I set up Huntress in 2000, when all things internet-based were regarded as exciting. The internet was seen as the future and had the reputation for the highest exit value for investors.
I’d had vast experience running traditional recruitment companies, from being a one-man band in Beckenham to twice selling my businesses to large public companies.
The concept for Huntress was to do away with the huge number of small offices on every high street that recruiters usually have and use the internet for all aspects of the business.
The Internet market went sour
The seed capital had come from venture capitalists Graphite Capital, the offspring of Foreign & Colonial Ventures, who backed me in my previous businesses.
To build the system, we had our own IT team. The software and hardware was very sophisticated as we wanted the best and latest that money could buy. We were going to use it to source positions and assess candidate skills via testing and interviewing through video streaming. Naturally, due to expectation, additional novelty services were envisioned. I remember a comment an independent IT consultant once said: “You’ve got enough equipment in there to launch a satellite.”
But the IT team got overenthusiastic and it was like we had bought a sledgehammer to crack open a nut. We took too long to build the system. We ended up being ready for launch just at the time the market for internet companies turned sour.
All around us ten to twenty internet companies were going bust each week and the City, which had loved the sector a year ago, was now treating it like public enemy number one.
Turning the business on its head
My motivation for starting Huntress was that people were interested in investing in internet models. I had decided this was the route to pursue.
I thought back to something someone once said to me, which I have tried to stick to throughout my career: “Gary, if you have to cause pain, do it all at once.”
Even though I had been convinced the internet was worth investing in, and time and money had been heavily spent, I needed to react quickly to market conditions. I had to say, forget it, we’re not a software house. So I put a stop to our status as an internet player overnight.
But that was the easy part. Then I had to decide how to survive. It was a painful decision – we had to go back to basics, reformulate the business plan from scratch and throw the original business model out, even though it had taken us a year to put together.
Stick to what you know
To hang on to the hundred people we had employed we had to sell a different vision – that of a good old-fashioned recruitment business. We didn’t have much time, as the money was running out and we needed to start trading as soon as possible.
We now operate out of ten locations and have 200 employees. Most of our growth is organically driven. Despite a tumultuous first year, we had a turnover of £12 million. We expect to have sales of £35 million in 2004, rising to £50 million next year.’