Hugh Griffiths, Founder and CEO of Inzpire
Deeply understanding our customers and our market has been key to our success, says Hugh Griffiths, Co-founder and CEO of Inzpire, a defence business which provides safety-related equipment and advice to the military.
- What was the inspiration for your business?
I spent more than 20 years in the RAF as a military aviator and experienced large defence companies providing equipment and services to the military as a customer. I thought there had to be a better way to do this because the people producing the equipment typically had no real understanding of the military operating environment. Also the people who were delivering training had often never actually been in the military so they didn’t really understand what they were talking about.
I thought there might be an opening for a company of ex-military people who had all this fantastic knowledge and experience of being at the sharp end and could deliver the services that were needed. We make devices such as simulators and navigation devices to help keep military personnel safe in dangerous areas, and we provide intelligence skills training and human performance training for RAF pilots and others. Our business has a turnover of around £30 million.
- How did you finance the growth of your business?
I founded the business with two co-founders and between us we put in £300 to get started. As the business grew we initially funded it entirely with our own money through savings and loans. It slowly started to make money but the only reason it was stable was because the founders were not really paying themselves anything. We then sold a portion of the business to angel investors and when they exited the business we sold the company to a defence contractor in a staggered trade sale which was completed earlier this year. So I still run the company but I don’t own it anymore.
- What has been the impact of the pandemic on your business and how have you dealt with this?
It has had virtually no impact on us. In fact last year we had our best ever year. The sort of things we are providing are needed whether or not there is a pandemic. However it did affect us being able to go out and do business development for our export customers, so I suspect there will be an impact this year because of not being able to do that last year.
- What has been the most difficult or challenging part of growing your business?
Managing the impact of investors and owners on the business as it has gone through different stages of growth. There is a tension because investors want to sell the business within a timeline of 3-5 years and make money so they are always concerned about the short term profit, but as the founder and owner and someone who is immersed in the business you are always looking at the long term. Managing that tension to set the business up for success in the long term while still making short term profits has been the hardest thing. It is a constant challenge.
- What key lesson have you learnt about setting up and growing a business?
If you are trying to grow a business, you just can’t do it on your own. You have to get other people to do it with you and for you. So the biggest lesson is to recruit great people and be clear about what you would like them to achieve. Then let them get on with it.
- What has been your biggest mistake?
Not following my own instincts. On a couple of key issues I allowed myself to be persuaded by others and agreed to what they wanted and it turned out to be a mistake.
- What has been the secret of your success so far?
We deeply understand our market. In our business 80% of us are ex-military and between us we have around 4000 years of frontline military experience. So we understand the environment really well.
- What advice would you give an entrepreneur just starting out about how to grow their business?
Follow your instincts. Don’t allow yourself to be swayed by other people. And accept that growing a business is going to take a long time and involve lots of setbacks.
- What personal quality or characteristic has been most useful to you as an entrepreneur as you grow your business?
- How does it feel to have been chosen as an SME Leader?
I am flattered and delighted; it is lovely to be recognised.