When 4 young people from different parts of the UK decided to take the Digital Art and Technology course at the University of Plymouth, little did they know that it was more than just education, friendship and the inevitable uni partying they were signing up for. It was the beginning of their very own business venture.
4 strangers locked eyes across the lecture room…….
In reality the building of a successful business is far less romantic but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun. The beauty of the Digital Art and Technology course was that it attracted lots of diverse characters and people with very different interests, and that means it threw together people with a variety of skills.
Becky, Christian, Gavin and Paul all met at the start of the course and firm friendships were formed. It wasn’t uncommon for them to team up for modules or see each other socially outside of Uni.
During their final year, the 4 friends were back together as the dream team and were tasked with proposing a business idea for a Venture Culture competition. The business idea was so good that they won and Elixel went from a dream to a reality. For this win they were rewarded with 3 months use of the start-up incubator in the Formation Zone right here in Plymouth City Centre and the rest, as they say, is history!
Fun fact, the business name was created by combining 2 words ‘Pixel + Elixir’ = Elixel!
Obviously there is more to it than ‘just starting a business’. It requires dedication, time and lots of effort to make it successful and thriving so I spoke to Becky our Technical Director, who is 1 of the 4 original founders, to delve a little deeper into the origin story of Elixel:
What was the original vision and driving force behind starting the business?
“The idea for Elixel stemmed from a uni module but we all felt passionate that we could fill a gap in the market in the tech industry, especially in the South West. We believed in functional mobile web design being equally important to standard desktop web in the current smartphone climate.
We wanted Elixel to function in the web development sector of the digital industry and we felt the online mobile market was a key feature of the digital industry but web development specific to this platform had only just begun to take hold. Our aim was to take advantage of this by providing services that gave easy and effective mobile web solutions to those who want to gain more targeted access to the mobile market.”
When Elixel was founded did the 4 of you dive in head first and work full time from the get go?
“Yes, we all spent time in the summer at home getting things like the brand and site together and then moved into the office to work full time from September. At the time we still all had that ‘student way of life’, so it was fairly easy to transition straight to work without much income (or any for the first 3 months)!”
You were lucky enough to have some time in the Formation Zone at the start but how quickly did you move into your own premises?
“We didn’t stay in the Formation Zone long as we wanted our own space. Thanks to our placement contacts at Silverstream we got the chance to move into New Media House in Dec 2012.”
Who was the first client signed and when did we sign them? Can you remember what project we did for them?!
“Technically our first client was The Monkey Sanctuary in Looe when we delivered a game for them in second year of university. We then re-ignited this relationship at the start of Elixel and built another game as an app for them. I’d probably say our first official client project was the UPSU (University of Plymouth Student Union) and building their app for them, which was released Feb 2013.”
Who was our first non local client (outside of the South West) and what year did we sign them?
“We had a few non local clients right from the start as we pulled our placement resources in and did outsource work for companies in Bristol and Reading that ultimately resulted in companies such as JP Morgan and Channel 4. Our first key London client was probably Togeva who we started working with late 2013, but our best was probably Arvato who we worked with in 2015.”
Cheeky question, if you don’t mind divulging, in what year did we first make a profit?
“We made our first annual profit in our second year.”
Do you think the direction of the company has changed over the last 9 years, and if so where would you say we sit within the industry now?
“In some ways yes, in other ways no. There’s a surprising amount of things that still ring true today from our original materials insofar as our values and what we stand for. Work wise we’re not too dissimilar, we’re still focussed on apps and web, but our knowledge and expertise has grown and our focus on user experience is more ingrained in how we work. With Idea to Prototype we now treat this as its own service, helping people work through their ideas and test if they work before committing to full delivery.”
What are the hopes for the company over the next 5 years?
“As a business we’re pretty hyper critical of ourselves, nothing is ever quite right, and there’s always room for improvement. We will always aim to deliver on our values and go above and beyond for the people we serve. In order to keep up with ever changing technology we will need to remain flexible and adaptable to the needs of our customers and the world around us. There’s no knowing what might be around the corner, from COVID to AI, so most of all we hope that we continue to love what we do and deliver outcomes that make a difference.”
And lastly, what has been the highlight of the business so far?
“The people. We’ve been fortunate enough to work with a close knit group of talented individuals that make Elixel not only a company but a family. You can only do great things with a great team around you.”
Thank you Becky for taking the time to answer my probing questions!
It really is like being part of a family here at Elixel and in recent years we have added some invaluable people to our team which sets us ahead of the rest. Rob Breeds, a previous IBM Master Inventor & UX designer, joined the family in 2019 as our Head of User Experience along with Ed May later the same year. Ed became our newest Shareholder and Commercial Director bringing with him a wealth of experience in developing and growing tech businesses. The sky really is the limit when you have a team like this behind you.
We are passionate about all things digital and we were so proud of being part of the Plymouth digital tech community that we co-founded Digital Plymouth back in 2015. We still work extremely hard to make the meet ups informative and fun, even during COVID when they had to be held virtually. Nothing will stop us spreading the digital message!
Starting a business or a new project can be daunting but if you work hard and know your target audience you can make it a success.
If you have a project you want to discuss with us then get in touch today.
Sign up for monthly insights, concept designs and product tips