One Magazine | Issue 63
In this edition we interview James Baly of Nowcomm about his unconventional journey, starting and running a successful technology business.
<i> Issue 63
In this edition we interview James Baly about his unconventional journey starting and running a successful technology business.
<i> “To be successful,
you have to have your heart in your business and your business in your heart.” <i>
Thomas J. Watson, CEO IBM
With Covid restrictions ending across all of the UK and after a turbulent couple of years, is the tide finally turning for businesses in the UK? Despite the uncertainty created by the increase in cost of living, energy supply chain disruptions, conflict in Europe and cost pressures, we see glimpses of renewed optimism and resilience when talking to our clients.
Even with these growing inflationary pressures the IMF is forecasting for the UK economy to rebound in the year ahead and many of our clients’ company and household balance sheets have held up well.
Helping clients through the pandemic, has inspired us to start our new podcast series: ‘Owning it.’, which illustrates their journey as business owners across many different sectors. With this series we build on our rich expertise in helping business owners to grow, nurture and shape their businesses.
There are clear trends emerging around topics like building a more inclusive workforce bolstered by a real focus on better work-life balance offers; the acceleration of the digital transformation of many traditional business models; improved cash flow solutions to better weather business disruptions in future; a renewed desire to invest into more sustainable practices and business succession planning.
Many of these topics feature in this magazine. And while you browse, please remember that we are always here for you to act as a sounding board and offer practical advice and support. We really get what it takes to run your own businesses and we care.
Group managing partner
"These personable stories show that each business is unique and that running a business can be both rewarding and tough in equal measures. We explore the motivations, purpose, challenges, lessons learned and discuss the outlook of our clients, who have many of today’s challenges in common."
<i>Pit stop: <i>
<i>Why your business needs more than an expert driver.<i>
ONE | STORY
Pit Stop: Why your business needs more than an expert driver
James Baly is the co-founder and director of Nowcomm, a Derby based IT business which offers security, collaboration and connectivity to their clients across the UK.
Nowcomm was founded in 2006 by three former Cisco employees who brought together their expertise in the design, delivery and customer service of Cisco solutions to build a business that could offer clients a fast and reliable way to solve their IT problems. We sat down with James to discuss how the company was born and what he has learnt along the way.
“Nowcomm was actually conceived in Lake Tahoe,” James laughs. “Mark, Kevin and I were all working for Cisco and we were attending the big annual conference in San Francisco. We decided to go a little earlier and explore the local area, and over dinner we started to discuss where we saw a real gap in the market for fast problem solving and how we could solve the inconsistencies in service that we were seeing in the market. We were young and keen to drive change and we were getting frustrated with working in a larger organisation that was focused on finances and tracking how many meetings you were having, rather than focusing on the customer’s problem.”
But let’s rewind. The history of Nowcomm starts much earlier than a sun-fuelled conversation in California. After growing up in Shropshire, James embarked on a degree in engineering, before changing his specialism to psychology. He said “I was originally studying a combination of engineering, maths and psychology and by year two I realised that
theoretical maths just wasn’t for me. I spoke to my tutors, and they agreed that I could change my core subject to psychology, which I was good at and really enjoyed. However, after I graduated, I knew that I didn’t want to pursue psychology as a career. I travelled for a year, got that out of my system, and then, much to my parents’ annoyance, didn’t really know what to do after that."
“I ended up moving to Val d'Isère to work the ski season as a doorman and it was there that I started working and gaining experience with computers – filming and editing people out on the slopes. While I was there I met a chap who was setting up a training and consultancy business in Dubai and after a lot of convincing, he agreed to take a chance on me and give me a job. He was ex-Cisco and I moved out there
to help set up FastLane, which was based on their systems. I flew all over the Gulf setting up labs for students to do their training, but I also looked after small cabling jobs, setting up offices and the like – this was my grounding in IT, and it was an exciting time to be part of a fairly new industry, connecting businesses all over the world."
