PCR talks to the Managing Director of Pensar IT Management, Mark Williams, about going it alone, the superiority of services over commodities and the value of community.
Are you the founder of the company?
Yes, I started Pensar. My previous experience in the channel was with Chemical Albion Computers and I was corporate sales manager there. I started in the typical way that most small providers start up – they get pissed off with working for someone else and so they work for themselves – and that was me.
What was the original thinking?
The original idea came back in 1996. Working in the channel back then, we were predominately selling product but the prices were coming down and the margins were getting hammered. There was no real money in that any more.
There were lots of companies like Albion who were supposedly VARs, offering a complete service, but with the best will in the world 90 per cent of their income was derived from selling product and because their margins were getting squeezed they couldn’t put any money into providing decent services.
So they were employing school leavers and second jobbers to do what could be quite complex installations and support tasks – and they weren’t up to it.
It got to a point where I as a sales person ended up doing most of the support for my own clients.
So you’re of the opinion that service is something that has to be planned out properly?
Exactly. I thought I could do it better myself and all my clients were telling me I could do a better job, and I wasn’t getting directly rewarded for that so I thought “why not?”
I called some of my clients and said that I was going it alone and would they like to come with me. Thankfully a couple of them said yes, and that’s how it started.
You’ve grown the company quite a lot…
Yes, it’s about 18 people now, but for the first four years it was just me as a one man band. It was pretty much a lifestyle business, really. I was making enough money to pay the bills and go on holiday but it wasn’t what I would call a proper business.
But we got busy and it came to the point where I had to either drop some clients or hire somebody. So I looked to employ someone and that’s how we really started to build the company.
What lessons would you say you learned in that early period?
The very first thing I would say is that if you have an idea for a business, do it. I’m not really one for regret but I would have loved to have done it earlier on.
I would also say that it’s all well and good being a good technician and looking after your clients but there’s more to running a business than that. Make sure you become financially aware at a very early stage. Make sure you get the legal side of the business sorted out at a very early stage.
Typically most small IT providers, whether they’re focussed on selling product or services, they don’t really get this sort of stuff sorted out soon enough.
Okay, so you mentioned that you now have 18 people on the payroll. Was it just a case of building up momentum once you’d started hiring employees?
Yeah so we always had it in our minds that we wanted a company that would generate monthly recurring business rather than just one off jobs. Inevitably there is a bit of that and there always will be but we steer away from it now.
So to clarify: do you deal with consumers or business?
Small business. Basically our proposition is to say: “Mr. Customer, you’re too small to even think about getting your own IT resource. Think of us as an IT manager – anything that you’d employ an IT manager to do, we’ll do for you.”
And that takes us from the sort of start-up one, two or five-person companies up to the 100 users. Most of our clients have around 40 users on board.
You also provide services to American and European businesses. What are you doing with them?
We’ve got quite a play in the investment sector – private equity and corporate finance, that sort of thing, partly because there’s lots of them near our London offices.
I’d say we’ve got around ten to 12 companies that are from the US. Typically bigger companies – they open up offices in London and they need someone to act as an extension to their IT function so typically we’d work with those companies and be the man on the ground. So we would be reporting back to an IT manager directly in the States.
What’s been your biggest growth area recently?
The company I started with was predominantly in the Apple channel, so that’s where my background is and that’s really started taking off again. We got ourselves on the Apple consultants programme, which is a couple of years old now but it was a new designation by Apple.
Like the Apple Approved Resellers?
Yeah. Apple always had their channel. You could be a premium reseller, which meant you had to have a fancy shop, carry a certain amount of stock and meet pretty stringent monthly sales targets, or you could be in repairs.
Neither of those fitted our service model, but loyally over the years we’ve been promoting and servicing and looking after customers who use Macs, so the Apple Consultants Network fitted what we do down to the ground.
So while our business is probably still 85 per cent Windows, the Apple side of it is growing. In fact, some of our clients are even doing a full transition to Mac.
So how is it that you’re able to keep your ear to the ground, so to speak?
Well, I’m involved in several channel groups. I’m on the council for CompTIA’s UK channel community. That’s quite good, it’s a forum for solution providers like us – VARs, MSPs, distributors and vendors – we meet up once a month and shoot the breeze, for want of a better term. That’s quite good.
I’m also involved with an organisation called HTG, which is a peer group for IT business owners. That’s a US-owned organisation but I’m a member of the UK group and it’s all about how to develop and maintain and grow your business.
So you’d say there’s real value in joining these organisations?
Yeah, you get access to a lot of information that you’d otherwise have to pay for or go and find out for yourself. You get access to people who are in exactly the same boat as you so you very rarely need to reinvent the wheel because you can just ask someone.
When you’ve got access to a community then you’ve got access to a lot of information.
Finally, if you had one rule to live by, what would it be?
Service and the way service is delivered is about people, so look after them. Whether it’s staff or customers – people deal with people. We take time to find the right people and to give our clients a dedicated resource, which ultimately results in a better service.
Year established: 1996
Number of outlets: 1
Number of staff: 18
Contact address: 71 Gloucester Place, London W1U 8JW
Telephone: +44 (0)845 402 6797
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