When CEO Jonathan Brassington started LiquidHub with co-founders Robert Kelley and Leighton Yohannan in 2001, they envisioned it as a scalable alternative to Accenture or IBM. Coming from Internet professional services, they were able to self-fund the venture and generate sales immediately.
“We already had a stellar reputation as a rising star in the Philadelphia technology community and we were able to get out of the gate very quickly and get our first few clients, then use traditional bank financing,” Brassington says.
There were bigger opportunities out there, and investment capital has helped LiquidHub become a global player with a footprint reaching New York, Boston, San Francisco, Charlotte, Amsterdam and development centers in India.
By adjusting strategy to address market demand, LiquidHub has doubled annual sales in the last three years to reach $125 million and was named one of America’s Most Promising Companies by Forbes in 2014.
Set the stage for growth
Companies commonly face a choice between steady, sustainable growth with internal capital or seeking outside funds to accelerate the process. Brassington says it was key to LiquidHub’s founders to first build a business that was financially sustainable in and of itself.
“Fundamentally, we thought that we could continue growing our core business with the operating cash flow of the existing business, but to accelerate growth and scale having some investment power on the balance sheet would be advantageous. So that drove a shift in strategy,” he says.
Brassington says LiquidHub recognized it could go from being a niche player to competing with the top tier companies in the industry. Investment capital has helped LiquidHub attract a client list that includes Vanguard Group, Novartis and Comcast.
Earlier this year, LiquidHub was infused with another round of cash, a $53 million investment led by ChrysCapital. Brassington said the $2.5 billion equity firm has alignment with LiquidHub and adding capital has not resulted in any loss of control.
“We’re still a majority employee-owned company,” Brassington says.
Investment capital has been used to fund key acquisitions to expand LiquidHub’s services and footprint.
“There are complementary capabilities areas and intellectual property strategies we wanted to pursue, and we felt that having a robust balance sheet made a lot of sense,” he says.
While LiquidHub has the ability to broaden its focus and build on the other 10 percent of its business that services retail, media, telecommunications and other industries, Brassington says the short-term strategy is to continue to concentrate on health care and financial services.
“We are starting to enjoy so much digital transformation activity in financial services and health care. We’re trying to maintain that core focus, recognizing where we are relative to our size and where we can best manage or channel investments,” Brassington says. “But I certainly think we need to look at our M&A strategy to launch or accelerate a retail vertical, as an example. On the other hand, we could certainly build a business 10 times our size by focusing just on financial services and health care. Those two sectors account for probably 40 percent of global IT services spent.”
Listen to your clients
In order to be successful, companies need to adopt business plans to address client needs. Brassington says the business world is transitioning from the information age to the age of the customer, which has become the major driver in dictating LiquidHub’s go to market strategy.
When LiquidHub started it was an advisory services firm with an emphasis on enterprise architecture. Over time, the focus shifted to digital integration.
“We’re a client-driven organization. Many of our clients, who represent global 1,000 firms in the health care and financial services industries, really helped shape and drive the demand for IT services or digital integration services,” Brassington says.
Digital customer engagement in particular was a sub-specialization that made sense for the rapidly growing firm.
“The focus on digital customer engagement encompasses many of the high-growth areas, including mobile computing adoption, big data and analytics, and social interaction.
We looked at ways we could bring all of those technology trends from a convergence point of view and apply them to solve customer engagement challenges that our clients in financial services and health care had or were experiencing,” Brassington says.
Although LiquidHub services clients in a broad spectrum of industries, 90 percent are in health care and financial services. Originally “industry agnostic,” Brassington says LiquidHub recognized that specialization to provide deep expertise in certain industries could provide advantages in the marketplace and give value to customers.
“We found that bringing industry domain knowledge into the conversation of technology and everything around customer engagement, the intersection of those three things — industry competency, technology capabilities and business capabilities around customer engagement and marketing — were ultimately differentiating,” Brassington says.
For example, understanding the dynamics of health care reform is critical when addressing digital integration needs of a health care insurer.
