By Mike Southon
FT Columnist

When people ask me about the perfect start-up, I reminisce nostalgically about the company I co-founded in the 80s. This is ancient history in entrepreneurship terms, so it is always interesting to discover more recent start-ups who have followed the simple model we outlined in our book, The Beermat Entrepreneur.

Entrepreneurship always often starts with a few friends having a good idea in a pub. In our case it was some University chums who took a comedy show to the Edinburgh Fringe, and then later founded a computer services company.

For ACT Clean it was three employees of a cleaning company who played in a football team which also included one of their clients. The four of them saw a market opportunity and decided to start their own business.

There is always good money in delivering something which others find a chore. For us, rather than writing software, we provided training services for the better-established and more glamorous companies, computer vendors.

For ACT Clean, instead of providing a budget cleaning service for smaller companies they targeted the top hotels and restaurants. They realised that the delivery requirements would be stringent, but if they got it right, the returns would be substantial.

It is a great day when a small start-up attracts their first big-name client. For us it was a consultancy contract with X/Open, a consortium of the biggest computer manufacturers.

For ACT Clean it was securing Gordon Ramsay Restaurants as a client. Television viewers will know he demands the highest standards in everything he does and does not suffer fools gladly.

From then, the challenge is in growing a company is hiring, training and managing the best people. Delivering housekeeping services to a top hotel requires scrupulous quality control and a significant management overhead, in order to maintain the highest possible standards.

Discretion is key, and ACT Clean cannot publish details of some of their most high-profile customers. But their web site features logos and testimonials from some of London’s top hotels and restaurants.

Hiring good people is just the start; you also need to give them a clear career progression and an ever-improving quality of work. For us, it was moving from training and consultancy into bespoke software development for the computer manufacturers, giving our people the chance of working with some of the cleverest people in the industry.

Someone working for ACT Clean who has proved that they can deliver immaculately serviced rooms for five-star hotel clients, can now progress to their new domestic division, ACT Home.

This service is focused on the demanding and well-heeled purchasers of wharf apartments and luxury residences, which require a luxury housekeeping service. This is not just cleaning, but the same level of personal service, immaculate delivery and client discretion they receive at a top hotel.

The most basic metrics of success in any venture are the profit and loss accounts. We grew our company from zero to a £7.5M turnover in five years. ACT Clean have achieved 100% organic growth year on-year since they started in 2006.

A more important and human measure of success is staff loyalty. 20 years after we sold our company, I am deeply moved that our former employees still speak well of their experience.

ACT Clean employs people like Inga Gilpin, who arrived ten years ago from Latvia, unable to speak English but with a burning ambition to be a successful housekeeper. At the recent UK Housekeepers Association Event, Gilpin was proud to say she worked for the best and most prestigious cleaning company in the UK.

For a Beermat Entrepreneur, that is true perfection.

ACT Clean can be found at www.act-clean.com
ACT Home can be found at www.acthome.co.uk

Originally published in The Financial Times: www.ft.com
Copyright ©Mike Southon 2011. All Rights Reserved. Not to be
reproduced without permission in writing

Mike Southon - Co-author of The Beermat Entrepreneur & Business Speaker- www.mikesouthon.com

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