Building a Foundation for Success

James White, the ‘Small Business Sales Expert’, interviews David Harris who, in 2016, sold his business for an eight figure sum. So how did he do it and what’s his advice to any business with aspirations to sell?

After he left Plymouth University, David ended up working in recruitment, almost by accident. “I learned a lot of really valuable lessons, particularly around sales in that environment. I then moved from that role in Birmingham down to Bristol where I became an IT account manager. I then moved into the defence and national security sectors and by 2005 I started thinking about starting my own company. Purple Secure Systems was the result. I was lucky enough to find my co-founder, Jez Williams in May 2006. We grew that business over a 10 year period in the national security and defence domain building software applications and by the time I left, in 2017, we had over 100 people involved in the business in one way, shape or form and were known as an expert provider of high quality and agile systems and software for National Security, Defence and Government organisations.

“We sold the business in 2016 and I stayed on for about 18 months or so on an earn out deal. I moved on from there and since then I’ve been investing in small companies as a silent investor. I’ve been doing a lot of mentoring also, which I really enjoy. More recently I’ve become involved in a business called One Big Circle as an investor but also as executive chairman 

“I’m not a technologist per se but I do understand the technology businesses from a CEOs and founders point of view, I understand what a vision looks like and what a strategy to deliver that vision looks like.”

David Harris

Success isn’t easy

“Whenever I talk about the experience I had with Purple Secure Systems, there’s obviously lots of positive things that we did and lots of good things that we did right, but there were also lots and lots of challenging times and very difficult things that came up during that period of time and there are also, quite frankly, mistakes that we made as well. Thankfully, not too many.”

I started thinking about starting my own company. Purple Secure Systems 

What was your vision?

James recounts a story of a flight he and David took when James questioned whether there was a market for his business. “I always used to admire the fact that you were really focused on your planning and creating that vision for the business and what you wanted to do. You knew your plan was really key to realise your vision. Lots of business owners overlook what they need to do and don’t take that step back when they’re planning their long term strategy.”

James White
James White, James White Sales Success
David Harris

David replies. “I think during that period of time we had the opportunity to assess the market and see where we could be successful with niche systems and software expertise. We were very honed in on what that need was and who we needed to talk to. We wrote our business plan on a sheet of A4 and stuck to it – that was our vision document and drove us. It evolved over time but essentially that provided the foundation for us, for everybody in the company and all of the stakeholders in the business, particularly the employees to keep and keep focused on. We also wrote an ethos document which was essentially the values of the company and how we would operate and how we would look to treat people.

“It was really important that we did that and some businesses do miss that. I do see companies that don’t take that step back and describe it in very simple in layman’s terms for the stakeholders what they’re going to be involved in and that’s really, really important in my view. That’s one of the things that I and other mentors should be helping small businesses with and is certainly one of the things I look for when identifying businesses to invest in.”


James comments how, from an infrastructure and a contracts point of view, David’s business was very secure and well prepared for due diligence. David adds. “The company was so well organised, thanks to Jez mainly. So, yes that made the company an attractive proposition with staff contracts and everything else that needed to be tied down absolutely watertight. We were in good shape to sell and that makes the process a lot easier. That’s one of the things that I try and guide some of the businesses that I work with mentoring, start with the end in mind which is possibly a sale of some kind. Get it right from the start and the rest will fall into place a lot more easily. I was very fortunate to have a business partner in Jez who was fastidious about this sort of thing and he made sure everything was in good shape.”

Planning is essential and should never be overlooked

Any advice for business leaders watching or listening in these difficult times?

“It’s hugely difficult for everyone at the moment but I’m a firm believer that change brings about opportunity, but change is very scary for some people, especially when you’re embedded in a certain way of thinking or doing what you’ve always done. If you can think a little bit more laterally about how you might address something, then you may well come across something that could make a huge difference to your business.”

“It’s hugely difficult for everyone at the moment but I’m a firm believer that change brings about opportunity.”

David Harris

Final question…how did you celebrate selling your business?

“Jez and I were at the solicitors in Reading, we’d been there all day…we’d had enough to be honest. It was all a bit surreal when we signed so we decided to celebrate….at Chieveley Services with a Double Whopper and fries!”

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