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“The Secret of Our Success” – Q&A with Branwell Moffat, co-founder and Director of CX Consulting at KPS UK

KPS UK specialises in building customer experience platforms for international brands across the retail, wholesale, leisure and life science sectors. Co-founders Branwell Moffat, Barnaby Moffat and Tim Hillman have taken KPS from a startup to an award-winning, fast-growing business whose clients include Dreams, Brakes, Arsenal FC, LK Bennett, Office Shoes, The Body Shop, and Saint Gobain.  By harnessing their unique blend of integrity and entrepreneurial spirit, the team creates e-commerce sites that deliver increased revenue and conversion rates via a seamless shopping experience.

The company, which employs just under 200 at its offices in South London, became part of the German-owned KPS Group four years ago.  Since becoming an accredited SAP centre of expertise eight years ago, KPS UK has continued to strengthen its relationships and expertise in this area and recently won the coveted accolade of global SAP CX Partner of the Year.

Here, we speak to Branwell Moffat about how they got started and the qualities and values he believes has helped the business succeed:

‘How did you get started?’

I had what you might describe as an eclectic childhood that included some significant challenges and adversity. My parents separated early on, and my mum was a bit of a hippie – at one point we lived in a caravan. During my school years, we moved around a lot, so I ended up going to nine or ten different schools.

It was tough but it taught me to be strong and independent and showed me what adversity looks like. I had to look after myself and my younger siblings from an early age, so I’ve never been afraid of taking on responsibility.

After A-levels in maths, economics and physics, I was offered a place at Kingston University to study Business Studies. I chose it because it seemed general enough to be useful for my future career. Of course, at that point, I had absolutely no idea that I’d be setting up my own business.

‘I asked myself ‘What am I doing here?’ – and realised we had a great opportunity’

Once I’d graduated, I took a job at a computer hardware distributor which was a bit of a sweatshop. It was a case of: ‘Here’s a phone, here’s The Yellow Pages – now start selling’. The culture was horribly aggressive – the sales director would monitor how many outgoing calls we made and every day force one person to stand up in front of the rest of the team. Then, with much ‘effing and blinding, he would humiliate them with a public dressing down. After about six weeks of this, I thought: ‘I didn’t go to university for four years to end up stuck in a place like this.’

We set up our first business, Foresite almost by accident. In the summer between graduating and starting at the computer hardware sales job, my flatmate’s dad asked me to build a website. I had no idea how to do it, so went and bought the Dummies Guide to HTML and managed to put together one of the worst looking websites you’ve ever seen. This was back in 1997, in the early days of the internet, when everything was pretty basic. It turned out that my friend’s dad was working for a new government organisation which was one of around 100 Sector Skills Councils around the country. Each of these organisations had been awarded a budget of a few thousand pounds to build their own website. It was at this point that my brother Barney and I realised it was a really good opportunity.

Starting my own business didn’t feel like a risk, because I was straight out of university. I wasn’t married and didn’t have kids or a mortgage, so it didn’t matter that I could only pay myself a pittance. And, if it didn’t work out, I had my entire career ahead of me and could just go and get a job.

It also helped that my dad had set up a few small businesses when I was young. And one of the things he instilled in me was that you can do anything – your fate is not set in stone. I never thought: ‘I couldn’t possibly be a manager, or run a company’.

‘We had one computer between the three of us’

Barney and I launched Foresite Business Solutions out of his spare room, with just one computer, one chair and one desk between us.

Gradually, we hired a few tech people and after about 18 months, they helped us build our first bespoke e-commerce platform for footwear retailer Office, who were still quite a small with about 10 stores. I’m proud to say that 20 years on, they’re still our customer – and a much bigger company.

Foresite grew from just a few of us doing very basic, hand-coded websites into a reasonable size and we moved to using platforms like Magento. It was also around this time that we rebranded to Envoy Digital, not least because everyone kept getting the spelling of Foresite wrong.

