About your business

Founder name: Peter Gradwell
Company name: Gradwell
Company age: 14 years old
Company location: Bath
Staff numbers: 70
Date started: 24th Nov 1998

Tell us what your business does:

Gradwell is a leading provider of internet communications services to UK businesses. Focused on small and growing companies, Gradwell specialises in VoIP, which is making phone calls over the internet.

Where did the idea for your business come from? What motivated you to start it?

Gradwell started as a web hosting firm that I set up while studying at university. A few years later, and the team had grown to three people. We wanted a cheap way to make Gradwell look more professional by making it seem like all staff were based in the same place, when in fact they were spread across the country. We created our own VoIP platform, which worked so well that we rolled it out to customers and it is now our main product.

What did you do before?

I launched the business straight from studying software engineering at Aberystwyth University.

What did you have to overcome (if anything) to start it and get it off the ground?

I started the business with £2,000 that I borrowed from my Dad, which I was able to pay back quickly. However, with the speed at which Gradwell grew I initially had to sell the business to focus on my studies. The company who bought Gradwell soon went bust, and at the end of my degree I was able to start again. Most of the customers returned but it was a difficult process to regain their trust.

What makes your business stand out from others like it?

After 14 years, I still remain a huge part of the company as Managing Director, and I take a hands on approach to everything. As I’ve built the business from the ground up, we feel Gradwell offers the personal touch.

What was your first big breakthrough?

In 2002 when we established our own VoIP platform, it changed the way we worked, and it changed the way our customers worked.

Your business tips

You’re prime minister for a day. What would you change for small businesses?

I’d boost entrepreneurial opportunities by making it easier to get funding for business start-ups and growth. I’d also improve opportunities in rural areas – if everyone could get a decent broadband speed then business opportunities could be improved. More people could work from home and have greater flexibility.

What’s your best customer service tip?

It’s all about good communication – be polite, listen to your customers so you can meet their needs, explain yourself well, except responsibility where it’s due and always strive for improvement.

What would you do differently? (What have you learnt?)

As mentioned above the domain name side of the business was sold off in the early days and the buyer didn’t handle it very well. This annoyed around 4,000 customers in one afternoon! That was a steep learning curve.

What one piece of advice would you give to people who want to start their own business?

Start small – check that someone will actually spend money on your product before investing time and money.

Website: www.gradwell.com