Up for the challenge
At just 34 years of age, Easy Forms director Dave Rouse is already a seasoned business entrepreneur. He’s now onto his third successful business venture, and
has ambitious goals for his latest company.
At just 34 years of age, Easy Forms director Dave Rouse is already a seasoned business entrepreneur. He’s now onto his third successful business venture, and has ambitious goals for his latest company.
Don’t be fooled by his charm and boyish good looks. Dave Rouse knows what he’s doing when it comes to building a business. And what he doesn’t know, he soon finds out by asking.
NZBusiness first met Dave when he took out the supreme prize at the inaugural David Awards in 2008 – the online-based accolades for little businesses that punch above their weight. You could be forgiven for thinking the awards were named after him.
In those days Dave was in his 20s, a qualified engineer, and running Auckland Auto Clinic, a highly successful vehicle workshop he started at home in 2003 and ultimately developed into three separate branches. He was full of energy, passion and self-belief back then, enjoying the customer contact and problem solving. Two businesses later, nothing’s changed, although he is a lot wiser.
After six months of grooming the business for sale, and with many hard lessons under his belt, Dave sold Auckland Auto Clinic in 2011. “I felt I’d learnt as much as I could from that whole experience,” he says. “I was ready to move on.”
One thing the Auto Clinic taught him was that you need stamina to remain focused as a business owner. “If you lose that stamina you need to spot it early on and sell, because without stamina your business will plateau and lose value,” he advises. “And if you’re not passionate or feel you need to take a holiday from the business, there’s a huge risk in leaving someone else in charge.”
Dave’s next challenge was a mechanical engineering company, for which he had initially been invited onto the management team with a buyout in mind (although following due diligence he was one of just three directors prepared to take it on). Two years later, in 2014, after applying all his quality and assurance principles and systems, he’d ticked off all his goals with that business too. When “an offer too good to refuse” came across the table it was time to move on again.
Dave was already aware of Easy Forms by this stage – a mobile business-form apps developer he described as “a bunch of IT geeks needing help to market a great product and grow beyond working in a basement”. He had used their product, fallen in love with it, and was up for the challenge.
“I like to challenge myself through my fears, and IT was always one of my fears,” he says. “So when the opportunity came up. I forced myself to take it.”
He saw the potential in the industry and the product, which he says “allows business processes to run more efficiently”.
Easy Forms talks to other software, it’s foolproof, super simple, saves time, provides continuous traceability and is all about mobile functionality, he explains. “It’s an easy way to feed one set of information to multiple people and multiple systems.
“Paperless office systems and automated processes is a huge booming growth market that most businesses are transitioning through or planning to in the next few years,” explains Dave, who also likes the positive spin-off on the environment.
By Christmas 2014 he was the majority shareholder in Easy Forms and assembling an experienced board of advisors. In four months the turnover had already tripled, and staff numbers were up from three to 13.
Electronic forms for businesses is a far cry from servicing vehicles, but Dave says almost all businesses “have certain elements that don’t change and are critical to their success”.
He’s talking about systems and processes, quality assurance, “empowering staff more than yourself”,
and “getting into the customer’s mindset – working to their needs”.
“I stopped thinking about myself and what I wanted to sell and started thinking about what’s in it for my staff and my customers.”
“Yes businesses have different markets and challenges, but the fundamentals never change,” he says. “[As a business owner] you don’t need to know everything, as long as you employ the people who do and you really look after them.”
Dave admits he has ambitions of being a business coach or angel investor by age 50, so he can add credible value to any company. But he knows he still needs to experience different industries to get there.
“I never saw myself in IT, but now I’m there I’m learning how the process works from start to finish, alongside growing the business. So if I come back into the industry again in the future I’ll be able to relate to it and apply common principles to get things humming.”
Getting to grips with the Easy Forms opportunity has required Dave to learn about a whole new industry and acquire a new network. He’s spent time with IT people, partnered with IT firms to access networks that can assist the business.
As for hiring staff, he says the key to success has been in-depth reference checking. “My advice for business owners is to sit down over as cup of coffee with people giving the references and say ‘I need your honest opinion’. Take as many steps as you can to stack the odds in your favour.
“Recruitment is generally easy if you have the proper processes and KPIs in place. And ensure your job description you’re advertising has the KPIs and expectations included – so everything’s clear from the outset for new people. Conduct regular performance reviews too.”
As for his style of management, Dave says if he has to go it alone, he will, until he can attract good people to assist him. “Doing everything yourself is definitely not scalable.”
He thinks he got the entrepreneurial gene from his parents. His dad was a merchant banker who introduced him to the share market as a teenager, and his mum was a naturopath – collectively they gave him an appreciation of business opportunities and the environment.
That gene will keep Easy Forms growing. “Partnering with entrepreneurial market leaders to develop IP for them – and leading software and IT providers to fill the gaps in the solutions they provide to cover the other 90 percent of the market.
“The goal by March 2016 is to have a 50-strong team, be in the Deloitte Fast 50, have a range of New Zealand partners, and be ready to go to an international model,” says Dave.
It’s another challenge he’s definitely ready to take on.