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Reflecting back on 10 Years of Pitch

Posted 5 months ago by Rob Markwell
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A whole decade in business sounds a long time but it doesn’t seem that long ago since it was just two of us in a spare room. And what a fun time that was: free to do things as we wanted, try new approaches, be creative and build a brand we could be proud of; it was a busy time and we got off to a flying start. Why didn’t we do this earlier? Things were working and we were on the up. Then the world had a different idea. 

The recession hit the marketing and recruitment industry hard and suddenly we were staring down the barrel of a gun with nearly no work coming in and clients announcing redundancies what seemed like every day. Those ambitious growth plans had to be scrapped; it was a matter of survival. We took a bold view to continue investing in our brand by sponsoring events, running seminars and we actually launched B-Hive, our not for profit graduate scheme, in the depths of the recession. This level of expense for a two man band was risky but paid off. 

Learning to work with the limitations & opportunities of the market was a brutal lesson in business.

The world slowly got back to normal and we could finally crack on. The next realisation was there was only so much the two of us could do or knew. Our first employee came along and suddenly it really did feel like a proper business. She was the Admin Assistant in the serviced office space we used. She was diligent, hard working, honest and we trusted her (which is a must when you’re in a startup). We hired her as a trainee Resourcer, to work closely with candidates and to take admin off Ollie and I so we could concentrate on clients. She had no recruitment or marketing experience and she made tons of mistakes but it never phased her. She just took the knocks, got back up and got better. Six years later she’s our co-Director and shareholder. She even relocated herself to Manchester to open our second office.

We seemed to make a habit of stealing office space personnel as a couple of years later we employed the Building Manager at the offices we’d subsequently moved to. Again, we found ourselves going with our gut, hiring someone with no recruitment or marketing experience, but professional, polite, honest and incredibly determined. Four years on she is one of the most formidable recruiters I’ve ever met (better than I ever was) and a great leader who lives & breathes Pitch as much as Ollie & I do. 

...that’s one of the biggest learns of the last 10 years; you won’t get where you want alone. You need the right people with the right moral compass, ethic, drive and passion. You can’t teach any of these.

As much as it’s a company I helped start, it’s still my place of work. It’s been a full on 10 years, but it is characters like Rebecca and Paula who have helped us get this far and who make it the place it is. I’ve singled out these two but there are plenty of other dedicated and highly talented people at Pitch and that’s one of the biggest learns of the last 10 years; you won’t get where you want alone. You need the right people with the right moral compass, ethic, drive and passion. You can’t teach any of these. So to anyone reading this with a responsibility for hiring, keep your eyes out for great talent. It might not always be the obvious CV and they might not currently be in the role you’d expect them to be. 

The next biggest lesson (one I struggled with a bit) is that you’re not always right and it’s ok to make mistakes. When your business card says Director, people just assume you know everything. You don’t, well at least I don’t. Ollie and I started a business with some ideas, the right attitude and lots of recruitment experience. We’d never run a business and as we grew so did the head count, so did the amounts of digits of money coming in and out of the business. Decisions to be made became more complex, more sensitive and more business critical, and if I think Rebecca and others in our team have made mistakes, I’ve made bigger ones. My Dad always told me it’s ok to make mistakes, but just don’t make the same one twice. Easier said than done when you’re a young know-it-all starting a business. Running a business is humbling and you learn to listen to multiple opinions, you learn to sleep on it, you learn to sometimes let a bad decision through because you can’t control everything and everyone. But every day is a school day. Every day I’m faced with a decision I’ve not made before and I often have to make a judgment call. Thankfully most of the time I get it right but sometimes I look back and I could have done better. 

Owning your achievements and your failures is simply one of the best feelings about running a business (even if it took me a while to be ok with the failure bit). 

My final lesson from the last 10 years is being grateful. Grateful to those who believed, and still do believe, in Pitch. The clients who could have worked with anyone but chose to work with Ollie and me from day one and the few clients who said yes to offering paid work experience for our B-Hive students, in the biggest global recession we’ve ever known! Thank you to the suppliers who gave us a good rate, to the bank who believed in our vision. To my family and friends who never see me these days, but also to the City of Birmingham. Your business is only as successful as its environment allows it to be. Birmingham welcomed us like we were 100 times the size, Marketing Birmingham supported and engaged with us. We were able to network, attend events with the Insider, gain coverage in the Birmingham Post. I’m not a Brummie and I don’t live in the city, but it’s home. I was lucky to win the Birmingham Young Professional of the Year Award for HR & Recruitment this month, a perfect way to mark 10 years in business in Brum. I hope BYPY will give me a chance to give something back to Birmingham which was so kind to us 10 years ago.

Two years ago we decided to do it all over again, by opening an office in Manchester. It’s a city which is just going from strength to strength, with history repeating itself with clients trusting us over the “obvious big boys” across the North West and Yorkshire. Organisations like Prolific North are doing wonders and we’re enjoying working closely with them. So when clients and cities are giving you this level of support, it’s important to give back. B-Hive has been a big part of that but through many other seminars, events and charity fundraising we’ve made sure we’re part of the community, not just taking from it.

In short, we needed a good concept, brand and idea, but to get this far we needed the trust of clients, the right market to be part of, awesomely talented people and to not be afraid of making mistakes. I look to the next 10 years with a more business educated mind but I’m sure I’ll look back and chuckle at the naivety of 2017 me in ten year’s time. But that’s the fun part - growing, pushing and learning, with the right people around you.