More deals in pipeline
Interview: Leah Hutcheon, Appointedd
Booking the trend
You might say she was having a bad hair day. Only, it was not so much the cut as the problem she was having fixing an appointment with the hairdresser.
It did, however, give Leah Hutcheon an idea that led eventually to the creation of one of Scotland’s most successful technology companies.
She couldn’t understand why it was so difficult to book anything from a hair appointment to a dog shampoo outside normal working hours.
“There are a lot of things you still have to book between nine and five,” she says, shrugging her shoulders.
Her idea, quite simply, was to create an online booking system that would make it possible to book appointments with any company or individual around the clock.
“It means they don’t lose customers. They are making money while they sleep,” says Hutcheon who, as an early adopter of time-saving online banking and shopping tools, wanted to make a similar service available to small firms.
She outsourced development of the software to Edinburgh firm xDesign, then signed up to the Entrepreneurial Spark incubator programme Her company, Appointedd, was off and running.
That was five years ago, since when the business has made substantial strides, receiving two big rounds of financial support and last month signing a “transformational” deal with a US serviced offices company.
It’s been an equally transformative period for Hutcheon who talks enthusiastically about her short journey from theatre producer and unemployed magazine editor to one of the shining lights of the Scottish tech sector.
She spent a little under three years as editor at Broxburn-based Home Plus Scotland and was quite settled, roaming the country and writing style features.
“It was lovely visiting lots of big houses. I really enjoyed it,” she says. However, as the advertising recession crushed the property sector Hutcheon found herself out of work.
She became a freelance copywriter until her “inner geek” came calling and she threw her lot into starting an online booking business. She was renovating her home at the time and slept in a tent on the living room floor for nearly a year.
She hired her own lead developer, Billy Jones who continues to refine the software as part of what is now a team of 12, including five developers. They share the same office as shopping app company Mallzee, close to the Edinburgh College of Art.
Biggest ever deal
The project reached a critical milestone last month when US serviced offices group Alliance Business Centers Network (ABCN) got in touch. It led to Appointedd securing its biggest ever deal.
“We talked for two hours on the phone and I flew out to the States last December,” says Hutcheon. “Newport Beach, California was certainly a change of scene from Scotland at that time of year.
“It was a little overwhelming, but we knew we had something world class and doing this deal proved it.”
Hutcheon beams like she’s just found the golden ticket, and that’s not far from the truth. Appointedd’s software will be installed in 700 Alliance offices in 52 countries and will be worth up to $20 million (£15m) in revenue for the two companies over three years.
“It is a real landmark deal for us. There is no understating it,” she says. “Any entrepreneur dreams of signing off that sort of deal.”
Macklin, whom she describes as “inspirational”, has joined the board as non-executive director. Former PwC partner and technology strategist Kenny Fraser is chairman and they are likely to be adding more directors.
As if this year has not been busy enough, Hutcheon says she expects to announce two more deals next month, one with a UK legal firm and the second with a European point-of-sale business.
The company is not yet profitable, largely because it chooses to re-invest what it earns. With deals in the pipeline the future looks to be secure.
“This is the start of many opportunities,” she says. “We are moving as fast as we can.”
Educated: Queen Margaret University
Career Highlights: Producer for theatre company in Chambers St, Edinburgh; Management trainee with Mitchells & Butler; Editor at Home Plus Scotland; Freelance copywriter; Founder and CEO Appointedd
What has been your scariest moment?
The deal with Alliance was nerve-wracking, but I guess it was getting that first round of investment…and being made redundant, not knowing what you were going to do next.
What has been the best advice you have received?
Take one step at a time.
Has there been one particular mentor in your business career?
Marie Macklin. She totally inspires me. It’s like she has an extra 24 hours in the week. She is very focused.