Andrew Yates: My credit cards brought in a million

Having left a six-figure salary job and determined to reinvest everything into his budding business, entrepreneur Andrew Yates was left with just his credit cards and overdraft for survival. But it paid off, his marketing IT business sold for $8m in 2004.

"They spend lots of money, but there is so much waste." That's what Andrew Yates noticed about big companies' marketing strategies after years working for "various American software firms". Yates realised that IT itself could provide the solution and earn him "a lot of money".

He wasn't the only one. Next-door neighbour Chris Sykes worked for an advertising agency and had also noticed that big clients "were spending money on internal staff, external agencies, leaflets, videos, posters without making sure that they were working in tandem". Yates and Sykes planned to build a suite of computer programs that would help firms store marketing materials and manage their campaigns. "By putting everything in one place we would allow them to cut waste and save money."

In 2001 the pair quit their jobs and set up Then Solutions. By pooling their life savings, they were able to hire two programmers and begin work on an "asset library" that could store marketing content. Sykes "was like a poacher turned gamekeeper he knew exactly where firms had been wasting money". His contacts also helped them land their first customer, Honda.

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"It was an ideal client. Their marketing network was spread over thousands of dealerships so it made a big difference when we simplified things by putting everything in one place." The deal gave Then Solutions first-year sales of £40,000 which helped to fund more programs.

"We decided not to go to venture capital firms but use sales to develop our products bit by bit." The drawback of reinvesting everything was that the pair were left "pretty broke. My credit cards and overdrafts were maxed out. I had gone from a secure six figure salary to a subsistence wage and at times it was difficult to explain it to my wife."

The firm received a lucky break when their contact at Honda switched companies. "He moved to Dell and shortly afterwards signed a contract with us there." With extra sales, the pair were able to expand their product range. "We provided a platform that remotely hosted and managed all of the marketing department's needs an early version of 'cloud computing'." The new complete service proved popular. "Marketing departments didn't have to worry about buying individual pieces of software or IT kit we took care of everything."

With several high-profile clients and a complete IT offering, Then Solutions began to grow quickly. In 2002 sales were £750,000 and by 2003 reached £1.5m. Respected US IT consultancy Gartner started recommending Then. "Gartner is massive in IT so when they say you're good, people listen."

In 2004, when an offer of $8m was made, the pair decided it was "time to sell up". "Overnight I went from being broke to a millionaire." Yates, now 43, stayed on at the new firm to "help with integration". However, after three years he was ready to "work for myself again". He teamed up with Then's former chief technology officer and set up Artesian. The new company's software monitors the news and sends relevant stories to its clients. With a number of high-street banks among its customers, it looks to be another winner sales were £2m in 2010.

James McKeigue

James graduated from Keele University with a BA (Hons) in English literature and history, and has a certificate in journalism from the NCTJ. James has worked as a freelance journalist in various Latin American countries.He also had a spell at ITV, as welll as wring for Television Business International and covering the European equity markets for the London bureau. James has travelled extensively in emerging markets, reporting for international energy magazines such as Oil and Gas Investor, and institutional publications such as the Commonwealth Business Environment Report. He is currently the managing editor of LatAm INVESTOR, the UK's only Latin American finance magazine.