Growing pains: How The Car Buying Group scaled with success

26 Feb, 2018

It’s been one year since we launched the first Northern Tech 100 League Table, designed to find the North’s fastest-growing digital tech companies, in partnership with GP Bullhound.

It was topped by Wakefield’s The Car Buying Group, which achieved a growth rate of 191% (measured by turnover).

Since winning the top spot, the four-year-old company has almost doubled its headcount and isn’t far from trebling its turnover. Success has seen it face a particular set of scaling challenges – from maintaining culture to dealing with recruiters – all while increasing headcount.

We caught up with CEO Tom Marley to find out how the company has fared in the last 12 months.

How did topping the Northern Tech 100 League Table help you?

Tom Marley: It really helped us behind the scenes. In true entrepreneur fashion I’m always looking for something else to be involved in, and the league table widened our network circle. Appearing on it also created credibility for the organisation locally – we’re less viewed as a “chancey startup” by some of the people we’ve started to do business with.

The increase in money we turned over a year ago was great, but it was also a really good time in terms of some of the partners we started working with, and the Northern Tech 100 supported that piece for us. One downside is that we’ve been contacted by more recruitment agencies than ever!

At the time, you planned to treble your turnover in the next 12 months. Are you on track?

We’re pretty close – we will probably do x2.7 or x.2.8, rather than three times – so near as dammit. We’re well into the high 40s to early 50s and aiming for £60m turnover depending on how the next few months do. That’s from a standing start in 2014, with two of us working in a store cupboard surrounded by toilet rolls!

How have you coped with scaling in that time?

This time last year our team was 13 or 14 people, so we’ve doubled in size to 27 people in the past 12 months. These are all jobs we’ve generated in the area from a standing start. We’re aiming to do that again, increasing to 35 people in the next three months and 40 within six months. These are both commercial and tech roles.

That’s great, but maintaining that fun, small business culture is a huge challenge when you scale. But I like that – we’ll have pizzas and beers when the World Cup’s on, and we thank the team when they leave the office daily. Because why not? I wouldn’t be sat here if it wasn’t for them. People here spend more daylight hours here than they do at home, so they have to enjoy it. Even so, retention becomes a big challenge.

Now – we need more, dare I use the term – ‘data scientists’. That’s the buzzword now! We’re acquiring some great people, but we need to do it at speed.

What has been your biggest scaling challenge to date?

Our biggest challenge when we first scaled was finding the right finance – nobody would touch us for funding including traditional banks. That’s a bugbear of mine. We came across people who wanted us to move the business to London, but we said that would go against everything we wanted to do – there’s reasons why we’re in Wakefield. I’ve been an advocate and said on record that there’s a wealth of talent up here. People want a better quality of life, and London’s streets aren’t paved in gold.

What are your key wins from the last year?

I can tell you that there’s been one big tech contract. Another win is an increase in partnerships on the car buying side of things – we’ve had some big wins in terms there. We’re also on list of companies who can offer prices on car comparison sites.

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