Iouri Prokhorov is the founder and Managing Director of Bristol bespoke software firm, Helastel. Having used PPC advertising for the past 10 years to successfully support his company and generate new business, we wanted to hear his story and get some insight into what it took to build up his business to where it is today.
We interviewed Iouri about his story and values as an entrepreneur and about his experiences and aspirations at Helastel.
What’s your story of getting into business and becoming an entrepreneur?
Entrepreneurship has been my motivation and life path from the outset; I have spent the past 15 years focused on creating my own thriving companies in Moscow and in Bristol. Having never had a ‘normal’ job, I can’t think of a more exciting or challenging way to direct my energy than creating and running my own businesses.
I started my first business at 15 years old, a successful company which was one of the first internet service broadband providers in Russia. I’ve set up four businesses in Bristol since then, firstly juggling alongside my education until I was finally ready to fly free and dedicate myself entirely to my professional life. I started Helastel in 2004 whilst I was studying Computer Science at Bristol University and it has grown steadily since then.
Tell us a bit about your business – what does Helastel do?
Helastel is a bespoke software development company with team of 20, all based in our Bristol offices on the Triangle. We offer custom software development, web development, software support services, infrastructure management and web hosting.
We work with a wide range of customers, ranging from well-funded startups to established multinationals. Our customers come from a variety of industries from aviation to healthcare, social work to asset management. We tend to work in partnership with the company owner or a director of the company, given the strategic nature of our consultancy work. Through the more technical phases of our work together we often collaborate closely with other members of staff, from marketing managers to office managers and in-house developers.
And what do you do at Helastel? Has your role changed over the years?
I am the Managing Director with ownership and responsibility of the company. I have put in place an excellent management team whom I oversee on a day-to-day basis. I am directly involved in the sales process, taking the lead in attracting and securing new business.
The solutions that we provide are very technically-led and I have worked with all of our clients personally, helping them to understand the technology used in their project. The key part of this process is seeing how their business strategy could be improved through the use of bespoke software and supporting them in making this a reality.
What does success look like to you?
Continued company growth and profitability are key to secure our future: we’ve grown by 330% in the past three years and intend to grow another 250% in the coming three years. Along with customer satisfaction, the company culture and team are probably the other main indicators of success for me. I’ve been so lucky in this respect; Helastel has had an incredibly dedicated team since it began. The culture is one of hard work and focus, despite the flexible and friendly way in which we work. Having a young business leader certainly comes across in the ways we work together: it’s a very informal working environment without an emphasis on organisational hierarchy.
We pay good salaries to get the best quality of staff and regularly work with consultants who are experts in their own field when we see that we need to evolve more quickly in any given area of the business. This has been especially useful in recent years as we have taken on increasingly complex projects that require both an excellent level of programming skill and an ability to manage large projects over several months and sometimes years.
What’s most important to you in the way you run your business?
As a Bristol business leader, I am extremely proud to have set up a commercially successful organisation employing a pool of expertise and talent from the local area. My vision has always been to utilise local people to make the most of the exceptional opportunities technology offers, which is why we’ve only ever hired developers who live in Bristol or the South West. Some companies choose to outsource development work to other countries, but I’ve always been clear that having a face-to-face team is the way to give the best service.
The impact of this combination of talent and technology has brought about excellent results for Helastel, but most importantly for our customers who have included the NHS, the Highways Agency, Pattersons and G4S. We aim to fill the gaps in the existing marketplace and harness new developments in technology to generate outcomes and results for our customers which have not been envisaged or experienced before and as a vehicle to greatly increase their earning potential.
Where does your passion lie in entrepreneurship?
Although my background is in sciences and technology, I am a creative person and it is the development and planning stages that I enjoy and excel in the most as they enable me to use my expertise and enthusiasm to help companies much larger and more mature than my own. Since 2004, our work has resulted in large increases in revenue for our clients’ businesses and a better service for their own customers and end-users.
I have been coaching business owners for a long time, both within my work at Helastel and outside of it. What makes me passionate about my work at Helastel is supporting people in their relationship with themselves and their business. I believe in creating a joyful and inspiring way of doing business, which is somewhat counter-cultural in our climate of stress and overworking.
My biggest hope is to support people – particularly young people – in creating freedom and success in their lives through business. To this end I am a visiting lecturer at Bristol University and also serve there as a mentor for students.
What personal characteristics do you feel have made you successful?
Fear of failure and procrastination are two of the key problems in business. When I started Helastel, I could easily have looked at the booming software industry in Bristol and the South West and been deterred. It looked like this market was saturated; what is a 20 year-old computer science student going to do differently? But, with the determination, energy, enthusiasm and resilience to go forward I worked through my fear and made a start. With a strong vision for what I wanted to achieve in my life personally and professionally, I’m glad that I saw beyond the surface limitations and took those first steps towards my goals.
It may well be a cliché, but I really do care about the people in my business, my customers, staff and the mentors who have helped me along the way. I create partnerships with trust and integrity because these are the most important things for me. I know that I have vision and I see it in my clients too, but having the pragmatism and courage to follow through on that vision can be the most difficult part. I am practical and I understand how to get into the depths of how a business is actually going to be successful.