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Twenty-two

Callum Murray - Amiqus Resolution

If you can't beat the system…

Callum Murray - Amiqus Resolution

If you can't beat the system ...

At first glance, interior décor may not have much in common with an online solution for handling anti-money-laundering compliance, but Callum Murray may never have set up his award-winning software business without the problems he experienced in dealing with the civil justice system when his first business got into trouble...

For every small company, fighting for business is tough, but if like Callum Murray you have practiced Thai boxing since secondary school, you know how to take a few punches – and bounce back after a knock-down.

Three years ago, Murray (now chief executive of Edinburgh-based Amiqus Resolution) was convinced that his company had a new product that would transform how individuals and small companies engaged with civil disputes – an automated online tool to help predict the outcome of legal disputes, so cases could be settled without necessarily going to court. Developed by Murray and a few of his friends with support from The Data Lab (one of Scotland's innovation centres), the clever software analysed case histories and court information so everyone involved could make informed decisions over how to proceed – potentially saving significant money, time and court expenses.

The problem, says Murray, is that when he presented the software to law firms, they told him they liked it but said they had other more pressing concerns, and asked him if he could develop a system for checking their clients to make sure they complied with the new regulations related to identity fraud and money laundering – something that would save more time and money than anything else.

Instead of throwing in the towel when their software didn't catch on as expected, Murray and his team began developing exactly what the legal eagles told him they wanted, and Amiqus ID was born.

Adventure

This was not the first time that Murray had learned from a setback in business, or tried something new. He has always had a sense of adventure, and took a year off from his studies at the University of Stirling to travel the world, working for a cruise line in Europe, handling customs and immigration paperwork, driving across the US and spending three months in rural Thailand, training six days a week at a Muay Thai Boxing camp, a combat sport he’d first been exposed to at school in Bo’ness. After graduating in 2007 with an honours degree in Business and Entrepreneurship, he started working in the construction industry and, after spotting a gap in the market, he set up Fresh Interior Solutions, a refurbishment and finishing trades service for high-end residential and commercial clients. With help from the Prince’s Trust, he was able to expand the operation, building a team of ten people over the first eighteen months, but when the financial crash started to bite, the company encountered cash flow issues and Murray had to lay off his employees – despite being owed £50,000 for work already completed – when his bank pulled the plug on his overdraft facility. After a spell working six days a week with only one apprentice to help him, Murray sold his order book to one of his competitors for 10% of value, frustrated that attempts to claim his money back from debtors had hit a brick wall.

After dealing with several claims via law firms, Murray realised that he was not the only small business to suffer in this way. “If it had happened to me,” he explains, “there must have been thousands of others.” He also saw that there were other ways to settle disputes without going to court, including mediation.

Even when there was a court judgement in somebody’s favour, payment did not necessarily follow. The whole process was slow, complex and hard to navigate. “One million legal cases in the UK go unresolved every year,” it says on the Amiqus website. In addition, one in three people can’t find or afford legal expertise when they need it, and four out of five small businesses can’t afford legal help.

Mediation

Having used mediation himself and seen the all-round benefits of settling claims without litigation, Murray enrolled at the Chartered Institute for Arbitration to learn how it worked, and became a mediator. He then set up his own consultancy – Murray & Duncan – and became the co-chair of the Young Mediators' Group in 2013. He also volunteered for the Citizens’ Advice Bureau as an in-court advisor in Edinburgh Sheriff Court. “I understood the pain points,” he explains, including simple issues such as defendants not appearing when summoned to court for procedural hearings.

Mediation isn't always the answer, however. “People should be able to make informed decisions and the advice from a trusted legal advisor can of course be vital, but there’s no silver bullet,” says Murray. “Awareness around the effectiveness of mediation is increasing but there’s a way to go before it’s broadly in use across the UK.”

Game-changing product

Murray still believed that mediation was a good approach to settling disputes, but started to think that there must be a better solution – a game-changing product. “If you can't beat the system, then change it,” was how Murray saw it. And that was when he started building his software development team, “one friend after another,” to build a solution to take the pain out of disputes. Murray knew the civil justice process from both sides of the fence, and had spotted a gap in the market, so he paired up with experts in other fields to fill that space. His first co-founder was an experienced product designer who had been an early employee of Freeagent, an Edinburgh-based software success story which last year floated on AIM and more recently was acquired by RBS group. In turn, he introduced a server-side systems architect, who had experience in both government and banking security teams. This architect then introduced a friend who had experience in engineering volume software products. After adding more friends of friends, including a front-end designer and a long-standing chartered accountant, the team was ready for business. A shareholding structure was put in place for the team, including an agreement that external investment would be sought in due course to accelerate growth. The team may not have been financial experts, but their mission was clear: Let’s get a product to market and start to earn money.

In the meantime, Murray was accepted into the RSE Enterprise Fellowship programme, and the company won additional support from Scottish Enterprise, Business Gateway and Scottish EDGE, which helped get the software from concept to product. “We were already making good progress,” says Murray, “but all of us still had a lot more to learn, and these awards were vital to the company’s growth.”

