Welcome to the experience economy

Mark Sweeny is a successful entrepreneur and angel investor whose latest venture is de Novo Solutions, a specialist SME digital boutique consultancy which helps its clients to offer more unique and personalised experiences to their customers. 

Mark talks to Startups Magazine about his entrepreneurial journey to date and why the experience economy is just as important to SMEs as it is to large corporates.

Tell us a bit about your career before you founded de Novo Solutions

Prior to my role as CEO of de Novo Solutions, I was the founder and Chief Executive of Certus Solutions, the very first UK & Ireland-only dedicated implementation partner of Oracle Service-as-a-Software [SaaS] Cloud applications. At its peak, Certus was an Oracle Platinum Partner, with a global presence employing 115 people over three continents, and serving over 35 customers. In 2017, the business was named Oracle’s HCM Cloud EMEA Specialised Partner of the Year.

As a serial entrepreneur, I have now been directly involved in the start-ups of four businesses, while my extensive experience and knowledge has also enabled me to provide counsel and direction to the boards of international software houses and to several central government departments.

What is the concept behind de Novo Solutions, and why did you feel the time was right to launch a new company?

At de Novo Solutions, we help business to digitally transform their operations by utilising Oracle SaaS, Cloud, and ServiceNow solutions, guiding them on a step-by-step journey into the experience economy.

Surprisingly many people are unaware of the concept of the ‘experience economy’, which refers to the growing demand among customers for greater personalisation in their digital experiences. As such, businesses operating online are increasing their focus on using digital technology to offer more unique and personalised experiences, not only for customers, but for employees also. After all, tailoring the technology that workers use on a daily basis allows them to carry out their roles more effectively and efficiently than ever before.

de Novo spawned from the realisation that existing players were not placing enough focus on the experience economy, and the role ServiceNow and Oracle can play in enhancing experiences. As such, I felt that businesses were crying out for a solution like ours and I’m proud to be bringing something forward that is having a positive and meaningful impact.  

However, the biggest challenge involved with being an ‘experience economy’ consultancy is getting the market to understand the positioning of our message. Many organisations still aren’t familiar with the concept behind the ‘experience economy’, or even why transforming experiences is important for business growth and brand reputation. As such, getting like-minded people on board with our vision, who aren’t prepared to just accept the status quo, is a real test. Sometimes, it’s not until clients see the results that they truly understand why the ‘experience economy’ matters so much.

Larger companies are pouring huge amounts of money into harnessing customer experience technology, but can smaller businesses benefit from it also?

Yes, absolutely. That’s precisely the benefit of using the Cloud alongside ServiceNow and Oracle. No longer is it just the world’s largest companies that can benefit from this technology – businesses of all types and sizes can now utilise it. In many ways, the Cloud has helped levelled the playing field, and made digital spaces viable for organisations that historically haven’t relied heavily on technology. What’s more, with the guidance of organisations like de Novo, smaller businesses can maximise their use of Cloud, ServiceNow, and Oracle technology without having to invest vast amounts of money.

How do you define a successful company and what advice would you give to anyone who wants to go into business themselves?

To me, a successful company is one that has happy customers who keep coming back and stay with them for a long time. Staff want to be part of the organisation, and live and breathe its values. The business is properly financed and profitable, but is also prepared to continue investing profits into addressing customer pain points and employee development. What’s more, it recognises its place within the local community, and makes a valid contribution towards improving the area.

My advice to anyone wanting to go into business for themselves is simply to do what you’re passionate about, whatever that may be. Pursue that goal and have no fear of failure. Bring plenty of tenacity to everything that you do, and make sure to celebrate the good days just as much as you dwell on the bad.

What is it about being an entrepreneur that you most enjoy, and do you think anyone can become one?

The freedom of expression that I have as an entrepreneur is undoubtedly what I enjoy the most. Of course, I have highly experienced and incredibly talented people around me who bring great ideas to the table, but as a founder of the business, the level of control I have in the direction of the business is very liberating.

No, I don’t believe that anyone can become an entrepreneur. I think you need the right mentality to do it, and the preparedness to take on risk. Not everyone is built that way, which is certainly not a negative; I can certainly see the appeal of being an employee! After all, success is not guaranteed, so it makes perfect sense why some people wouldn’t necessarily want to become an entrepreneur.

You’ve had many successful years in business, but what are the hardest lessons you’ve experienced but also learnt from?

Simply that even best laid plans don’t always work out. Whatever expectations that you have in your mind, things never work out exactly in that way. As such, you need to be prepared to change tack, and respond to unforeseen circumstances. Part of this is ensuring that you have the financial capital to survive through the lean times as well as in the good.

However much you want to convince yourself otherwise, the reality is that there are always going to be bad times, no matter how successful your company is ultimately. Being in business is like a rollercoaster, and being an entrepreneur means riding through all the high and lows. Having the resilience to pick yourself up and dust yourself off after a defeat is what matters most of all.   

When the business day is done, how do you unwind?

As an entrepreneur, you never really have a day off. I work most weekends, and often in the evenings too. Again, that’s why it’s not for everyone, and isn’t something that should be entered into lightly. If you’re going to do it, talk it over with your loved ones first, because they are going to be coming on the journey with you, so they need to be onboard. I’m incredibly lucky that my wife is so supportive of me, because I know I wouldn’t be able to do this without her.

When I do get a bit of free time, I enjoy clay pigeon shooting, and have been a season ticket holder at Manchester United for 18 years – so have stood by them through the good days and the bad! I love spending time with my wife, and we will occasionally treat ourselves to a weekend away at the Savoy. This is my way not only of celebrating the successes of the business, but also getting away from work for a while, and enjoying time with my family.