Stories of Growth

Andy Bird, Inoapps: “Hire the best person you can, not the best person you can afford”

As part of our Stories of Growth series, we hear from the founder and CEO of an Aberdeen-based IT consultancy business.

21 October 2021

In 2013, BGF invested £10 million to help IT consultancy business Inoapps increase the size and scale of its operations. In 2022, we exited our investment in Inoapps, realising a 4.5x return on our original investment, when private equity firm Abry Partners acquired a substantial stake in the company. The deal resulted in joint control with Founder and CEO Andy Bird, who explains how he came to launch and scale Inoapps in this in-depth interview.

Andy Bird, CEO of Inoapps

I was working in the oil and gas industry doing logistics and supply chain activities. I was the youngest guy around who could use a computer, so of course I was asked to go on the new IT project they were starting. One thing led to another, and it became an Oracle project.

I started freelance contracting around Oracle. Ended up in Paris where my son was born, but my wife Louise struggled living in Paris with a baby, so we came back to Aberdeen.

At that time, there wasn’t an Oracle partner focused on applications for the oil and gas industry. I saw an opportunity, so we cleared out all the furniture in the living room and created an office. Louise helped me with accounting, and we hired a few people to work out of our living room.

There were a few memorable deals in the early days. We did a data migration with a big client, then we won Cairn Energy in Edinburgh, which was a multi-million-pound implementation and a five-year hosting contract, which really kicked us on.

Today, we have offices in the UK, Asia and North America. I’m based at our US office in Houston, Texas. We’re about to hit 500 people and over the next two years we expect to double in size to a thousand.

People don’t like change

You have to keep your cool to be an entrepreneur. Our business is all around digital transformation – changing the way people work. We work with large organisations, revolutionising everything they do. This means that many projects are extremely challenging.

People don’t like change. We do a lot of research around behavioural dynamics because it’s people that makes these projects succeed or fail, not the technology. Sometimes 50,000 people are affected by the changes we are implementing. Getting that right is hard. If you let it all get on top of you, you’ll put yourself in an early grave.

Right now, we’re on a high. We have built the largest independent Oracle-only partner with global reach. It feels to me that we are only just starting the Oracle cloud journey. Who knows how big we could get?

Entrepreneurial flair

I grew up in Wanstead, London. When I was 16, we moved to Aberdeen. There’s a debate in our family about whether our children are English or Scottish.

When I was a kid, I was sent home from school for selling stink bombs. My excuse to the headmaster was that I was only selling them, I wasn’t setting them off! Back then, it was anything to make a buck. We had a good upbringing. My dad had good jobs, so it wasn’t that I needed to make money. I didn’t come from a deprived background. I have just always loved the cut and thrust of business.

It can be lonely and miserable being a solo founder, but it can also be completely thrilling. I have a strong team around me and a good chairman. My wife and family are extremely supportive. My children are 11 and 15 now and I think they enjoy the conversations we have over dinner or in the car on the way to school. They hear me on the phone, especially through lockdown when I was working from home, so they understand a lot about business and doing deals.

“I don’t believe in handouts”

I can see an entrepreneurial flair in my older child already. He’s into trading sneakers and all sorts. He wanted me to fund him to buy the sneakers so that he could start trading them, but I wouldn’t give him the money. I made him pitch to my management team in the US and convince them with his business plan. He had to book the appointment and do it all properly. I didn’t help him. If he wanted money to invest in his enterprise, he had to earn it. I don’t believe in handouts.

Gut instinct

The best advice I could give any entrepreneur is to hire the best person you can have, not the best person you can afford. You must plan for that person to do that role in years to come, and not think only about the short term.

I’m also a huge believer in two things: really drilling into the data, but also, as an entrepreneur, going with your gut. People will always give you advice but if you don’t believe them, if you don’t feel in your gut that they are right, don’t do it.

All of our acquisitions have been based on gut instinct. In 2008, we acquired a technology company called Indigo Tide. Then, we acquired a managed service business called Teamsolve. In 2013, we acquired Crocus Consulting. It was then that BGF came on board as an investor. We were one of the first deals they did in Scotland.

In terms of my experience with BGF, they do exactly what they say. They don’t say we want high return, quick growth and out. They are a long-term investor with a fairly light touch.

“BGF do exactly what they say. They’re a long-term investor with a fairly light touch.”

There have been some scary moments. Not long after we did the investment with BGF, we used the money to acquire a company. We did it because they had an agreement with a major bank to do a global payroll project. Two weeks in, because of something external to the project, that project got cancelled. That was a challenge and put us off acquisitions for a while, but we’re over it now. The company we bought has since turned into something hugely valuable.

Every state its own country

We had been investing in North America for years, but it just wasn’t happening fast enough. I was spending so much time running backwards and forwards that I decided to bring the family here for a vacation. It took them to see some houses and schools, and they all bought into the idea of moving to Texas.

The whole family love living in the US. I doubt we’ll ever return as we’re extremely settled. Every state is like its own country in terms of culture, people, language. We love it here.

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