Learning for yourself: the keys to growth in business.

This week, we chatted to Dan Simmons at Quensus about the keys to growth in business: learning and putting in the work.

Quensus offers smart water metering and leak detection products. We can monitor, diagnose, and control any water supply effortlessly using the power of the internet, which helps to reduce bills and prevent costly damages due to leaks. We empower customers to self-manage their water consumption behaviour through real-time dashboards, budgeting, and leak notifications. Our smart meters decrease waste, enable more efficient consumption, and help us conserve our most precious resource – water.

‘Why climb the ladder when you can own it?’

Before setting up the company, I first obtained a Masters and then subsequently a PhD in Electrical and Electronic Engineering from the University of Nottingham, with a focus in software development and wireless technologies. It all started with the Engineering YES (Young Entrepreneur Scheme) in 2013; that is when the spark was ignited and I realised building a company was actually within reach, not some fantasy. The idea of growth by progressing up the career ladder then became redundant for me. Why climb the ladder when you can own it?

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced?

Wow that is not an easy question to answer! Every day there is a completely new and different challenge – that’s part of the reason why I love being an entrepreneur. The most recent challenge has been working out how to navigate the pandemic and efficiently steer the company so that we not only survive but come out on top compared to our competitors.

How easy is start-up growth in today’s business climate?

If you have a well-researched market or vast experience in an industry, and the government is actively funding that sector, and you have sales experience and are good with numbers, and you have a clear business plan which shows profit within 2 years – very easy!

What barriers do you think there are to growth/ how do you think these can be overcome?

‘Find something you know well and just incrementally improve upon it’

By far the biggest barrier for growth in start-ups is pursuing an idea, product or solution too novel and ahead of its time. Even if it is technically feasible, you will have trouble selling it, as most people are averse to major change (unless there is an absolute need). I fell into this trap at the beginning. A minority of entrepreneurs are capable of raising enough investment to finance the marketing for these incredible ventures, and you will see these ones in the news, but for the rest of us, find something you know well and just incrementally improve upon it. The more people already know of it and actively seek to buy, the better. Even improving a little bit can provide dividends in the future and is a much more stable route to success.

pipes and heating system

How can businesses adapt in light of the Covid 19 situation?

In my own personal/business interests in IoT, I think environmental monitoring and preventative maintenance will be stronger in our post COVID19 world. People and businesses will prefer not to be caught out again and will want to avoid oversight in the future. Conversely, premium consumer goods may become a weaker market, at least in the short-term, as most of us move focus, take stock of our intangible assets such as our health and relationships, and realise how fortunate we are right now.

What are the 3 most important things a small business needs to succeed?

I actually did a seminar on the “Innovation Sweet Spot” which essentially boils down to a Venn diagram combining Technology, Market and Business skills. Having all three in your team (or in yourself) is an absolute requirement. You need to ask: What can we feasibly build or create? What do customers desire? What can we profitably deliver?

What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever recieved?

‘Build – Measure – Learn’

There was some advice from my own investors which, as it is with most great advice, I first did not agree with! It was:

“don’t pay someone else to work it out – find out yourself”. A very practical statement which filled me with dread at the time. Yes, when you have sales coming in and a nice profit stream, employ people or outsource to get the process done for you. But only once you have done it yourself, many times, and have optimised it, and documented it in detail, and have performance indicators (which are fed back into the process) to improve it. So that eventually when that outsourcing becomes apparent, it is far easier, cheaper and scalable. This is also known as Build – Measure – Learn (repeat). Do you think that drilling 400 screws into plastic enclosures, or knocking on 100 doors is a waste of your time? It isn’t. Adjust your mindset so that in everything you do, you know you are either earning or learning.

Do you think mentors are a valuable resource for start-ups and SMEs?

Yes, mentors are valuable at the foundation levels of a start-up, however, remember that they are not the ones who will be putting the hours/days/years in. Other people who will add value, as well as mentors, could be investors, partners, employees, suppliers, distributors or consultants. Most people will be willing to help.

Do/ did you have a business mentor?

I have had many mentors in the past 7 years. I have respected and appreciated every single one. They have all taught me something. Unfortunately these days, the practical problems the business and I face require many different methods of solving. That’s not to say that mentors can’t still add value, emotional support is also very important and should always be welcome.

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