Julian Hucker, the co-founder of messaging firm Esendex, tells Rachel Bridge at Drax how he turned £1000 and a good idea into an £11 million business
Julian Hucker dreamt of becoming an entrepreneur from a young age. His first and perhaps most memorable idea, at the age of 17, was to hire out sheep to keep the grass short on roundabouts.
He says: “I had a lot of landscaping jobs as a teenager and it was always really difficult to cut the grass on a roundabout. So I thought that if I just stuck a post on a roundabout and attached a sheep it could eat the grass perfectly.”
Some farming friends agreed to lease him some sheep and his aunt gave him money to rent a van, but in the end he was defeated by trying to get permission from the council.
After studying economics at university Julian spent two years surfing in Australia, Asia and Europe with hopes of becoming a professional surfer. Realising this was never going to happen, he returned to the UK and joined a graduate trainee scheme with Thorn, the electronics company, as a computer programmer.
He stayed there for five years before becoming an operations manager for Beacon Gas, a gas services company. But the idea of having a venture of his own never went away and when Beacon Gas was taken over he started a business with a former colleague providing targeted field sales.
Although they secured funding, the business failed to meet its ambitious targets and was wound down within 18 months.
Julian was determined not to give up on his dream of becoming an entrepreneur however and so he joined forces with a friend, Adam Bird, to brainstorm ideas. Their first idea was to start a payday loans business but they quickly realised they didn’t have enough capital to get a banking licence.
Their next idea was to set up an SMS marketing business called Txt-Bom. They each put £1000 into setting it up but after a year it became clear that the business’s real potential lay in business messaging.
The two of them decided to give it one more year, tailoring the business towards their new market. They called the business Esendex and launched their service on a subscription basis, a model that was unusual at the time but was effectively an early SaaS business.
Although the business took several more years to get off the ground, the recurring revenues fuelled ten years of solid growth. As CEO, Julian led a round of international expansion and by 2012 turnover exceeded £10 million.
By now it was clear that the business needed another injection of cash to reach its full potential. A new CEO-designate was appointed and Julian headed-up the sale of Esendex to Darwin Private Equity for £11 million, staying on as non-executive.
Julian says: “We had built a business that private equity loved because it was completely transparent - we had fantastic financial control, data and metrics on the business from the very beginning, and huge growth potential.”
They clearly did something right – in 2017 Esendex was subsequently sold again, this time to HgCapital, and turnover is forecast to have grown tenfold to £100 million this year.
Parting with the business was an unexpectedly painful experience however. Julian says: “I loved everything about Esendex, and it was an awful shock to sell it. We signed the deal in the early hours, I got a taxi up to our offices in Nottingham, bought a new shirt from Marks and Spencer, and told the staff that we had sold the business. And then I left. It was a huge anti-climax. It was great to be able to sort myself out financially, but intellectually I was left with a huge void. I missed the business.”
Instead he threw his energy into competing full time in triathlons for two years, a move which in 2016 inspired him to set up a small lifestyle business, Elite Training Experience, which runs triathlon training camps in Cyprus.
But Julian realised that his real passion is helping businesses scale up and so he is now keen to use his experience to help other entrepreneurs reach their potential. He says: “When you are scaling up a business the demands on the senior management change tremendously over time, and I think I have got some experience that can help people through those different phases."
He has this advice for entrepreneurs considering private equity investment: “Private equity doesn’t like uncertainty, so you need to make sure you have a very straightforward and transparent business which is in good shape for an exit. Before we embarked on the exit process we took the difficult decision to close the US office down, which was yet to make a profit, and we addressed the immediate gaps in the management team. We made sure that there were no loose ends and no surprises.”
Drax sector lead: Ruby Sheera
Partner, Technology and Tech-enabled businesses
Tel: 0203 949 9555