Elevator Pitch: Censeo

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Elevator Pitch is a regular feature on Lifehacker where we profile startups and new companies and pick their brains for entrepreneurial advice. This week, we're talking with Kate Middleton, CEO of Censeo.

In 128 words or less, explain your business idea.

Earlier this year I was appointed as General Manager for a struggling ASX listed company. Through the course of providing impartial advice to the offshore investor and Non-Exec board, I identified that one of the subsidiary companies, Censeo Engineering, was profitable in its own right and worth salvaging.

Long story short, I re-privatised a portion of the ASX listed company and became the first female CEO in Australia to not only lead, but own a well-established structural engineering firm that provides Insurance Assessments and Reports to major clients including RACV, CGU, Budget Direct, NSW government and Defence Services homes. I also have a successful side hustle called Career Oracle; which is an online resume and career development company I founded in 2014.

What strategies are you using to grow and finance your idea?

I acquired the Censeo business from the ASX listed conglomerate by securing funding from a European Venture Capital / Private Equity firm – Neiser Capital. This was my avenue for completing the Management Buy Out (MBO). As the business (Censeo) has been in market for over 10 years we have a good amount of working capital gained through “Work in Progress” engineering jobs as well as some recent new major client acquisitions.

Funding and BAU aside, our biggest financial gains have been made through completely de-centralising the existing business model. We now only have 1 regional head office and almost everyone works remotely. We have decreased our operating costs by over 40% without engineering job cuts. I also recently identified that one of our biggest external supplier costs is actually a fairly simple trade task that my team can be cross skilled in; we will not only save approx. $250K a year, we can also issue that service as an additional revenue stream through our existing clients which is exciting.

What’s the biggest challenge facing your business?

One of our greatest strengths is also our biggest challenge — ensuring everyone is connecting on a meaningful level whilst working remotely. It’s important to build strength and trust in any team; but being located all across Australia, we have to be extra disciplined with Skype meetings, strategy days, training events to make sure everyone stays connected, engaged and we are openly talking about real business issues and improvement opportunities — instead of just falling into an operational rhythm and not thinking blue sky. Using a cloud based CRM, Skype for Business, Xero etc. keeps us stay connected, and we also utilise real time messaging to stay in touch. We have our next face to face team building day in August which will be fun.

How do you differentiate your business from your competitors?

Our core differentiator is Insurance specific knowledge (unlike competing engineering firms, financial services is not a tack on to our business, it is our core business). Also we implicitly understand that customer experience, expedited delivery and cost management are all core to our banking and insurance customers strategy.

In today's fast-paced, digital age it is more important than ever to be able to interact with our clients, suppliers and Censeo team members anywhere, and at any time. Living by our ethos to provide innovative engineering and building solutions; we have also adopted innovative work practices and systems. Leveraging cloud based, digital and online responsive systems means we can work flexibly from anywhere in Australia, New Zealand or Asia, and still provide the same high quality service. We understand that to be a supplier of choice, we have to live and breathe efficiency, flexibility and uncompromising service standards- which is exactly what our systems and team structure allows us to do.

What one phone, tablet or PC application could you not live without?

Xero. It’s the best. It makes tracking sales, payroll, super etc. so seamless. It allows my team to complete their own client invoicing and personal expense claims which cuts down administrative double handling.

What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received?

“No one is coming to save you!”. Once I really understood what this means as an executive and entrepreneur, this has been the most vital and freeing piece of advice I could have ever received. No one is coming to rescue me. I have to face opportunities and challenges head on, build dynamic plans for the future and put in place contingencies for risks as well as growth. Ultimately it’s up to me, and if the business fails, that’s on me too.

I think when you learn that accountability is a mindset- not a reporting line, you are driven to do the best and be the best as often as you can…because it’s true; no one is coming to rescue you.

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