Roux Brits, Portfolio Director

One of the reasons I love to work with founders and managers of fast growing, entrepreneurial companies is that the good ones are masters of dealing with change. They are not just resilient, they generally become more focused on their purpose, and maintain an unshakable growth mindset whenever faced with turbulence. They are determined, acutely aware of the threats around them and respond to them in a composed and decisive way.

For many teams the pandemic meant that ‘business as usual’ was no longer an option. Overnight, change became a requirement, with some having to overhaul their business models to continue growing or simply to survive. Naturally, this sort of exercise isn’t always plain sailing and, sometimes, brutal truths have to be confronted. However, I can’t help but admire how many not only survive in times of uncertainty but find ways to adapt and thrive.

More than twelve months on, I feel now is a great time to reflect and share some of the lessons we have learnt from the management teams and founders from our own portfolio.

1. Have a growth mindset – all the time

Tonkotsu is a Japanese ramen restaurant chain that has been expanding since our investment in 2019.  Since the outbreak, its industry has seen extraordinary levels of uncertainty. It has had to deal with stores having to constantly shut, re-open, change opening hours, change their business model (eat in v. delivery and take-away), and all the other challenges that comes with having to react to new information all the time. Instead of being overwhelmed, and retreating into their shells, the team quickly transitioned from dealing with the immediate fallout of the initial lockdown to thinking “we will never have another opportunity to focus on the blueprint of the business like this again”. During the next 12 months, they revisited every recipe, launched a new menu, reviewed every operational process, the efficiency of their labour model, automated customer ordering and payment processes, ensured that every operator had the best possible data they needed to drive performance, and even trialled AI in their kitchens to analyse their workflows. Their goal was to ensure scalability through consistency of quality and repeatability of processes, to minimise wastage and to drive performance. They knew that this would help them to ensure that they are ready to capitalise on the opportunities after restrictions are lifted, while giving customers an unparalleled and authentic experience.

With the support of their shareholders, the management team could focus on fundamentally improving all aspects of their business during the pandemic because they saw it as an opportunity for learning and improvement, when others would have chosen to focus on survival only. To find out for yourself all they have done with their time, have a look at tonkotsu.co.uk and visit a Tonkotsu near you.

2. Have a strong sense of purpose

Ncam provides precise positional and rotational camera tracking data to help create visual effects for films, episodic productions, live broadcasts and events. For most companies in the broadcasting, film or live events markets, the pandemic has ground things to a halt.

If anything, the pandemic strengthened the Ncam team’s belief in the relevance and growing importance of virtual production. Apart from launching their new industry leading and ultra-light weight camera tracking bar during lockdown, their R&D team has been working hard, developing capabilities that would fundamentally change the way camera tracking data is used, which will unlock significant time and budget savings in the VFX process, while enhancing quality. Unfortunately, even though I would love to, I cannot say much more at this stage, but please do watch this space over the coming months at ncam-tech.com.

Because of the belief in their purpose, Ncam have doubled down in the pandemic, to ensure that they aren’t just ready to help unwind the content backlog that has developed, but that they play their part in disrupting the market, this time in a positive way, once the market does return.

3.  Know when change is needed

Sipsynergy, a Unified Communications business in our portfolio, realised early on during the pandemic that Microsoft Teams (up to this point a competing product) is here to stay and likely to change the way businesses communicate forever – and that traditional phone networks, as we know them today, will soon become obsolete. Above all, the team knew that change was needed in order not to be left behind due to the shift in market dynamics, and they chose to see the opportunity rather than the threat. With our support, they developed an exciting new product (‘Callroute’), that allows users to either integrate Microsoft Teams with their current phone network (PBX), or to mirror and replace their current PBX ‘within’ Microsoft Teams, all in a seamlessly quick automated integration. This offers the customer, and distribution partners, unparalleled flexibility at a fraction of the price of any alternative. The best feature of Callroute is not just that it is cost effective but that it future proofs the customer’s phone network. Callroute makes it impossible to distinguish between the existing phone network and Microsoft Teams, whether the user decides to keep or discard their existing phone network.

