It was the ultimate elevator pitch that changed Susanna Lawson’s life.
The budding entrepreneur knew she had an amazing product but didn’t have a clue how to get it to market until a chance conversation in a lift.
“I founded OneFile 17 years ago from my back bedroom in Burnage, Manchester,” she recalls.
“When we set OneFile up we weren’t even conscious we were setting up a tech business but we could see there was a problem in the sector and that technology could solve it.
“Following a chance conversation with my then boyfriend, now husband, who was designing websites, we realised we could put our complementary skills together and set up OneFile.
“We didn’t know about an MVP. We didn’t really know about scaling a product. We had to build everything from scratch. We had to learn marketing and sales.
“Getting it to market was a complete fluke. I luckily got involved in a conversation with someone in an elevator and had a conversation and realised they had a need for our product. It was the ultimate elevator pitch. We had built the products but hadn’t considered how we were going to get it to market.”
Learning on the job
Lawson admits she learnt how to run a business on the job.
“I didn’t know about networking,” she says. “I didn’t know anyone who had their own business. I didn’t have any mentors. Because we bootstrapped everything we flew under the radar of the tech scene until we came into Manchester city centre.
“In 2017 we won a Queen’s Award for innovation and we moved to the city centre.
“I grew it over the years to a team of 80. It’s an EdTech SaaS-based business, primarily in vocational / apprenticeships. We exited in October 2021.”
Lawson says an exit was always at the back of her mind after putting herself through the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses UK programme.
“They talked very much about having your exit in mind and what the ultimate aim is because then you can work towards that,” she recalls. “We did not necessarily have a timeframe.
“The reason we actually exited was we went for private equity last year and went through the process and right towards the end realised it was not what we wanted for the business and the long-term plan for OneFile.
“We came out of the process and we were in a haze really. We spent a lot of money on due diligence and a lot of time and energy and we came out the other side thinking ‘if we’re not going to take private equity investment what now?’
“Harris had contacted us several times over the years and they caught us coming out the private equity process.”
Harris is a Canadian company and an operating group of Constellation Software Inc.
“I said ‘why would you be different?’” explains Lawson. “They said that their strategy is to buy for life and I remember that was what they wanted for the business and that was what I wanted for OneFile for the long-term.”
Lawson moved into an ambassadorial role but is convinced she’s left OneFile in safe hands.
“OneFile was very much our baby, our first baby, but for me it was about knowing it was right time to exit and cut the apron strings,” she says. “We weren’t planning the full exit but it came along at the right time with the right acquirer.”