In our regular series, our Community Manager Daisy interviews new arrivals at Sussex Innovation about their business, why they joined, and their plans for growth. Today she chats with Mark Rittman from Rittman Analytics.
Tell me a bit about Rittman Analytics...
Ok, so my name is Mark Rittman, I'm the CEO and Founder of Rittman Analytics. We're a data analytics consultancy that typically works with data-rich, young, innovative digital companies to help them innovate and get competitive advantage out of their data.
Can you give me some examples of companies you've worked with?
We've worked with start-ups, for example Let's Do This in London, they aggregate all of the endurance races that happen around the world and then they create a portal for that. You can search and find races to take part in; they then sell tickets for those races. They're growing really fast and their market of people doing endurance races happen to be well-off, so it's a demographic that's got potential. We work with another start-up called Florence who are a bit like Uber for care home nurses. Nearer to home we work with Into Study; they partner with universities to bring foreign students over and create foundation courses for them to get them into university. We work with them around digital strategy and digital transformation.
How did you get to your position today?
This is actually the second company I've had. I co-founded a consultancy that was based in Brighton that worked with traditional companies doing analytics and big data; I did that for about 10 years. We had a big social media presence; the company had a blog that attracted readers and audience, consultant and customers and we built a business out of that. I sold my half and went to work in the start-up scene in London but I really like consulting and problem solving for customers and I really like analytics and big data so I started another company and it's going really well. We're starting to recruit and we're based here now with you guys; we've also got a podcast called Drill to Detail. I like podcasts that interview people over half an hour to an hour and get into the story behind the story. I interview vendors or founders of companies in [the data analytics] space and try to understand what problem they were trying to solve with this tool or this technique or this approach to using data analytics. It's good as a marketing tool but it's also a community thing.
What's been the biggest challenge you've faced setting up your business?
Setting up a business, especially in this country, is very easy. Setting up a consultancy is easy because with any kind of services business you don't need to have lots of investment in capital, and now with the cloud and those kinds of things you don't have to spend lots of money on premises and equipment. What's been interesting this time round is the idea of using shared working spaces and collaborative spaces, [we've been able to] move somewhere where there are other like-minded companies and haven't had to spend lots of money on leases. To be able to collaborate and do things together is interesting. As I was the sole founder this time, I'd say one of the challenges is trying to do everything at once and trying to do everything yourself; sometimes as a founder you're too close to the whole thing. The other challenge is recruiting, it's quite a hot jobs market so actually the fact that [Sussex Innovation] is linked to the university was really interesting as we're looking at our main workforce coming from the university.
What has been your biggest success so far?
If you look at the company we've got now I think that the biggest success is that every customer has been a testimonial and a reference. Typically in consulting you get paid whether the job is a success or not. However, that's a very short-sighted way of looking at things so I've set a policy that where possible - some customers want you to be confidential about stuff - [customers] are a reference for us. It keeps you honest because then you know that you've held yourself to this standard. Given how hard it is to get people to put their name to something and be a testimonial, to get 100% of all our 7 customers, that is one of the things I'm most proud of. That's not a technical thing, that's a hard work thing.
What advice would you give to someone setting up their own business?
To start a new business, in some respects, is the most stupid thing you can do! People think "I'm going to start a business because I want to be in control of things" or "I want to start a business because I really like consulting" actually what you become is a sales person or you become a financial controller; in some respects it's the most irrational thing you could do! It's very easy when you start your own business to spend a lot of time and make no money, so I think, watch the money. One thing someone said to me years ago is that if you're on a 5% or 10% net margin, for every pound you spend on expenses you've got to go out and bill 10 times that to make that pound back. So if you're on a 10% margin and you spend £1000 on a flight to America to go to a conference, you've got to bill £10,000 to make that up, suddenly it puts it in perspective. Watch things like that because you want to have some money to spend if something interesting does come along to invest in, maybe you get an opportunity to work with you guys or do a graduate programme, you can't do that if you've not watched your money at the start. I'd say watch your margins and also, don't be afraid to collaborate and share. The way I've always run businesses is what goes around comes around. If you contribute and you bring in graduates or take part in events here for example it has its way of paying back, and the more you contribute the more favours and opportunities come back. That's why we're based here rather than a place on our own.
What does the future hold?
Obviously we've got goals in terms of size and numbers of employees, in service businesses there's always a sweet spot, beyond a certain number of people you get diseconomies of scale. For me though, it's that thing of being able to look back and say you made a change. What motivates me is becoming almost like an incubator for the next bunch of people doing this sort of thing. In my previous business there were probably about 10 companies who came out of what we did. It's about there being success but it's also about developing people and having a legacy. Back in the 80s there was Factory Records, the label that owned The Hacienda and had New Order and the Happy Mondays, it was like business as an art project. The Hacienda famously never made any money but people remember Factory Records more than a generic record label. I wouldn't [describe my business] as a piece of art, that's a pretentious way of putting it, but there's got to be a mission. I think with business you need to feel there's a purpose, it's pretty soulless if it's just a mechanism to make money.