Startup Stories

“You do realise we’re in Newcastle, right?” – Hedgehog Lab on going global

Northern Tech 100, Newcastle

Jennifer O'BrienJennifer O'Brien, June 5, 2018

The Northern Tech 100 League Table #9 – Hedgehog Lab. With offices in the UK, USA, Denmark and India, Hedgehog Lab has grown rapidly since Sarat Pediredla and Mark Forster founded the technology consultancy in 2007.

Having built its reputation on exceptional digital applications for smartphones, tablets, desktops and wearables, the Newcastle firm’s expanding team is now exploring how mobile, immersive and AI technologies can influence sectors such as retail, energy and utilities.

Their mission is “to be the best post-PC technology consultancy in the world” and the company’s clients include Santander, Mitusbushi, EDF Energy and Channel 4 among others.

We met with Sarat Pediredla, CEO of Hedgehog Lab at their headquarters in Newcastle to talk about the company’s evolution.

How did Hedgehog Lab begin?

I used to be a software developer. I was working for a company before I formed Hedgehog Lab with my co-founder Mark. It did really well and it grew massively. But there was no where else for me to go in the organisation; I wanted to progress. In 2007, Mark and I left our jobs and set up the company. In the early days, we didn’t really have a business plan. We created a software business in the financial services sector, because we had experience with that.

Originally we were just doing financial software on browsers. Then in 2008 the financial crisis happened and the whole industry went from spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on software to locking their wallets up. We had a bit of software we had spent six months creating that no one wanted to use. So we had to pivot the company very quickly and we did the next best thing we could do, which was to become a digital agency.

What can you tell us about the progression?

I became really excited by what the iPhone was doing. We started experimenting with building apps. I remember saying to Mark, ‘this is going to be big’. But the problem was, even in 2008, 2009 there wasn’t really a market for it. We kept doing what we were doing, and we grew slowly. Then in 2010 I suffered from a serious illness and was out of work for about 6-9 months of that year. We had a really tough year with the business, and when I came back, everyone seemed to be doing websites. The business wasn’t going anywhere. We were still playing around with mobile apps and we thought: why don’t we reposition ourselves as a post-pc tech consultancy and just focus on apps? We’ve been growing year by year ever since then.

Why did you take the decision to expand internationally?

By 2014, the business was really starting to scale out. And we were really struggling. Because we were considered a micro business we couldn’t attract people; we didn’t have a brand, we didn’t have a presence. No one really knew about us. At the same time, we had to constantly turn down work because of it. It didn’t seem like there was a lot of people that did apps, and those that do are out of reach in terms of the size of the market. I’m originally from India, and I was talking to one of my cousins there. He was telling me about the skills of people there, and it just kind of dawned on me if we set up an India office we could access a talent pool; that was our first foray into international business. We set up a team there, went and recruited people.

As the business grew, we started to see a lot more interest from America. There were people ringing up from Los Angeles, New York. And we were just baffled. I used to remember going on the phone and saying, ‘you do realise we’re in Newcastle, right?’ We started scouting, went on some R&D missions looking for locations. And then fate just connected us with Pat, who runs our US office. In 2016 we formerly set up the US company.

How do you maintain your working culture as the business grows?

In 2016, we were named one of the best places to work in Newcastle by Glassdoor. When we doubled our team last year, there was a real challenge of maintaining the culture, especially in a global team. We didn’t have a template for culture, we did things that we wanted to do. It’s common sense stuff. Treat people fairly, be transparent. There’s no secret. Fundamentally I think all businesses have good culture, because they start with that. Our challenge was not to get in the way of that, with roadblocks and processes. As long as we’re aware of that, and we’re learning, then it will be fine.