A lot of people have asked me how Optix Solutions came to be, so I thought I’d write a quick post on how it happened.
The year was 1999 and myself, James and two friends were all studying computer science at Exeter University. The course didn’t actually include web design although one of our lectures did look at web technologies and of course we used the net for much of our research. Now bear in mind these were pre-google days! I know, hard to imagine isn’t it! I think Google may have been invented but it was all about AltaVista in those days. Its funny because QXL seemed bigger in the auction world than Ebay then as well. How times have changed!
I find it hard to remember back to how the conversations about starting a business began but with a father who is a business mentor/coach by trade I wouldn’t mind betting that I had something to do with the idea! Originally four of us discussed the idea of starting a web design business but we were in our second year at the time and I think the fact we had exams and lectures to worry about meant that one of the guys wasn’t really ever going to committ. The three of us that did take it more seriously did everything we could to tap up family and friends for business and started to build a portfolio. We owe so much to these clients who gave us a chance and allowed us to build a reputation in order that we could go out and start showing other businesses what we could do. As we progressed through our 3rd year we had some big decisions to make. As IT graduates, 20k+ starting salaries in London and other places around the UK called and by this time we had realised just how hard this ‘business malarky’ was going to be. When we started out, it was around the time of the dot com bubble and we all thought we could make a lot of money out of web design. Very naively we hadn’t quite taken into account just how hard a business is to run.
Why Exeter? I’m originally from Chelmsford in Essex, James is from the Isle of White and our third director hailed from Oxford so there was no particular place to go back and start up and so we decided to stay in Exeter. By this time we were also being supported by Exeter University and in particular the business division in the Innovation Centre on the main campus. They were really behind us and again we owe a lot to their support.
Pretty much the day after we graduated and all our friends were still celebrating their degree results we started Optix proper. The three of us managed to rent a largish house in central Exeter near the Imperial with four bedrooms – one each and one that we setup as an office. We had three desks in triangle shape with a printer in the middle perched on a set of drawers. There was barely enough room to get to each of the desks to sit down! Now this was the days of dial-up and as we had no money we could only afford to get one phoneline in which meant we had to share this between the phone (used for incoming and outgoing sales calls), the fax (yes they were used quite a bit in those days) and the dialup for all three of our computers! As a web design company this was really quite tricky I remember constant battles for the line as someone wanted to upload a a new design, another needed to research something and I wanted to make calls to try and get some business in. It all seems quite comical now but I remember just how stressful it could get.
We stayed at that house for about 6 months and were then forced to move. We went into the serviced offices in Exeter Queensgate House – The South West Business Centre. I remember that day fondly as Mike Purton took a punt on us and gave us the office in the attick (about 4 floors up). I don’t think Mike and his team really thought we were going to be there long but we ended up being there (in two different offices) for about 8 years As a startup business with very little money it’s hard to comitt to long leases so look for these kind of serviced offices in your town (you just pay one bill every month to include your rent/rates/electricity/water etc) It’s also a case of ‘easy in/easy out’ where you only have to give 30 days notice if you need to move – a must for cash strapped businesses.
So thats the story of ‘early Optix days’ folks. I hope that if you’re reading this at University or school and thinking about starting your own business it gives you the inspiration to give it a go and of course if I can help you in any way please drop me a line.