Chris Mason started Namos Solutions from his bedroom 11 years ago. Today, it boasts 130 employees, being one of the foremost Oracle partners in the UK, and has recently opened offices in Europe and the USA.
The UK has a rich heritage of pioneering new technology through entrepreneurial endeavors. Many of the front-runners that paved the way for Oracle were founded by entrepreneurs and by the mid-2000s, one of the deepest and most vibrant Oracle ecosystems flourished in the UK.
Patech, Mokum, Beoley Mill, Claremont, Certus and Inoapps – to name just a few – all began life in the UK as fledgling businesses. Most have since been acquired by the likes of Version 1, PwC and Accenture, leaving a dearth of variety in the UK market. Inoapps stands out from the others because it remains independent (although now jointly co-owned by its founder and Abry Partners) and has scaled to over 500 employees worldwide.
What was once a vibrant community of nimble Oracle partners is now a far less rich landscape of GSIs and very small niche players offering fewer choices for mid-sized customers that want the flexibility of an independent partner with the scale to deliver complex projects.
Aside from de Novo Solutions, which was only formed two years ago, Namos Solutions is now the UK’s only truly independently owned Oracle partner with any kind of scale. Founded by Chris Mason from his bedroom 11 years ago, it boasts nearly 130 employees and has a decade-long track record of delivering innovative Oracle projects for customers ranging from universities, local councils and blue light services.
In September, I met with Mason to discuss his journey from bedroom-based contractor to CEO and to uncover the secret behind his success.
From bedroom to boardroom
The project gave me the confidence that I could take on some of the GSIs for mid-sized programs and also gave me the confidence to start employing permanent people. By the end of that year we were up to eight employees and that’s when I could start to think seriously about building a business to compete for bigger projects – Chris Mason, Namos Solutions
In 2012, a young Oracle consultant who was working for Mokum decided to take a gamble. Newly married and living in rented accommodation, Chris Mason gave up his day job in the quest for something more.
Mason got his first taste for Oracle while working at Reed Business Information where he joined the project team during an Oracle implementation. When the project was over, his business-as-usual role didn’t seem so exciting and he quickly joined the aforementioned Mokum – at the time the UK’s largest independent Oracle practice.
Mason learned his craft on a variety of Oracle projects and quickly became a senior consultant. The experience gave Mason an insight into the dynamics of large IT projects and set alight the desire to breakout and go it alone.
“Some of my friends and colleagues said I was mad. Lots of people had tried and failed to make the leap but I was determined to try. I hate procrastination and spending lots of time making decisions. So that July, on our one-year wedding anniversary, I sat down with my wife, Rebecca, and said I wanted to start my own business. I put £50 into an HSBC bank account and hit the phones hard – I won my first piece of work soon after but for the first three years it was just me trying to get the Namos name out there.”
That first piece of work came in the form of an insurance company. The project paid well and gave the fledgling entrepreneur his first taste of self-sufficiency. But, as Mason put it, “it wasn’t very fulfilling and just served to get some cash in the bank”.
Mason’s big break came when he pitched for a small piece of work at Expedia which grew into a much larger opportunity. At the time, Namos had a small workforce of contractors based in Paris but was still effectively a one-man-band. A combination of entrepreneurial flair, a little bit of bluff and sheer determination resulted in a successful 23 country roll out and the birth of Namos as a genuine contender in the Oracle space.
“Expedia was a tough project but it proved I could do it. I was on the 4:46am Eurostar every Monday morning and would be on site until Thursday and then back on the Eurostar, which often got cancelled, so I could be in the office on Fridays trying to grow the business. The project gave me the confidence that I could take on some of the GSIs for mid-sized programs and also gave me the confidence to start employing permanent people. By the end of that year we were up to eight employees and that’s when I could start to think seriously about building a business to compete for bigger projects.”
The Namos growth story
A lot of customers that are in the public sector need the assurance that we are here for them when they need us and our model being delivered locally gives them that assurance – Chris Mason, Namos Solutions
In the ten years since that first breakthrough, Namos has grown considerably and is now the largest independently owned Oracle consultancy in the UK. It was the first Oracle partner worldwide to join the Modernised Partner Network and has won a series of accreditations, awards and accolades including a highly commended placing in the ERP Today Awards for its work with Civil Nuclear Constabulary.
In recent months, it has made a number of strategic hires bringing in Anton Whitefoot and Rob Grace from Oracle to support the global leadership team and it has won a number of projects that would be the envy of any GSI. It has developed a strong reputation in public services and higher education delivering projects for the likes of Walsall Council, University of Greenwich, London Borough of Bromley and West Midlands Fire Service (WMFS), to name just a few.
In the case of WMFS, it was the first implementation of its kind and included a full stack of Oracle Fusion encompassing Oracle ERPM, Oracle HCM and a payroll solution to support the UK’s second-largest fire service.
However, it’s not just implementation work that has been the foundation for success. On the back of these projects, Namos has continually won long-term support contracts that it delivers through a framework called eNlighten Managed Services. Predominantly focused on the higher education sector, although not exclusively, Namos provides ongoing support to a variety of customers so that they can continue to extract the maximum value from their investments in Oracle.
The hallmark of eNlighten is a tailored service that is bespoke to each customer and provides first to fourth-line support, delivered locally by trained Oracle consultants and consumed by the customer through a base level contract or from a bucket of support days agreed in advance. The benefit to each customer is that their system is supported by Oracle experts who understand their landscape and can ensure compliance, help to optimize costs and ultimately improve the return on investment.
This ongoing support for customers is vital in the SaaS world as quarterly releases can be almost impossible for customers to manage directly. Leveraging the deep product knowledge within Namos, each customer can be assured that their implementation of Oracle is updated, tested and optimized to take advantage of the newest innovations.
