5% Inspiration, 95% Perspiration: the 15 year ‘overnight success’ of Blue Prism – co-founded by ScaleUp Group Member, Alastair Bathgate – proves stamina is vital to a successful business.
Alastair Bathgate co-founded Blue Prism in 2001 with David Moss and was CEO of the company from foundation until 2020.
Blue Prism became a pioneer and creator of a new enterprise software product category known as Robotic Process Automation (RPA). But he will be the first one to admit, the journey was not a straight rise and required an immense amount of agility, stamina, and perseverance.
Blue Prism was born out of the then-unmet need for automation of organisational processes. A simple idea to democratise automation with a not-so-simple execution and an even tougher target market to sell this innovative technology to.
They grew from one client – UK bank, Barclays – to a global giant spanning across almost every industry from financial services through the public sector to healthcare, with 2,000 customers across 120 countries in 70 industry sectors.
The ‘overnight success’ was a hard-won establishment of a new global market and culminated in a £50m IPO on the London Stock Exchange 15 years after the company was founded (market cap now over £1bn). While some companies achieve their significant financial milestones rapidly (which poses its own challenges) – to follow John’s analogy – those are the ‘unicorns’ of scaleups. As more commonly seen, such success takes many years, if not decades to reach.
Pillars of Success
How can a Founder fuel stamina and keep the momentum over the years when circumstances are subject to constant change?
Alastair shared his focus points in running his business that allowed him and his team to push through the challenges and lead Blue Prism to success.
Delight your customers – especially early ones
“It’s an absolute must to delight your early customers. You have to have those advocates shouting about your product and promoting its value because there is fierce competition for attention and budget. Even more so in B2B where your customer is a whole business with many stakeholders involved. I recommend aiming to over-deliver on every aspect to secure that loyalty early on. And get your customers speaking to each other – you will learn a lot”
Hire the right people
“You have to have the best people in your team, who have the abilities and skills best fit for your specific business. It is so important to hire the right people with the most relevant experience from the start and continue to grow the team with the same mindset. Don’t be afraid to hire “grey hair”.
Consider bringing in expert advisors for specific stages or projects, for example, a partnerships expert to think through distribution strategy, or a financial non-executive when you’re floating your business.”
Have a clear direction
“What is even more important is that the whole company believes in the vision and pull in the same direction. You have to be ruthlessly focussed on the vision and have a big belief that you invented something that has global potential. That is not easy in the early years when lead generation and signing up new clients is still slow. I remember one year when we didn’t sign up a single new customer – although financially still a good year with existing clients – but after we floated, we were adding tens and hundreds of new customers.”
Create a good work culture
“Work culture is about more than just having a mission, it is about enabling your employees to really participate on the journey and understand the vision. I like to think we had a strong culture, which we even encapsulated in an acronym.
The whole team was working to make the right decisions for the organisation and even when conflicting views or opinions were discussed, with integrity and professionalism on the front of our minds we worked as a group to make the best decisions without getting personal with our arguments.”
“Impatience is a virtue”, I used to say to people. You have to respect the past, learn from it and move forward – there is no time to stand and stare while you are building a company. I like the Churchill quote “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
Dare to chase success
“We weren’t ashamed of chasing success; the main objective of the organisation was to grow from this tiny software company we were into a global giant – that was our measure of success. It was ingrained into our culture; we were all there to succeed and set out to hire people equally hungry to win. A regular interview question in the early days was: How much do you want to win?”
Prioritise and ask for help
“Prioritisation is very important. There is always too much to do, and you can spend an awful lot of time on something that is not adding real value to your company, and you cannot always see that for yourself. This is where advisors come in, which I highly recommend opting for. Having non-executive type advisors who can objectively look at the business to guide your priorities is invaluable.
“When you are a founding CEO – especially creating a new market – by definition, you have never done the job before. you are going to need support from wise heads at certain stages of the business.
“Experienced advisors – like ScaleUp Group – who have been there and done it before can fill in those gaps and help keep you on track. You may struggle to justify the cost of an advisor but having people around who can give you that guidance is going to save you a lot of time and money further down the road.”