Richard Baker, Managing Director of creative digital agency, Sequence, has given Business News Wales the opportunity to interview him on his role and share his knowledge of the tech business world. He has also provided our readers with tips, predictions and trends for the future of technology industry in Wales.
Can you give our readers a little background into yourself and your role within Sequence?
I’m Richard Baker, founder and Managing Director of creative digital agency, Sequence. We build websites and mobile applications for brands and organisations throughout the UK and Europe. I came into the industry twenty-one years ago via a Computer Science background and realised the then emerging World Wide Web was going to change how people and organisations interact forever. I established Sequence in 1995 and since those early days, the business has grown to a team of over thirty passionate and talented individuals to become one of Wales’ most recognisable creative digital agencies.
What are your plans for the next five years, and where do you see your challenges and opportunities?
The plan for the next five years is to grow the agency and to offer our clients better and more innovative methods for them to speak to their customers. We’ve been through a significant period of consolidation and are now perfectly positioned to deliver increased value to our clients and leverage the depth and breadth of skills we have across the agency.
This will, however, also present challenges related to team dynamics and recruitment. We need to make sure that our business processes are more effective than ever without stifling creativity. Many in our position, who are looking to scale a creative business quickly, will face the same challenges.
Looking back at your career, are there things you would have done differently?
The creative industries are very competitive. Agencies and studios all want to take on as much work as possible, whenever possible. When the focus is to always serve those clients to the best of our ability, via the implementation of our bespoke services and ideas, we sometimes forget about ourselves. I have learned that when we don’t run our business with the same precision and commitment that we do our clients’, we can suffer.
What do you think are the most important qualities for success in business?
In the fast-paced environment that we operate within, mainly because of developing technology and the ever-changing customer behaviours of those using the technologies, we need to be adaptable. We’ve also learned this the hard way over the years. Speed of change is key because that’s where opportunities and potential pitfalls emerge. Keeping on top of your market proposition is hugely important – if you don’t, your competitors will! Being first to the market is in most cases critical to success.
What are your top three tips for success?
Following from the last question… 1. Move quickly. 2. Work closely with your staff – without them the business doesn’t exist – but they also need help, guidance and development. 3. Be organised with everything, especially how you manage your own time.
Are there any innovations within your sector that you believe should be adopted by the wider Welsh market?
Many Welsh businesses are stuck in the traditional mindset of solving problems. Applying creative thinking, with the use of innovative technology, can steer brands down different avenues and present solutions to those problems that may not have been considered previously.
We also need to remember that digital can be a great leveller – a small business in Wales needs to understand that it has direct access to a global market, and that leveraging digital correctly can enable a small Welsh business to punch well above its weight.
Do you foresee any issues that Welsh business will be facing in the short/medium/long term?
Wales needs to make sure that it has its voice heard on the UK table in terms of the build-up to Brexit – this is our chance to make the most of the benefits of being part of the UK. Accessing funding is a very real issue that Welsh businesses generally face in contrast to other areas of the UK.
We’re also in a period where the skills we need, specifically related to technology, aren’t coming through in the graduates that are coming out of university. There’s a skills shortage in this industry and unless this is addressed, our businesses and start-ups will struggle against others in the same market.
Do you have any predictions in regards to the impact of Brexit on your sector?
We see our market as worldwide. A digital market truly is a global market. One of the good things about Europe is that many contracts, specifically public contracts, are openly tendered to companies across Europe. Sequence, as a company based in Wales, can apply on a level playing field with a company based in Germany or Greece, for example. One of our concerns is that this will end and that companies from the UK may find it not as easy to work with European organisations. Brexit could shrink our target market, making winning business much more competitive – this isn’t great news for all of the companies, like ours and like others who compete in this manner.
What do you think Wales’ strengths and weaknesses are as a place to do business?
Wales is just two hours away from London – we’re very much part of the fold here in Cardiff in terms of transport links to the big cities and hubs. This is a real strength for any company operating from South Wales such as Sequence. Cardiff is also a very creative area.
There’s a growing entrepreneurial culture here in Wales – if you look back ten-twenty years, it was unusual for people to want to run a start-up. But now many people are embracing it –it’s clear that we have a set of highly skilled and determined people here in Wales – we just need to realise this and spread our wings a little!
What skills should the education system be promoting to the next generation?
We need every student to have some basic understanding of computational theory. They don’t necessarily need to be a programmer, but they need to understand the basics – this goes beyond the traditional ICT courses taught in high school. It’s as important as English and Mathematics right now. In twenty years time, if this skills shortage isn’t addressed in Wales and the UK, we will lose out to countries that have embraced this approach.
How important is it for there to be a close relationship between business and higher education in Wales?
Hugely important. Some higher and further education organisations are better than others in aligning their courses with businesses and the market they operate within. But the general feeling is that what’s taught at that level isn’t what’s expected of the students and graduates within real life working environments. There’s a gap between the qualifications from universities and what we need right now.
Computer Science graduates, I believe, are decreasing in numbers – yet they are precisely what we need as an agency and as an industry. If we’re suggesting that more brands and organisations need to adopt a more creative and innovative approach, then the need for the graduates in this field is only going to increase. There’s a tendency for those that do graduate with these skills, to migrate to some of the bigger cities within the UK like London. We are working to do whatever we can to try and bridge this gap and make people aware of what’s happening so we can fix the problem and improve the relationships.