Decoding a decade – Red River is 10!

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Red River has just hit a big milestone: it’s 10 years since we started out. As the rest of us chill the champagne and set up party games, founders Kieren Johnstone and Simon Pringle look back on a decade of partnership, growth, and doing things right.

We founded Red River Software on a wave of optimism. In 2007 the two of us had been involved in a bruising business encounter: it was a frustrating experience, and it taught us the importance of true partnerships and shared risk in business.

As 2008 ticked around we decided to build a company based on a positive ethos. It would be ethical, would foster teamwork, would look after its staff, and it would value its customers. Red River came into the world – and then the world tipped into recession.

It wasn’t the best year to start a business, maybe, but in the tough environment we soon proved the value of our approach. Early customers – business people like Karl Scanlon at AerData, Richard Brinkworth at Leap Environmental and Sheriff Dabiri at Vivid Imaginations – took a chance on us, and the results were successful software projects and lasting partnerships that benefitted us all.

Growing up

As we’ve grown, we’ve been through a succession of offices, from Simon’s dining room, to his spare room, to a small managed office which we knocked into another office – eventually we broke through into a third. Then there was the move to our own office at Albany House, and most recently to our spacious new digs at Spire Court – we remain committed to Horsham and the Gatwick Diamond.

We knew we wanted to grow by hiring not just brilliant people, but people who wanted to work the same way as us. From our first hire – just a month into our business – we’ve searched out colleagues who not only love what they do, but who understand how important it is to code as a team, and not just as an intellectual exercise. It helps if we all remember we’re creating systems and products for our customers, not ourselves.

Of course things change, and in 10 years our technical strategy has moved on a lot. Instead of just training people up and sticking with what we know we’re always trying to mix things up, learning and investing in new technologies that may provide a better way of doing things. We try to hire people who bring new skills or perspectives to the team, but we’ve stuck to our guns: today we’re full of brilliant, multi-disciplined staff – as a bonus, they’re all nice, too.

High points, low points

There have been lots of high points, and we’re fortunate that there haven’t really been many lows. After more than a decade working together, we two founders have a partnership built on trust and mutual respect – we each focus on different parts of the business, and with the support of our team we work together to get the best outcomes.

That’s not to say there haven’t been challenges. We started up at the beginning of a recession, and now we’re facing Brexit – there’s never been a time in the intervening decade where it’s been easy for SMEs to secure the investment they need to expand. While it’s immensely satisfying to have grown despite this, it’s an obstacle to success and a throttle on growth that we and many of our clients could really do without.

The highlights, on the other hand, started early on. We promised that if we survived the first year we’d buy each other a present to celebrate: we made it, Kieren’s still got his PRS guitar in Blue Matteo, and Simon’s got his Vox AC30 amp.

It’s not easy for SMEs to secure the investment they need to expand. That’s an obstacle to success and a throttle on growth that we and many of our clients could really do without.

Among some great projects, we’re proud of things like the long-term work we did with Waviatech, which became AerData. We were fundamental to their product, a technology that ultimately led to AerData being acquired by Boeing. Another highlight was the speed with which we delivered line-of-business software for EdifNDE – and the trust they placed in us to do that. We also love our partnership with the University of Chichester, and the excellent apprentices who bring so much to our company.

Along the river

We’re always reevaluating our methods and technologies to make sure we’re doing great work, but also to support our development. About five years ago we realised we needed to reorganise for sustainable growth – that led to our current system of teams and team leads, greater investment in skills and our highly agile way of working. It’s served us well, and helped us cement our reputation as an agile and innovative company that builds lasting partnerships and delivers great work.

We’re not planning to change too much. For us, one of the best things about Red River is that every day there’s a team of more than 20 people who wake up, and decide that they’d like to come here and work with us. That’s a great compliment, and it makes us both happy and proud. As we keep building, finding new projects that are challenging, ambitious and transformative, we want to preserve the culture that attracts these people, and the values, insight and outcomes that inspire our customers to choose us above others.

Kieren and Simon

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Featured image: Art Bromage/Flickr, Creative Commons.

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