While the notion of a support contract is nothing new and many other organizations offer similar services, Namos’ approach to delivering these services is refreshingly flexible and has been a big focus for Mason in recent years.
“We made a big effort to grow our managed services business but we only grow it in the right way,” said Mason. “A lot of customers that are in the public sector need the assurance that we are here for them when they need us and our model being delivered locally gives them that assurance. We don’t do an off-shore delivery model, in fact we don’t have any off-shore resources, and we don’t compete for contracts that are just based on cost. We work with organizations that want a partner and building a world-class Oracle support service is a key strategic goal for Namos.”
The next phase for Namos
Over ten years it has built sufficient credentials to be taken seriously by large, risk-averse organizations that previously would have favored global consulting firms. Yet it is still nimble enough to win smaller packets of work that are less attractive to big SIs and use these opportunities as a gateway to foster a longer-term relationship.
It’s already an incredible success story that has seen a first-time business owner expand his idea across Europe, the UK and the USA. Not simply because the business has scaled from a bedroom to the boardroom, but because it has done so in a fiercely competitive market that is dominated by powerhouses like Deloitte and KPMG. It used to be the case that the global consulting firms would win all of the big Oracle opportunities and smaller players would have to scrap around for the crumbs.
However, market dynamics have changed over the last five years with the bigger consulting firms needing to win a larger quantity of smaller deals and the smaller consultancies being able to compete for the mid-sized deals. It is still true that the likes of Namos won’t be winning a global roll out of Oracle for a multi-jurisdictional conglomerate but they can seriously compete with the GSIs for all but the very largest of opportunities.
The combination of a hungry and committed CEO coupled with the scale and expertise of more than 100 Oracle professionals puts Namos into a category that few others can lay claim to. Over ten years it has built sufficient credentials to be taken seriously by large, risk-averse organizations that previously would have favored global consulting firms. Yet it is still nimble enough to win smaller packets of work that are less attractive to big SIs and use these opportunities as a gateway to foster a longer-term relationship.
Many of the Oracle customers that are being converted from E-Business Suite users to Fusion will most likely have selected one of those bigger SIs for their previous implementations and, having been through that journey once before, are much more likely to consider alternatives. Namos is now positioned as one of the few serious alternatives to a GSI, and their win rate, particularly in the public sector and higher education, suggests that they are taking more than just crumbs from the GSIs’ table.
This opens up a completely new world of possibilities for a company like Namos. Not only are they able to win bigger deals outright, they are also in prime position to support some of the global consultancies on much larger projects. However, Mason was quick to point out that partnering comes with its own set of risks and he has always been cautious about taking on projects that are not entirely in his control.
“We’ve just completed our first work share project,” said Mason. “In the past I’ve always been against partnering because of the risk to the Namos brand if something went wrong that was outside of my control. But equally, we are seeing more and more opportunities to collaborate and the project with Aalto University in the Nordics is a great example of where partnering can work. We’ve got a good percentage of the overall program but they are also using some in-country resources to help with the language and localization issues. It’s a deal that we wouldn’t have been able to win on our own but equally the local team wouldn’t have won it without our higher education credentials. When you look at all the central government opportunities that are in the UK marketplace at the moment, there are a lot of similar conversations happening where we are assessing not just who can win these deals but what combination of skills and expertise can actually deliver them.”
The biggest challenge for Namos will be to retain its independence. Throughout our conversation, Mason was emphatic that Namos wasn’t for sale, nor did he have any intention of selling for the foreseeable future. Whilst I wholeheartedly believed the story, in reality it’s very hard to ignore overtures from larger organizations in a consolidating marketplace. Although we didn’t discuss specifics, I am sure that Namos is already a target and most owner managers have a magic number even if they don’t know it themselves – when you hear it, you know.
At a time when the big players in the ERP space are snapping up every small consultancy to protect market share and to boost their own resourcing capabilities, there will be keen interest in acquiring a business like Namos. There are few, if any, similar businesses which are not private equity owned or part of a larger organization so retaining independence will be extremely challenging, especially if the idea of partnering and work share arrangements continues to take hold – Deloitte may share work once, maybe twice, but eventually their solution to that dilemma will be a cheque, and quite a sizable one too. That’s going to be a hard decision for Mason, but it’s one that I am sure he is prepared to deal with at the appropriate time.
Putting aside any potential acquisition interests, Namos’ other key challenge will be to maintain the level of service and quality that has been the bedrock of its success to date. As any business scales, it is hard to hold onto the things that made it special in the first place and, now with a much broader outlook, that consistency of quality will be under even more pressure.
That said, Mason gave a thoroughly authentic interview and his passion for the business was evident throughout. When you start a business from nothing and every customer is like gold dust – that stays with you.
What also came through most was his undiluted joy that he has built something of real substance. Aside from the financial success, it has provided a platform for sponsorship deals with sports stars, given birth to a Veterans’ program that is a source of personal pride and it has proven to many doubters that Chris Mason knows what he is doing in the Oracle space.
As our interview draws to a close, I ask Mason what abiding thoughts he would like to leave readers of ERP Today with. “It’s a bit of a cliché, but Namos is big enough to deliver and small enough to care,” he said. “We’re not a small company but we can do a five-day engagement just as easily as we can deliver a large multi-pillared project. We are an Oracle-only partner and have one of the deepest pools of UK-based consultants in the industry. The skills, credibility and the certifications that we have developed means we’re able to deliver on time and on budget – and in many cases, we are the first to do so, as was the case with West Midlands Fire Service. I’m still passionate and hungry and above all else, I still really enjoy what I am doing, so the focus for now is growing our business, serving our customers and making sure that they all get the maximum value out of their investments in Oracle.”