Author: Sophie Day

An evening in conversation with David Hosking, CEO of Tusker

Smedvig Capital recently held an evening in conversation with David Hosking, CEO of Tusker, a Smedvig backed start-up success story and now a PE backed growth business in the FT top 1,000 fastest growing companies in Europe.

Tusker is on a mission to help businesses and organisations be more productive through happier employees. They do this by offering a ground-breaking Car Benefit Scheme. It means employees get a brand-new car and they don’t have to worry about the hassles and extra expense of running a car.

After starting out with Yellow Pages as a trainee telephone sales rep, David has spent much of his career in vehicle leasing. David joined Tusker in 2003 as sales director and two years later stepped up into the role of CEO.

At Home House David shared his experiences on ‘Plan B – making it happen,’ from becoming CEO of Tusker, to reenergising the business and dealing with its very rapid subsequent growth, as well as discussing the process of changing ownership.

How did you come to join Tusker and how did you become CEO?

I wanted to do something I was interested in and as I’d always been a petrol head, cars seemed the right thing. During the interview period at Tusker I was told ‘the business isn’t doing very well they’re going to shut the doors in about three months unless you can persuade them not to.’ That was quite a challenge and I was up for that. To put it into perspective, in 2000 the business plan was 0-10,000 vehicles in three years. I think they burnt through the best part of £5.8 million of cash in that period, with 436 vehicles to show for it at the end of those three years. When I came on board as Sales Director the business was burning £185,000 a month in cash. I was given three months to turn it around and then I was told that if I did a good job, over the next eighteen months to two years, I would get the opportunity to run the business. True to their word, I got that opportunity in 2005.

Plan A didn’t work for the business, so what was wrong with it and what made you realise it wasn’t working?

The original business plan was a good one, it was just about five or six years before its time. The idea was to set up an online leasing company. When I joined in 2003 we were going in to see prospective customers and saying ‘We can run your fleet online. Can we log onto your computer and show you how it works?’ They would get under their desks and unplug the fax machine to plug their computer into an ISDN line! Wi-Fi wasn’t there in 2003 – had it been five years later, I think the original plan would have worked. It’s fair to say, customers didn’t understand the concept at that point so we changed from ‘the e-leasing people’ to actually being all about delivering first class customer service and customer excellence.

What triggered the change?

My first challenge was to get the business through breakeven in 2006. After that, we continued to grow until 2008 when the credit crunch hit causing several issues. At the time, we had three funders, (to make it clear the business process is as follows: we take an order for a car, we buy that car and then we fund that car. As we don’t have enough to fund the thousands of cars we buy every year – last year we spent £125 million on cars – we fund it through asset funders.) But during the credit crunch our three funders became one. Subsequently, our one remaining funder, Lloyds, did what any business would do and doubled our interest rates which made us very uncompetitive in the market. This was when we came up with the pivot of the business; we went from being a traditional leasing company delivery company cars to a salary sacrifice car scheme provider.

What was the most challenging aspect of redirecting and reenergising the business?

We had a massive issue in only having one funder, so we looked at how we could address that. None of the other funders were interested in lending money in 2008-2009, so we went to one of our main competitors. They had plenty of money but they weren’t able to offer their customers a salary sacrifice scheme. We did a deal where we white labelled a salary sacrifice system for them and in return they lent us several million to buy vehicles at a much lower rate than we were getting from the bank, which made the whole thing work.

How did you cope with subsequent rapid growth?

It wasn’t immediate growth in the first instance. We came up with the idea of salary sacrifice car schemes in May 2008 and we were first to market. We launched on 1st October 2008, (we beat our main competitor by about eight weeks) but in 2009 we only took 61 orders for cars on the scheme. It was a challenge as we knew it would take off, but nobody else believed it would on the back of 61 car orders in 12 months. To put that in perspective, in the second year we took 790 car orders on salary sacrifice and the following year it was nearly 2,000. The growth didn’t start to happen until 2010-2011. 2009 was laying the ground works and going to see all the employee benefit providers who hadn’t heard of this new product. This then put us in a very good position for when they did get it.

Changing ownership is always challenging, how was the process for you?

The process was fantastic. People always say, going through a P.E transaction is a nightmare, it’s loads of work, which it is, but it’s great fun. It’s exciting and you’re working 14-15 hours a day then going home and doing the day job, so you’re working 18-20 hour days for the months during the transaction. It’s great from a team perspective as well and the rewards are fantastic if you get it right. We were lucky as we had a huge amount of interest and a long shortlist of potential new investors.

