Get insights into founding teams as they navigate their own growth journey. There are several stages of success on every scale-up journey before the elusive unicorn status, we are focussing on those different stages with our Founder Spotlights.
In this spotlight, we speak to Graham O'Rourke, CEO of Aphix Software who talks about the importance of your team, knowing when to take a step back and how to develop as a founder during rapid growth.
So tell us a little bit about yourself. Your name, your role, your company, where you're based.
I'm Graham O’Rourke, CEO of Aphix Software. We're based in Ireland and the UK.
The business is about seven years old. The first two years were actually around the first beta product and we've been commercial the last five. We've grown to 35 people now, and at this point we're adding ten people a year. We're growing strongly given our business focus, as you might imagine, after the pandemic.
What problem are you trying to solve?
Aphix makes commerce really easy for B2B businesses, particularly those businesses that are in wholesale distribution and have an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system running their warehouse.
B2B and B2B e-commerce is quite complex because it has repeat ordering from a large number of customers that typically have their own pricing, their own particular contract rules and regulations, sometimes even their own different mini catalogue from that wholesale distribution business.
What our customers want is to automate that, streamline it and allow them to scale their business. Our e-commerce system fits like a glove into that, making these supply chain problems a lot faster and a lot smoother whilst leveraging the power of the cloud, solving that complexity in B2B e-commerce.
What do you love about running Aphix software?
For me, being a CEO of a scaling company, it's the constant learning and challenging yourself. To always move up a level and support the people that are coming on behind you. I mean, that's a really difficult thing to do for any founder.
And I guess some people find it a little bit easier than others, but it's really enjoyable to look back and see how the company has developed and see that the people that you've put into those leadership positions or key positions in the company have succeeded. It seems a little bit of a cliche, but it is very much that you want to make yourself redundant and move on each time. Every time you do that, you make the company a little bit stronger. As the CEO, that means you're doing something right, and the business is getting stronger and more valuable, and it's growing, so that's where the satisfaction comes from.
you want to make yourself redundant (in a role) and move on each time. Every time you do that, you kind of make the company a little bit stronger. As the CEO, that means you're doing something right, and the business is getting stronger and more valuable
With such rapid growth over the last couple of years, what would you say is your biggest challenge to scaling in the past twelve months?
I think the biggest challenge is that as we grow, we must invest heavily in our leadership team and ensure we have the right people in place. Coming from a start-up to what we now consider a scale-up business, we have added a lot of depth and maturity into the leadership team. This was viewed as very positive by everyone in the company as they were also looking for that leadership and team expansion.
we really had to add a lot of depth and maturity into the leadership team, but it was quite positive in that I think everyone in the company was also looking for that leadership and that team to expand.
It has created opportunities for some people to grow, and it gave us the opportunity to bring in new people. So, it's been quite positive overall. But that's definitely the thing we focused most on in the last twelve to 18 months.
You joined right as covid was kicking off in 2020, as a business, what sort of challenges did you face and overcome as a result of COVID?
As a business the biggest problem, like us all, was change itself. So very rapidly adapting to the emergence of Covid and understanding what that was. We can all remember in the beginning the brakes went on pretty much everything in March, but luckily for us, being in the space we were in, it actually helped accelerate our journey.
So really before Covid, while we were growing, this transition to the cloud and e-commerce was nice to have, but not urgent. Then it became very urgent and important. But what's good about that is we're seeing that, particularly in retail e-commerce, there is a huge spike, in B2B, it's just been steady growth. The pandemic has accelerated change in our customers' business, and they are now more committed to that than ever.
What advice would you give to a company that's looking to join a programme like the Scale Programme?
Bring your team with you. So much of this journey for us is really about strengthening our team, because you're challenged all the way through the programme to develop different parts of the business, and working on the business and outside the business, rather than in it. So, bringing your team with you.
And we did that even internally to let other people who may not have directly participated know that this was going on. We're using this to refine our message, to scale up our business, to look at every single portion of the business as we joined the programme.
Communication really helped the people participating and really connected the rest of the business to the programme so that when change came afterwards, they knew where it came from.
So that’s definitely something for new participants to consider.
Do you feel that the scale programme contributed to your growth over the last 18 months?
We found that the scale programme gave us really good clarity on our vision and message. The content from the Masterclasses training provided us with an excellent opportunity for the leadership team to engage with. I delegated most of the day to day of the programme to our Head of Sales in the UK, who was able to develop a strategy to help the business to grow and scale faster and the programme definitely facilitated that.
We found that the programme gave us really good clarity on our vision and message. The content from the Masterclasses training provided us with an excellent opportunity for the leadership team to engage with
Have you ever struggled with taking a step back over the years?
Yes, every day. I'm an engineer and technical by background, problem solving comes naturally to me. But sometimes you shouldn't solve the problem. Sometimes you should let other people do that, and that's a constant challenge I face in making sure that I empower people and don’t wander too far into the solution, more that I give them the space and let them walk into it. So that's always a challenge and it's something I constantly have to work on for sure.
sometimes you shouldn't solve the problem. Sometimes you should let other people do that, and that's a constant challenge I face in making sure that I empower people and don’t wander too far into the solution, more that I give them the space and let them walk into it.
What's a valuable piece of advice that you've learned since growing your business that you would like to pass on?
As you're starting out in the business your role changes, the team changes, the business changes. You may move into a space you didn't even envisage in the first place. So that constant change and being open to it, and you're doing that while also trying to set out a strategy.
So, in some ways, you're saying, “look, we're being very clear: here's where we're going”, but at the same time everything's moving, and you're trying to keep moving forward in that environment. But I guess accepting that change, particularly in people, because you're going to need different talent as the business grows, you're going to expand your leadership team.
The product challenges, the technical challenges, they will all be solved, but definitely bringing in the right people. Knowing when to do that and looking for that change in the team is something that you've got to always be looking out for.
Final question, what's next for Aphix?
Currently, we're on a 2x year-on-year growth. Initially, our growth is focused on UK expansion, followed by Northern Europe, in particular Benelux. Benelux is quite a large and mature e-commerce market from our initial research, although we have customers in the US, Africa, and New Zealand, we think the proximity of the market, the demand for B2B, e-commerce and the maturity of ERP are key points for us. So that's why we picked Benelux next.
So, the three-year vision is to continue our current growth path, widen our market footprint in Europe, and then look to the next round of funding to bring us to North America, being cognizant of whatever change may bring.
If you'd like to learn more about any of the above then get in touch with the GrowthBuilders team, or apply for one of our programmes here.