T+10 years and counting
It doesn't seem so long ago that Beta Solutions was founded, and now as I write this, the company has just had it's ten year birthday. That's ten whole laps around the Sun - something certainly worthy of celebration and reflection.
Excitement ... Doubt ... Satisfaction ... Intrigue... Passion ... Stress ... Enjoyment. These are all emotions that founders typically experience at some point as their "baby" transitions from a Startup to an Established business. Without a doubt I certainly remember times where I have experienced each and every one of these at some point in the past.
In this blog I reflect on these emotions and share a few musings about the journey to date.
- Business founded by Terry Southern and Matthew van der Werff.
- 1st Premise: Self-contained unit with adjoining garage.
- First clients.
- 2nd Premise: Larger office, within a larger Tech Hub at Palmerston North's Bio Commerce Centre (Now called "The BCC").
- First private sector clients.
- New website launched.
- Building our client base.
- First full time employee.
- Optimising business structure (Terry CEO; Matthew CTO).
- Expanded services into Electro-Mechancial and PCB Production.
- Number of clients reaches 25.
- Number of employees reaches 5.
- Clients based in all the main centres - Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and beyond.
- Industries worked now include: Transport; Industrial; Music; Aviation; Consumer; Scientific; AgriTech; Assistive Devices; IoT; Research and more!
- Number of employees reaches 8.
- 3rd Premise! New custom-fit out 300sqm office in Palmerston North CBD.
- New website launched.
- Number of projects completed exceeds 100.
Left: Premise #1: Self-contained unit with adjoining garage.
Middle: Premise #2: Larger office, within a larger Tech Hub at Palmerston North's Bio Commerce Centre.
Right: Premise #3: Custom-fit out office in the CBD.
In 2008, Obama was elected as the first African-American US president. Uber and Spotify didn't exist and neither did the iPad or Instagram. Nor did Airbnb, Kickstarter, Google Chrome or LPWAN. In 2008, the world experienced the worst Global Financial Crises since the 1930s.
So it was in this year, when Dr Matthew van der Werff and I, first mooted the idea of establishing an Electronics R&D consultancy business. We had both been employed in the electronics industry prior to this and the opportunity of starting our own business intrigued us immensely. Due diligence was undertaken; the business case assessed; and the initial business plan devised.
Of course, there is always an element of risk involved in starting a business and no amount of planning will completely eliminate all risk. It is therefore natural for budding entrepreneurs to have some doubts about making the leap from (perhaps stable) employment into running one's own business. In fact, statistically, we know that many businesses don't even reach the 10 year mark - with one study putting these odds at only (approximately) 1 out of 3 surviving the decade. Nevertheless, for us it was a case of "nothing ventured - nothing gained" and the opportunity was too good to pass up. Our quiet confidence and passion for electronic product development won out over any doubts we had and Beta Solutions was officially incorporated on June 24th 2008.
Left: The Beta Solutions team in 2008.
Right:The Beta Solutions team in 2018.
Yes, it was humble beginnings. Our first office was somewhat stereotypical of a Kiwi Tech Startup - situated in a self-contained unit with adjoining garage serving as our workshop. At this time, our equipment consisted of the bare essentials - Power Supply; Oscilloscope, Signal Generator; Multi-meter, Soldering iron, PCB CAD software etc. Yet, despite some space and equipment restrictions, we worked hard, attracted clients (both long and short term) and delivered projects.
Through these early years, we also strategically re-invested significantly back into the business, enabling us to fund further marketing and the acquisition of additional equipment.
Left: In 2008, our technical gear consisted of the bare essentials.
Right: Over time we have expanded our arsenal to an array of quality equipment.
Onward and Upward
Of course, at Beta Solutions "We Design and Build Electronic Products". More specifically, we are a consultancy business specialising in hi-tech electronics and electo-mechanical research and development. As the number of these R&D consultancy projects increased, during the period of 2010- 2012, it became clear that further professional resource was required. We hired our first employees in the areas of administration and engineering.
It was also during these years that we optimised our business structure, with myself leading the Business wing of the business (as CEO) and Matthew leading the Technical wing (as CTO). This allowed us to work with more efficiency and effectiveness and undoubtedly unlocked the potential for further growth within businesses.
As time went on, we expanded the services to included not only Electronics Hardware and Firmware Design, but also Printed Circuit Board Assembly (PCBA) Production. Our client base and employees both also increased steadily as did our awareness within the market.
A Day in the Life of Beta Solutions
I would be remiss if I didn't comment about what we have spent most of our time actually doing over the past decade.
Working in the business
Of course as per any business there is always daily "paper work" to attend to but typically most of our working day is engaged in undertaking actual project R&D work. In no particular order, tasks might include:
- Meeting with our clients;
- Writing product specifications;
- Devising product architectures;
- Researching for solutions;
- Designing circuit boards (PCBs);
- Writing software/firmware;
- Modelling mechanical components;
- Considering Regulatory Compliance;
- Conducting simulations;
- Building prototypes;
- Project Managing;
- Facilitating Production;
- ... to name just a few things ...
As we both design and build products, it would be fair to say our work consists of both highly academic aspects, as well as hands-on practical engineering. Our team consists of some very smart professionals, and it's an honour to see them really enjoy rising to the challenge of their work. (Personally, I also appreciate the opportunity to learn new things from them daily).
