Visualsoft’s CEO Dean Benson reveals how a technical approach to eCommerce and being forward-thinking when it comes to HR are paying dividends for the Teesside-headquartered tech company.
Dean Benson and Richard Bendelow established Visualsoft in 1998.
At the time, the internet was in its infancy, but the pair saw the potential of it as a tool for sharing information and knowledge, free of charge.
And while everyone else concentrated on the look of websites, Visualsoft focused on the technical side.
“We concerned ourselves with functionality, speed, performance and analytics,” explains Dean.
Visualsoft began offering free training on the internet (funded through advertising) before moving into new areas, working with Amazon, Google and PayPal.
It wasn’t long before people were literally knocking on the door of Visualsoft’s Teesside office, asking the team to build them a website.
One of the first companies at the door was the Middlesbrough-based designer clothing retailer, Triads, which asked Visualsoft for an eCommerce site.
Initially, Dean and Richard were wary of eCommerce – Amazon was very successful at selling books online but there was uncertainty when it came to larger, higher-value items.
Despite their concerns, they set about the task, again approaching it from a technical perspective.
As a result, word quickly spread about Visualsoft’s effective eCommerce sites, and its client base grew to 50.
At this point, the team realised that, if each eCommerce client was using the same codebase, then Visualsoft could make one-off enhancements and all of their clients would automatically benefit. This would enable the company to manage many more eCommerce websites at a time.
The strategy proved successful. So much so, that five years ago, Visualsoft ceased working on anything else.
The company is now a full-service provider, offering exclusive design, build and marketing of eCommerce sites, as well as support and training for clients – within a concept the company terms a ‘walled garden’.
Dean explains: “We offer everything a client needs for eCommerce and call it their ‘walled garden’. It means that they don’t have to use different companies for different aspects of selling online – it’s all in one place.”
Visualsoft currently has a portfolio of more than 1100 live websites (with 250 more in development), which are built, managed and marketed from its offices in Teesside, Newcastle and London.
In July 2014, Dean become CEO of Visualsoft and one of his first moves was to offer unmonitored flexitime and unlimited paid holidays to staff.
In addition, staff can also benefit from free breakfasts and protein shakes, subsidised gym membership, staff relaxation areas and free eye exams.
“Our motto is ‘happy staff, happy clients’,” says Dean. “If staff are happy, they do more for their clients; if clients are happy, they’ll pay their bills and stay with you.”
The approach is working, with Visualsoft well on its way to doubling its 2014 turnover by the end of FY16, with forecasts to double this again by FY17.
This year has also seen a number of accolades bestowed on the company and it was one of only three North East-based companies to feature in the 15th annual Tech Track 100, which ranks the UK’s fastest growing tech companies.
In addition, Visualsoft was named Company of the Year at the Teesside Business Awards – a proud moment for Dean, who grew up in Teesside and studied at Teesside University.
“I wasn’t expecting it at all,” he says. “To get recognition for all the things that we’ve done is phenomenal.”
The end of this year sees Visualsoft move to a new 35,000 sq ft head office in Stockton, and the company is also currently recruiting for its new Manchester office.
Dean has now set his sights on opening more offices throughout the UK, taking a typically methodical approach.
“We’ve identified the locations which have the skill-sets and the educational establishment, and where the graduates are,” explains Dean. “At the moment, we’re looking into York, Leeds, Birmingham and Edinburgh.”
Despite Dean admitting a period of adjustment in taking the CEO role, evidence shows that Visualsoft’s future looks bright under his command. But the Teessider is keen to stress that Visualsoft’s success remains a team effort: “We’ve got an amazing management team and an amazing set of staff which do a phenomenal job. That makes my job a lot easier.”