Growth strategy: Slowly does it
- 19 January, 2009 22:00
Mary Henderson left behind the perks of a corporate IT position in 2005 to back herself in business. It was a gutsy move, even she
admits. She was bursting with big ideas - from websites to fashion -
but took some sound advice to tackle them one at a time.
"Build your brand first," the 39-year-old recalls a potential investor
telling her. Her ambitious business plan was scaled back.
Entering the depths of business toe first meant her company, GeekIT,
was agile enough to respond to market feedback, the kind that comes
only after an unnerving period of blind faith. The business was
tweaked: what started as a general website developer morphed into a
custom web application builder with a niche focus.
Since 90 per cent of GeekIT's clients were marketers, not IT
professionals, Henderson decided to target them with web-based
products ranging from document managers to complex portals. Her
husband's design agency was a ready-made client base, and the business
During the early years, it was hard coming to grips with the firm's
small size. Unlike at a large corporation, not everything was
possible. A frequently uttered word was "no", something Henderson
struggled to embrace. "We were pitching for our first big job and in
my mind we had what it takes to deliver," she says. "We ended up being
When Henderson did a postmortem of the bid, it became clear GeekIT
wasn't ready for "that size job". It was a big reality check.
But GeekIT isn't "little man's land", she insists. The company must
act big and think big, a goal only impeded by the firm's limited
manpower. With just 10 staff, it was important to understand client
expectations, set realistic deadlines and be honest about
With this in mind, it took a few years and some solid growth before
Henderson was comfortable enough to introduce the next big idea: tech
fashion accessories such as laptop, CD and camera cases. The
reasonably priced range is carried by a number of stockists, and more
items are planned for March.
GeekIT forecasts total revenue of $3.5 million this year, up from $2
million in 2007-08.
Moving into retail during a downturn is risky, she agrees, but says it
will work so long as the customer sees value and products are good
quality. She doesn't expect much decline in demand on the web
development side, so long as projects can be shown to deliver clients
a return on investment.
The big concern for GeekIT has been finding "the right sort of
talent", says Henderson, who prefers to hire experienced candidates
and not "fresh young things" straight out of university, even though
they are cheaper.
With the business operating at full tilt there's not enough time to
bring a greenhorn up to speed, she says. "Our business can't afford it
right now. At this point what we deliver is the collective IP of the
organisation. My team is the heart of my business. I believe that
senior people give confidence to my clients. I think this is where a
lot of development houses get sidetracked. They get these amazing,
young, talented people that don't understand commercial outcomes."
Henderson has been burned by many fickle twentysomethings. "They are
eager to begin with," she says, "but tend to be trying to work out
their career pathway and whether it is right for them. You can't know
this at 23. Insecurity is detrimental to my business."
A youthful dalliance typically results in expense, lost time, and
projects left in disarray. The ideal candidate is often in their mid
to late 30s, technically proficient and understands business.
"The wrong people in your business can drag you down," she says. "If
you can see that the individual is not working out on day seven of
their employment, you've got to get rid of them."
Lately, Henderson has steered away from using recruitment firms and is
placing ads and vetting candidates herself. It can be time-consuming,
she says, but candidates tend to be a "better fit". Other recruitment
tactics include word of mouth, employee referrals and open nights held
at the office - the free pizza and beer proving to be good talent