- Players: Brian Timperley and Louis Jardim
- Company: Turrito Networks
- Established: 2010
As senior account managers in a major ICT company during the 2000s, the corporate accounts that Brian Timperley and Louis Jardim serviced enjoyed substantial support, but smaller customers were falling through the cracks.
Everybody wanted the huge incomes from the really big organisations, so SMEs were largely neglected.
They also realised that Internet connectivity had become a commodity, so Timperley and Jardim opened discussions with potential investors and suppliers to launch their own start-up. They accepted an investment offer and launched a company. It did not go well.
A clash of cultures
There was a massive culture clash with the investors, and the entrepreneurs admit candidly that they had been seduced by the idea of being business owners, without considering the responsibility that went with it.
Their initial investors got into financial difficulties, so Timperley and Jardim ensured that all the staff were paid and supplier invoices settled, and then put the operation behind them.
They didn’t quit and go back to their corporate jobs though. Instead, they immediately set about refining their business model and finding a new investor, having learnt valuable lessons.
With a new business model in hand, they started looking for a more compatible investor. They came close to hitting the wall and quitting after 14 consecutive pitches to various investment companies, until pitch number 15 to the MICROmega group, who agreed to invest almost immediately.
Finding a niche
“We focused exclusively on the neglected SME sector, defined as 10 to 300 users. This focus has proved very successful,” says Timperley. “We wanted to make our customers feel as important as the big blue chips by giving them preferential support, pricing and service delivery.”
The second key differentiator stemmed from the realisation that bandwidth and network connectivity had become a commodity, so Turrito was set up to be a network aggregator, with the rights to resell products from all significant network suppliers. Customers are able to purchase all available solutions from a single provider.
The ‘halo’ effect of being backed by a large and successful listed technology investor also gave the business credibility. MICROmega provided capital as required, and the entrepreneurs admit that it was easier to grow using investor money.
Targeting the SMEs
The SME market can be difficult and costly to break into. What challenges did Timperley and Jardim face in marketing to SMEs?
“At the start, we canvassed extensively and focused on what was in it for the potential customer. We learnt what the customers wanted, and what they didn’t care about. In the early stages, it was all about growing the business. Our approach was consultative and all about addressing customers’ pain points. To be considered by prospects (and retain existing customers) we have to boast technical excellence in products and abilities.”
“Almost 80% of our new customers are now referrals by existing customers, so providing really top-class product, support and service has proved a better marketing strategy than many traditional strategies. Thankfully, we have great sales people, so we were able to develop the initial customers fairly quickly,” says Jardim.
How to manage growth
MICROmega might have been footing the bill, but that didn’t mean that expanding the operation was necessarily easy. It took hard work and a clever approach to doing business.
So how did the company manage to scale so quickly and effectively?
“We targeted a large market of SMEs, designed the company to support them well, and secured the products they wanted, so we had a great offering. We also delegated decisions to where they were best made, enabling us to respond rapidly.”
The partners are very different. Timperley is the entrepreneur, building the strategic initiatives to grow the business, with strong industry knowledge. Jardim describes him as a ‘people magnet’. Jardim, meanwhile, is the ‘make-it-happen man’, a problem-solver with a talent for operational excellence.
Leading as a team
“We use each other’s strengths to manage the company. We have never had a serious dispute,” says Jardim.
“The management style is best described as agile chaos — it is highly decentralised decision-making, especially when it comes to the sales teams. For example, if a customer needs a facility for which Turrito Networks is not a registered supplier, employees are expected to use their initiative to motivate new suppliers to management, or find alternatives.
“We don’t make lengthy to-do lists in meetings. When a decision is made, the responsible party must just do it — often from right inside the meeting. We cannot tolerate procrastination, being right or wrong is much less damaging than indecision. It’s okay to fail and learn fast, but it’s not okay to do nothing.”
Decentralised decision-making has been instrumental in rapid growth. “This process has allowed us to grow, because, as directors, we don’t need to focus on the day-to-day running of the company as much as we otherwise would need to. We can focus more on strategic issues such as customer-care standards, target markets and suppliers.
Hiring the right people
Of course this approach has created its own set of problems, especially when it comes to hiring employees.
“We’ve found that track record in a corporate organisation is irrelevant when it comes to hiring staff. Corporate people do not fit into this environment, so instead we look for agility. We reward high performance well and punish underperformance. We’ve also stuck to our two core strategies of selling only to SMEs and being network agnostic, and this means stability for staff, suppliers and customers,” says Jardim.
Although company growth has been impressive, the staff complement has remained fairly small. When Turrito started, there were four people. Today, there are 31.
“We are still growing, and should do more than 50% year-on-year growth this year. There’s a lot to do in the SME market. It’s a huge segment that will keep us growing rapidly. We have some customers in other African countries, so the rest of Africa offers a lot of potential as well. We are well organised to manage rapid growth and it’s great to have a large and resourceful company like MICROmega backing us,” says Timperley.
Don’t abandon your niche
“Many of our competitors have established their own network, selling their own bandwidth. This is profitable, but we’ve resisted the temptation. We believe this erodes the value of being product agnostic and places doubt on whether we benefit from one of the specific products we offer,” says Jardim.
“We’ve been tempted by large corporates that have heard about our services and wanted us to bid for their business. We stick to our guns – we’ve taken on small business units within a large corporate, but entire networks that exceed our SME definition are not for us. If we try to manage large corporate businesses that we’re not geared to scale to, we ruin our long-term strategy for a short-term windfall.”