Don’t be afraid to fail because you can always start again. Having doubts wastes time!
Len Simmons is a founder of supply chain compliance specialist Altius VA, which was established in Derby, UK, in 2008.
He is the Chief Operating Officer for the business, which works with Fortune 150 companies in the USA, and major PLCs, including many leading high street retailers, hospitality businesses and FM providers, to help them achieve compliance and visibility across their entire supply chains.
As a computer science graduate, he is the chief technical brain behind Altius VA, which supplies award winning compliance software and management services to organisations globally.
He led the design and development of the Altius VA System, which was awarded the prestigious British Institute of Facilities Management (BIFM) Award for Innovation in Technology and Systems in 2011 and the i-FM Technology in FM Award in 2014.
This agile online system provides robust assessment and accreditation of suppliers, contractors and sub contractors – helping companies to reduce risk and liability, cut costs and save time, while gaining full client control and visibility.
More recently, he spearheaded the development of Altius’ new Exigo software, which enables international clients to configure their own compliance framework across many parameters – from health and safety to information security.
Where did the idea for Altius VA come from?
The idea for using technology to re-engineer the supplier compliance process came out of many years of frustration of seeing it done badly. This involved companies taking a paper-based process and then converting it into an online system that was inflexible and allowed data inconsistencies.
A reunion with like-minded former colleagues then led to the formation of Altius VA. We used advanced software to design a cloud-based compliance process from scratch; one that was flexible and tailored specifically to the suppliers we were assessing, rather than a clunky one-size-fits-all system. We designed it around our clients’ needs – building in triggers to ensure that compliance evidence was always up to date, not just valid on the one day a year when it was collected. This is something that no other assessment provider offers. We also ensured that we could add in instant updates to reflect the changing requirements of our clients.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
As the technical and operational lead for our small, fast-growing business, every day is full-on. I always get into the office an hour or two before my team to get a head start on the day.
We’re a fast growing business and the big challenge is making sure that I work ‘on’ business strategy as well as ‘in’ the business. What works for me is making regular visits to the local coffee shop, either alone or with my colleagues to brainstorm ideas . By taking a step back into a calmer environment, I have time to reflect and run through ideas for new products and services, process or technology improvements, in order to take the business to the next level of growth.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I’m a visual thinker, and our brainstorming white board is an entire wall in our headquarters, which is covered in diagrams and thoughts. I encourage the entire team to jot down their ideas on the wall and we have regular huddles around it to explore these thoughts.
I’m a total believer in agile software development and this agile methodology is applied to lots of our ideas. We identify a problem area and work with ideas until we find the right one to solve it.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I see huge potential for augmented reality in the compliance management sector, as well as for many other applications. In our industry, this could enable contractors to walk into any building and have a full visual understanding of the schematics and potential hazards. This will increase productivity and it could make big improvements to health and safety standards.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Persistence combined with positivity! I tend to keep going until I find a solution to a challenge and if it doesn’t work out, I don’t waste time procrastinating. I’ll learn from the experience and try something else. This is a useful trait when designing IT systems as it rubs off on my team and gives them the confidence and creative freedom to ‘have a go’. They feel safe in the knowledge that if it doesn’t work that they’ll be applauded for trying rather than blamed for failing.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t be afraid to fail because you can always start again. Having doubts wastes time!
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on?
You can always find a solution! My IT colleagues are often doubtful that we won’t find the right path, particularly if we can’t visualise the end at the start of the process. In my experience, the end point always (or usually) only becomes visible as you work your way through the challenge.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I seek out continuous improvement by keeping things fresh and developing new ideas. I tell people to find a new way by thinking about the challenge and questioning the status-quo.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Customer focus. Nobody in our business is removed from the customer as we know how critical it is to build IT systems and processes around their changing needs. It is unusual for IT people to engage much with customers, everything is usually fed through account managers. At Altius everyone takes a customer facing role; we simply don’t have ‘back-room’ staff.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
We created a compliance app for a new market, which seemed like a great idea because we could see a need and initial market testing showed that there was enthusiasm from the small businesses we were targeting. However, there wasn’t an urgent need for these businesses to adopt the technology and it was low on their long priority list, hence their warm words for the idea didn’t translate into sales.
I learnt a valuable lesson that thorough market research is absolutely critical, it doesn’t matter how great an idea is if people don’t buy into it.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Going back to question 4, I would love somebody to bring augmented reality for buildings to market, so that you could get rid of paper-based building manuals and enter a building for the first time and have a clear picture of its layout and where all the building services are located. It would be like google maps for inside buildings and be really useful for the emergency services in the event of fire or flooding.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
During a recent holiday to Corsica, my wife and I paid $100 for a boat trip to a secluded and pristine beach. It was the perfect break from a hectic work schedule and gave me time to reflect on what I had achieved. It also helped me come back to work fresh and focused.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
We use the Zendesk customer support system right across the business. This is a cloud-based software system for solving customer support tickets. It tracks and prioritises all the requests coming in and gives everyone full visibility of what’s being handled minute-by-minute. This really helps to smooth our workflow and has a big impact on overall productivity.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time“, by the company founder Howard Schultz. It’s an amazing story of entrepreneurial vision and determination by one man who identified an opportunity to scale up a tiny coffee roaster business into a huge chain of global coffee shops. His relentless pursuit of his vision and ability to overcome all the obstacles he faced is inspirational.
What is your favorite quote?
“Ever Tried? Ever Failed? No Matter. Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better” (Samuel Beckett)
• Take time out of the day to reflect and ensure you have time to work ‘on’ the business strategy, rather than being caught up totally ‘in’ the business operation.
• Your entire team should understand and engage with the customer to ensure customer service excellence and shape products and services.
• Don’t be afraid to try out an idea. If it doesn’t work, learn what you can from the exercise, but don’t dwell on it – move on to the next idea.
• Question the status-quo and continually strive to find new and better ways of doing things.