It took Chris Wilkins just over ten years to build his software company, DVT, into a R100 million business. Less than two years later, he has more than doubled that turnover.
Entrepreneur chats to him about how he has focused on growth, increased his profits, and built an industry-leading business.
What was your strategy when you started DVT and how has that changed over time?
What we do has not changed but how we do it has. You have to grow a business for it to survive, and despite what MBA students might think, you have to make a lot of it up as you go along.
It’s an ‘if needs must’ approach. The needs of a growing business change all the time, and you have to accommodate that growth by making adjustments as you go along.
The most important element for us has been hiring more people, and more senior people. As an entrepreneur, you have to know when it’s time to bring in employees who do what you used to do so that you can occupy your time with developing and evolving the business.
How has your business model evolved?
There’s nothing magical about a business model. It’s simply the nuts and bolts of how a business plans to generate revenue and profits.
It details your long-term strategy and day-to-day operations. DVT has essentially been doing the same thing we have always done — writing software for clients.
But how we do it is changing. There are more people involved. There is a big team of support staff, and an in-house recruitment team that knows how and where to find them. We are now employing around 100 people a year, which means we have to scour South Africa for the right talent.
The key point is that functions in the business have not changed, but the way we do things has changed dramatically.
That, I believe, is the difference between an average business and a great business. Our growth is not about systems and process, but about the ability to scale what works.
Describe your organisational structure?
When we started the business I looked after the profit and made sure clients were as happy as possible.
Those are the two main elements of any successful company. I did that for the first five years of the company’s existence, after which we employed our first business unit head.
Over time, we have simply replicated that model. It’s completely scalable, allowing us to keep on hiring as the need arises and the business expands.
Now we have a federal system where business unit managers head their own profit line. We have invested heavily in growing the number of business unit heads.
At this point, we are focusing on intensively building our account management to make sure that clients are taken care of.
Looking back, what would you do differently in the early days?
I would have been more cognisant of building an intelligent organisation. It’s not that we have not done that, but I would have placed more emphasis on it — of course, in the beginning, you are mainly fighting to survive.
As you move forward, from day to day and month to month, it’s critical to accumulate all the knowledge that contributes to a company’s intellectual property for the good of the business as a whole.
In South Africa, we tend to be driven by the psychology of the individual — we can do better by focusing on collective effort that leverages all the knowledge in the business.
Today, we are becoming increasingly efficient because we are always learning from what others have done before. We are able to take advantage of all that collective knowledge. That saves time, money and resources because everyone becomes a little more productive.
That’s important for a business as it gets bigger, because more people are being more productive, increasing the linear benefit exponentially.
How do you continue to differentiate the company from other software developers?
There really is no silver bullet. We’ve basically highlighted the 20 activities that need to be executed to perfection and focused intensely on those.
Each year, the company gets better at doing something, allowing us to shift our focus slightly onto the next ability that we have to excel at.
How do you ensure profits?
We break responsibility down into smaller parcels. We have 14 profit centres, each headed up by business unit heads.
As the leader of the business, I can’t oversee 400 people, but delegating responsibility to other managers makes it easier for me to lead according to our vision. Each team leader manages their own team and focuses all efforts on generating a profit.
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