Hive IT are one of the newer arrivals on the Sheffield digital scene – the company was started in 2014, when founder Jonny Rippon decided he could “do it better” and left Technophobia to set up on his own.
Today, Hive IT employs 18 full time staff and, with contractors, can have up to 30 people working on projects. Turnover has doubled year on year and Jonny expects the company to break the £2million barrier this year. The agency offers UX design and software development and does a lot of work with the public sector. Jonny says, “There’s a lot of hot air out there and we tend to fly under the radar. What we do is deliver – people get us in because they want something done.”
Hive IT started life in the shared workspace at Electric Works and is still based in the building. Jonny recalls, “It was perfect – being based in an amazing building surrounded by a network of people to talk to, rely on and win business with. That model helped me to encourage Duncan (Watson) and Martin (Waite) to join me as well (also ex-Technophobes) – we started with nothing but our savings.
“The other thing that really helped was a tweet from Andy Mayer (Yoomee) about ‘how to start lean’ – we’ve worked constantly on that. We prefer to work agile and collaboratively – the GDS model of software development is perfectly aligned to what we do so that’s what we try to concentrate on.”
Hive work with a range of clients from non profits, the private sector and public sector. I asked Jonny for his advice on working with the public sector. He says, “It’s not as difficult as you think. Having the right systems and processes is important, but the government has a remit to work with local SMEs so it’s easier to get on the frameworks. We’re competing with huge companies like Capita and Fujitsu and we’re successful because we’ve got something they can’t offer – committed, talented people who want to be here and do this work.”
Like most growing digital businesses, Hive IT faces the challenge of recruitment – but they are taking a flexible approach that isn’t often found in smaller companies. Jonny comments, “It’s a fact that there aren’t enough experienced people to go round, but I feel that the best way of learning is hands-on experience. We’ve taken on apprentices and we’ve employed people who are tech-minded but have no experience at all. I think the argument about that being too much of an overhead is rubbish. Yes, there’s a bit to start with, but you can quickly get people hands-on with a project and not charge the client until they are adding value. It’s about spotting people in your network and being prepared to give them the opportunity.”
The team at Hive IT also work with younger people through the UTCs and local schools – recent projects have involved UX, VR and using IoT to monitor beehives. “We go to careers days, we do mock interviews, we try to get more girls interested in technology as a career,” Jonny continues. “It’s important – it’s a cliche, but kids are the future and a lot of them don’t even realise this world is here. We need to sow the seeds and inspire them.”
Speaking of inspiration, Hive IT was the very first organisation to join Sheffield Digital as a company member and has just renewed for a second year. “We really like having Sheffield Digital around – we’ve benefitted from it for recruitment and it’s important to have an organisation speaking up for our industry. It feels like the powers that be ignore companies that aren’t providing a product and growing in a traditional way. We need them to recognise the value that we bring.
“Having a stronger community is also really important; it offers natural networking. I don’t like top-down things and Sheffield Digital feels ground-up. The tech community can be insular and we need more cross-fertilisation. Meetups are great and we need more of them, but it’s also good to get our of your comfort zone and meet different people. So opportunities to make connections with different industries, like manufacturing, would be good too.”