5 minutes with...Peter and Simon from Datanauts

In our regular series, our Community Manager Daisy interviews new arrivals at Sussex Innovation about their business, why they joined, and their plans for growth. Today she chats with Peter Osborne and Simon Brook from Datanauts.

Who are Datanauts and what do you do?

S: We build software. We've been doing it for a very long time now...

P: Nearly twenty years!

S: We partly came here to work out who we are, becasue we've been a traditional agency for a long time...

P:...but we found ourselves gravitating to, and much more interested by, challenging builds and helping start-ups get the first iteration of their products out the door. So, creating new applications or working with a business that doesn't have established systems and wants to find a way to transform their business digitally.

Has it always been the two of you?

S: [Yes.] We were firstly Small Fry, then we decided to become more "lawyer-like" and became Osborne Brook!

P: Becuase we were called Small Fry people [assumed] we were a small company and would work for a small price. We changed to Osborne Brook to do more complicated and interesting work.

S: And then we became Datanauts.

P: We looked at the common element between all our clients, what we helped them with was making data manageable and useful and getting business intelligence out of it. Datanauts [seemed appropriate].

S: We have grown a few times and then shrunk again either because we didn't like it or wanted to change what we do. We grew in the last year into an agency that was not the kind of agency either of us wanted to run. The trouble with having two of you is that you keep going and [take longer to bring up problems].

P: We realised what the magic thing was, what made us different and what couldn't be replicated by building a traditional agency. We work together very deeply with a client and turn things round very quickly, it's a very iterative process. [The client doesn't] have to do much more than talk about what the overall business goal is and we help them flesh it out.

S: We've been building software for a long time so we’re good at it. However, with that experience comes a deeper understanding of the types of problems that small businesses face, and more importantly, the ways that they communicate those problems. We go: "Ah actually what you mean is this, or what you need to do is this…"

So you know companies better than they know themselves?

P: It's not really so much about knowing better, it’s about being able to articulate and express the problems and solutions. That's what was frustrating about being an agency, the value wasn't there with the business analysis and process optimisation.

S: Yeah, people treat agencies like another supplier: "Can you do this? And this? And I want this to happen," and that’s not how we want to work. Life is too short, you've got to enjoy what you do. [The ideal client] for us is someone with an idea that they don’t know how to build, at that point they’re very open to new ideas, we come with ideas and we come with challenges. We understand people's visions.

P: The model that works well for this is that we build the first build for the client, we then help them develop their own development team and then we continue to act as consultants. For example, with [local HR platform] breatheHR, we did the first build, then Simon helped them through their infrastructure transition from servers to the cloud. I then went back and did a whole UI project with them recently. We build lasting relationships.

Why did you move into the Centre?

S: We came to Sussex Innovation with two ideas. One is that we've got a bit of software we're trying to write for ourselves and the other is…

P: …enabling other companies.

S: We pitched our ideas to Mike [Herd] who said that the problem with developing your own product is that an investor isn't going to want to pay you to tinker! He's exactly right, that's what you do when you build your own stuff. So instead, we'd like to be the people that investors come to and say: "I'm backing a company and they need help building, we know you can do it."  There are further strands which would depend on the investor. Over a period of time we might either try and take equity in exchange for the IP or sell the IP at an agreed rate over a certain time, there’s plenty of ways to do it.

P: We'll look at different flexible ways of financing it as we know that not all start-ups are cash rich.

S: This is the part of the model that we haven't ironed out yet but we've learnt from bad experiences we've had before around who owns the IP.

Is there any advice you’d give to someone who wants to start their own business?

P: Play to your strengths and pay other people to do the rest of it. Also, be true to yourself.

S: And hire us to build your software!

Although you only moved in this year, you’ve had a relationship with Sussex Innovation for a while haven’t you?

P: Yes we came up a few years ago, then we decided to be an agency, then we realised that was a really big mistake and that we should have come up here in the first place! We kind of realised that this is where our true heart lies. I think you could say it's our spiritual home.

What does the future hold?

P: We're hoping to be here for a while, helping people do some special things. The future holds working with interesting people, solving complex problems and hopefully helping people make some money out of it and making some money out of it ourselves.

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