If you’ve ever typed your postcode to auto-fill your address on a website, chances are you’ve used PCA Predict’s software. The founders of the £10m turnover business tell us the key to growth is being able to step back and take ego out of the equation
Jamie Turner After our first venture – an e-commerce website for publicans – failed after six months, Guy and I identified a gap in another market ripe for change. In 2000, address data for companies was still burnt onto CD-Rom, shipped out at great expense to the end user and uploaded to company servers, usually when the database manager could be bothered.
Guy Mucklow Data is dynamic. To give you an idea, the Royal Mail’s database contains 28-29 million records and there are 5,000 changes every day.
Jamie Turner We were the only ones providing the data online and pay-per-click. It wasn’t easy; many businesses didn’t even have an internet connection and those that did weren’t prepared to dial up just to retrieve an address. But we persevered. Our launch customer was the passport agency, which was keen to offer online applications. With an anchor customer, the business became slightly less terrifying and the numbers grew.
Guy Mucklow We found our niche and made a lot of noise. It took us four years to get to profitability. Unlike a lot of tech start-ups we didn’t seek any external funding and bootstrapped it all ourselves. Paying £15,000 a month from your back pocket causes you to focus and have a firm conviction that what you’re doing is right.
Jamie Turner From the start we knew the idea made sense, even when the rest of the world told us we were bonkers for thinking pay-per-click would work. It’s a techie thing to prove others wrong. Back then a good day was three or four transactions – now we’re pushing 20 million a day.
Guy Mucklow We’ve always looked at our bottom line. It took us eight years to get to 10 employees – we knew that by being more efficient than our competitors we could achieve a 30 per cent margin on sales. Because we understand each other’s core strengths, we’ve only had one disagreement in all these years – about how to change a car tyre.
Jamie Turner As CTO I can build it but Guy’s strength as CEO is the sometimes brutish, ‘We’re going to get on and do this’. I can get bogged down in the detail, which is important when writing software, but put me in a room full of people and I’m the guy hiding in the corner because I haven’t a clue what to say.
Guy Mucklow He’s putting himself down. Everyone has the perception that the developer-minded person doesn’t have social skills but Jamie has them in abundance. I couldn’t have achieved what we’ve achieved by myself. It’s important to have someone to bounce ideas off. Then there’s the trust, honesty and shared values.
Jamie Turner In May we released a distribution of shares to employees under the EMI (Enterprise Management Incentive) scheme, having set aside 10 per cent equity in the business. We’ve not charged for it. We’ve a lot of young people in the business, saddled with horrific university debts; they want to get a house, and to get them to invest tangibly is too much to ask of them. This crystallises their value.
Guy Mucklow The dynamics of a founder-led business are different to a conventional business. We’ve structured it: put in place an executive team, invested £2m in a new office and put the EMI in place.
Jamie Turner We renamed the business in July from Postcode Anywhere to PCA Predict – many customers were already calling us PCA. The old name caused confusion as we entered new markets, especially in America where the reaction was, “You post code? You stick it in the mail?”
Guy Mucklow Plus ‘Predict’ refers to the way our software looks up addresses; it’s very predictive. It uses machine learning to present the data back to you in an optimised fashion based on your location.
Jamie Turner We’ve also spun off the technology in the last 18 months into a [big data] business called Triggar. We’ve 15 per cent of our workforce involved in the project and expect it to contribute a large part of our future revenues.
Guy Mucklow However, we were careful not to repeat the mistake we made in 2007 when we redesigned our website. Ten per cent of customers emailed us within an hour to tell us we’d got it wrong. We let a design organisation live their ambition through our back pocket and they got our brand personality completely wrong – jokey rather than mainstream.
Jamie Turner It looked awful, but we turned what could have been a disaster into a positive. By rolling back the design we proved we weren’t arrogant and were prepared to listen to customers. You have to be brutally honest with yourself. If you don’t keep innovating you die. You have to take ego out of it.
PCA Predict vital stats
Client list Customers have included Tesco Direct, Virgin Holidays, Fiat, and Hotel Chocolat among others
Turnover £10m with ambition to grow to £50m by 2020
Customers 10,000 in 50 countries
Global presence 10 per cent of PCA Predict’s revenue comes from North America, including a white-label with Canada Post
To find out more about the company, visit pcapredict.com
Guy Mucklow is a member of IoD Hereford and Worcester branch