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15 years of Capsule: Celebrating the de-facto small business CRM

Happy Birthday to us! Join us and co-founders Duncan Stockdill and Phil Haines for a journey into Capsule's past and future.

Rose McMillan · June 16, 2024
15 years of Capsule: Celebrating the de-facto small business CRM15 years of Capsule: Celebrating the de-facto small business CRM

As we celebrate 15 years of Capsule CRM, we decided to take a moment to reflect on the incredible journey we’ve taken to get to where we are today.

In 2009, Founders Duncan Stockdill, Phil Haines, and Wendy Rule saw an opportunity to build on the existing CRM landscape and provide a solution specifically for smaller businesses.

While CRMs like Salesforce were already well established they had become complex, making them better suited to bigger businesses. Duncan, Phil and Wendy saw an opportunity to create something just for small businesses that’s easy to both set up and use.

Phil in the Capsule office

Identifying market problems

In previous roles, the entrepreneurs were working within an account-based selling model where solutions were created specifically for customers. However, they quickly saw the downside to this.

Duncan said: “If you lose one big customer it can have a significant impact on your business and revenue. We saw this happen for ourselves and we had to downsize our team.”

Instead, they identified a need to create a tool or solution that applies to lots of organizations and not just a few big businesses. Essentially, they wanted to spread their risk across lots of smaller organizations.

Phil and Duncan identified storage as an issue and saw potential in the release of new cloud-based software. Most small businesses relied on tools they had to install on their own servers like Exchange to hold all their data. Not only did this take up a lot of storage but it took more work for less technically savvy business owners.

Phil said: “At the time internal email tools only held an anemic amount of data and it would take forever to search for anything useful. In 2009 cloud storage was still developing but we recognized the benefits and built a cloud CRM that could compete with other popular CRM products that had to be installed onto a server.”

The main downfall of these competitors was that they were difficult to access remotely and users were responsible for managing their server setup. This made these products inaccessible to small and less tech-minded businesses that wanted simple-to-implement products.

Tackling initial challenges

The journey wasn't without its hurdles and operating on a bootstrap model meant that Duncan and Phil had to work with limited resources and a small, dedicated team.

Phil said: “One of the initial challenges was just pulling the trigger. We wanted to ensure that our product was good enough to be put in front of our customers.

“But a second more critical issue was money.”

Capsule was built by a small bootstrapped team, meaning they didn’t rely on money from investors to get started. With zero start-up money, it took time for Phil and Duncan to build up the revenue they needed to hire staff and expand the company.

Duncan said: “Typically tech businesses would bring in investors and build the business using that investment money.

“Capsule was built off the back of the 2008 financial crash so there wasn’t a lot of investment money floating around.

“We could only afford a small team but we knew from experience that throwing people at a development issue wasn’t efficient.”

However, this constraint fueled creativity, and instead, they focused on making their team as efficient as possible to ensure they were still regularly developing and pushing out releases.

Duncan in the Capsule office

Growth and innovation

When they first launched, Phil, Duncan, Wendy, and their team were dealing with lots of customer support queries as users got used to Capsule. So, to help manage this workload and ensure that they continued to look after their growing customer base they invested in a support team. From there the company continued to grow as they expanded the team and hired designers and developers.

Duncan said: “In the early stages it was just Phil and I building the system and then as our revenue grew we could afford to hire more team members

“This left us little budget for marketing, we didn’t have the cash to invest in things like PPC so we had to focus on generating leads differently..”

This led them to integrate with products like Google, MailChimp, and Xero. This tactic allowed them to introduce new features quickly and helped them get their product in front of a larger audience that was already familiar with the SaaS-based business model.

Reaching milestones

Their unique approach helped the team achieve significant milestones. By the end of 2011 just 30 months after launch, Capsule hit 10,000 users and £1 million in revenue which sustained profitable growth without external investment.

Phil said: “This was one of the milestones where we were like ‘wow we’re successful’,

“We saw a lot of CRMs come and go during the initial stages of building our business and a lot of those took the investment route. They never got the traction they needed to become successful and disappeared, so to see us grow without investment made us proud.”

Duncan adds: “We’re really proud of how we have run the business. Our employees have stuck with us and we’ve created careers for our team members. Six of our first ten employees are still with us today in senior roles so we’ve managed to retain our team which is hard to do for many businesses.”

Capsule's first office kitchen

Staying ahead of competitors

The CRM landscape has evolved dramatically over the last 15 years. While there's been an increase in cloud-based CRM solutions, Capsule remained focused on serving small businesses.

Duncan said: “We've seen many companies initially support small business customers but at some point, they lose focus and start targeting bigger businesses.

“While our business has grown and developed we have never lost sight of small business needs. That’s why our product works great for both small and bigger organizations.”

Staying relevant has always been a goal for Capsule. They’ve remained on the cutting edge of trends, continually assessing the needs of their customers and developing into more of an all-in-one solution.

Phil said: “We’ve seen how customer needs have changed over the years and we’ve done our best to keep up with this. While we started as a CRM, we recognized that more and more customers were looking for marketing solutions so we acquired Transpond to meet this demand.”

Planning for the future

If the last 15 years have taught the team anything, it’s that the CRM industry is constantly evolving. This is one of the reasons why the team at Capsule is finding new ways to better support our customers and their needs, like its expansion into the Spanish, Portuguese, and French-speaking markets.

Phil said: “One of the biggest growing trends is, of course, AI. Over the last few years, it’s been a buzzword in the CRM sector but now businesses are finding better ways to integrate AI tools into their day-to-day practices.”

Capsule is no exception to this. That’s why in 2023, Capsule launched its AI Content Assistant to help its customers write quick and relevant emails to make following up with leads simple and easy.

Duncan adds: “Businesses know the importance of integration, CRM can’t be a silo, and with so many more cloud products available on the market you need to utilize them.

“Businesses want to have a wider range of functionality in their CRM system. Integrating in accountancy, email, calendar, and lead generation tools is helping to bridge these gaps and create a multipurpose solution.”

It’s no good just having one platform with your customer data on it, you need to integrate it with other services to streamline your approach and get the most out of your data.”

Happy birthday to… us!

Capsule has achieved a lot in its 15-year journey and we’re proud of the unwavering support and commitment of its founders and the whole team.

From humble beginnings to becoming a trusted name in the CRM industry, Capsule continues to empower small businesses worldwide. Here's to another 15 years of growth, innovation, and success.

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