Murray was surprised when he sat down in front of a “jury” of 12 people to apply for the RSE Enterprise Fellowship programme in 2016. While most other applicants came from “deep academia” and primarily wanted to learn how to manage a business, Murray already had some business knowledge and had different targets in mind. He also thought that his idea – an online system to assess the chance of legal success – was not the kind of ground-breaking, “high-tech” solution that the RSE wanted to fund. When the programme started, however, Murray and the other young entrepreneurs learned from each other, as well as being taught the ropes in other business areas, including sales and marketing, fundraising and IP strategy, travelling all over the UK as part of the programme. “Perhaps the major benefit was the value of the peer-support network,” says Murray, “sharing our experience, despite the fact we come from different industry sectors.”

False start?

Back in the office, Amiqus got on with building its prototype product, developing a special algorithm to analyses cases. And everything was going well until Murray proudly presented the software to the legal profession and discovered a much bigger gap in the market – compliance.

It must have been a difficult decision, but Murray and his colleagues parked their wider ambitions “to focus on the compliance and initial engagement challenges faced by regulated professionals.” Their compliance solution, Amiqus ID, is already generating revenue, doubling sales from month to month and winning market and investor confidence. And, staying true to their mission, Murray and his team still have plans to further develop their original dispute resolution platform, which they refer to as “Big Amiqus,” once Amiqus ID meets its initial targets, allowing further investment into additional products.

Winning investment

Initially, to get the business off the ground, Murray raised £75,000 from people he knew, then increased this to £450,000, by leveraging what he had from private investors to win public funding, without diluting equity. “We raised our profile, then we quietly approached the investors who fitted our values,” says Murray. “The outcome matters more than the investment.”

Since then, several well-known investors have engaged with Amiqus, including Sir Sandy Crombie, the former Chief Executive of Standard Life. Crombie chairs the Board and is also “preparing the ground for an eventual float on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM).” Other investors include San Francisco-based Fifth Era Capital (who will support a planned expansion into the US), Kevan McDonald, Chris Van Der Kyle, Paddy Burns, Gavin Dutch and several other high-net-worth angel investors.

“When Sir Sandy joined, it raised a few eyebrows,” says Murray, “but his presence helped initial introductions and stimulated interest. Once clients sign up, they like what they see.” Murray also recalls how Crombie asked about the capital requirements going forward, including rent for office space. When Murray mentioned a figure of £150 per month, Crombie asked if this was per square foot, but Murray quickly told him it was actually per desk. “For Sandy, Amiqus compared to Standard Life means there aren't quite so many zeros involved,” says Murray.

So far, the company has raised a total of £450,000 through investment, but even though this helps, the aim is to start making profits as soon as it possibly can. “Because we are already generating revenue, investors want to get involved,” says Murray, “but drawing on experience and expertise is just as important as money – there are lots of people out there who want to invest, but we have chosen people who add value in other ways.”

Gathering momentum

Within a very short time, Amiqus has taken its product from beta testing to market, doubled head count and gone through two rounds of investment. “We’ve kept our promises,” says Murray, “by validating not just the technology but also the team. The software has to be robust and more more than 99.5% uptime plus 100% client retention speaks for itself.”

Since its release, Amiqus ID has spread into new market sectors, first gaining trust with legal firms then moving on to real estate, recruitment and finance, winning business from regulated professionals across the UK. Customers pay based on usage, and this ensures a steady flow of revenues. Access to the product is based on a recurring monthly agreement, so customers are not tied to the software
for lengthy periods, like some rival products, and this, combined with greater functionality, has made it possible to win a lot of business from competitors, says Murray.
“In the long term,” says Murray, “we’re building multiple products to provide open access to legal expertise and information for small companies and individuals.”
The company now employs 22 people and has offices in Edinburgh, Cambridge and London, but the overriding aim is sustainable growth – global domination can wait.


Compliance solution

Amiqus ID is an online, encrypted solution which provides secure compliance checks for clients and staff within regulated companies such as law firms, independent financial advisors, accountants and estate agents – all of whom are now exposed to greater risk and penalties if they fail to meet their legal obligations.

The software runs on any smart device and makes it simple to capture and analyse information in real time within a few minutes, including details such as identity documentation, business ownership and shareholdings, as well as flagging adverse media content. The software trawls data from 130 countries, including banks and government records, and also makes it easy to keep files updated. The checks can be done based on general information including name and date of birth, address and telephone number, as well as photographs and documents such as utility bills. It can be scaled to any size of company and is constantly updated in line with the latest regulatory changes such as data privacy standards.

The benefits for regulated professionals are obvious, but the software also makes it easier for everyone to undergo the checks required when seeking advice – in line with the company's mission “to make civil justice available for everyone,” based on Murray’s personal experience both as a litigant and a business owner.

 

The Edge Pledge

Through the EDGE Pledge, Amiqus has committed to donate 1% of any exit gain to give other start-ups the same opportunities it has enjoyed from public funds. The company is also part of The FutureX Mettā Network, an international community of entrepreneurial change makers and pioneers which aims to “build a better world through business.”

 

 

 

 

 

"Callum Murray - Amiqus Resolution". Science Scotland (Issue Twenty-two)
Printed from http://www.sciencescotland.org/feature.php?id=339 on 16/11/18 10:18:21 AM

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