A TECHNOLOGY entrepreneur who cut his teeth at his family’s printing business in Scotland is seeking to float his own firm as it expands operations on a global scale.
Philip Letts, whose family owned the eponymous diary publisher in Dalkeith for two centuries, has hired Singer Capital Markets to advise on the flotation on the Alternative Investment Market (Aim) of his Blur Group.
The firm allows businesses to tender for contracts online by putting them in touch with suppliers, helping to shortlist bids and put together commercial agreements. It calls the system “expert crowdsourcing” and lists more than 20,000 experts, agencies and firms from 133 countries among its clients.
Letts, whose father Anthony was the last of the family to run the Scottish diary company before it was sold to its management team in 2000, says he developed an interest in technology when, in his early 20s, he was tasked with looking into the possibility of moving into the emerging market for digital organisers.
“I concluded that it was absolutely going to be big in the business, but would be a hard investment for us to make,” he said.
However, in his next job, in investment banking, he was given a software project to run and went on to build a career in management, specialising in growing software businesses from start-up stage into global players. He led companies including Beenz.com, Corechange and Tradaq.
During this time, he also noticed that most businesses had met their core service providers by chance, using personal contacts or random approaches, and decided there was a market to make the process of seeking suppliers in a more considered manner more cost efficient.
Letts founded Blur in 2005 and spent time developing its software, hand-picking a management team from previous ventures before launching its “global services exchanges” in January 2010.
He has also assembled two advisory boards of experienced business leaders to help with his expansion plans. Members include ITV chairman Archie Norman and Kevin Lomax, former chief executive of Misys.
The exchange now has more than 500 business customers, including small and medium sized enterprises as well as a number of international blue-chip companies such as Berlitz, Coral, General Electric, Harvey Nichols and Ministry of Sound.
Three rounds of angel investment have provided Blur Group with the funds required to date and the company is now considering its next stage of progression and expansion.
Letts says flotation was always a goal for Blur, for strategic as well as financial reasons.
He said: “We really believe in transparency because online exchanges are about trust, it’s no different to a stock exchange. I think being a public company we will do that better. None of the existing investors are exiting in this process, it’s just the next stage.”
Blur’s three rounds of external funding with angel investors have raised more than $1.8 million (£1.2m), including $1.4m this year in a move that brought in Norman and Lomax.
The group has no formal target for its valuation or the amount it is seeking to raise, although speculative reports suggest the flotation would probably raise a little under £5m. It has not published a timetable for the process yet either.
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