We love working alongside our clients and over the years we have been privileged to partner with many entrepreneurs and innovative businesses to help bring their product ideas to life. Our clients have been local, national and international - across a wide range of industries. We have enjoyed working with both Public and Private businesses; Startups as well as Established businesses. Perhaps the biggest satisfaction of all is when, after all the effort that goes into a project, we finally get to deliver a market winning product. To see our clients fully commercialise the product (in large numbers) to countries all over the world, is really quite a rewarding feeling. Their success is our success.
Working on the business:
Yet, another significant part of our day involves something else - not working "in the business", but rather working "on the business". We have always invested significant resources into strategically developing the business - as innovation is at the heart of our business and who we are as people.
Put another way, we are not content with merely accepting the status quo. It is in our DNA to continually search for new and better ways of doing things. We will never stop learning, we will never stop getting better.
“If you are not moving forward, you are moving backward.”
- Mikhail Gorbachev
Growing up, I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do as a job - but I did spend "a lot" of time tinkering with electronic and mechanical components/systems. As often as I could I would pull apart old electronic widgets - radios, TVs, robots, appliances, toys etc. I learned to solder at a young age and loved the feeling of being able to fix things. (OK, I may have also broken more than a few things along the way too - sorry Mum & Dad!). I built countless mini machines out of Meccano and Lego Technics, all the while learning about motors, gears and other mechanisms.
I guess then looking back, it wasn't a surprise that I chose to study a Bachelor of Engineering - majoring in Mechatronics at University.
My story is not unique and our staff (including Matthew) can share very similar experiences. Technology (or more specifically, Electronics and Software and Mechanical engineering) is our genuine passion. We don't have to force ourselves to like what we do - it comes naturally.
In fact, the reason we get out of bed and go to work is because "We enjoy the challenge of designing electronic products that will empower our clients and make a positive difference in the world we live in."
Business is easier when you enjoy what you are doing.
Left: 2008 - The Beta Solutions team doing what they love.
Middle & Right: 2018 - Our (somewhat larger) team still doing what they love.
Every business has their own unique culture. This culture may have developed intentionally or unintentionally. Perhaps it developed for no known reason, or perhaps it's obvious that the culture in the organisation exists because one or several people in the organisation define it by their own character traits. Regardless, it is certain - just like death and taxes - that a business will have a culture.
From 2014 onwards, we chose to be more deliberate about establishing the culture we desire. A culture that is ingrained into the very fabric of the company and independent of particular staff - management included. From an early time in our business we decided to help pro-actively shape our culture using the following guiding values:
- Integrity - Say, do & think what is right. Take responsibility for your actions.
- Excellence - Strive for and set excellent standards in everything you do.
- Enjoyment - Create and maintain an enjoyable work place environment.
- Innovation - Continually search for new & better ways. Don't be content with the status quo.
- Relationships - People are people. All people matter.
Values x Behaviour = Culture. Our values and culture are inextricably linked, and everything we do as a business strives to reflect these.
He aha te mea nui o te ao. He tangata, he tangata, he tangata
What is the most important thing in the world? It is the people, it is the people, it is the people.
- Maori proverb
There is one value for me that stands out, which is aptly illustrated by an experience I had around 2015.
Our team had recently been working on a complex project for a client. The deadlines were crushingly and uncompromisingly tight. We are pleased to say the project was completed on time, but truth be told, there were periods of palpable stress (for both parties) as the deadline neared. It was what happened next that really stuck with me.
One day soon after project completion, our office doors surprisingly burst open and we welcomed in a fully catered morning tea for our entire staff - courtesy of that client. I promptly expressed my thanks - to which our client replied: "Life and business are about people, and no matter what happens I try to remind myself of that".
I couldn't agree more, and this is why we honour the value of "Relationship".
On a personal note, the last 10 years has consisted of enormous personal change and growth for myself. For my wife and I, 2008 was also "life before kids" - which does feel like a very long time ago indeed. Becoming a Dad has been a most awesome journey in itself and now it's impossible to imagine life without kids. Matthew, would echo the same story.
Interestingly, our experience is that starting up a business has many similarities to raising a child. At the start of their life both babies and startups are naturally highly dependent on their parents and co-founders respectively. As time goes on children grow and learn - becoming increasingly more mature and more self-sufficient. The same can be said for business startups.
Both require a lot of time and attention. Both can be tremendously challenging and exhausting. Similarly both can cause stress & anxiety. Yet despite all of that, both can elicit remarkable feelings of excitement, reward, purpose and deep satisfaction. It's those latter emotions that make the roller coaster ride all the worthwhile.
We value our relationship with our families. It's especially rewarding to have "kids at work", where we can share our passion for electronics with the next generation.
I would like to finish this blog by taking the time to acknowledge and thank all of our Stakeholders - past and present. Business co-founder Matthew; our staff, our suppliers & collaborators and of course our clients. Without you all we wouldn't exist.
If you haven't already (or even if you have before!) we sincerely welcome you to come and meet us and see our (kind-of) new office. Perhaps you'd like to find out more about what we do, and why we get out of bed in the morning and go to work! Or perhaps you'd love to discuss a new Product idea over a coffee? In any case, don't hesitate to get in touch.
Cheers to past 10 years and also to the future.