“It’s important to understand the impact of health care reform on health information exchanges and how consumerism is changing the way individuals buy insurance,”
Brassington says. “Those types of market or industry concepts change the whole technology strategy of the leading players in that sector. So having that context was important, rather than just being generic at a technology level.”
Invest in human capital
Rapid growth presents challenges to manage scale and take care of associates. Brassington says that has been one of the more difficult areas LiquidHub has had to address.
“We’re in a human capital business. Market demand is given a lot of credit for driving our growth. But as we look at scaling the business, we are making sure we have the right human capital infrastructure where we can engage our associates, retain our associates, cultivate them with the right thinking and on-board them into our approach around visual customer engagement,” Brassington says.
From its start in Philadelphia, LiquidHub has expanded into a highly distributed workforce.
“Many of our client engagements span multiple competencies, so leveraging technology to build highly integrated, physically distributed teams is something we spend a lot of energy on and we recognize it as both a challenge and an opportunity,” Brassington says.
As associates are added, LiquidHub works to utilize their experience while knitting everyone together in a common culture, vision and set of operating principles.
“It’s important to have a set of discipline and management principles and a cultural identity that links everyone and not be a pickup team, if you will,” Brassington says.
LiquidHub has established a meritocracy culture where ideas from an entry-level associate have equal opportunity to rise to the top.
“Our creativity processes are driven on getting that inclusive idea, where people feel they can participate and approach me as CEO of the firm. Meritocracy is a core principle of the business,” Brassington says.
An internal “next big thing” contest resulted in Panorama, a mobile portal for information on the go.
“Out of this contest came one of the coolest apps we’ve built, a mobile framework for content delivery that we use in any engagement,” Brassington says.
Another way LiquidHub fosters its culture is in bringing staff together around charitable endeavors. Team members in various business divisions work in a very distributed way with clients, but a charity bike ride for multiple sclerosis, for example, can bring 40 employees across practice areas together for training.
“That really brings the interconnectivity. The social mission part or philanthropic drive is something we fostered from the get go and has been extremely important in creative linkage among associates to each other, as well as a bigger purpose of serving a specific philanthropic cause,” Brassington says.
“These types of things are the underpinnings of a strong and vibrant framework that represents LiquidHub.”
- Seek outside funding in a strategic manner.
- Adjusting to client needs is critical in the age of the customer.
- Work deliberately to link your employees as you grow.
The Brassington File:
Name: Jonathan Brassington
Title: CEO and co-founder
Born: Georgetown, Guyana
Education: Bachelor’s degree in computer science and mathematics from Misericordia University, in Dallas, Pennsylvania; a master’s degree in telecommunications and operations strategy from the University of Pennsylvania.
What was your first job and what did you learn from it? My first job was working for my Aunt Lucia, a Religious Sister of Mercy nun, stacking shelves and replenishing food supplies in the hospital kitchen. It certainly taught me the importance of hard work, staying organized and keeping a schedule. At an early age, it also showed me how to work with others to achieve a common goal.
What is the best business advice you ever received? To dare to dream and be willing to take the risks associated with being an entrepreneur. When I founded LiquidHub in 2001 with Robert Kelley and Leighton Yohannan, we didn’t have any external capital. Knowing service businesses are capital efficient, we believed it was critical to build value and grow first.
Who do you admire in business? Judith Faulkner, founder and CEO of Epic Systems, is a great example of building a business that focuses on putting the customer (patient) at the center. She is true a innovator and pioneer in her field, and it’s amazing to think that roughly half of the U.S. population’s medical information is stored in Epic digital records.
What did you want to be when you grew up? I was always interested in the field of medicine and thought I would become a doctor at an early age.
In the end, technology became my passion, and I get to work with many life sciences companies that keep me informed of what is going on in the medical field.
I’m excited about the possibilities that wearable devices can have in terms of prevention and improving overall health, which the iPhone 6 has embraced with its partnership with the Mayo Clinic for the new Health app. This is a growing area that we are excited to develop technology solutions for.
What technology do you wish you invented? The electric car. We need to rethink our dependence on fossil fuels. As the technology becomes mainstream and costs decline, electric cars are going to become viable options for more drivers.