This week marks the ten year anniversary of Aprika Business Solutions and what a decade it has been! From starting off as a Salesforce consultancy to now running three precision business solutions, native to the Salesforce platform, the business has reached a pivotal point and is gearing up for future growth.
To recognize this milestone, we thought we’d have a chat with our CEO, Colin Johnson, for his insight into starting and growing a tech start-up business and the lessons he has learned along the way.
WHAT ARE YOUR FIRST MEMORIES OF STARTING APRIKA?
“Oh well, it’s all on you now!”. Initially I found starting a business quite daunting, having gone from the security of employment to having 100% responsibility for putting food on the table there was the odd ‘What have we done?’ moment. Although this was juxtaposed by the excitement about building something amazing for both Chris and I and for our future customers. From day one, we wanted to ensure we were building something that we would be proud of, whether it was the product, support or the culture of our team, we were committed to applying our ‘Driven to Exceed’ mantra to everything we did.
WHAT WAS YOUR BUSINESS VISION BACK THEN?
Initially the reason we wanted to set up our own business was so that we could have flexibility with our family and lifestyles. We are both avid surfers and love the outdoors and so it made sense to us to try and build a business that provided recurring revenue so that we could adapt and achieve that work/life balance.
We built our first product, IntelliMail, relatively quickly and whilst we knew that was never going to be our ‘Golden Ticket’, it taught us so much about developing on the Salesforce Platform. We were very committed to not taking funding to grow our product business, and instead, we chose to put our Salesforce skills to use and began providing Salesforce consulting services to customers to help them implement Salesforce for their business.
WHAT DO YOU WISH YOU HAD KNOWN BACK THEN?
The size of the opportunity really. I don’t think we realised how big the Salesforce eco-system was going to become. Chris and I both fell into Salesforce pretty early on. Ironically, we were probably both hanging out at the same Salesforce events around 2004/2005 in the UK, but having never crossed paths until we met in Melbourne, Australia.
WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY?
Not too much really…perhaps shut down the consulting side of the business a little sooner so we could focus more on products. Whilst we’d already established a great reputation for delivering great products, the velocity by which new features were able to be introduced with 100% product focus, really allowed us to dramatically increase the capability of the solution. Having said that, building the product to meet our own consulting requirements really was a great way of ensuring it was fit for purpose, so whilst it may have been good to get that pure product business earlier, the additional years in consulting were invaluable to understand where we wanted to take the solution.
IF YOU COULD GO BACK AND GIVE ADVICE TO YOURSELF AND CHRIS 10 YEARS AGO WHAT WOULD THAT BE AND WHY?
Enjoy it! Especially during the first few years, building everything up from scratch was challenging. ‘The buck stops here’ was a regular feeling. However, looking back over the years, it would definitely be something that I’d like to enjoy more if I were to go back and do it again. We’re so committed to the success of our customers, we spent a lot of time worrying whether we were doing the right thing by adding certain features into the product, and were always fighting the questions in our head of ‘What if they don’t like it?’ and ‘What if they decide to go elsewhere?’. Looking back now, knowing we’ve received nothing but great applause for what we’ve delivered over the years I wish we’d had more confidence to enjoy the success ‘in the moment’.
WHAT HAVE BEEN THE MAIN ACHIEVEMENT MILESTONES OVER THE LAST TEN YEARS?
Definitely achieving all of this on our own without any external funding has to be number 1 on the list. Building solutions that are helping our customers be more successful in their worlds is a close second. Seeing a spreadsheet that I put together about 17 years ago be developed into one of the most popular Project Management solutions on the AppExchange, that is now being used by customers in over 25 countries around the world is mind blowing. Having been able to do it all ‘our way’ without the pressure of investors has been amazing, and having now established a great team to help us take on the challenge of the next 10 years is a very exciting position to be in.
WHO HAS BEEN YOUR INFLUENCE THROUGHOUT THE LAST TEN YEARS?
Most definitely my business partner Chris, the management team and my family. Being my sounding board and reassurance that we’ve got the ship pointed in the right direction has been such an immense foundation of confidence to continue driving us forward. Beyond them, I’m extremely grateful for having access to an amazing network of mentors, peers and friends who are always so willing to listen, offer opinions and share experiences.
WHAT IS YOUR VISION FOR THE NEXT TEN YEARS?
We want to continue to build excellence within our products, particularly Mission Control to become the ‘Go To’ solution for Project Management and Professional Services Automation within the Salesforce eco-system. We’ve got so many ideas to push this product even further and being an independent team we have the flexibility to pursue all of these exciting features and make them a reality as quick as we can build them. I really want to see us double down on the success that we’ve had so far, really continuing to push forward in our product offering and to further build and support our customer base.
IS THERE ANYTHING IN PARTICULAR YOU ARE GOING TO IMPLEMENT TO GET YOU THERE?
We’ll primarily be continuing with what has proven to be a winning formula for us over the last 10 years. Our expertise in Salesforce allows us to continue to develop solutions that meet client needs, whilst our size and independence ensures that we can stay nimble and reactive to the changing business landscape. We pride ourselves in living and breathing our ‘Driven to Exceed’ culture from all aspects of our business, whether that is internal employee engagement through to our exceptional customer service and how we approach every product in our stable. We’re so excited about the next phase of the business and can’t wait for all our customers to join us on the ride!