.
Jai: how did you get Grants for your first business?
Bill: Yeah for our first business, we get some grants to take on board our sales manager and some money for our website
Jai: So on the first day of your launch, what was you doing?
Bill: On the first day at NDARG, setting up my desks, getting the server and also brainstorming that what work I am going to do, what we want to do and what we do not want to do. It’s very necessary to understand what you don’t want to do as well. So we started off with what do we know, what we are comfortable of doing, who else is doing similar thing in the market, we didi we use (as I dealt with lot of suppliers), lot of head scratching and several people involved.
Jai: so how long did it take to make your first sale? How did you make it happen?
Bill: We have already spoken to Norwegian company about helping them out in local support and that came through a contact we had at an operator. It was through the people that we already knew. It was pretty quick within a month that we have our first customer which then meant we were talking to the whole bunch of operators here which then gives the opportunity to sell other things and sell other services. So this strategy worked for increasing sales.
Jai: So moving on from there, what were the lessons learned at first, which helped you in the launch of Aventa systems?
Bill: Early on, what we decided to do was get the systems and processes in place pretty quickly because you can get all sorts of problems if you don’t do that. The second thing was to hire the best people that you possibly can. So hire people that you think are actually over-qualified for the job that you’ve got today. The third thing is to get involved with business gateways and Elevator programs early on. There are loads of things that they could have helped us with early on if we had contacted them earlier.
Jai: Tell us about the worst time in your entrepreneurial journey?
Bill: Earlier on this year, there was what was happening with the oil industry in general with the market. I had to make the decision to make some people redundant. That’s by far my lowest point in my career. Being part of a small company means that we all knew each other, their partners and children. You’re definitely not a number when you work for a company like Aventa. It’s more like a family.
Jai: What did you take away from it?
Bill: We were very focused in the oil and gas market and that was a deliberate strategy. I think the take away from that was that we should have got into a few different markets sooner and not just focused in on one thing. If that one thing has a downturn, it has a huge negative effect on the company. It’s about risk management really. It’s spread amongst a few different sectors and so you’re not reliant on any single big customer. Then that helps to alleviate that risk.
Jai: While I’m in Aberdeen at the moment, it’s pretty tough. What would you say to the businesses in Aberdeen on how to be more efficient?
Bill: I think you’re right. it is a pretty tough environment right now if you’re in the oil and gas market. I think that it’s easy to cut sales and market activity because it’s seen as an overhead, but really what you need to do is improve upon that and do more of it because you’re going to have to fight harder for each of the opportunities that are out there. Listen to your customers, what pain are they experiencing right now and trying to figure right now what you can twist, what you do today in order to make it a good opportunity for your customers. That’s the same advice that you should be taking in any point whether the market is good or the market is bad. Go back to basics.
Jai: I’m sure with your experience from your earlier start-up, you must have helped you quite a lot starting up Aventa systems as well. Did you face any challenges when you started Aventa systems?
Bill: There are always challenges; there are challenges every day in this line of work. Very early on, the start up stage is incredibly difficult. There were days when I was sitting there staring at four bare walls wondering what I was doing. However, I think you just want to naturally keep going and try something different. Even if you’ve got something today that seems to be working quite well for you, in six months time or a years time or two years time, it may not work anymore. So you’ve got to change tactic and go off in a slightly different direction. So it is important to try and keep that positive mental attitude. Everybody is looking to you for some direction and some answers. When the company starts to go and more people join it, there are huge responsibilities to make sure that it does keep going. A lot of the breadwinners in families are working for us, so it would be huge loss if these people lose their jobs.
Jai: When did you know that you were onto something with Aventa systems?
Bill: I actually managed to win some business from the company that made me redundant.
Jai: Tell us how that happened.
Bill: It happened by accident. One of the guys that I worked with in the Aberdeen office had transferred across to the Houston office and he was back in Aberdeen as part of a project. A bunch of us meet up every now and again and he was there. We just got chatting and he seemed to think that his project wasn’t working particularly well and he needed some somebody he knew a bit about a particular system and I thought that I could do that and then two weeks later, I had a purchase order for a reasonable amount of consultancy work. That initial piece of work, lead into a two year project, which then lead into an on-going support and maintenance contract. That asset was then sold to another operator and they are still customers of ours today. So one thing lead on to another.
Jai: At that point, you must’ve been feeling that you were on top of the world.
Bill: I think that’s thing about being in my position. The good days are fantastic but the bad days are absolutely awful. You’ve got the highs and lows and there’s no happy medium. So if things are going well, purchase orders are coming in and we’re delivery projects then it’s a tremendous feeling. However, when work dries up and you’re panicking about where you are going to get the next project from and you have to keep them busy, that’s when the stress levels start to go up.
Jai: Okay, what was your revenue for the first six months?
Bill: Not a lot. I think it was about £30,000 maybe? But I think that was over the first nine months. We had a short first financial year.
Jai: Okay, and the revenues last year?
Bill: We were a £1 million turnover last year.
Jai: That’s awesome, good growth.
Bill: Yeah, it was pretty steady. I mean we’re self-funded. So we don’t have any other external investors or big bank loans or anything like that. We don’t even have an overdraft facility and never had one.
Jai: So you didn’t raise any funds at all for the business?
Jai: So do you own it 100%?
