Fresh Milk Software creation Flobot is a market leading product that has brought the power of digital to the Field Services industry. So why is it giving its founder a headache?

flboot rounded 235x300 Fresh Milk Software creation Flobot is a market leading product that has brought the power of digital to the Field Services industry. So why is it giving its founder a headache?Robert Barney is experiencing the kind of dilemma that only a successful business person could imagine having. Robert has worked for himself ever since he set up a small property maintenance company in Clapham back in 2007. His business grew fast and after 1 year he was managing more than 50 contractors; sending them out to jobs in people’s homes, paying them, and handling the accountancy and regulatory side of affairs.

Robert quickly realised that to continue to run his business he needed to stop doing so much administrative work. He could see that the mountains of paperwork he had to complete every time he sent somebody on a job would eventually kill his business. It was unsustainable. He needed to find a way to co-ordinate all of the small tasks he was legally obliged to carry out, to create a centralised system capable of understanding that every job needed scheduling, invoicing, recording, and reporting upon.

His solution, at the time, was fairly radical. He decided he would try and go paperless. He also decided that what he really wanted was a system in place that could do the work of a secretary, and accountant, all day, every day, but for no salary! He wasn’t keen to hire any more staff for the office. He didn’t have the space for a start.

So he called his brother Simon, who built web applications for British telecoms. After a bit of persuasion, Simon joined the Company and together they began to build the answer to Robert’s business problems. An end to end, customer relationship management tool that could also handle order processing, invoicing and accounting.

In Robert’s opinion, it was the holy-grail that could help his business stand out in a crowded marketplace, the kind of competitive edge any business would welcome. And it worked! Datanet, as the system was christened, could do all of the things mentioned above and more. The brothers decided to hire some developers and really test the limits of the products usability, and soon Datanet was running the entire administrative side of the business on its own.

It wasn’t long before the contractors and businesses Robert worked with began to take note. How come Robert’s business was so well run? Why was he never losing invoice sheets, sending the wrong people to the wrong jobs, or failing to take customers payments for weeks and weeks? They wanted in on the software too. At first, the brothers said “No”.

freshmilk team 300x216 Fresh Milk Software creation Flobot is a market leading product that has brought the power of digital to the Field Services industry. So why is it giving its founder a headache?But they soon concluded that Datanet could work as a stand-alone business. The demand was there, and it was a market leading piece of software that traders, notoriously technophobic people in general, trusted. So they took Datanet, gave it the more tech savvy name of Flobot, they pivoted their business, shut down the property maintenance arm, and became, after seven years of “blood, sweat and tears”, remarks Robert, a fully-fledged disruptive Tech start-up!

Now for the dilemma: Flobot is essentially a Software as a Service platform (SAAS) with a target market of field service providers such as plumbers, electricians and gas men. Anyone who has experienced trying to pay a plumber using an old chip and pin station with a dodgy battery, before having to wait weeks for a proper invoice, or taken a day off work only to find the gas man won’t be coming because he had the wrong date in his diary, will testify to the gap in the market for a product that combines workflow management software with a working payments system where the public can even store their details in case of repeat business. Flobot, Robert is sure, has always done well for its clients. The difference a prompt payment system can have on your cash-flow management alone is massive.

Robert has looked at the competition and identified 2 companies he sees as offering a similar service to him. Geoop, a Canadian brand that has recently completed a round of funding, and Workflow max, which was recently bought out by a much larger firm. There is also a third, Powered Now, beginning to make waves. Flobot is too early stage, and too small, to compete for contracts such as British Gas, despite their workflow system, Cyclops, being very much in need of replacing, but Robert has noticed the competition getting fiercer to make deals with smaller firms also. “It was when I started to hear adverts for accountancy software on Talksport radio that the penny dropped”, says Robert, “I began to think, has the message finally got through, that paper trails are bad for business?”

The demand is there, but how to get noticed? To date the business has been entirely self-funded, but might Flobot benefit from an accelerator program, say, which would provide access to mentors, marketing specialists and fresh investment? “My first thought was that I was too old and had too much experience”, Robert reflects, “We’ve been in this business for a long time. I don’t rule it out, but I’m running a business here, we have 25 clients and more than 100 contractors to support, where would I find the time?”

A social media or digital advertising campaign, perhaps, or more presence at industry events or tradefairs? Robert reveals he used to build websites himself, so is fairly au fait with the way that, for example, Google Adwords works. He is sceptical that there is an agency out there that can deliver him the number of leads he requires purely through online marketing. “Organic search is still 70% more effective than paid for ads”, he notes, “people still don’t trust sponsored links”.