Explain a bit about customer service at Tusker

I think we do things quite differently at Tusker, things we’re not contractually obliged to do. When we looked at how we wanted to differentiate ourselves from the market we came up with the elephant manifesto. It’s about doing the right thing for the customer and treating them as you would like to be treated yourself. Everyone in the business thinks that way now and hopefully we have a good reputation for it. That’s not the reason we do it, it’s just about doing the right thing. As far as I am aware we’re currently the only leasing company that has dared put themselves on Trust Pilot. We have a score of 9.2% with over 550 reviews, it’s a completely independent gauge of our customer service. Treating customers the right way should be a way life but it pays dividends at the end of the day and it differentiates us against all our competitors.

How do you work with your board of directors?

We have a senior management team of ten and four operational board directors. We’re very inclusive with each other – we share decisions, no one makes them by themselves and if we have issues we share them with each other. If you don’t communicate, you end up making bad decisions for the business. We talk every day, even in the evenings and at weekends – we all know what we’re working on and how projects are going. If you’re lucky enough to be in a business that you love, it never feels like work.

If you were running a masterclass for entrepreneurs, what would you tell them?

I don’t think I would be running a masterclass for entrepreneurs, I might get a guest pitch! I think I’d talk about how it’s all very well coming up with the idea for a product or concept but that’s not the difficult part, the difficult part is delivering it! Then it’s turning it into a commercial success, as well as planning, implementing, launching, relaunching and scaling it to make it worthwhile. There are lots of companies who have great products, but they haven’ been able to scale them to create the value that we all want to generate as part of the P.E community.

Philanthropy is important to you, why? And do you think entrepreneurs should be incorporating philanthropy into their businesses?

I didn’t really get involved in charities until seven years ago. In 2010 my 21-year-old daughter was diagnosed with leukaemia and we spent the next four months in and out of hospital with chemotherapy. She was on the Teenage Cancer Trust Ward in Birmingham which was just fantastic. I don’t know how she would have coped without the support that they were able to give her. During 2011 she went into remission and then at the back end of 2011 we lost her during a bone marrow transplant. When you lose somebody that close to you, it makes you think differently about life. As a family, we wanted to support Teenage Cancer Trust because they’d been so fantastic. So, that’s how we got involved personally and then Tusker became a corporate sponsor of the charity. In 2013 a group of 26 of us, about half the business at the time, decided to do Tough Mudder and we raised more than £25,000 for Teenage Cancer Trust. From that we have continued to support the charity. We did Tough Mudder again in 2014, we do cake bakes and dress down days amongst other activities. We’re actually doing Tough Mudder again on 6th May, there’s 61 of us doing it this time – it’s a big part of the business now. Doing things for charity are the best team building events that you can do, it helps to create a great culture. I think it’s absolutely a good idea to incorporate that into any business.

What’s your future and the future of Tusker?

I think I’m still young enough to have another couple of turns at this. The last two years since Smedvig exited and ECI came on board have been great fun, the business has gone from strength to strength. We are now, as of last week, listed in the FT as one of the top 1,000 fastest growing companies in Europe, we came in at number 605 across 31 countries. And about six weeks ago we were number 28 in the Sunday Times Profit Track. It’s been a good three years for us. To put that in perspective, EBITDA’s gone from £3.6m to £7.4m to £9.5m and we’ll be somewhere around £11m this year. I think ECI’s typical investment hold is three to five years, we’re two and a bit years into this and I think their aspiration is to get an EV well north of £200m –  I don’t see that being far away. In terms of my future, I’m having a great time. We’ve invested just over £3m in the last six months with new finance and back office systems, as well as new telephone systems – we won’t see the return on that until next year but it’s a great thing to be managing. I think I’m still young enough to be around in five to seven years’ time through the next transaction and then maybe disappear on the one after that to go and sit on a beach somewhere.

To donate to Tusker’s Fundraising page for Teenage Cancer Trust, Cancer Research UK & the MS Trust, click here


The Smart Cube launches Smart Fleet, its first ever SaaS product

The Smart Cube, an award-winning global analytics and research company, has launched Smart Fleet, a new product for fleet managers that will transform how they manage their fleets and engage with suppliers.

Smart Fleet enables a centralized view of a company’s vehicle fleet irrespective of the number of suppliers, and supports better decision making with comprehensive visualization, analysis and reporting tools.

