George Davis on slugging it out in the boardroom
When we last interviewed George Davis, CEO of The SenLab Group, he was opening a £500k investment round for his business intelligence subsidiary – Prosper Systems Limited. The product is now reaching mass market and George is leading the business into a new phase of rapid growth.
George has been on an incredible journey, turning from introverted student of Computer Science at the UEA into a leader at Sync the City, business entrepreneur and courageous pitcher. In the last 15 months alone, he has personally pitched for – and closed – just under a million pounds worth of investment.
For Norfolk Network’s March event, Lee Carnihan from Hype Marketing interviewed George to discover how he plans on scaling the business using the money and expertise he has gained, and what this means to him personally as an entrepreneur.
Pitching Prosper BI
Prosper Systems provide “high-accuracy forecasting for small businesses”. It predicts things like cash flow and profit and loss, but also helps SMEs identify opportunities within data. George explained that while all existing business intelligence systems look at data, Prosper BI uses live data to help small businesses prepare for what is to come. “We look into everything that affects a company’s data set from GDP of a different country all the way through to economic and socio-political data in local communities.”
In the first round of fundraising George was aiming for £250k but left with just under £350k. He has since had a further £500k committed. He admits that he under-estimated how excited investors would be about the product.
"Part of it is my belief in it and my optimism," he explained. "But I think it's an exciting product that any businessman can see why they need it. Why wouldn't you want to plan ahead? I think the energy of my team really pushes that forward."
But not all pitches went smoothly
As a young businessman George came up against some unfavourable criticism. “One of my biggest struggles in the beginning was being taken seriously,” he recalled. “People would ask me if I had to go back to my mummy. It meant it was very difficult to make traction. It also made me more determined to prove them wrong.” Pitching he said was the key to his transformation. “I was quiet, very introverted. Now I enjoy running and leading a business, mapping out its future.”
Scaling v scaling the right way
As George continues to scale-up Prosper Systems he says money is only part of what he needs. Referring to his non-exec advisory board, he said: “At the end of the day it’s the money I need to get going but it’s the advice and the experience people bring with them that’s really important”.
Scaling Prosper Systems means “scaling every aspect of operations to meet the requirements of its customers”. He added: “I’ve seen what I’ve built grow really fast. It’s about doing it right now. Making sure that we scale in the right way.”
For George, scaling in the “right way” means delegating to others such as Karen Thornber from the Virgin Group who he recently brought on board to scale company culture. “It’s another level of delegation for me. There are people who will be very good at expanding our reach properly and bringing us to a really amazing place as a business. I’m always happy to acknowledge when someone is better than me at something.”
When it comes to business models, he looks to the Virgin Group for inspiration. Being a good employer that people want to work for is important to George.
"As a group, our vision and mission is to be the most innovative employer. We really care about our people. The only way you can scale is having people who can scale with you."
He advised: “If you go out with a small company mind-set to be a big company you will always be a small company at heart that doesn’t operate in the most efficient way with its employees. It should be your employee first and your customer second. Customer happiness doesn’t always translate into employee happiness.”
From Norwich start-up to international success
As a Norwich start-up, Norfolk Network members were interested in what it was like starting a business in Norfolk and what challenges George encountered. Employment was one area he admits became difficult.
“Customer success and account management yes, it’s been easy,” he said. “There’s been a really good support community for starting up.” But when it came to finding developers he found the pool of talent in Norfolk too small to support business growth: “Development wise we’ve had no end of trouble starting here, which is why we started a development office in London.”
Competition for employees in London may be greater, but George said this hasn’t been too difficult due to the culture he is nurturing. “We’ve found that people love working in a start-up, in a fast-paced environment where it’s not a thousand approvals for one job. It’s a big change in the way you operate and people like that. We never want to be that employer who has a thousand steps for approval and moves like a slug.”
Making a difference
Starting out in Norfolk he believes has also made it easier for him to grow his business; “it was a bit more personal here. You’re not seeing thousands of businesses starting up and not massively funded like they are in London. It’s easier to make a difference here and that really helped us to start up.”
Making a difference is really important to George. His aim is for Prosper Systems to be the leading standard for financial innovation. “We genuinely want to make a difference as a company and we want to make a difference across sectors.”
We’ll be eagerly following George’s journey as he continues to make a difference to SMEs around the world. Perhaps we will have shared in the beginnings of the next Virgin Group or Richard Branson?
Event photos: Rob Yeatman