‘It was a bit of a gamble’

Eight years ago, when we had just one SAP customer, we made a conscious decision to take more of a consultative, enterprise and guiding approach but that was difficult with smaller-scale projects. We took the decision to completely transform the business into an SAP consultancy which meant effectively giving notice to most of our customers. That was a bit of a gamble but we knew we were much better suited to larger scale enterprise projects, which would allow us to deliver a better quality job.

We hired several SAP experts and worked on building a strong relationship with SAP to the point where we now have more SAP CX customers than anyone else in the UK, and we were recently named SAP CX Partner of the Year.

‘It’s not just about needing a new website’

Our customers need to engage with their customers in many different ways. Often, these are large high street retailers or B2B organisations – not just in the UK but also internationally. They tend to come to us where they need to scale, better engage with their customers or keep up with their competition and we help design and implement a multi-platform solution.

We also help them operationally manage a significantly scaling e-commerce business. For example, when they’re scaling from £10-£20m to £100-£200m turnover a year, it isn’t just a case of needing a new website. They need a platform to help manage communication with their customers, customer data, content and logistics.

I think we’re really good at helping customers, holding their hands and leading them on that journey of ‘We’re here, we need to get to here, how do we get there?’ And that’s often an extremely complex journey. It’s not just: ‘You need a new website’, or ‘You need a new piece of technology, there are operational processes, there are roles they might not have in place. There are techniques and bringing together multiple bits of data about a customer into a single view.

‘Rather than technology-first, we’re business and consulting first’

We’re very consultative and attuned to helping customers make the right decisions. Many know where they need to get to, but don’t know how to get there. So, if we just said: ‘Tell us what you want and we’ll build it’, those wouldn’t necessarily be the right solutions. I believe what sets us apart and the main reason we’ve been so successful is that we’re extremely good at holding customers’ hands and saying: ‘OK, we know you need to get to this place. Let’s go on this journey together. Let’s show you what works and what doesn’t and give you the benefit of our experience.’

I’m not a software developer and neither are Barney and Tim. That’s our secret weapon because it means we come at it with a business focus. We make sure we really understand what a customer’s business needs, as well as what their customers need. Then, we bring together the technology to deliver it.

‘Being part of a bigger group gives us technical and expert backup’

When we started talking to KPS four plus years ago about joining the group, it was important to us that we didn’t get consumed by a big organisation. They were very clear that they weren’t looking to do that either and their group culture is fairly similar to ours. Since becoming part of the KPS Group, we’ve kept our culture, we make our own decisions and work the way we’ve always worked. What it’s given us is access to more technical capabilities and expertise, additional back-office services or ERP (enterprise resource planning) plus an international reach. We’re currently working on about five projects with various companies within the group. All in all, the move has been nothing but positive for us.

‘Keep your customers and staff happy and your KPIs will take care of themselves’

Customer satisfaction and employee retention and happiness are the most important key performance indicators for us. Everything drives from there, because we’re nothing without the people in our team. We work hard to create a good work-life balance and to be fair. Not only is it the right thing to do and a big part of who we are but if it’s not a nice place to work and people start leaving, that’s obviously bad for business. If you can get client and employee satisfaction right, your margins, revenue and EBITA will take care of themselves, because your staff are motivated to produce exceptional work.

‘Success doesn’t have to mean screwing people over’

To keep pace with our growth, we’ve taken on over50 new staff since March last year. Finding skilled knowledgeable, good quality people is a constant challenge, not least because contractor rates are going up and demand for top tech people is high. We’ve boosted our internal recruitment, resource management and HR teams so we can get better at recruiting.

Staff tell us they’ve been at lots of different companies but never worked somewhere like this. We have a couple of people in our leadership team who are ‘career contractors’ who say they’d never have believed they’d want to go permanent anywhere, until they came to KPS. To me, that speaks volumes. Of course, I want us to be successful, but I want to do it in a way that’s not screwing people over – that’s not what we’re about.

‘We’re the guys you can rely on’

Making sure we hang onto our corporate culture as we grow is so important, because it’s easy to lose sight of what makes us special. We see ourselves as the guys who do a good job and who deliver what we promise.

