Entrepreneurial IT: Survive and thrive

James Macfarlane may only be 23 years old, but he has already been through ups and downs with his five-year-old web design company, Pitch - and has survived

James Macfarlane may only be 23 years old, but he has already been through ups and downs with his five-year-old web design company, Pitch – and has survived.

Macfarlane and his business partner, Ben Lilley, met while studying at Media Design School in Auckland and started doing some client work together. When they graduated, Macfarlane kept working on Pitch, while Lilley went and got a fulltime day-job, and would work at Pitch stuff at nights and weekends. But Lilley came to a point where the lack of sleep was taking its toll and he was struggling to do both his daytime job and increasingly more Pitch work. The pair decided to go into business together full time.

“We said to each other, ‘we are young, passionate and motivated, let’s have a crack at having our own business’,” Macfarlane recalls.

Lilley left his job and the two worked from home for the first couple of months, but the business grew quickly and in the following year they moved to an office and took on two staff. Business was good and Pitch grew to a team of six, but then hard times struck and they scaled the company right back to just the two of them. However, for the last couple of months they are back to a team of four.

Ben Lilley (left) and James Macfarlane

“In the last six to eight months we have definitely seen an increase in the amount of work we are getting,” Macfarlane says. “We’ve got the feeling it’s picking up.”

The company is based in the Pine Harbour Marina in Beachlands.

Macfarlane says his five years in business has been “a huge growing experience in customer service and project management”. While the team has always had a very friendly and honest approach towards clients, they now have a formal client communication structure in place.

Since the get-go, Pitch has been “purely relying on word of mouth and has always focused on referrals”, Macfarlane says. Pitch puts a big focus on its initial meeting with new clients and invests a substantial amount of time in the subsequent proposal, he says.

“The proposal is our key element to getting business. We have continually improved it and now have a 70 percent conversion rate on proposals,” he says.

Being an entrepreneur isn’t the right fit for everybody, Macfarlane says. Doing the actual work is only one part of it.

“A big part is managing clients and engaging with clients in a way that is going to attract more work for you.”

Other pieces of the puzzle are having a solid understanding of business; getting the financials right and making sure you have mentors that can help you, he says. If you have got all that and still have the energy and enthusiasm to run your own business – “I would definitely recommend it!”

This article is part of a Computerworld series about IT entrepreneurs. Tomorrow we report on Fusion5, a professional services provider specialising in ERP, CRM and HCM

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