Spotlight On… Gavin Sherratt, Managing Director at Mashbo
Gavin Sherratt runs Liverpool based Mashbo - the award-winning, digital design and software development agency, that helps businesses engage customers by building things they love to use. We caught up with Gavin recently to get his thoughts on innovation in the sector, what it was like building a business in the North-West and trends within the tech sector.
Can you describe Mashbo and its core products and services?
"We are a software development consultancy. What that means is we work with businesses and organisations to address complex problems and challenges that can be solved by technology. Usually, we start with scoping to understand the processes and tools that are already in place, identify problems and recommend the best possible technical solutions.
Our technical expertise means we look at the proposed solution from end-to-end and spot any potential issues, which can prevent businesses from making expensive mistakes that might leave them with a solution that’s not fit for purpose. After that we can build the software and web apps that will resolve challenges. Where we don’t have the specific technical skills, we collaborate with trusted partners. Through our work we bring consistency to business processes and in turn increase our clients’ productivity, capability and profitability."
What does being in the North West mean to your organisation?
"The North West is home to us. We established Mashbo in Liverpool nine years ago and in that time we have established a network of peers and friends that we are proud to be a part of. We have done this through the business and also our community brand, Creative Kitchen, which encourages knowledge-sharing, education and collaboration between tech and creative businesses in the North West.
As with everything, there’s a huge focus on the importance of London and the tech sector there, yet 45% of the country’s high-value scaleup tech businesses are currently based outside of the capital. The North West is a thriving part of the UK’s tech and digital economy and we’re proud to be a part of that. We don’t see London as the big bad wolf, what we do instead is advocate for the region when we are working in the capital (something we haven’t had much chance to do this year sadly) or with businesses and investors based there."
What has been your biggest challenge in 2020?
"How about all of it? Seriously though, this year has been an immense challenge for everyone, personally and professionally. We have had some really low points where we’ve had to consider the future for the business. But if there’s one challenge that has eclipsed them all, it has been the problem of people, space and communication. Switching to remote working for an agile tech SME like Mashbo was logistically easy. We were already set up for it.
What we don’t have a tech solution for is that human-to-human contact that I think we all took for granted until this year. As a creator and as a business owner and employer, having that removed makes creating things harder and more importantly, it makes it much harder to look after your people properly. From very early on, as well as the obligatory video calls, we started walking and talking, arranging to meet team members, businesses and organisations we work with and clients for walking meetings outdoors. We’ve racked up a good few hundred miles between us and it’s been absolutely invaluable for our mental health and maintaining those relationships."
How has innovation helped your business to thrive?
"Our business is innovation, so if we were doing anything right, we had to thrive in this situation. Like I mentioned, we were able to switch to remote working easily because we have already innovated in our processes and systems. In turn we were able to advise and help other businesses large and small how to manage and implement the switch too. Innovation is borne out of challenges and adversity and innovation is sometimes about taking a risk. We had to completely re-look at our business as we felt the impact of the pandemic. In letting staff go, we had to refocus and look at the direction of the business.
What we realised was we needed to streamline and bring consistency to the type of work we deliver. We decided to stop taking on any more web design work and even released 15 website clients - in the middle of a pandemic and recession - so we could focus on our consultancy, software and web application services. It was a risk but it paid off and we’ve created a stream of new clients and projects, including for the English Football League (EFL), Churchill, and WorkPAL."
What does your brand stand for in the minds of your customers?
"We are a value-led business, so in the minds of our clients Mashbo represents an intention to make a positive difference, a willingness to push boundaries, to tell things as they are in a respectful and constructive manner and to always go-givers, pursuing and embracing opportunities to give back and help others. We call this ‘keeping it Mashbo.’"
How important is corporate brand and employer brand to your business?
"A brand - corporate or employer - is only worth anything if it is backed up by something meaningful. Your brand has to be rooted in values and be supported by action and intention. That’s when it’s powerful and incredibly important. If you don’t leave and breathe the values that support your brand then your brand is worthless.
Our brand values are massively intertwined with my own values and personal brand, so I am very emotionally attached to what we have created. When Steve and I were considering the future of the business, we spoke to peers about our options and so many of them said that the values and integrity behind our brand held so much more weight than the work we do. For Mashbo to cease to exist would mean more than just a business closing. It would be a part of the community vanishing, because we connect so many people."
Can you share some examples of innovation in your business that has or will make a
"Our work developing the Hub of Hope for Chasing the Stigma is always an example we use. Since 2017, it’s developed from an excel sheet with a handful of services listed and an idea in Jake Mills’ (Chasing the Stigma’s CEO and founder) head, to the UK’s most comprehensive mental health signposting tool, with more than 2,000 support services registered. To date almost 200,000 have the app to access help, so it's actually changed and saved lives, so we’re incredibly proud of that. From a more business-focused perspective, it’s probably our scoping process, because that’s the catalyst to changing the way we think, the way our clients think and it’s the way we bring about innovation."
Are Universities producing graduates with the right skills and do you see any gaps?
"I think there are always gaps because technology moves on so much faster than the universities can keep up with, but this has always been manageable. Graduates learn on the job and eventually fill those gaps themselves. I think the bigger issue now is that 25% of the tech sector is moving to remote working, while this works for established teams, it will make it far more difficult for graduates to get in and get the same level of nurturing and guidance from industry peers, which is where they learn those additional skills. This is something our industry and many others will need to address in coming months and years."
What advice would you give to your 21-year-old self?
"I would tell myself to have the confidence to go it alone straight away, rather than thinking I had to have a job somewhere else first and I had to ‘learn about business’ before I could think about going it alone. I’m 45 and still learning about business now, I learn about business every day. If I’d had the confidence to start my own business sooner I might have been a lot further on now.
My business partner, Steve Todd, takes the opposing view that graduates entering the working world now, should get into a big company early and work up through the ranks, absorb all mechanics, learn about how it works from the bottom up and network the hell out of the place, so you’d come out with lots of connections. The outcome could still be the same though, because both of us ultimately aspired to run our own businesses, which would still require that self-confidence and belief. I guess that’s why Steve and I work so well because we balance each other’s ideas out!”
This interview was conducted by Aaron Hayes, Vice-Chair Communications for CIM NW.