John, you have a number of high profile management positions on your CV, when did you decide to run your own show?

In 2004, I left with my position as CEO of Zeus Technology, an internet infrastructure company. It had been a classic internet bubble turnaround; the overheads had been ramped up ahead of revenues in the expectation of fast growth and upward funding rounds, and it had taken three years to get the company stable.

Like the previous two turnarounds that I had run, it had been a bruising experience with angry and quarrelsome investors and the shedding of many staff. At this point I really wanted to get back into running a high growth company where every day was a happy day, and the money made would go mostly to me and not the VCs.

I wrote the code for Really Simple Systems in 2004/2005 and we had our first beta customers in 2005. The company's official launch was in 2006 and twelve years on the business continues to be as fun and rewarding as those early days.

Did that depth of management experience allow an "all guns blazing" start, or were you looking for a more cautious beginning, given the effects of the recession?

I purposefully started slowly, "bootstrapping" the company to avoid the need for external investment. The company has grown organically with profits invested back in the company. That way I could focus 100% on growing the company without being distracted with funding rounds and investor management

What were your initial aims for the business and why CRM software?

I had a shortlist of about 12 business ideas that I could start, not all of them software, but I settled on CRM because I had experience of that as a user and software vendor, and because I believed that the use of CRM would spread downward from big companies into smaller ones when CRM became easier to use and more affordable, which has turned out to be the case. The initial aims were to grow a business from nothing, and to be the leading vendor of CRM systems to small businesses in the UK, which we have now achieved.

What functions does it cover and how simple is it to implement?

Our aim to is to provide everything that a small business needs to manage their sales and marketing operations, so we have the full sales contact and pipeline management and a complete marketing module, including the ability to send marketing emails from within the product, a feature that most CRM systems lack. It is really easy to implement, it doesn't really need "implementing" at all, you can start using it immediately after you've signed up.

If a customer does need help, we've developed a huge amount of self-service resources that they can access. There are tutorial videos and step-by-step guides that have been written with the presumption the the reader has no technical knowledge. There are even help drawers within each page of the CRM that link through to relevant information about the function the customer is looking to perform.

Is it better suited to a larger company or would it be of benefit to an SME no matter what size?

Any company that has more customers and prospects than one person can manage in their head needs a CRM system, otherwise prospects and tasks get overlooked. Once you have a sales team and start doing proper marketing programmes, it becomes absolutely essential. Having sales people managing their individual pipelines in spreadsheets on their laptops is a recipe for disaster, even before GDPR came about!

Really Simple Systems specifically targets small and medium sized businesses, but we also have many large organisations also using our CRM. It purposely doesn't include some of the functionality you might expect from an enterprise CRM and the cost reflects that. From my experience the majority of SMEs don't need half of the functionality available in most CRMs and will never use it. We've also found working with departments within large organisations that this is relevant to them too. However, as technology develops and user knowledge grows, there is continuing opportunity to increase the level of functionality.

When did you feel comfortable enough to open up in Australia and how is that going?

We opened the Sydney office in 2008 and now have about 700 customers in the Australasia region, mostly in Australia but also in New Zealand and Singapore. The Sydney office is in the right time zone to cover the afternoon on the US West Coast through to Thailand, so it allows us to support our global customers 24/7.

Any further international expansion on the cards?

At some stage we may open an office in North America, as the US is our second biggest customer base after the UK. There's no timeframe for this as yet.

Brexit may cloud the horizon a little but how do you see the next two or three years in the RSS world?

Based on our mission of "providing everything that a small business needs to manage their sales and marketing operations" we'll continue to make the CRM both easier to use and the functionally more advanced. These two goals have always been treated as mutually exclusive in the software industry, but our skill is to take "enterprise" level functionality and make it simple to use, at an affordable price for the small business market. As technologies such as AI and automation start being used in big, complicated and expensive CRM systems, we'll be looking to take the parts of that functionality that are appropriate to our customers and commoditise them to make them easy to use at an appropriate price.

The next generation of small business owners will be much more tech savvy and will demand more sophistication from the product. Our challenge is to stay ahead of demand ensuring the CRM continues to meet the needs of this dynamism.

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