Yippee. Happy 18th Birthday, Oval!
As companies go, we’re quite ‘non-shouty’. But turning eighteen is a pretty decent landmark, and what with the pent-up demand for social events, it would be remiss of us not to celebrate.
So well done us! We can legally drink and stuff. Sort of. Turns out it’s not quite such a big thing for a corporate legal entity, as for an actual human teenager.
Nonetheless, let’s take the opportunity for a cheeky retrospective…
27th August 2003. The actual act of starting up a limited company is pretty unspectacular. It’s fundamentally just an admin task. The meaning and intent, however, is a great deal more symbolic. It’s also intimidating, nerve-racking and exciting. It’s kind of a big deal.
When we set up our commercial bank account, I remember going into the branch for a discussion with the bank manager. He was utterly dead-pan and told me flatly, that most businesses don’t survive beyond the first eighteen months. Thanks for that. Similarly, there were some local initiatives to connect founders with ‘business angels’ in order to provide access to some good advice – stuff about choosing accountants, marketing, and sales 101. Once again, there were some stern (but well-intended) warnings about the improbability of surviving beyond the very short term. Bleak. Reverse psychology? Realism? I’m not sure, but thankfully we were not put off.
So it was that we set about building our bespoke application development practice. We didn’t want to just ‘do websites’. We wanted to engineer browser-based business applications to help our clients to get their work done more effectively. We wanted to make a measurable difference – and to afford our clients the benefits of reclaimed time, improved financial performance and/or the fulfilment of organisational goals.
For all the faffing and tinkering with mission and vision statements over the years, our fundamental message has remained the same. If your needs are not being met by existing software, we can help.
It now seems somewhat ironic that we started out with a 100% work-from-home workforce. It’s almost as if we could foretell 2020/21 from afar. However, back then we were keen to get our own office for all sorts of reasons. Better collaboration, the ability to separate home from work, somewhere to have clients come and visit; just the excitement of it!
Our first office was commensurate with where we were on our business journey. It was just one compact room above a solicitor’s office in Esher, Surrey. It was a very modest setup, but in a great location. Once we started to grow, we moved to a similar-sized office in the centre of Guildford, but being a serviced office, it gave us access to proper meeting rooms and, erm… a fax machine? (There must have been some other benefits). By this point, just beyond the mid-noughties, we must have been a team of around nine or ten. Still very small, but growing all the time in confidence, skill, curiosity and experience.
Now, in 2021, after a long and enjoyable stint in a gorgeous rural barn, we find ourselves in lovely new offices, right in the heart of Godalming. Yes, we have unbridled access to multiple bakeries, to seemingly infinite smashed avocado on toast and to inns serving some of the scrumpiest (?) cider for miles around. We have very nice workstations and meeting spaces too, I should add.
Tools and technology
In terms of the tools and techniques we use, we’ve been on quite a journey. We unwittingly started doing agile development long before we had a name for it. Quite frankly, we liked to talk to our clients about project progress little and often from the outset, and we’ve never been enamoured with the risks associated with long tranches of clandestine development followed by a nail-biting big reveal.
It was our aim from the outset, to outgrow the constraints of IBM (Lotus) Domino, which is what we started with and we pretty much achieved that in week one! We very much wanted our end users to interact with our systems as though they were stack-agnostic, requiring only a browser and secure login to use them. Nowadays we’re very involved with a range of technologies including Angular and .NET as well as Laravel and PHP. It remains the case that end users need neither know nor care what’s driving our applications. We just need to provide them with a fantastic, low-friction user experience.
Our work to date
Without wishing to go all ‘Secret Squirrel’ on you, the kind of work we do tends to be shrouded in sensitivity, NDAs, IP and some other cool-sounding acronyms. We build to a brief and that, by definition, means our digital solutions are particular to each and every client. What we can tell you is that we have enjoyed living up to our values of ‘do meaningful work’ and ‘a relationship, not a fling’. In other words, we know our applications have added value to organisations we’ve been working with for a number of years (the full eighteen, in some cases). Whether it’s knowledge management systems, supply-chain management, collaboration tools or something else, we know that we have had an impact and that makes us feel pretty darn good.
Last but by no means least, we have been blessed with a great team over the years. In a business like ours, doing what we do, people are front and centre. We pride ourselves not just on our technical chops, but moreover, on our ability to connect with our clients and get to the heart of what matters to them; to you. This is as true of our newest developer as it is of our directors. We also pride ourselves on unashamedly recognising fun as a legitimate, pivotal ingredient in company culture. Long may that continue to be the case!
Fun fact: An Oval company team day is statistically likely to feature water. Lots of it. Sailing, obstacle courses, rigid inflatable boats and suchlike. Nobody knows why.
What of the future?
It would seem trite to say ‘we’ll just keep doing what we’re doing’ and in fact, we would be doing ourselves a disservice. We, of course, want to continue with what we’re doing well. However, we have a ton of ambition coupled with a number of product ideas (well underway) that have the potential to accelerate the success of our business and of our clients’ businesses. We cannot wait for what’s to come!
Anyway, we’re off to the pub to celebrate. We’ll be back soon.
But let’s re-iterate. If the operational systems you need cannot be found in the marketplace, ready-made with the requisite functionality and at reasonable cost – we can help. Sounds kind of ‘A-Teamy’, but we think it defines where we fit into the picture. Get in touch if you fancy a chat.
Thanks for reading. Be good and stay out of trouble 🙂