On the 13th November Verastar turns 20. As the small business specialist celebrates this milestone, we ask Verastar CEO to share his inside view of the last two decades.
Tell us about Verastar 20 years ago and your role here.
Verastar in 1998 was a very small and completely different business. We were originally a sales broker selling energy. This set the DNA of the business, in that it helped us identify the micro-SME market as our target audience and develop the successful sales strategy that is still in place today. We were seeing the opportunities offered by the newly deregulated energy market, and the owners at the time really took advantage of these.
I joined as a Research Analyst, attracted by the exciting stage the business was going through and the idea of being involved with research projects. It was an exciting time mainly due to the volume of sales, which were phenomenal. Joining at that time, I witnessed first-hand a business going through rapid change and growth with great success.
The speed of success did mean it could be somewhat chaotic, there was a lot going on and a huge volume of contracts coming in combined with a lack of systems and manual processes to deal with. This was an important lesson for me, it taught me there is always a way to get the job done no matter how great the obstacles appear.
How much has the company changed in the last 20 years?
The company has changed and changed and changed again over the last 20 years, as you can see from our history timeline. We evolved in the first instance in 2004 from a single-focus sales force to a telecoms service provider. This transition created the need for a customer service side of the business which we hadn’t had before. We needed credit control, billing engines, we even used to pack the invoices by hand! During this time, we took on 20,000 customers in six months. It was quite unbelievable when you look back.
Other changes happened such as introducing broadband as a product (most businesses didn’t have broadband in 2004!), launching Titan Telecom (which became Clear Business) and launching a mobile product.
The next evolution came in 2011 with the Vitruvian Partners investment, the previous owners left and I became CEO. From this point, we started to focus diversification and entering new markets, transitioning to a multi-service provider over the subsequent years. Today I’m proud to say that our offering is truly unique in our industry with seven essential business services – telecoms, broadband, mobile, gas, electricity, water and insurance – and our one bill, one account solution. For me, to go from a very basic sales-oriented organisation to this is very pleasing.
In addition to the change in offering, there has also been a cultural evolution which has been a managed process. We’ve changed from a hard sales environment to incorporating a softer approach with customer services, whilst adapting to an increase of complexity in technology and the general evolution of the workplace. We’ve worked hard to do this steadily without a big radicalisation, to ensure that there’s not too much upheaval. (Many people don’t like change!)
What would you say has been the key factor in Verastar’s success?
Aside from our unique offering, I’d say the key to Verastar’s success has been our results-oriented culture – people working hard to achieve success. I think this is key to any successful business and something which is often overlooked.
I’d also say it’s our understanding of the micro-SME market and how to win/service customers which sets us apart. People seem to miss that bit of the market and it’s where we have seen great success.
What has been your biggest achievement at Verastar in the last 20 years?
Becoming CEO has been my biggest career achievement to date. From joining as a Research Analyst, I learnt the business inside out by working in various departments from Administration Manager to Operations Director before being appointed CEO in 2011.
I am truly passionate about making the running of a business easier for SMEs and this role gives me the platform to be able to achieve that.
What is your fondest memory from the last 20 years?
Some of my fondest memories come from the social elements of my early days. It was a really fun culture to be a part of, especially being fresh out of university. I definitely think that this built the foundations of a long-standing workforce, as shown by the fact that so many of us are still here. (Look out for the countdown of Verastar colleagues blog coming soon to see what I mean.) Over 20 years, you make a lot of friends who, by definition, become lifelong friends.
My fondest memory has to be meeting my wife here and going on to have our three beautiful daughters.
What do you think is in store for the next 20 years of Verastar?
Over the next 20 years we plan to further establish ourselves of the supplier of choice for essential services to small businesses. We also want to take advantage and reap the benefit from AI and machine learning, without getting caught up in the concept of it.
In the very near future, we are launching a new sales proposition which will be another unique factor in our marketplace.
Look out for more 20th birthday content coming each week throughout November.