Entrepreneur interview: Lewis Reeves, founder of VIGA

Lewis Reeves, founder of fast-growing data company VIGA, talks company culture in large organisations, managing work-life balance in a scale-up business, and the importance of hiring only the best talent. 

VIGA is a technology-driven data company that has grown its revenues from £6.5 million last year to a projected £12 million this year. Here, founder Lewis Reeves discusses company culture in large organisations, managing work-life balance in a scale-up businesses, and the importance of hiring only the best talent.

When was the business started and what were you doing beforehand?

We launched in October, 2016. The launch was both a very exciting and nerve-wrecking time. Not only did I have the pressure of a new business venture on my shoulders, I had a newborn baby at home and we’d just agreed that my wife would be a stay-at-home parent. This wasn’t a side business for me: it was a financial necessity. It became a make or break point in supporting my young family.

Before launch, I worked for corporate market research businesses and, after choosing not to go to university and enrol in higher education, it was vital for me to learn as much as I could on the job. I soaked up as much information, knowledge and skills as I could absorb.

People often question my choice not to go to university, but it has really helped me throughout my entrepreneurial journey and continues to do so. Having not gone to university I understand that I’m not the complete product; I have to keep learning, even at CEO level. This is something I have not only instilled within myself but, within my work force as well. Our culture at VIGA is that we don’t know everything, we want to keep learning and that we need to constantly strive to better our skills.

How did you get the idea?

VIGA was born out of a challenge; how quickly and efficiently could we deliver vital data to businesses? I felt there was a faster, more cost-effective way to give clients access to the data they needed for their work, 24/7. We developed our proprietary technology to streamline the entire data collection process.

Last year’s annual turnover was £6.5 million and this year we are on track to make £12 million. To reach such a fantastic figure is a true credit to the VIGA team but it’s not surprising, as I am aware of just how hard they work to deliver the results we need.

From previous career experiences, I have learned that your team is the most vital cog in the big wheel of business. I’ve historically worked in big organisations in which, in my opinion, you can begin to lose the connection between people: listening to others and acting on what they say. At VIGA, we ensure that we give our employees a voice and a co-operative and engaging environment in which they can thrive and grow.

What are the revenue streams?

VIGA predominately works with agencies, consultancies and institutes, generally covering the market research, media, management consultancy and due diligence markets.

How did you finance it?

We are house within the AIM trading holding group, Next15, who supported us with their back office initially. However, due to strategic planning and financial discipline, within the first month of VIGA’s launch, we were in profit.

I can confidently say that VIGA did not have any financial start-up challenges: a very unique position to be in I am aware, but as I said, it all came, and still does come, from discipline.

My advice for anyone growing a business would be try not to spend money unnecessarily because, if you’re profitable, the control is in your hands, not in the hands of your investors. At VIGA, we’re not wasteful, we’re not extravagant, we are not lavish but we are smart.

What were your key marketing strategies?

Network: Making use of our networks has been key for us, both in terms of creating new client relationships and in finding great talent.

Human communication: As the old adage goes, the streets are paved with gold and hence you have to be on them to benefit. We are big believers in building relationships with meetings in person or over the phone if that’s not possible.

PR: PR has been a great awareness tool for us and ensuring that our content is in the right places is a key strategy.

“Being a CEO means that I feel like I have two families”

While networking is key to any business and a great kick-starter, recently, my eyes have been opened to just how valuable PR and marketing can be alongside it. It can do a lot of hard work for you: awareness can spread much faster when you utilise the technologies and skills other people possess within your business.

What are the main challenges you have experienced and seen?

We are extremely strict with only hiring the very best talent: this creates a challenge in finding the right people, especially in new markets. This is compounded by the need to stay ahead of the growth curve and ensure we are always hiring, especially in the UK with the lag in new recruit start times. It is less of a challenge in the US.

The other huge challenge that I was faced with when starting up and still face is balancing my family life with my working life. Being a CEO means that I feel I have two families. They both require my attention at any given time. I am very lucky that I have a supportive and loving wife who will always back me 100 per cent but, the work-life split is a constant juggling act. We prescribe certain rules and regulations around work to try and put into place that balance that is so crucial. In my house we have a no weekend working policy unless it’s a true emergency.

In four years, my family and I have moved five different times and time spent together can be short and sweet. For example, on my last US trip, I spent five weeks travelling for work, only eleven nights of which I spent at home with my family, including weekends.

Another issue that may come with the difficulty of a work-life balance is health, mental and physical. Being 26, I’m still young and fit but, I’m aware that long-haul flights, sleepless nights and stress can really take their toll. So, my wife and I try to combine date night with sporting activities like tennis to keep us fit and active and, when I’m at home, I really try to relax and just take time for myself and my family.

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of SmallBusiness.co.uk and GrowthBusiness.co.uk from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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