For Mike Parfitt, a career in IT never would have happened if it weren’t for some impeccable timing.
A last-minute change of work-experience led Mike away from a week in a law firm and to five days in the IT department of the NHS. Those five days were to shape his career and future business for the next 20 years.
From coming through the school system on the cusp of the millennium, Mike was lucky to be in the right place at the right time. Computer labs were introduced into the school just prior to Mike having to choose his GCSE’s. He quickly threw himself into learning all he could about GCSE IT and two years of A-levels followed for the boy from Caerphilly.
After deciding to pursue a degree in Multimedia Computing at the then-University of Glamorgan (now University of South Wales), Mike started demonstrating the entrepreneurial flair that would define his business in years to come.
“I would earn some extra cash by fixing computers for people and small businesses. It was something I stumbled into but I quickly realised the power of quality service.
“One of my first customers was a local chauffeur company who I would visit from time-to-time in order to sort out various IT issues. They were that impressed with my work that they started recommending me to their contacts and clients.
“This was where I learnt the power of a quality referral on the back of good, honest, hard work.”
Mike’s chauffeur client would regularly receive complaints from one of his good customers about how poor his IT system was. A quick introduction led Mike to not only picking up another customer, but also an unofficial mentor.
“ Over the remainder of my university years, I would regularly return and whilst chatting would question him on his businesses and successes. He would often suggest that there was a market for the support services I could provide. It was through his encouragement that led me to decide that I would start the business shortly after leaving university.”
Prior to this, self-employment had never been a consideration. As soon as Mike finished university, he did not immediately take the plunge, yet took pragmatic decisions to help him in his ultimate goal.
“Whilst in university and building the foundations of the business, I worked part-time for a convenience store chain and had built up a good friendship with the management team there who offered me a graduate management training position upon finishing my course.
“I took this up knowing that a year to the day from starting I would hand in my notice and officially start the business, during which time I had saved all of my salary and bonuses to start from day one with no debt or need to seek finance.
“The Cardiff businessman was then the first customer to sign a contract for retained IT support services. It had come full-circle and I was now on my own.”
Mike had received support from his alma mater as well as further mentoring: “I started the business with the support of a business incubation centre, a project called the Graduate Teleworking Initiative (GTi) funded by the University of Glamorgan. As part of this support I received mentoring and the business plan objectives sought to sign new retainer contracts and generate enough revenues to make the business profitable enough to fully support my income.”
However, for Mike, things didn’t kick-off quite as he hoped. He soon learned the difficulty in taking a business plan from paper to practice.
“In my first year, I learned that a business plan on paper doesn’t guarantee real-life success! After twelve months I came to accept that the business wasn’t as successful as I had hoped on paper and I was struggling to earn enough money to live. Not wanting to give up, I got a part-time job to subsidise my income until such time that the business was able to support me.”
Luckily, Mike was able to concentrate on Team Metalogic full-time soon after and was able to turn a negative into a positive.
The 2007 recession gave Mike an opportunity to enter a previously cordoned-off section of the market: “The recession in 2007 was something of a game changer for us. Prior to this, our average customer was a business with up to 20 staff which was a sweet spot as they were too big for the business owner to be wearing the IT hat but not big enough to warrant an IT manager on the payroll.
“With the recession, I found that larger businesses with 35+ staff who had previously employed an IT manager were looking to outsource their IT as a means of cost-saving during difficult economic times. This opened up a whole new customer demographic and by the scale of the businesses they had more complex requirements and larger budgets to invest in technology.
“By adapting to this change quickly and up-skilling ourselves, we were able to not only survive the economic downturn but actually benefit from it and positively grow the business.”
That is a lesson Mike has used to underpin the business’ ethics and values in the decade that followed the recession.
“The industry is ever-changing. With the dotcom boom internet technologies became popular and have continued to be so, but in more recent years as connectivity has improved technologies such as software-as-a-service have become the norm and cloud services are rapidly replacing on-premise servers hosting applications.
“As legislative changes such as GDPR come into force, it presents new challenges in terms of security of data integrity. No longer is a business’ data secured by the confines of their comms room
“Data and applications are hosted in the cloud and a business must consider how they protect that data as well as ensure its availability and integrity. Similarly, in the age of the cyber attack, security is now a key concern and cost within any IT budget and the threats to a business are now much more digital theft than physical with businesses investing more and more money into digital security measures than ever before.”
When asked about how best businesses and entrepreneurs can be supported by Welsh and UK Government, he said: Governments could better help businesses by incentivising the reinvestment of profits back into the business to support growth either through matched funding or tax relief. For startups, the reintroduction of a business support mechanism, such as that provided by the then Welsh Development Agency and other enterprise bodies, would also benefit startups by providing mentoring and guidance to support a business through the difficult early years, which is the most likely time for businesses to fail.
“I benefited first-hand from quality mentoring, on both an official and unofficial basis. I truly believe that those with real-life experience and knowledge of the business landscape have lots to offer the business leaders of tomorrow. However, I must stress that it is important that those who give advice must have walked the walk; there are too many professionals out there who have never started, maintained and grown a business. It is vital that first-hand experience is on offer.
“Here we are 15 years later and we have just been accepted onto the Welsh Government Accelerated Growth Programme; so you never stop benefitting from sound advice and mentoring, regardless of your experience.”
Whilst Mike is celebrating 15 years of Team Metalogic, he had some words to his younger self as well as those budding business owners who have a passion to build a business and make a life for themselves: “It’s always important to trust your instinct and not to be afraid to take risks. The early years of the business could possibly have seen faster growth if I was not so hesitant to take a risk from time to time. As the business has grown, I’ve become more accustomed to taking calculated risks but also to not fear failure, it’s a good way to learn!”