From there James went on to work in pre-sales for Total Network Solutions before joining Cisco as a systems engineer and finally leaving to start Nowcomm. Back to today, and James reflects on what those first few years of being a business owner were like. “We spotted an opportunity and we all walked away from comfortable jobs at Cisco with no security blanket. We thought the market was big enough and the competition was weak, ultimately we really believed our own hype, which meant other people got excited about what we could offer too, including investors.”
“Owning a business can be a lonely place and I didn’t want to do it alone. Having three of us around the table with complimentary skills
meant that we could sense-check our insanity and challenge each other. We secured a six-figure investment, which seemed like a lot of money at first – but when you start to look at premises, furniture and tech, it goes pretty quickly!"
“As founders we had three clear roles – technical director, sales director and MD, though in the start we had no job titles on our business cards. We wore any hat when we needed to but ultimately, we understood each person’s responsibilities. We knew that we had sales cornered early on and we needed great people to deliver the work. I’ll always remember sitting on cardboard boxes interviewing people and trying to sell our dream to them – we wanted to hire the best collaboration engineers in the country, but when you start taking on staff that’s when cashflow is everything, suddenly you are responsible for people’s mortgages and their aspirations. Then the financial crash happened.”
As businesses tightened their belts, James and the team had to focus. “We needed discipline and we focused on being the best integrator of Cisco in the market. We streamlined our services, and we didn’t get distracted by picking up work for other platforms - we honed-in on where we were experts.”
Nowcomm made it through the recession and in 2022 is thriving, with a head count of 30, thanks to strategic decision making based on hiring bright young people who love what they do and giving them clear processes to do it.“
"If you watch the F1 pit crew, you’ll see how imperative it is that everyone knows their part of the process and can execute it to perfection when it matters. It takes 700 – 800 people to get two cars around a track and everyone, whether you operate the jack or you’re the driver, has their part to play. That’s been the guiding principle of our business since the start; identify experts and get out of their way. You need to trust people and give them the opportunity to make mistakes, grow and evolve – you can’t stifle them or your business will stagnate."
“There is, unfortunately, no manual for running a business, you have to learn it as you go."
“There is, unfortunately, no manual for running a business, you have to learn it as you go. The best advice that I have ever been given is to look after your people but don’t dwell on making a change if the person isn’t a good fit, it only takes one person to disrupt the team and the dynamic will change overnight.”
Thinking about plans for the future, James thinks he’ll go back to where it all started. “I’m going to spend more time in the mountains,” he states. “The time I spent filming there was so much fun and I’m not a big believer in wishing to go back in time. I love the mountains and I’ve made it my aim to spend more time there in the future.”
James is right, there is no manual for running a business, and everyone’s journey is nuanced, but whatever your motivation to get up and keep moving, there is power in having real, honest conversations.
You can find out more about James’ story and take a look into the lives of a range of business owners in Owning it., a new podcast that uncovers what drives people and gets you thinking about your own motivations to succeed. It’s a podcast by business owners, for business owners, hosted by best-selling author and international speaker Professor Damian Hughes.
The series invites you to meet high-profile figures, like James, to candidly discuss what life is really like, sharing why they do what they do, and who they do it for. Across the series Damian meets the owner of a leading architectural practice to discover how tough love and overcoming adversity helped him to shape his business philosophy, a clothing designer who ditched a career in fast-fashion to develop her own conscious clothing line and an ex-marine to find out how a career in the military shaped his drive to make his business a success.
To discover more about the Owning it. series on our website click here...
Or to listen to the full podcast episode on Spotify:
<i> A virtual lunch with… Hannah Murphy <i>
Hannah Murphy’s story started in 2009 when she joined Haines Watts as an apprentice; we have delved into her twelve-year story from starting in the deep end of client services, the Haines Watts ‘Think Big’ mantra, to the development of her thriving career. We sat down for a virtual lunch with Hannah to find out how her journey at Haines Watts Birmingham shaped her from an 18-year-old AAT apprentice to her cu