In this series, we’ll meet the winners of Northern Stars 2017. What makes 10 of the best startups from across the North of England tick? Let’s find out…
This time, we meet Alex Epstein, CMO at BigChange.
What’s your company’s elevator pitch?
BigChange is the paperless way to plan, manage, schedule and track any mobile workforce. It combines back office software, mobile apps, fleet management and real-time vehicle tracking in one simple to use system. Customers can manage their entire operation, from quote all the way through to invoice.
How did the company get started?
Before BigChange was launched, SMEs had to make do with manually tracking their operations. The B2B software industry was dominated by enterprise players that only made costly, complex legacy products, accessible only to big business.
Our CEO, Martin Port, was on a mission to liberate SMEs from such inefficiency. Martin’s vision was to democratise the industry by creating a simple, scalable platform that let any business manage its entire operations – all the way from quote to invoice – on a mobile or tablet. He founded BigChange in 2013.
After identifying this gap in the market, he rapidly developed and commercialised the technology. BigChange’s unique industry insight, innovative sales and marketing, and design-led approach led to rapid success.
Our team is now 50 strong, growing every month, and was recently ranked as one of the fastest growing tech businesses in the UK. Our technology is used by over 15,000 subscribers across more than 600 SME and corporate clients.
What are you looking to get out of Northern Stars?
We’re really exciting to get started with the programme. This is just the beginning and we’re going to make the very best of this incredible opportunity. Together, all 10 of the 2017 Northern Stars are coming together to make a lot of noise about the innovative technology, talent and proven commercial success that is contributing to the meteoric rise of the tech industry here in the North.
Northern Stars is helping to put the brightest tech businesses from the Northern region on the map through an unrivalled prize package. Overall, it’s a way for us to make incredible business connections that will contribute to the acceleration of our already rapidly growing business. Our presence at TechCrunch Disrupt in Berlin is going to be a similarly amazing platform for us to meet with potential customers and investors.
So, a big thank you to the Tech North team and the sponsors.
What’s your biggest business challenge?
These are challenging times economically, politically and technologically. With Brexit on the horizon, business leaders have many questions about the business climate that we will find ourselves in. It’s an issue of disrupt or be disrupted. We feel the weight of this issue.
Keeping ahead of the curve is a real challenge – so we balance the need to deliver a world-class product today with constantly anticipating the needs of tomorrow. Our diverse team and board for our business ensures we have the widest possible outlook on what the future holds.
Within our team, we have Boomers, members of Generation X and Millennials, as well as the younger members of ‘Generation Z’ who are starting to do internships with us. By including their life experiences and insights, we are able to ensure we are developing a business and products that have relevance for the new world of commerce.
We are growing quickly, with 80%+ growth year on year. There is immense pressure to maintain this level of growth, so that we hit the forecasted milestones. Balancing the needs of our team, our customers, our stakeholders and our shareholders is no mean feat. We have a fantastic culture in our business – a unique entrepreneurial energy and can-do attitude. Our motto is ‘refuse to lose.’
The business is growing fast in every possible respect – especially the headcount. Our challenge right now is to manage the growth sustainably – making sure we hire carefully and protect the very thing that makes our business and brand so special.
There is a risk of the culture being diluted as we transition from being a bright-eyed young startup into a more structured, more mature business. Our founder has been through this experience with previous ventures and it’s an area where personal intuition and gut-feel come into play.
We keep our ears close to the ground, and respect views and opinions no matter where they come from within the business. When we recruit there has to be a very strong cultural fit. We hire for attitude and train for skills – it’s our secret sauce!
What was it like to pitch in the Grand Final?
Pitching to a packed hall and a panel of business heavyweights is not easy at the best of times. Being the final, the stakes were incredibly high, and we all felt the pressure to perform, impress and give the very best possible account of our businesses in the three minute time frame. Pitching at the Grand Final was truly exciting and terrifying in equal measure.
I was so impressed with the professionalism of the event; the staging, lights and AV made it feel very special. I love meeting new people, and it was clear on the night that all 20 finalists were there because of their passion, exuberance and the fact that they had created and grown very special business propositions.
Hundreds applied, so to be in the final 20 was a real achievement for all. I did embarrass myself as the first person selected as a winner. I couldn’t see any stairs up to the stage, and even attempted to climb up. Esme then announced to the audience: “Alex – there’s no need to climb on the stage” – and I was relieved when someone showed me the proper way to go back-stage to collect my award.
Where do you see your company in two years’ time?
Our 2020 vision is to maintain the rapid growth and momentum that has been generated since we launched in 2013. BigChange is growing 80%+ year on year, underpinned by innovative technology, a dedicated and super-talented team and a product that meets customer needs better than anything else available in the market. BigChange will become a £100 million business by 2020.
Our aspiration is to be the best mobile workforce platform on the planet, leading the digital transformation and automation of the service sector. Our purpose and ‘reason for existing’ is to be a catalyst for our customers’ growth, enabling them to run profitable and sustainable businesses. Our promise is to give them the tools and systems to maintain their competitive advantage.
We will continue to invest heavily in R&D and customer insight, ensuring that we have a pipeline of innovation to satisfy the evolving needs of our customers. We will maintain our industry-leading customer service commitment and deliver a truly personal experience to every one of our customers, no matter how large our own business grows.
Crucially our vision will be achieved by attracting and retaining incredible talent across the business. We are an agile, entrepreneurial business and our traction in the market is down to having a team of people who are empowered to be entrepreneurs in their own right.
It is our mission and passion to ensure that BigChange is as famous as a ‘great place to work’ as it is famous for its technology and customer service. We will continually develop the team, offering amazing growth opportunities and an enriching work-life experience.
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