Interview: Richard Baker, CEO of Sequence
Richard Baker is the founder and chief executive of Sequence, a Cardiff-based agency specialising in designing and building digital solutions. We speak to him about the growth of his business and the things it’s been working on.
TD: Can you tell us more about yourself and your business, please?
RB: So, I’m Richard Baker, CEO of Sequence. I also founded the company nearly 21 years ago where we specialised in early web design and development. Sequence has now expanded to a full-service agency, but designing and building digital solutions has remained at the core of our offering which we now provide for brands across the world.
TD: What makes it unique?
RB: The digital agency market is competitive, and there are a lot of other agencies out there that create similar things to us. However, our key strengths are our expertise in tourism and travel as well as e-commerce and transactional. We’ve built a range of projects in those areas for clients such as VisitBritain for example, bringing a creative element to these key business solutions.
TD: How does it benefit clients?
RB: Everything we do is focussed on ROI. Each website, including those in the early days, have always focussed on this. Be it selling more products, or increasing individual transactions, or driving ticket sales; each project will have objectives similar set against them. Using the VisitBritain example again, we managed to increase sales by 25%.
TD: What sort of projects have you been working on?
RB: One of our most recent projects is the #FindYourEpic campaign site for Visit Wales; a single-page site that does some remarkable stuff behind the scenes to help position Wales as a leading adventure destination
We’ve also just launched the new Natural World Safaris site, which really does bring a wildlife experience to browsing and booking safari holidays. Open University’s Hafan site is another great example of our creative work to increase undergraduate course sign-ups.
The VisitBritain project saw us build 15 e-commerce websites for countries across the globe; it was a huge project that we were happy to be able to build here in Cardiff. We have also built a suite of apps for Honeywell, as well as an app for the world famous creative event Cannes Lions Festival.
TD: Why did you set it up, and how far have you come?
RB: Before Sequence, I was working for an American firm that manufactured modems in London but wanted to come back to Wales. So I met up with a friend who was a developer, with myself keen on data communications, where we saw a gap in the market and took the opportunity to do something with the uptake of the internet back then.
This would have been back in the Windows 95 days – so you can see how far we’ve come after this key event happened that made the internet mainstream product.
TD: What’s been your biggest success and your biggest obstacle?
RB: I think our biggest success was probably one of our first transactional websites, which is an early version of the national procurement portal in wales that still runs today: sell2wales. That opened the doors for us working within areas of government for which we still do today.
Our main challenge (not quite an obstacle) is working with customers to deliver results within a specific time and budget. Finding good talent is also a challenge, as it’s not easy to find people that share the same ethos and values as your company or brand, regardless of their skills. But we’re working to improve that and help young talent enter the industry.
TD: What do you think of the Welsh tech scene?
RB: It’s improving and changing considerably. I remember 10-15 years ago when the tech scene in Wales was pretty much non-existent. Everything, including the public sector, was geared up to support manufacturing and the heavy industry – what Wales was known for back then before the big change that Wales has experienced of late.
There has been a big change there, no doubt. And it’s gaining more and more traction now in the start-up space. Wales is a great place to live, so it’s always going to have a lot of life. We’ve been at the heart of a recent culture shift where people with key skills and aptitude want to have a go at setting up their own company, especially in the tech scene.
And it’s great to see so many government activities and initiatives in place to support these people, alongside the public culture that now exists here. When Sequence was founded, it was very different. So I think it’s great.
TD: How is your business contributing to it?
Sequence is very much involved in this scene. We support and get involved in the tech community as much as we possibly can. We spend a lot of time on the skills agenda. I’ve been involved in setting up apprenticeships and schemes for creative industries.
I also sit on the ICT Government Sector panel where a key focus is encouraging entrepreneurship and trying to build the future generation of developers and coders. I’ve done similar in the past for the British Interactive Media Association.
And as a business, we’re always looking to take on internships, graduates and talent into the agency and bring global brands to have their digital assets created here in the heart of Wales, by those Welsh talent. We push ourselves all the time and should we develop something new we’re happy to give that back to the UK digital community, and to the tech community in Wales.
TD: Where do you see yourself in five and ten years?
RB: As an agency we’ve had good times and we’ve had bad times – just like any other organisation or business. But we’re still here, and I plan on staying here in the long run. We have so much to offer and on each project we deliver something new and something innovative.
I want to keep doing those things and keep pushing ourselves so that we can, in turn, create solutions and experiences for our clients that help them speak to their customers where they’ll also strengthen their offering.
TD: What advice would you give to someone looking to set up a tech start-up?
RB: First of all, have a go – never be afraid to start something. There’s a great support network here in Wales where you can speak to other people who have done it which will shape your decisions.
Second, don’t give up – there will be times where it’s easier to give up (which is specifically the time where you need to keep going) because with a bit of luck, you will get out of a dip. But never lose sight of the business aspect of a tech start-up.
People are often turned on by technology and features, where they lose sight of whether anyone will buy that offering. The tech and business aspect must marry for a start-up’s offering to be received by its target market. Just look at how many failed products and services – which have been cutting-edge stuff – have we seen in the tech industry over the years.