Bright Horse – Improving Service Management Through Automation
GROW@Green Park started as a three-month pop-up coworking space, initially part of a ConnectTVT marketing campaign to raise the profile of tech and digital companies in the Thames Valley.
Three years later GROW is still here, providing a base and community for a variety of businesses to flourish regardless of industry or size; from freelancers and start-ups to scale-ups and regional teams, the diversity of the community is part of its strength.
Several of our resident companies have scaled significantly over the last three years, so we thought we would bring you their stories and the show the important role co-working spaces like GROW, play in their development.
Why did you start Bright Horse?
Bright Horse started in Jan 2014 as we wanted to create a more modern approach to how staff are served in organisations. Employees are now savvier customers of HR, IT, facilities and legal services in corporate environments and have greater expectations of how these functions are delivered. By using ITSM Enterprise Service Management to implement automated workflows through online portals and dashboards, more effective processes and standards are met. Companies are still operating with inefficient paper-based forms and procedures.
Why did you choose to base Bright Horse in Reading?
Bright Horse started with just two of us, myself and Ken. We shared an office with a friend in Reading for three to five months and then started looking for our own space.
Ken lives close to Reading and we also have three software partners in the area; Cherwell and Microsoft are in Reading and Bomgar is in Marlow, so partner proximity is very helpful.
How did you find GROW@Green Park?
We started with an internet search and looked at flexible office spaces. Some of the offices were internal rooms and felt more like a cupboard. Unfortunately, we couldn’t afford windows!
I’m not familiar with Reading so thought I would take a drive to get a sense of the area, which included Green Park.
I walked past a window in Lime Square and saw a sign ‘Come and Discuss’. Louize had just set up a ‘pop-up’ hot desk community and I went in to for a chat. It was certainly much better than the office spaces we’d seen!
By that time Mike and Carol had joined us, so we were four. Being part of a community was appealing, especially as individually we are often out at client sites, which sometimes meant one of us sitting all alone in the office!
The location was perfect; Cherwell is on Green Park so it’s easy to pop in and doesn’t involve taking half a day out for a meeting. I drive in from Buckinghamshire so Green Park access via M4 is easy and to drive into Reading town centre would be horrendous.
Another attraction of Green Park was its accessibility by bus or cycle from Reading and free parking, so we knew it would be convenient for any Reading based staff.
Bright Horse is one of our ‘founder’ residents. You’ve seen a lot of changes! What was it like and what’s changed?
I remember an urban cool, cavernous chamber, echoey and either very hot or very cold!
There was just a handful of small start-up businesses and it was a bit chaotic. Louize was begging, borrowing (maybe not stealing :-)) furniture and it was always being moved around!
We were in the ‘pop up’ space for about four to five months before GROW moved to the current office, the other side of the building. It’s cosier, carpeted, smaller and warmer – but at the time GROW was still working out what it was. There was a lot going on, every table and chair mismatched; it was a bit eclectic and random!
The ‘Boris Bike TV stand’ appeared made by Reading Hack Space and a maker space emerged at the end of the room with 3D printers, scanners and devices. GROW also ran a series of pitch nights for start-ups looking for sponsorship and hosted various meetups; we had to move our desks at 5pm to make room for events and there was usually lots of free pizza, too. It was fun and interesting to say the least.
Over time the space became more co-ordinated and it was the start of the GROW community. No one was isolated, people started to get to know each other and share experiences and information; there was guidance and advice. As other team members came on board we felt we were part of a community bigger than just us. It was fun and sociable and we needed it at the time.
What’s the importance of coworking for a small business?
Coworking spaces are vital to the economy. Small businesses need flexibility, whether it’s a desk or meeting space. They need access to space for work, ad hoc meetings and projects which can also serve as a more formal space to engage with clients.
Small businesses have customers’ needs to meet as a priority and they don’t want the overhead of fixed costs and responsibilities of real estate.
Don’t underestimate the importance of being able to hot desk. The ability to flex the number of desks up and down was key as savings can be invested back into developing the business and recruitment.
We can also bring customers to GROW for meetings; they like it, it’s upbeat, cool, interesting and has a nice vibe. This can save travel time and also the cost and inconvenience of booking meeting rooms elsewhere.
What do you like about coworking at GROW?
What GROW does differently is its friendly and warm environment. I’ve worked in other coworking spaces in London but they don’t have the same spirit or feeling of community.
GROW is welcoming and vibrant. If only one of the team is in, they are not alone - we all need a break and a chat.
The Community is always available to help and kitchen chats can be invaluable. Also important is the diversity of businesses and the opportunity to learn from each other and spark ideas.
We may not have considered taking on apprentices and graduates, but by working alongside co-workers who have, and listening to their learnings, it’s become one of the key ways we recruit and in so doing we will be training the next generation of ITSM professionals. Through GROW we also have links to local contacts at Reading University and Reading College and many local schools.
In the early days we needed a website and to build a presence on social media - Louize was able to point us in right the direction, which kick started the right conversations.
Bright Horse also has its registered office at GROW; clients see a Green Park address, which lends credibility to our business.
How important has GROW been to Bright Horse growth?
Without GROW we would not be where we are today. Access to flexible office space and being part of the GROW community was instrumental in accelerating our development; it has allowed us to triple in size over last three years and we plan to triple again over the next three. Over that time our revenue doubled each year and we have matured and evolved efficient and effective approaches to our development.
As a delivery partner on behalf of Cherwell we see opportunities to continue to grow with them and we will also develop graduate and apprenticeship models, offering young people opportunities for careers in IT.
And finally, Neil, what would be your perfect day?
My perfect non-working day would start with a run, cycle or family walk finishing at a country pub for a Sunday roast.
My perfect working day? A productive meeting with clients at GROW to identify their needs and objectives, culminating with signing a contract – and then learning something new over a nice cup of hot water in the GROW kitchen (I don’t drink coffee :-))!