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Sembee Ltd @ 10 - A Retrospective Look at the First 10 Years

Ten years ago I sat in my small flat in Hampshire, logged on to a web site and after handing over my credit card details a new company was born - Amset IT Solutions Ltd.

The name Amset I had been using on and off since 1997. At my first real IT job all of our computers were named after Egyptian gods and mine was called Amset. I continued to use that name for computers later in my career and when I was searching for a name it was the natural choice. I had since 2000 but being naive, I had failed to pick up, which was registered a few months later. That wasn't a mistake I made again.

The idea at the time was to be an IT support company. I had been made redundant again and the job hunting wasn't going very well, so I decided to go it alone. That had always been my life goal, but it was earlier than I expected.

I took a mortgage holiday and had savings from an aborted house purchase earlier that year and took the plunge.

Alas my first foray wasn't very successful. I engaged a marketing company to assist me, but it quickly became apparent that I was going to struggle on two main points.

I didn't have a unique selling point, so it was impossible to make myself look different to all of the other IT companies out there.
The other problem was that it was just me and when companies asked about what would happen if I was unavailable, I was unable to answer (what I have called the run over by a bus question).

I did acquire one client in those first few months, and they are still with me today.

Therefore by September 2003 I was running out of money. The mortgage holiday was about to end and I had almost no business to show for it. I took a contract to keep my head above water and then found myself a full time job. I retained the company, but in that first year I turned over less than £5,000 - the company made no profit, owing me more than that.

The next financial year was even worse, with the company turning over less than £1000.

In 2004 though, I was introduced to Exchange 2003. My employer wanted to do a migration and I had to learn fast. I spent time on forums and realised I was able to answer more questions than I asked. That set me on the path to Exchange MVP status.

In late 2005 I got my first major Exchange job of my own. I took ten days off work and went and worked for them. I earned more on that first job for eight days than I did in four months at my full time job. It will not surprise you that I came back and immediately handed in my notice. I was on a three month notice period, so in February 2006 Amset IT Solutions Ltd became my employer again. 

In early 2008 I had an inspired idea in the shower one morning, and created, which has been a huge success.

In 2009 I decided to change the company name to Sembee Ltd, as that was the name I was known as on the Internet, and it seemed a good idea to trade on that name rather than the previous name. I had already been using it for my personal Exchange blog, but it was becoming apparent that it was all merging together.

So here I am in 2013, with a successful limited company that has been based on all of my own work. The Exchange work is done exclusively by myself, I don't contract the work out. It was a very difficult road, but the work has paid off.

If you are thinking of starting your own business in IT, then some words of advice.

If you are on your own - specialise. Being too generic and you will just get drowned out by all the other generic companies. However do not be too focused. While I am an Exchange specialist, because of my background in general network administration I can do some Active Directory work, I often setup domains and resolve other issues unrelated to Exchange. My oldest client in Basingstoke I maintain their entire network, one of the handful that I do that for.

The next piece of advice is you need cash. I don't mean to get the company off the ground, but to live on. I took a mortgage holiday, but I was still burning through a lot of money every month. Work out what you need to live on and have at least six months buried away. I now retain six months of funds at all times - I keep mine in Premium Bonds. I can get it if I need it, but I don't have immediate access to it.

The final piece of advice is to take a break as often as you can. For some months while starting the business and the second coming in 2006 I didn't talk to anyone other than clients. Didn't step outside of my flat, was completely isolated. Not good for me.

While taking a holiday isn't always a good idea at the start (being away from a new business for a week or more might be fatal) there is nothing to stop you from getting away for a few hours.
I started to visit the New Forest, which is about an hour away, going right down to the coast. There I would visit Hurst Castle, which is on the end of a long spit in to the Solent. I would just walk out to the castle, walk round and then walk back. My Blackberry works all of the way because the Isle of Wight isn't far away, but it got me out and because of the wind blew the cobwebs away. Very invigorating and just cost me the petrol money.

I hope you have found this article interesting. I will be returning to blogging on Exchange over the next couple of weeks. Here is to the next 10 years.