SEO is another area Robert knows well; he reminisces about Google’s famous PANDA update, which decimated the page rankings of huge firms such as Amazon and EBay, effectively forcing them to pay for sponsored links to get themselves back to the top of the rankings. He knows it’s important to stay on the right side of Google’s dreaded algorithm, “the Borg” he calls it.

The frustration is that such a well-developed product may not get the market it deserves, but that’s business, it’s not always about who has the best tools. We discuss guerrilla marketing, and Robert references the Dollar shave club ads, which, as well as being comedy gold, turned around Dollar Shave Club’s fortunes. We discuss writing a blog, like Charlie Mullins, the Tory leaning boss of Pimlico Plumbers. Robert seems keen. He is an ideas guy, after all.

I ask, would he consider selling the business? After all, he has achieved what he set out to do. He mulls it over. Maybe, he says with a shrug, he figures he would listen to offers. It’s a classic case of a founder who has finally realised his dream, built his dream product, and delivered it to market. But entrepreneurs are never satisfied; what’s next? They constantly ask. So what’s next for Robert, his brother Simon, and Flobot? “After the initial shock of the new, the digital workflow market for tradespeople is starting to consolidate, it’s about partnering with someone passionate who can inject even more of the funds and enthusiasm that is the lifeblood of any Company.”

One thing is for sure, when the team move offices from Vauxhall, to just down the road in Mayfair, Robert’s journey is only just beginning.

Profile: Heart Aflutter Bridal Boutique: A dress to die for!

heart aflutter logo1 300x179 Profile: Heart Aflutter Bridal Boutique: A dress to die for!As Heart Aflutter Bridal Boutique launches in Hackney; founder Cecilia Di Vita invites us in to talk shop

There are more “places to be seen” in London than almost any other city in the world. Ok, so thanks to Sex and The City New York may always be regarded as the chicest, most fashionable destination on the planet, but London surely comes a close second, and currently it is Hackney’s turn to bask in the glory of being the place wives drag their complaining husbands to for their weekly shopping fixes, and the place hipsters are populating and popularising, by, well, being hipsters and making outrageous and influential fashion statements.

From a fashion perspective, it’s the perfect marriage of the rich and the cool, and what does every great marriage need? A wedding dress of course. I meet Cecilia Di Vita, Italian, an ex-translator, 3 years married and now the Director of her own boutique Wedding Dress and Wedding accessories shop at Netil House, next to London Fields park, and just round the corner from the ever popular and trendy Broadway Market.

Swedish creative agency Acne set to launch Curater: a digital canvas streaming art to your home

curater2 300x276 Swedish creative agency Acne set to launch Curater: a digital canvas streaming art to your homeJust about everybody displays pieces of artwork in their homes, and just about everybody benefits from using technology in their homes too. Tech, and art, are two twin facets of modern living which are naturally harmonious because one helps to bring us physical comfort and convenience, and the other emotional nourishment and well-being. The lines between the two have often become blurred; most notably through innovative design, helping to bring the abstract qualities of art into the realm of the everyday.

Start-up Funding Club to launch 2015 fund backing a minimum of 12 SEIS eligible early stage businesses

startup funding 300x232 Start up Funding Club to launch 2015 fund backing a minimum of 12 SEIS eligible early stage businessesStephen Page’s Start up Funding Club, the Seed Investment Enterprise Scheme (SEIS) funding specialists, have announced the launch of their 2015 fund, following on from the success of the 2014 version, which invested in 15 early stage companies and is currently valued at 106% of cost, with no failures among the companies chosen for investment.

4 Start-ups on life inside the Microsoft Ventures Accelerator program

Microsoft ventures 4 Start ups on life inside the Microsoft Ventures Accelerator programSome say it’s tough at the top, some say lonely. Others think it’s the only place to be. Two weeks ago the Microsoft Ventures Accelerator Program hosted an evening at their busy Whitechapel offices that offered attendees a chance to get up close and personal with 4 of the companies currently completing the 12 week programme, to find out more about how Microsoft work, and what they can bring to the process of building a sustainable business in the blink of an eyelid. The mantra at MSVA is “Never give up on something that you can’t go a day without thinking about”; if that sounds like you, and you want access to some of the best mentors in the business, an intensive program of learning, and a chance to pitch to some top VCs, read about 4 companies who are currently living the dream:

Silicon round-up: It’s just a ride! The old social media double whammy

rollercoaster1 300x225 Silicon round up: It’s just a ride! The old social media double whammyRecently there has been a lot of discussion in Tech and investment circles over the use of personal data. The more sinister side of the big data debate revolves around the reasons why entrepreneurs and developers are building so many charming, sexy and colourful new lifestyle apps. Is it because these mini-algorithms help us to solve our first world problems, making our lives more efficient and productive, and allowing us more time to focus on what’s really important, or are these really flimsy and transient devices whose real purpose is to rob us of our personal data and sell it on to marketers and advertisers. In short, has our friend the lifestyle app suddenly gone all Trojan horse on us?

