You would expect that most businesses are based on market research then preparation of a business plan, with cash flow projections and the like in them. Well that didn’t really happen with APD. The history of it goes back to early 2013 when I was contacted by Jeremy Dolby who was setting up a company to manufacture carbon fibre impregnated with epoxy resin ( Towpreg). I had been out of the composite business for 10 years and thought that it would be fun to get involved with Jeremy’s venture. Initially I did the development without any of the normal lab gear. You can do this but it is risky and at some stage you need some hard data to give to clients. So I decided to get some lab gear, and the more I got involved the more kit I ended up buying. To simplify things a new company was formed with which the equipment was purchased, and this was called APD. As the Towpreg resin development was soon wrapped up I started to look for other clients that could use the services of a well equipped composite laboratory.
Luckily in the past 10 years there have been many of my ex colleagues from SP Systems, ( now called Gurit), that have moved from Gurit into other positions in the composite business, and many of them are in need of the technical support that they were used to at Gurit. So we had a ready made list of potential clients.
It is not easy starting up a new business from scratch. It takes a lot of passion and drive to keep it on track. Sometimes you feel that if you ease up for a minute it will all come crashing down around you. I think that we have got this far by our real passion for the technology. This is what we are interested in and get excited about. We have spent a lifetime in this business and I can honestly say that there isn’t a day that goes by without me learning something new about the way this technology works ( or sometimes doesn’t). We hope that this comes across to our clients.
We have also tried to form partnerships with our clients. Our “strapline” ( a marketing term I am told!) is “Your Partner in Material Science”. This may sound a bit cheesy but it sums up our approach. We want to be part of the customers technical team.We want to be the materials lab that they would want if they could get it past the company accountants. In this business there will always be labs that can do things cheaper than us, but that isn’t really our game – doing contract testing services. We want to work with customers to sort out their technical issues using the best tools at our disposal. (When I had to get insurance for our unit the broker was aghast at the investment that we managed to squeeze into a small industrial unit.) The hardware and software that we have at APD stands up well against many government funded research groups, and it all makes the work that much easier having the rights tools for the job.
Customers are also important. Not just because they end up paying the bills, but they have to have the right attitude and buy into the project to make it really work. We want a free and open relationship with our clients, that way we can really maximize our benefit to the client. There are good customers and not so good ones. Generally, we have a good bunch of customers that we enjoy working for and I would like to think like working with us. If they have a deadline to meet we will try to “pull out the stops” to get their work pushed through the system. If they have a problem we would like to think that we take ownership of that problem as well. I will often go to bed at night with a clients problems in my head.
So that is where we are at the end of 2015. APD is still here after 2 years, and we have managed that without a business plan, using the principle of making it up as we go along. Always striving to get a better understanding the technology and trying to get the most out of our new lab kit, and finally coming up with clever technical solutions to our customer technical issues. The team is now stronger than ever with Nick on board. His approach and skills are different to mine but I think that they complement each other well. Nick is the gifted epoxy formulator with years of formulating expertise behind him, I am more of the materials scientist.