It is the first SaaS product launched by The Smart Cube since it announced its plan to develop new scalable solutions to extend the company’s existing service lines late last year. Smart Fleet aligns with the company’s commitment to provide clients with ongoing technological transformation and innovation. By automating existing business processes and providing critical analytics and insights, clients can more effectively utilize data and make better business decisions.

Chief Product Officer of The Smart Cube, Jeremy Weil, commented:
“To make the best commercial decisions for their business, fleet managers require holistic information on the overall fleet available to them. Smart Fleet uses the latest data visualization techniques and cloud-based technology to ensure all information is instantly and easily accessible.”

Read the full press release here.

My Home Move acquires Leeds based Advantage Property Lawyers

My Home Move, the country’s largest independent provider of mover conveyancing services, has acquired Advantage Property Lawyers (APL), a top 10 UK conveyancer known for its efficient and high quality service.

APL, which is located in Leeds, was established nine years ago and shares the same values as My Home Move. Through their personalised, customer centered approach they have grown to become the 6th largest conveyancing firm in the UK, completing over 900 sale and purchase transactions a month.

CEO of My Home Move, Doug Crawford, commented:
“We acquired APL because of their size, reputation and long standing relationships with a number of significant introducers, which will complement our own strengths. This acquisition will enable My Home Move to support APL’s continued growth over the next few years as well as provide the opportunity for both organisations to share ideas and best practice as we grow together.”

Read the full article here.

LOVESPACE: Scaling a 5* Service

Every year at LOVESPACE we collect hundreds of thousands of boxes from thousands of customers nationwide. We want to be the first choice for people and businesses needing help looking after their things. LOVESPACE is currently doubling in size year on year and with this comes the challenge of simultaneously maintaining the quality of our service whilst delivering improved marginal economics as we scale.

We approach the challenge of scaling in three main ways. First, we understand the relative value of different customers through cohort analysis. Secondly, once we have identified our main target segments we understand their needs in detail via customer journey mapping and thirdly we ensure we have an underlying product roadmap that allows us to deliver a scalable operation to meet the needs of these customers.

We have been analysing cohort economics for some time. The discipline is well understood in the SAAS environment (see this excellent series of articles by Joe Knowles) but is also relevant to subscription businesses like ours. We now have the ability to track customer acquisition costs versus life-time value for each of our core segments (SMEs, Students, Movers and Declutterers). The insights from this work are critical in driving investment, pricing and product development decisions; and drive much more clinical interventions than merely looking at segment P&L as a whole. We look to “engineer” value from each of our segments by, for instance, differentiating our prices depending on whether a customer is booking at the last minute or in advance, or whether the location we return their boxes to is the same city or a completely different one.

Customer Journey mapping is the tool we’ve used to identify pain points and opportunities to improve our service in a way that matches customer needs and expectations. We take the data we collect from customers after they’ve used the service, and map their experience and interactions at each of the stages in our service. By doing so it becomes clear where in the service we can make changes to improve customer experience. For example, as a result of this process we made significant changes to our onboarding emails and welcome pack, to improve the rate of customers that are ready for their collections and deliveries.

Once we have understood the needs of our customers in some detail we ensure that our product roadmap will deliver against those needs as we grow.  At LOVESPACE we’ve invested in developing our own technology, which allows us to manage all our warehouses, drivers and customers in real time, whilst integrating with partner warehouses, drivers and materials suppliers. Our warehouse and driver management app allows us to keep costs down through automation and is the key to our ability to scale. It means we’re able to set up new sites across the country within a few days and we aim to replicate this when we expand internationally. And with the upcoming launch of our consumer app we will be able to provide customers with an enhanced experience by allowing them to track their driver and manage their orders straight from their phone.

We’re always happy to talk about cohort analysis, customer journey mapping, and building technology that delivers a five-star service, so please do feel free to get in touch. But if what you’re looking for is a better way to manage your belongings, where you can get them collected and delivered anywhere in the country, with storage in between, then look no further. LOVESPACE.

Quill launches the Quill Quality Score

Quill, a global player in Primary Content production, has launched the Quill Quality Score, a content-auditing service that enables retailers to benchmark their website content against competitors and industry best practice.

The system is designed to assess the quality of an online retailer’s evergreen Primary Content – the core pre-purchase content that aims to convert a captive browser into a buyer at the point of purchase. It gives the retailer a clear sense of any weaknesses in this critical layer of content that may be hindering their website conversion rates, search engine traffic and other key performance metrics.

