Gus Sargent: My family are hustlers — but our workers are the A team

Hannah Prevett, Deputy Editor, Times Enterprise Network
Sep 12, 2022
  • 5 min read

Our Co-founder and CEO Gus Sargent was interviewed for The Times’ “How I Made It" segment – a series spotlighting the UK’s most innovative business leaders.

Gus’ bold pivot from recruitment agency to technology consultancy landed Tecknuovo a place on The Sunday Times Fastest-Growing Businesses list this year. In this article, he shares the ingredients to Tecknuovo’s success, how he inherited his business sense from his family, and why resilient learning and moving on from your mistakes is the most valuable trait in an entrepreneur.

Read the article below – originally published on The Times website – for the full story.

Gus Sargent was running a thriving technology recruitment firm when he spotted an even better opportunity. It was 2019 and the business, Tecknuovo, had a turnover of £6.5 million and was profitable, but Sargent and business partner Kieran Blackstone wanted to shake up what they saw as the staid world of IT consultancy.

"We spoke with senior technology leaders and there was a constant message of pain when it came to buying from big consultancy teams: they sell with the A team, then deliver with the B team" Sargent recalled.

So they turned off the recruitment part of the firm, halving the team to ten. It was a bit “hairy”, he admitted. “All my recruitment director friends were like, ‘What are you doing? You’re stopping what makes you money.’ ”

Yet turnover at the new incarnation of Tecknuovo, which provides engineers to large companies on a contract basis, while training their in-house teams, hit £30.2 million in 2021, with a profit of £4.1 million. The firm is forecasting revenues of £45 million to £50 million for 2022 and has clients including HM Revenue & Customs, the travel giant Tui and Three, the mobile operator. In July, Tecknuovo was ranked 78th in The Sunday Times 100, a list of the UK’s fastest-growing private companies.

Sargent, now 35, is from an entrepreneurial family. His father ran an upholstery business in Teddington, southwest London, for 30 years. His mother — a former director of Penhaligon’s, the perfume company, and the stationer Ryman — runs a small firm selling essential oils. He was also inspired by an aunt who managed an antique store and an uncle who had a building company. “My whole family are hustlers,” he said.

Sargent studied economics at Southampton University, where he met Blackstone, now 34. Afterwards, they both got jobs in London recruitment firms. It was a baptism of fire, said Sargent.

“It can be a very cut-throat industry ... You’re being monitored constantly. There were people who used to call the talking clock just to get their call times up.”

Yet he thrived under pressure and, eager to be his own boss, quit his job in January 2015 to start a payments technology firm. But he realised he had made a mistake when his co-founders failed to quit their day jobs to join him.

Loath to go back to being an employee, Sargent invested his £45,000 in savings to start Tecknuovo in July 2015, and was joined a month later by Blackstone. He estimated that the money would last five months. “If we didn’t make a sale, we’d be in trouble.” But the company had sales of £2 million in its first year of trading and was profitable “after a couple of months”. Sargent has not taken any investment and remains the majority shareholder, with Blackstone holding a smaller stake.

When the recruitment business hit 20 employees, Sargent found himself facing a moral dilemma. “For every £2,000 you generate a week, you hire a new sales person — that’s the formula for success. It’s basically mailshotting and cold-calling. If I was going to hire another 10, 20, 30 sales people to scale my business, all my values — of being ethical, not chasing margin, not sending emails with spelling mistakes ... [are ones] you just can’t control with loads of people who are on commission, because all they want is the money.”

This focus on quality control influenced his decision to shift to providing a service rather than recruitment, which is more transactional by nature.

The firm also pioneered "Zero Dependency", which means it works on client projects alongside the company’s internal staff and trains them. Once they are up to scratch, Tecknuovo’s contractors will hand back the reins.

The key to the firm’s success has been building a community of 6,000 IT engineers who work on client projects, typically for 18 to 24 months. While companies have been reporting recruitment shortages in IT in recent years, the contractor market hasn’t faced the same challenges, said Sargent, who added that he has not had any problems hiring staff to work at Tecknuovo’s London HQ.

He said his team of 40 opt to work there “because we’re growing ... and we pay well.”

Sargent, who lives in Surrey with his wife and three young children, said resilience is one of the most important traits in an entrepreneur: “You will make mistakes all the time — I still do — and that’s OK. You just have to get up and go again.”

Original article written by Hannah Privett, deputy editor at the Times Enterprise Network for The Times and The Sunday Times, 9th September 2022

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