Bill: I own 95% of it. The technical director, Anthony Buchanan, owns 5%. So I worked with Anthony before and I managed to persuade him to join us reasonably early. Then two years ago, he bought in.
Jai: What is the vision going forward? Are you looking to get acquired again?
Bill: The acquisition thing isn’t on the radar at the moment. It might be at some point. So at some point, it’s going to be sold whether it’s a management buying it type thing or whatever. At the moment, this about trying to grow something meaningful here and being proud of what we do.
Jai: I heard that you are planning to acquire another company.
Bill: There was a possibility with that but I’ve knocked that on the head for just now because of what’s happening in the market in general. That was an interesting process to go through actually because we were looking at potential funding for that. Therefore, we were talking to the banks and some different investment groups. It was a bit of a dragon’s den type pitch. It was an interesting exercise to go through but that’s been shelved just for now.
Jai: Where do you look for companies that are up for sale?
Bill: There are few different routes for this. Accountancy firms will sometimes know if there are any companies that are up for sale. There are also specialist brokers that people go to when they want to put their companies up for sale. These brokers can help match prospective companies up. You provide them with a profile of the ideal company that you want to buy, and they’ll go off and look through their books and see we which ones are best fit for you. Obviously, any of these investment people will want to exit after a certain period of time.
Jai: What personal habits do you think contribute to success?
Bill: A constant need to keep on learning is pretty important. Instead of watching soap operas on television, I’ll listen to podcasts or read books about business and about start-ups and about tech.
Jai: You mentioned podcasts, would you listen to my podcasts?
Bill: Yes, I did. I listened to the Rob Hamilton one that you did. I’ve met Rob a few times. That was really good.
Jai: Thank you very much.
Bill: Is your podcast on iTunes?
Jai: Yes it is. So I heard that you have an interesting hobby. Would you mind sharing with us what that is?
Bill: Is this my punching and kicking one? So when I worked for the operator that I got made redundant from, one of the guys there was into a martial called Choi Kwang Do. It’s quite an interesting martial art. It’s definitely one of the punching and kicking types as opposed to the likes of Judo. We had lunch time sessions down at the local sports centre and it was great fun. I really loved it and I just kind of kept going with it. So I’m probably about a year away from being ready for my second black belt in that one.
Jai: So let me ask you, how many breaks you can break in a single atom?
Bill: Well we used to break boards as part of the grading, and that was the fun part. That was great. However, that stopped for health and safety reasons.
Jai: Did you ever have to use those skills in business?
Bill: No, I think if you’re part of a business where you need those kind of skills, then I think you’re in trouble. I think that all of the martial arts are good for teaching you to be calm in a situation though.
Jai: So in your whole entrepreneurial journey so far, what is the best advice that you have received and from whom?
Bill: Make your mistakes on paper. By that I mean, you can have a good idea, but if you just go ahead and do it, it can be pretty expensive mistake. So do your research and your cash flow projections. Create a business plan that looks like it’s viable before you then go and do something for real. That’s why I said earlier that I would never advocate for someone to do what we did. That was from the business advisor we got from Elevator. He was absolutely excellent and really good at questioning what our plans were and questioning the assumptions that we made. So that’s really useful. You need somebody that gives you constructive criticism and asks you lots of questions and gets you to question yourself.
Jai: We’re moving onto the rapid fire round where I’ll ask you six short questions. Who is your role model?
Bill: Richard Branson is quite an interesting, outgoing character. Locally, here, I would say somebody like Bob Keiller.
Jai: What’s your favourite business book?
Bill: ‘Good to Great’ by Jim Collins was the last one that I read. I don’t know if I’ve got a favourite business book actually.
Bill: What’s your favourite online resource or app?
Bill: I think that Twitter is really great. I prefer Twitter to Facebook because you get to follow these really interesting people. I’m a big Twitter fan.
Jai: What is the one start-up or early-stage company in Aberdeen that you are following at the moment that you think is interesting?
Bill: Well it’s not Aberdeen; I think it’s in Fife actually. They use these quad copter/drones for offshore surveys. So that’s using a glorified toy and turning it into a tool for the oil and gas industry and other industries as well.
Jai: What car do you drive?
Bill: I drive a Mercedes C250 that I car share with my wife. However, in the last two weeks, I’ve been experimenting with taking the bus to work to try and reduce my carbon footprint, which is ironic given the industry that I work in.
Jai: If you can go back in time to when you were 25 years old and you have two minutes to talk yourself back then, what would you say?
Bill: Keep physically fit and healthy. That actually helps you deal with the stresses and strains of running your own business. I would say that you should take more chances and don’t worry so much.
Jai: What is your best advice for people who are starting up?
Bill: A combination of a few things, first of all, you need to support your family and friends. They need to understand that you’re not going to see very much of them and why that’s happening. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and to seek help. You shouldn’t expect to do everything on your own and you shouldn’t expect everything to be perfect from day 1. It’s just not going to happen. The third is to stop dithering and just do it.
Jai: Where can we find you?
Bill: Our company website is http://www.aventa-systems.com. We’ve also got a Twitter account that is ‘Aventa Systems’ and my twitter ID is ‘WFW69’.
Jai: Thank you very much for your time.
Bill: Thank you.
Stay tuned for more fantastic Entrepreneurs Scotland podcasts and interviews!
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