Founder and CEO of Quill, Ed Bussey, said:
“Many retailers are creating award-winning creative campaigns and investing millions in intelligently-targeted media buying, only to fall at the final hurdle because they treat Primary Content as an afterthought. Getting the basics right should be non-negotiable. The rise of excellent digital experiences often at low prices has raised consumers’ expectations, making it all the more important for brands to offer a high-quality shopping experience. In this context, getting Primary Content right is a critical building block to remaining competitive.”

Check out retail technology’s review of the Quill Quality Score here.

Kings Court Trust sign partnership with St James’s Place

Kings Court Trust has signed a partnership with St. James’s Place, one of the UK’s largest wealth management firms. This agreement enables the St. James’s Place Partnership to provide a complete estate administration service to bereaved clients and their families nationwide.

St. James’s Place clients will be able to access Kings Court Trust’s market leading service through their wealth manager for the first time, helping to make the process of dealing with an estate a less time consuming and distressing process.

Sales & Marketing Director of Kings Court Trust, Christopher Jones, commented:
“This is a very exciting development for us.  We are proud to be working with one of the UK’s foremost wealth management firms to help recently bereaved families deal with the estate of their loved one in the most efficient and cost-effective way. The estate administration service will help thousands of wealth managers provide a highly professional and comprehensive service to clients and their relatives, removing the stress and burden of this potentially complex legal process.”

Captify win BVCA Growth Management Team Award 2017

Captify have won the Growth Management Team Award at the BVCA South East Management Team Awards 2017. The awards recognise and reward brilliant businesses up and down the country that have been backed by UK private equity and venture capital investors. Captify will now go forward into the national final to compete against other regions, before the national winners are announced at the BVCA gala dinner in November.

The Judges of the awards made the following comments on Captify’s win:

“Captify showed phenomenally rapid growth in 2016. The company now has a genuinely international presence with a roster of blue chip clients and is second only to Google in Search Intelligence. Dominic Joseph and Adam Ludwin have built this business from start-up in a very competitive space in only 6 years.”

Quill announces new partnership with Taggstar

Quill has announced a new partnership with Taggstar, the leader in real-time social proof messaging, to provide online retailers with a dual offering to boost conversion rates at the penultimate stage of the purchase journey.

This partnership unites Quill’s ability to create high-quality pre-purchase primary content at scale and Taggstar’s ability to serve highly relevant messages in real-time on product pages – for example, to alert shoppers to trending, popular or low-stock items at just the right time to drive conversion.

Online retailers will now be able to leverage Quill’s specialist multi-language content production service and Taggstar’s real-time social messaging in tandem helping them to deliver an improved experience to consumers

Read the full article here.

Profile make 2017 Sunday Times Top 100 Best Small Companies List

Profile Financial has been included in the 2017 Sunday Times Top 100 Best Small Companies List. The Sunday Times publish their list every year to honour the ‘cream of Britain’s employers’. The award follows much dedication towards the team environment and to creating a positive culture for everyone who works at Profile.

COO of Profile, Rachel Blundell commented:
We know that Profile wouldn’t be the success that it is without great people and that’s why creating a healthy culture and working environment for our team is crucial to our business strategy. As a young business which has grown quickly in three years, we are incredibly proud to be on the list and we have bold ambitions for the future!”

Read the full story here.

Infinity welcomes three senior hires to UK & new US offices

Infinity, the cloud based marketing technology and call tracking provider, has announced its US expansion as well as three senior hires to lead the implementation of the company’s major growth. Andy Sadler joins as Chief Revenue Officer, while Trent Walter and Michelle Garnham join as Sales Director for North America and SVP of Customer Success respectively.

The three new hires bring a combined 50 years of industry experience to Infinity and they will work with its fast growing customer community to drive value and success, both commercially and with customers.

CEO of Infinity, Paul Walsh commented:
“2016 has been a key growth year for us, despite growing political and economic uncertainty across the world. We doubled the headcount, have three new executives in the team, are opening an office in the US and have exciting product launches coming up. Andy, Trent and Michelle will add the expertise we need to take Infinity and the market to the next level. As many companies seem to reconsider investments in certain markets, we’re looking at 2017 as the year of further global expansion and consolidation, with the UK and US being the primary drivers of growth.”

Read the full story here.

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