Entrepreneur Interview: Jeremy Harford

August 4, 2022

As part of our Entrepreneur Series, this month we had the pleasure of getting to know Jeremy Harford, Founder of MESTEC – a software company that drives and improves factory performance by focusing on business pressures. We chat to Jeremy about his background prior to MESTEC, the greatest technological advances in the software, his tips for business owners looking to sell and much more…


What is your background prior to founding MESTEC?

Until my early twenties, I was a professional full-time water skier and lived out in America while doing the pro-tour. After a couple of years, I returned to the UK to work as an Account Manager for the beer company Whitbread – I thought I’d work at selling a product that I believed in! After working in the Take Home Division for 2 years, I moved into the IT sector working for a company called Metrologie. About 2 years later, I started my first company Zygology Systems, a value-added distributor for several barcoding product vendors. Our sector was ‘box-build electronics’ focused. There was some crossover between Zygology Systems and founding MESTEC, and I eventually sold Zygology Systems by management buyout in 2008.


How has MESTEC evolved since you started the business?

We began by acquiring a company called Acquisition Solutions who had Thales Group as a customer – one of Europe’s largest aerospace and defence contractors. This acquisition was based off my hunch that manufacturing execution and the management of data in factories would eventually digitalise. I bought out the only serious competitor in the UK which not only eliminated the competition but allowed us to learn about the intricacies of ‘critical’ manufacturing and how technology could support manufacturing operations.

Over the years we continued to develop our software and rolled it out to other Thales business divisions and then to a broader sector base. We ended up with around 35 major clients as we diversified from aerospace & defence to other regulated sectors such as pharmaceuticals, medical devices, food and precision products both in the UK and overseas.


Since founding the business in 2000, what period would you say you saw the greatest technological advances in your Software and what drove this?

In 2015, we followed a common migration path that much of the software industry had already adopted (SaaS; Software as a Service) and launched our first cloud-only product. Prior to this, software was installed on-site on the customer’s own computer systems. This migration to the cloud really changed every aspect of our business – our financials, tech, marketing and how we sold the product and supported our clients. This migration to the cloud changed every corner of our business. This new subscription model also made our product easier to sell because customers wouldn’t have to justify large upfront costs.


Did the Coronavirus pandemic affect the business, and if so, what contingency plans were put in place to ensure survival?

The only way in which the pandemic affected us was attracting new businesses. We won minimal new deals during this period which were relatively small. At the same time, we didn’t lose any of our customers to the pandemic. The only contingency we put in-place was a Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS), a government scheme designed to support the cash flows of businesses during the pandemic.


MESTEC has recently been acquired by Eyelit (a Banneker Partners company). How did you find the M&A process? What were the biggest challenges you faced during the process and how did you get past them?

I personally found the M&A process very easy – I thought it was going to be much harder than it was. One of the main reasons for this was probably because I had already resigned as CEO of the business and was only really involved in the high-level strategic decisions. Bluebox also guided the process very well and most challenges along the way were resolved by them. It was just a very seamless and stress-free deal. The fact that Banneker were the front-runners right from the very start also made the negotiations relatively easy.


What three tips do you have for business owners looking to sell their business?

  1. Plan well in advance: I decided that two years was the right time frame for me before taking the company to market. We may have started the process a bit earlier however the pandemic prevented us from doing so. Everything has got to be spot-on so that when the buyer does due diligence you look tidy, organised and professional.
  2. Decide what you are going to sell – What is going to drive value? Focus efforts over those two years to adapt your collateral to build your proposition and marketing to both the end user and the buyer.
  3. Choose the right advisors. Ultimately, the reason I chose Bluebox was that they understand solution sales and thus how to sell the true value of a business. They were head and shoulders above any of the other potentials we looked at!


Following the transaction, you have exited the business, what are you doing now and has your life changed since exiting?

It has been a big adjustment and one thing to consider is wealth management – how am I going to manage my money, how I will invest it and so on. I also have Croatian residency, so I am looking forward to spending more time out there. Post-sale can be quite a lonely and disorientating place so my advice to business owners is always think about why you want to sell the business, what your objectives are and what you are going to do post-sale.


What 2 personality traits do you believe make a good business leader?

  1. Know how to set a vision for the business and be able to articulate how the people who work for you are going to personally benefit. The success of a business is directly linked to its people.
  2. Be a ‘hard-core’ person. Many obstacles will be thrown in your path, and it is not always an easy ride. You must be invincible!


What advice would you give to a young entrepreneur starting up their own business?

Business planning is key. Do your research, be very clear about your proposition and how you are going to be different from your competitors. You must have a very well-rehearsed and impressive elevator pitch because when you start, you are going to need that pitch every single day. Planning your finances well and building contingency is also crucial as unexpected costs often appear.


Rapid Fire:

If you could have one super power, what would it be? Predict the future.

If you could start another business, what type of business would it be? Probably an EIS fund, funding businesses in my now ex-sector.

Go to holiday destination? Croatia, the best place in the world!

If you could only eat one dish for the rest of your life, what would it be? Croatian lobster.

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