My name is John Paterson and I’m the founder and CEO of Really Simple Systems, the best CRM system for small and medium-sized businesses.
Simple Systems CRM has all the features a business needs to manage and automate its sales and marketing systems. With over 1300 paying customers and many more using our Free CRM, we are the largest European vendor of Cloud CRM systems.
We’ve been growing at 25% a year since we started and keep on making the product easier to use while adding new features.
What's your backstory and how did you get into entrepreneurship?
My first experience of being an entrepreneur was when I was simultaneously offered a place at a prestigious business school and the opportunity to start my own consultancy business. I thought - I can always get back to business school but how often will I be offered the chance to start my own business? I never went to that business school.
Finding your target audience and understanding their buying habits and drivers will help you tailor your marketing to maximize the return.
After working with a few companies in the early days of personal computers I joined Systems Union, a small UK software vendor and the author of SunSystems accounting. From five people we grew that to $1m revenues, 600 people, and 23 offices around the world. It was a wild ride fueled by the adoption of PCs into businesses and then Y2K.
After Systems Union I found myself doing a series of turnarounds, trying to stop troubled software companies from going bust and then growing them again. It was well remunerated but a bloody business, surrounded by unhappy customers, staff, and investors.
Finally, after the last one of those I had made enough money to start my own business, or rather, to not earn anything for two years while I got the business going.
It was important to me to be able to self-fund the business and grow organically rather than bring in any investors.
Take us through your entrepreneurial journey. How did you go from day 1 to today?
Day 1 - Firstly I needed to decide what business to be in. Should I do something new or go with what I knew best? I decided on software, as I knew about that, and specifically CRM software as I’d set up a myriad of systems over the years.
Day 60 - Next up was to design the product and start writing the code. Fortunately, I used to be a computer programmer, so I just needed to brush up on my skills and get going.
Day 180 - While I was still developing the product, I contacted a couple of friends who were also running their businesses who agreed to be my first customers, for free, and their experience and feedback helped define the initial product.
Day 365 - It was about a year after I had started that I was ready to launch the product and got set up with a website and Google Ads to start generating leads. Of course, at this point it was just me so I was answering telephone inquiries, giving product demos, handling customer support inquiries, and then still writing the product code in the evenings and at weekends.
Year 2 - Two years down the line I took on my first employee, a sales manager to help manage the inquiries. This helped free up my time to fine-tune the product and add more features.
Year 3 - A year later we were in the position to hire a second employee to manage the customer support. This was also the trigger to move into proper offices rather than running the business from home.
From then on the company has been growing steadily, increasing both the customer base and revenue, and taking on more staff. A big step-change came with an increase in spending on marketing, enabled as we generated more cash.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Simple Systems is now a fully-fledged business with staff, international offices, and a recognized brand. As our fame grows, and as the world recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic and remote working becomes the norm, and as CRM software becomes a must for all growing businesses (and not just large ones), the company’s future looks bright.
We are continually developing the CRM product and increasing our customer base around the world. We now have offices in three countries and sell globally. We are ambitious for the future where we are looking to increase our brand awareness and exploit the need for cloud-based business solutions.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
All the lessons learned are the obvious ones. Overall, people are the key to success and a great product is useless without great marketing. But also important is not to spend more than you have or you’ll end up in hoc to somebody. And of course, keep your customers happy and don’t rip them off.
In general, but especially when you’re first starting, it helps to find partners that have an established customer base that fits your product or service. Co-marketing lets you find a readily available target audience and an existing level of trust and loyalty that you can tap into.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
The tools and platforms we use are 100% Open Source. We develop our CRM software in PHP and Laravel, with the back-end in MySQL, and Linux servers. We use both Google and AWS for data hosting, as you can’t rely on just one vendor so the risk is minimized.
Unsurprisingly, we use our products for CRM, email marketing, and customer support. As well as being great products, being our customer helps us to react quickly to the changing market and identify any issues immediately.
In a market as saturated as CRM, marketing costs can escalate very quickly if you are not savvy with your spending. We don’t have the budgets of some of our more illustrious competitors so we need to be canny. SEO is key and we invest a good deal of time in making sure we are being found in the right places. As part of this, user-generated content in the form of customer reviews is essential and has the power to generate a large volume of new leads.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
The book Crossing The Chasm, by Geoffrey A. Moore, was probably the best book I read on taking a software product to market. I also learned a lot about how to run a software development team from Frederick Brooks Jr’s The Mythical Man-Month, The: Essays on Software Engineering.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
All the clichés are true. You need to have a lot of drive, you need to believe in where you are going, and you need to be able to survive financially while you build the business.
As mentioned above, understanding how to market your business is essential, and not recognizing this is where I have seen many businesses fail. Having a good product isn’t enough, you need to understand who is going to buy it and why. Finding your target audience and understanding their buying habits and drivers will help you tailor your marketing to maximize the return.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are always looking for great software developers, salespeople, and customer support staff to continue the growth of the business.
Where can we go to learn more?
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