Making an Impact in Brixton

by Julian Jackson

impact hub 300x199 Making an Impact in BrixtonImpact Hub is a global network of small businesses and entrepreneurs. Started in Islington ten years ago, Brixton is the latest hub to go live. Down in the bowels of Lambeth Town Hall, the hub opened its doors in May of this year, and now has 70 members. It held an Open Day on Friday. Around the lunch table, as my tastebuds were being stimulated by spicy Ghanain cuisine, I saw the synergy of the hub in action. Kitchen Table Projects explained that they were a kind of accelerator for exciting new food products, but they hadn’t found premises yet. Three of the open day visitors were property consultants and they started a dialogue with KTC’s Tara and Nicky on how they could leverage short term renting of retail property in Brixton to get their project off the ground.

Kentish Cluster: North London’s answer to the Shoreditch meet-up phenomenon?

asasembly rooms Kentish Cluster: North London’s answer to the Shoreditch meet up phenomenon?Riding the no. 46 single decker bus that skirts the edges of Hampstead Heath as it makes its way from Maida Vale to Kentish Town feels like taking a trip through Trumpton, even during rush hour! There’s sensible folk everywhere, going about their daily business, and to be honest, that’s kind of what I expect from North London; it’s where all the rich people live, after all, right?

Home Flood prevention solution Hydroguard launches rewards based funding campaign on Indiegogo

hydroguard new 300x118 Home Flood prevention solution Hydroguard launches rewards based funding campaign on IndiegogoNow that the hot weather is over it is time to start worrying about being frozen and flooded. Excuse the cynicism, but given our government’s recent record of response to crises of an environmental nature it seems we would do well to take as much personal responsibility as we can.

How Do You Disrupt The Legal Industry? Offer Value The Big Firms Can’t Match

daniel2 240x300 How Do You Disrupt The Legal Industry? Offer Value The Big Firms Cant MatchWhat’s the best way to stop yourself doing something? Try consulting a lawyer. By the time they have finished outlining the risks involved in your plans, and quoted you a price, you will have tears in your eyes and a large hole in your pocket.
Or so the story goes. What is certain is that large legal firms are not set up to cater for the needs of start-up businesses. They do have a tendency, however, to attract and then horde all of the top legal talent. Until now. The legal industry is ripe for disruption, and one ex-insider has set out to prove it.

Silicon Round-up: Amazon moves to Liverpool Street, Facebook tries to tell the truth, servitude is back in vogue!

U2 300x203 Silicon Round up: Amazon moves to Liverpool Street, Facebook tries to tell the truth, servitude is back in vogue!The big news this week is the much heralded and talked about launch of Apple’s new app for removing that annoying U2 album that was automatically sent to more than half a billion iTunes users worldwide. The band performed at the close of the iPhone6 and Smartwatch launch, and their new album “songs of innocence” was felt by Apple to be the perfect gift to its fanbase. It turns out a more popular gift is the dedicated page the Company has now set up to help people remove the songs.

Better living through Coaching; shared experiences and empowerment tips

By Thursday, September 18, 2014 0 No tags Permalink 0

happiness 300x144 Better living through Coaching; shared experiences and empowerment tips A fantastic opportunity to hear from 2 leading Life Coaches and 2 businesswomen with inspiring and incredible life stories. They will share their tips for making the most out of life, especially as an entrepreneur, and how to feel empowered and confident in your decision-making. If you’re looking to get inspired to make some changes in your life, or to take your career/business to the next level, then this event is for you. It will take on Tues 23rd September at Fairly Square Bar & Cafe.

Hipsters, Hackers and Hustlers storm Google Campus!

rob fenton 300x300 Hipsters, Hackers and Hustlers storm Google Campus!Google Campus is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get. If Robert Fenton, founder of the Hipsters, Hackers and Hustlers website and talent impresario a la Simon Cowell, were a piece of confectionary, I think he would be a dime bar. Delicious sweet chocolate on the outside, gnarly toffee on the inside, helping you cut your teeth. High praise indeed. To put that into context, Cowell himself is probably only a Milky Way.

Launchpad Labs mentor Leonardo Zangrando discusses “pretotyping”, and how an incubator can also be a social enterprise

launchpad labs 288x300 Launchpad Labs mentor Leonardo Zangrando discusses “pretotyping”, and how an incubator can also be a social enterpriseLaunchPad labs is an incubator with a difference. First of all, it’s a registered charity, a not for profit social enterprise. But it also has a lot in common with some of the best incubators; it has great mentors, has attracted some top talent, and it’s pushing the envelope when it comes to developing the techniques and expertise required to produce healthy, happy and successful start-up companies with long term sustainability.