We’re also branching out into other back-office such as ERP (enterprise resource planning) implementation and supply chain. It’s part of our mission to become a larger, fully rounded digital transformation company that can offer end-to-end front and back office solutions while still being known as a company that’ll do a good quality job and not try and rip you off.

‘You can’t lead a business if you’re in the weeds’

Although my main focus is on working with customers to help design solutions and work with the team to build the right architecture, I also have overall responsibility for finance and HR. We’ve been putting in place a fantastic leadership team who challenge us and drive new initiatives, so I know need to delegate more, let go and say: ‘Right, that’s someone else’s responsibility, let them do it.’ That’s probably the biggest thing I need to work on, because if I’m stuck in back-to-back meetings about small operational matters, I can’t be as productive as I need to be. You can’t lead a business if you’re if you’re in the weeds.

‘Be honest, work hard and do the right thing’

Performance appraisals aren’t all about measuring how good we are at our roles, we’re also always checking that we’re living up to our corporate values. I believe company culture is driven from the top and our values are around integrity, quality, respect and fun. In a nutshell, it’s about being decent – decent to each other within the organisation and decent to our customers. We take pride in what we deliver and want to be known as the company that does a good job. If we think what a customer is asking for isn’t right for their business, we’ll tell them.

‘I’m not interested in taking a quick buck’

We walked away from two big projects last year because the customer had unrealistic timescales and expectations. Plenty of competitors will say: ‘We’ll do it in that time,’ even though they know that’s not going to happen. It’s the elephant in the room and they save the fight for later. I’m not interested in taking a quick buck while knowing the customer’s going to be disappointed down the line. If a customer wants something in three months and it’s not possible to do it within that timeframe, we’ll tell them. We’re not going to promise something we know we can’t deliver.

‘If I had a time machine…’

Back in 1998, one of the guys working for us at Foresite heard about a website in America where you could auction stuff online and he was trying to persuade us to launch something similar here in the UK. We said: ‘That’s a rubbish idea – no one’s ever going to do that’. That turned out to be eBay, so I guess we should have listened to him!

‘I like to think it was fate’

One of the strongest influences in my life is my wife. We’ve been together for 24 years and have two children – a 13-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son. I admire her strength and the way she cheers me up when I’m down and doesn’t take any grief. We met at a party but didn’t even say ‘hello’ until after midnight, by which time she’d already tried to order a taxi three times. Luckily for me, none of them arrived, so we sat on the sofa and started chatting. I managed to get her number, and we went on a date a week later. But if any of those taxis had turned up, we’d never have met. I like to think it was fate.

My other strong influence is my circle of long-time close friends. I tend to be the one who organises things and I’d like to think they’d describe me as fun, generous, kind, decent and strong-willed. I’m not particularly driven by success or money but doing the right thing is important to me. I want to be able to sleep at night, which translates into being honest, working hard and doing a good job.

‘Our office dog Alfie makes us human’

My dog Alfie comes into the office with me every day and has done so ever since he was a puppy. He’s part of the furniture now and it sounds odd but he makes us human! He follows me everywhere, even into meetings where he’ll curl up on a chair next to me while we’re talking with a new customer. He’s a brilliant icebreaker – everyone wants to talk about and stroke the dog. Once, he jumped on a customer’s lap and they were wearing a really smart suit and I thought ‘Oh my God’ but they loved it and were taking photos to share on social media.

In fact, I’ve always dreamed of opening a dog rescue centre, so maybe one day that’s what I’ll do.

‘I despise the myth that there are no friends in business’

A piece of advice given to me by a successful entrepreneur was: ‘Make sure you look after your margins. If you look after those, everything else follows from that.’ At the time, it didn’t mean much. But, it’s actually the key to viability as a business. Look after your margins because if they drop, you’re not going to survive.

My other advice is to be truthful. People buy from people, not businesses and I attribute a lot of our successes to the way we engage with our customers and the integrity that we show. In movies, you see hard-nosed businessmen screwing each other over and there’s a myth that ‘there are no friends in business’. I despise that kind of thinking – it doesn’t make business or moral sense. Do business with a level of integrity and you will find success.