Nick Barker, co-founder of software firm Aware Monitoring on the three challenges faced by every start-up and how he helps his blue chip customers.
Aware Monitoring is a software company that measures websites’ and web applications’ performance.
In 2006, after over twenty years of experience in the IT industry, working for both small and multinational software companies, Barker decided he wanted a new big challenge.
He left the company where he had been working for seven years to do an MBA in Entrepreneurship at Nottingham University Business School. During what he says was one of the best years of his life, Nick convinced Simon Oxley, now his business partner, to join him in a new commercial venture, that brought them to found Aware Monitoring.
“You know how really annoying it is when you’re using a web application and the search doesn’t work, or you can’t login, or even worse you go onto a ecommerce site to buy something, but you can’t get through the checkout?”, he asked students during a lecture about start-ups at Nottingham University, “It’s annoying, but what you often do is you close it, and go to another website. For those companies, that’s a lost sale”.
Aware Monitoring helps its customers, which include companies like Jigsaw, Boots, and Ladbrokes, avoiding downtime and slowdowns: “We act like a customer, we constantly test that everything is working...and if there’s a failure, we tell the provider straight away, so that they can fix it because it costs them money and bad reputation, that spreads really quickly on the web...thanks to social media”.
For Nick, every entrepreneur who wants to start up his own business finds three big challenges on his way: the first one is to find an idea.
In 2008, while the online applications market and ecommerce were expanding, Nick and Simon saw a gap in the market for a web performance monitoring service. Therefore, they decided to build one, and founded Aware Monitoring.
The second challenge for an entrepreneur who is setting up his own business is getting a commercial product in the marketplace. Nick and Simon wrote a business plan, looked for investments, created a prototype, and started engaging with potential customers in very different areas of the market.
Finally, the third challenge is finding a product-market-fit, a product that customers want, that works and that allows the company to differentiate itself from its competitors.
In addition, entrepreneurs have to deal with lack of job security, massive overload, and have to learn how to live frugally: “We kept a tight rein on spending using low cost and free businesses resources wherever we could. We've also had to reduce spending in our personal lives, going without vacations overseas, etc”, Nick explains.
But the life of a start-up founder is also made of moments of satisfaction. “Start-up successes are often very small and subtle”, he writes on his blog, “Build momentum through each successive achievement towards your start-up’s overarching goal. These early successes can easily be forgotten or missed. Look out for them and be persistent. Also be patient and keep focused on moving forward”. One year after founding Aware Monitoring, Nick and Simon won the Nottingham Post New Enterprise of the Year Award.
How did the MBA help him in setting up Aware Monitoring? “In my experience an MBA does not teach anything you don’t already know or can’t work out for yourself”, he writes on his blog, “So why do it? For me is it’s about exciting new adventures where you push yourself to the limit and learn new tricks”. But he admits the MBA has also given him a deeper knowledge about business: “I now look at decisions more objectively...It has brought a greater understanding of internal business structures and holistic competitive markets.”
To entrepreneurs willing to start-up their own companies, he recommends not to wait for the perfect opportunity: “Openness to new ideas must be maintained. New improved sub opportunities may present themselves as the initial opportunity unfolds.”
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