The team realised that doing more of what has always been done, or even doing it better, is not the answer when the rules of the game are constantly changing. They recognised that the situation required change and saw it as an opportunity. After extensive development, they recently launched their first two exciting Callroute products, with further enhancements being added over the next few months. Visit callroute.com to get your free channel today and see how you could truly unify communications by using Microsoft Teams at your organisation.

4. Remember to look outwards

Springboard, the leading footfall data analytics business, saw a dramatic increase in demand due to the pandemic. Overnight, highly accurate, real-time footfall data went from ‘important’ to ‘must have’ for many retailers, the government, news channels and other organisations alike.

This presented different challenges for Springboard. While enjoying an influx of demand, operations also had to figure out a way of dealing with different levels of restrictions in different geographies to ensure installations could go ahead where and when possible. It is also no secret that retailers depending on footfall have generally been under even more pressure because of the pandemic.

Even while Springboard was absorbing this flurry of inbound activity, they kept their clients front of mind, being very conscious of their everyday and very real challenges. As a result, they soon developed and launched the Occupancy Alert System which helps retailers, both in the UK and US, to manage occupancy levels within their stores in real time so they can keep their doors open safely and prove compliance with various regulations.

Springboard realised that going the extra mile for their clients in their time of need was a unique opportunity to strengthen customer relationships further and increase brand loyalty. Any high degree of change, positive or negative, sometimes tempts teams to close ranks and deal predominantly with what is in front of them. This is sometimes necessary to a degree; however, Springboard has reminded us to ‘look up’ and never forget who you are there for – your clients and customers.

5. Act with conviction

Outpost is a VFX producer behind productions like News of the World, The Alienist and Nocturnal Animals, among many others. This is an exciting company with an amazing creative team, who are very highly valued by the producers and studios with which they work.

Even though most productions have generally been on pause during the pandemic, and despite remote working drastically changing the way all production teams have had to function overnight, they produced arguably some of their best work during this period. This body of work included the previously mentioned News of the World (featuring Tom Hanks and on Netflix now), which received a Visual Effects Society (VES) nomination for Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Photoreal Feature.

If this wasn’t enough, they also wanted 2020/2021 to be a watershed year for them as a company. So, despite the pandemic, they set off in search of a like-minded partner who shared their vision of the opportunities beyond the short term. They needed support to enter the next exciting phase of their business.

In February 2021, YFM funds were delighted to invest in this highly talented team, providing growth capital to support them in scaling their business. This will include upgrading their technology infrastructure, opening/expanding studios in LA, Montreal and Mumbai and providing guidance through a vast network of people and experiences to make sure they are best equipped for the next exciting phase. For them, the fact that they acted with conviction at every opportunity, regardless of the challenges within the market, made all the difference.

Summary

These management teams have reminded me over the last year that if you want to thrive in an ever-changing world and remain energised along the way, you must:

  • Be open to learning all the time – this will not only help inform your decision-making process and make it more effective/efficient, but it’s also one of the best ways of opening yourself up to others and taking them on the journey with you
  • Know and believe in your purpose – this will help to keep perspective and know which way is north, regardless of the immediate challenges
  • Be present – this requires you to be composed, aware of yourself, the situation and those around you. It also means being ready to act decisively when required.

Not content with just surviving, each of the above teams, like many others across the UK, have in some way shown what it takes to evolve and even thrive. These management teams will be the first to tell you that they, their teams, and the journeys that they are on, are still very much a work in progress. I have no doubt that whatever they achieve, or whatever setbacks they endure, their eagerness to learn and ability to act with confidence and composure will always remain. That is why it is just as important, if not more important, to celebrate the process rather than just the outcomes.

Approved for the purposes of Section 21 of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 by YFM Private Equity Limited (‘YFM’), which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FRN: 122120). YFM is the Investment Manager to British Smaller Companies VCT plc, British Smaller Companies VCT2 plc, YFM Equity Partners Growth I LP, YFM Equity Partners Growth Fund II LP, YFM Equity Partners Buyout I LP and YFM Equity Partners Buyout II LP. YFM Private Equity Limited is ultimately owned by YFM Equity Partners LLP which is registered in England and Wales No: OC384467. Registered Office: 5th Floor, Valiant Building, 14 South Parade, Leeds LS1 5QS.

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