Sarah Hitchcock: Our People Love Having a Central London Office

October 17, 2022

Sarah Hitchcock of Geolytix.

Tell us about yourself?

Hi, I’m Sarah, live in Enfield with my husband and two children.

I love running (slowly!) with friends, being a mum and socialising. I started out as a mathematician in Nottingham and joined Boots as a pricing analyst which I found fascinating.

I also started to interrogate customer data with the launch of the Advantage Card. After a short stint in telecoms I moved to Sainsburys where I found location planning and led the team which spent billions on opening new supermarkets and thousands of Sainsburys Locals.

After 11 years I decided to take the plunge and join Blair Freebairn in founding Geolytix.

I loved growing the company from a dining room and 2 people to what it is now, learning as we went – thank goodness for Google!

I’m the COO, HR, Finance Director and still work on client projects so no day is ever the same – other than it is always busy!

I work flexibly, something which I’m passionate about – having days with my children when they were pre-school. I’m not saying I don’t work evenings and long hours, I do, but on my terms.

What lessons has being an entrepreneur taught you?

You don’t know what you don’t know – go and search for answers, there isn’t a checklist! Talk to lots of people to gain different views and experience and then make a decision and go for it; as an entrepreneur you can backtrack and change your plans.

Employ the best people and empower them. People do business with people – share who you are. Be kind – remember your values and stick to them.

If you could go back in time to when you first started your business, what piece of advice would you give yourself?

Carry on – the future is rosey. Looking back I can’t remember any ‘mistakes’ we’ve made.

Obviously we’ve actually made hundreds, but we’ve moved on – we only learn from failure, and then remember the successes which far outweigh the failures.

I’d also tell myself to stay true to myself (I hope and think I have done) – the reward from a customer giving glowing feedback is far more important than a revenue target.

A lot of entrepreneurs find it difficult to balance their work and personal lives. How have you found that?

Yes – the two become entwined. Late night deadlines for clients on top of admin tasks that need to get done alongside wanting to spend time thinking about the future, strategy and growth.

If you don’t want to live and breathe your business then I’m not sure being an entrepreneur is for you.

That doesn’t mean you can’t be your own boss and carve out important time for your family too – but I’m not going to pretend its easy or give any great advice!

Give us a bit of an insight into the influences behind the company?

GEOLYTIX work with the largest, most forward-thinking businesses.

We create novel algorithms within Geolytix MAPP to help them understand how and where consumers choose to shop in-store and digitally.

Success is based on truly listening to customers and by employing the world’s best people who can innovate. Geolytix is our people.

When location matters, organisations turn to us first. We are the best in the world and lead our field. We are respected, trusted and unique. We work globally, across industries, public and private sectors.

What do you think is your magic sauce? What sets you apart from the competitors?

Even though we’re growing we are still a small company (50 employees).

We continually drive to keep the small company feel and build friendships and strong relationships with our customers.

Because we’re small we don’t have a lot of red tape and don’t often say No!

We’re also a one stop shop – we offer strategic consultancy, demographic data, mapping software and location planning experts. Our competitors often only offer 1 or 2 of these.

How have you found sales so far? Do you have any lessons you could pass on to other founders in the same market as you just starting out?

We’re unusual in that we’re employee owned with no debt. We’ve grown using profits which means we continually have to review costs and run a tight ship.

We have managed to grow every year over the last decade, other than Covid year where we managed to remain flat.

Last year sales were up 38% and we have ambitious 3 year growth targets. Taking measured risks has paid off for us, but of course we don’t know where we would be if we’d taken bigger risks.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced so far in your business, and how did you overcome it?

Our biggest challenge is operating a 50 person, 7 country organisation but keeping the culture as a 6 person team. I wouldn’t say we’ve overcome it, but are living through it now!

We have looked to outside systems to support with the people growth which initially brings more work but then delivers benefits.

To give an example, many of our employees own shares or are on long term incentive share plans. I used to manage these internally but we have moved to use the Vestd platform which has been a success.

Working in small teams, having regular team meetings, regular employee feedback sessions and regular socials helps.

What do you find are the advantages of operating your business in London?

Finding the best people. Our people love having a central London office.

We also have an office in Leeds so have the best of both worlds (I live in London but am a Yorkshire lass!)

Are there any issues with having a London based business? Have you experienced these?

London salaries are higher but as we started out in London this isn’t a new issue.

Encouraging staff back in after Covid with commuting time and cost has been difficult but the team are coming back now and realising they have missed it.

How has the higher than UK average cost of living impacted your ability to work and live in London and how has this also impacted your ability as an employer?

This is something front of mind for us. We definitely think this may be an issue for graduate placements next year and is something we will have to deal with.

If you had to relocate your business to another city in the UK, which one would it be and why?

If we had to move, we’d join forces up in Leeds and have a larger office in Yorkshire

How has BREXIT impacted your business (if at all)?

Any change is usually good for Geolytix – so if businesses are in growth or decline they benefit from our support. We haven’t had any direct impact from BREXIT.

What is your vision for your company in the next 5 years?

When location matters, organisations turn to us first. We are the best in the world and lead our field. We are respected, trusted and unique.

We work globally, across industries, public and private sectors. We want to grow internationally (we’re proud to have won the Queens Award for International Trade this year), and in the property real estate sector.

And finally, if people want to get involved and learn more about your business, how should they do that?

Follow me on linkedin, sign up to our newsletter and take a look at our blog! We have so much varied content in there from all the team – it will give you a real flavour for what we’re all about

Follow Geolytix on Twitter or Linkedin.

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