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Dream Agility had been one of the darlings of the tech sector when everything imploded.

The Ramsbottom-based business had won a string of awards for its Google Shopping platform and reported a six-figure profit in its accounts when disaster struck in 2018.

The combination of an investor dispute and Google’s decision to launch a new product caused a cashflow problem that forced her to call in administrators.

Today Clark is back at the helm of a reborn Dream Agility but told TechBlast’s latest Going 4 Growth roundtable that with more administrations likely as a result of the economic squeeze, it’s important to share her own experience.

Casting her mind back to 2018 she recalled: “We were the fastest-growing Google partner in the country, and had been for a long time, and they didn’t tell us about CSS.”

Dream Agility is one of the UK’s leading AdTech companies and featured on our sister publication BusinessCloud’s MarTech 50 ranking recently.

MarTech 50 – UK’s most innovative marketing technology creators for 2022

CSS stands for Comparison Shopping Service, which collects product offers from online retailers and sends users to the retailers’ websites to make a purchase.

“Our customers were saying ‘should we be on CSS?’ and we had to Google it to find out what it was!” recalls Clark. “We had a combination of things that just hit us all at once that we just couldn’t recover from.”

The other big problem was a shareholder dispute with an investor which forced the owners to call in administrators.

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“When you go into administration you have no idea of what’s going to happen,” she said.

“In public I was still seen with a smile on my face. It’s like being on the water and trying to be calm on the surface, even if everything else in your life is going a million miles an hour underneath.

“You’ve got all your team around you and you’ve got bills to pay and families to look after. You’ve got your clients and you don’t want them panicking.

“We didn’t want our technology falling into the wrong hands. It hit the whole industry really hard and a lot of the big players saw their share price tank.

Chaos

“We were absolutely surrounded by chaos and just trying to keep sort of calm. We were sitting in a room with lawyers and totting up how much all these different lawyers were costing per hour.

“I thought ‘this is just crazy’. We went into administration with cash in the bank and being the biggest creditor to the company  but I didn’t realise the administrator takes your bank account so everything goes and you start with nothing.”

After a four-week marketing process, the company’s business and assets were acquired by Dream AI Limited, a new company founded by Clark’s eldest daughter Lucy in a deal that safeguarded 22 jobs.

“Because we had restrictive covenants with our investors, we weren’t sure whether we were even allowed to work in our business,” explained Clark, who works alongside her husband Glyn Powditch. “We put everything in her name.

“We got the business back and we just went at it hammer and tong. We’ve been through a lengthy legal process to get everything back in our names. We’ve also set up an EMI scheme, which rewards employees, because it’s a nightmare getting staff. We’re expanding. We’ve got to 15 people at the moment with three more starting shortly.

“Our customers were great but the pipeline that we had vanished because they could move on to CSS and get discounts for their Google bills. They could get cashback and all sorts of stuff that just we weren’t set up for.

“We hadn’t built a CSS and we didn’t know how long this discount period was going to last. We didn’t know if we’d get our pipeline back again. We just had to keep going.”

Clark, who previously wrote a book entitled Flirting for Dummies, admitted that her experience had changed her approach to investment.

‘Working in tech wasn’t as scary as I thought’

No investment

“We have continued to grow and make a six figure profit every year since then so we’re doing alright and we’re still not planning on taking any investment,” she said.

“In terms of recruitment we’ve had to apply for sponsorship status to be able to employ staff from overseas who we can’t get up in the UK.

“When I first applied for that sponsorship licence, there was hardly anybody in Manchester on there and I thought I’m not going to be competing with anybody. Since then I’m seeing more and more Manchester firms turn up.”

Clark warned the Going 4 Growth roundtable of a spike in administrations.

“As the COVID money washes through and inflation keeps rising, we’re going to see a glut of people going into administration,” she said. “I was very supported  by the kind messages I got so reach out to anyone in that situation and offer your support.  Entrepreneurs need to support entrepreneurs.”

She also said it’s especially hard for a female tech entrepreneur to launch a business.

“If you’re a woman with an idea and you’re just starting off on your journey and you need developers you’re not going to get very far because it’s going to cost you a ton of money to be able to afford them in the first place,” she said.

“One of the downsides of this is we are going to see less women with ideas who aren’t developers coming through into tech. I think this is going to put the kibosh on that.”