My scaleup story: Michael Lough, Blue Wren

Michael Lough, Blue Wren
Tell us about your growth story

I’m founder and managing director of Blue Wren, a software company specialising in systems to improve business processes and productivity. My role is to lead the growth and strategic development of the business.

Our story is common among many growing SMEs. We built bespoke software and websites for customers and saw a sustained period of rapid turnover growth as our expertise and experience developed.

As turnover grew, so did costs which resulted in plateauing profits. We had to change the way we worked and took the decision to pivot our business, investing in new product development.

The result was Flight, a software platform that we customise to the requirements of each customer. Instead of building each solution from scratch, we can deliver the same level of customisation and functionality but in a fraction of the time and cost.

We also changed to subscription-based pricing which reduces the upfront cost to customers and delivers significant productivity improvement to our business.

How did you know you were ready to scale your business?

Developing a software platform that can be customised to customer requirements has opened the door to allow us to significantly scale the business.

The way we have developed the platform means the software customisation work doesn’t require programming expertise, instead it requires skills around process improvement and workflow mapping.

This means we can decouple the sales and customer service functions from the software development function in the business, allowing us to sell and deploy systems far more rapidly than we could in the past.

What elements does a leader need to put in place to facilitate rapid growth?

A good leader needs to set a clear vision for the business and promote a culture and values that attract and motivate everyone working in the business.

Scaling a business comes with high levels of uncertainty which can be very stressful for staff.  A good leader will recognise the potential impact and provide the support necessary to ensure staff stay focused and happy.

As a business, our vision is to create positive change for our customers, our people and our community. This is underpinned by a set of values that promotes challenge and progress.

When we chose to scale our business, our culture and values were perfectly aligned to our vision.

What is the biggest lesson you learned during your journey?

Be prepared to work hard and trust in your vision. There were many occasions when we questioned whether we were doing the right thing – each time we returned to our vision and that gave us the reassurance and confidence to keep going.

That is not to say we didn’t change things along the way. It is important you can respond and adapt to change, but in a way that doesn’t derail the business from achieving its vision.

It can be very hard work so be prepared to put in the hours.

What three top pieces of advice would you give to a business hoping to scale?
  1. Have a clear vision for the business that you can clearly articulate to customers and staff. Ensure this vision is underpinned by your culture and values.
  2. Get your processes right before embarking on the scale-up path. Everyone in the business needs to understand their role in the process in order to deliver the greatest value.
  3. Be prepared to work hard and don’t be put off when things don’t quite work out as you had planned.

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