Before starting Clientshare, James Ward had a vast and impressive experience in b2b relationships, working at one of the world’s largest companies, Xerox.
James had always wanted to start his own business and could see himself as a Founder. He saw that the dialogue between buyers and suppliers simply wasn’t good enough in today’s digital economy, so he sought to change that.
Knowing he needed to build a tech company, but being non-technical himself, meant James had to find the right technical partnership to bring his vision into reality.
We spoke to him about how he chose his technical partner and his journey as a Non-Technical Founder to successful Series A funding. Here’s an insight into James’ brilliant journey so far…
What was your background before starting Clientshare?
Before Clientshare, I worked for one of the world's largest companies, Xerox Corporation. I'd worked in big business or large enterprises for my entire career to this point. At Xerox, I was general manager of the UK financial and professional services sector, so I ran a business that had around 500 staff and looked after some of the world's biggest banks and professional services companies.
Why did you want to become a Founder and what problem did you want to solve?
I had a very nice corporate career lined out ahead of me but left for two reasons. One was, I'd always wanted to do something on my own. The second reason was, I saw a gap in a market that I knew quite well. I saw firsthand that the way large suppliers managed their relationships with their client base was lacking. I also realised the way that large suppliers managed their client reviews and got feedback from their clients was almost analogue– it wasn't professional. This led to large suppliers putting some of their contracts at risk and missing out on growth opportunities because they hadn't standardised, digitised and made the process of client reviews, and getting feedback, a professional, digital process. We are now fixing that process.
James and the Clientshare team.
How was your experience going from the corporate world to being a Founder of a tech start-up? What approach did you take to finding a tech partnership?
I made the same mistake that a lot of founders do in trying to find a technical person to help me, to become my partner and build the product. The reality was, I knew absolutely nothing about software and I knew nothing about where any software people hung out. I could only find people who called themselves CTOs, but who didn't do any coding anymore. Consequently, that process ended up just costing a lot of money, I had gone and hired a lot of people, and I didn't have the budget. Also, I didn't have a relationship with them, so I realised ‘I'm just gonna put my idea completely into someone's hands’, who I didn't know from Adam. The risk in this approach was ridiculous, so I sought alternative options, which led me to Founder and Lightning. I looked at three different options, a fully outsourced model in different countries, a hybrid model in the UK and abroad, and I looked at the F+L model, which gave me the UK leadership and then the development offshore.
Why did you feel it was so important to have a technical partnership when building Clientshare?
The reality was, I didn't have a clue about the tech side of things, so I needed someone to help. To not just teach me how it's done, but actually do it as well, because I didn't have the budget to go and hire a lot of people. Therefore, it was critical to find someone who is not just a coding expert, but an expert in the whole process.
Where is Clientshare now?
So, one in three of the FTSE 100 companies now use our software. We have 25 staff in London, we grew last year by 70% and have since found that we’ve received VC investment from an organisation called Blackfinch. In Q1 next year, we also expect to open up formally in the US— all good things.
Mid-demo at the Clientshare offices.
What has been the best moment in your journey with Clientshare so far?
First has been winning enterprise contracts. When you realise that a 10 billion pound organisation is buying from you at scale, because you have something that no one else has, that's quite a euphoric feeling.
The second area is seeing the product change, develop, and go through spurts of growth, where adoption suddenly goes through the roof.
Third is seeing our staff grow, as we grow as a business. It’s been great watching them succeed and progress with the company. The team is just brilliant.
What advice would you give Non-Technical Founders who want to start, or are starting, a tech business right now?
Firstly, don't boil the ocean. Find out which one or two things you want to do and make sure you do those incredibly well. Rather than trying to create something that does far too much.
Second, bear in mind that there are very few unicorns for a reason, you can become highly successful at 10 to 20 million ARR, with a b2b SaaS company. I'd suggest to a lot of people in b2b SaaS, get your head out of all this pie-in-the-sky stuff about unicorns and disruption and things like that, and offer your customers something that they can understand easily, that they can see benefit from, they can easily adopt, and they can get quick results from. If you are one of the ones that make it as a unicorn, amazing, that’s just phenomenal, but just be sensible about what you think you could do.
Third, the word disrupt is a very dangerous word. For b2b enterprises, people use the word disrupt because they think it sounds cool, but if you walk into a really large enterprise that you want to work with and talk to someone about how you're a “disrupter”, 99 times out of 100, you won't win. No big company, unless they're in absolute turmoil, wants to be disrupted, they want someone to come in and help them deliver better results.
Find out more about Clientshare here and follow James on LinkedIn to follow his journey.