How Cuesko was start-up savvy
By Hayes Knight - 19 October 2015
If ever there was a good time to launch a business in the construction industry, now would be it. With the Christchurch rebuild and rising demand for Auckland residential development, the dark days of the GFC are in the past.
But for the directors of quantity surveying firm
Cuesko, success wasn't just a matter of good timing.
Founding directors Vince Baldwin, John Giles and
Greg Cutfield started the company less than three years ago out of
a small office on Auckland's North Shore. The trio had previously
worked together and their skills and business values were aligned,
says Vince. Despite never having been involved in establishing a
new consultancy before, they had built strong industry
relationships and had combined experience in commercial and civil
construction of 44 years.
"We always backed ourselves," says Vince. "We set
short, medium and long-term goals and our business plan outlined
how we wanted to operate and be perceived in the industry. That's
been our guide since we started. We took on a few loss-leading
projects in the beginning to build some brand awareness and we
didn't draw salaries for a few months."
Their strategy worked. In its first financial year,
Cuesko posted a turnover of $1.3m (this increased by 230% to $3m
for the 12 months ended March 2015). Just a year after it launched,
Cuesko opened a Christchurch branch, where new director Kean
Mitchell manages four staff. Its Auckland office now has 11 staff
working out of new premises in Albany, and Cuesko is looking to
grow its recently opened Wellington office.
But before any of this could happen, the directors
needed accounting advice and approached Hayes Knight Business
Advisory Director, Scott Travis, for help.
"We were looking for an accounting practice large
enough to provide the services we needed as a start-up but also
those we'd need in the future," explains Vince. "We didn't just
want to be a name or number to them - we wanted a more personal and
local relationship. Scott immediately understood us and Hayes
Knight has been such a good fit that they're now also our personal
accountants for all the directors."
Scott and his team runs Cuesko's monthly accounting,
but Scott says advice and assistance around the ownership
structure, governance, cashflow management and growth strategy were
important additional services the directors required.
Early on, Scott spent time with the directors to
understand their individual circumstances and put together an
ownership structure that takes into account their personal lives
outside Cuesko. This involved the formation of trusts and the
ownership of the company by the trusts for asset protection and tax
"They're responsible business owners who take a
structured approach to their growth and seek advice when they need
it," says Scott. He attributes Cuesko's success partly to the
amount of time the directors put into planning up front, and then
the structure of ongoing checks and balances that enables them to
manage and measure their growth on a monthly basis.
Despite being less than three years old, Cuesko is in robust
shape with many large clients and long-term projects on its books,
including Auckland Airport, Infratil, Auckland Transport,
Hobsonville Land Company, IAG, Metlifecare plus several banks and
"While we had a fairly good idea of how we were
going to grow the business, we're probably two to three years ahead
of where we thought we'd be," admits Vince. "The booming building
industry is part of it, but we often work weekends to meet
timeframes. We put the effort in, and we proactively look out for
our clients' interests - that's created a lot of repeat
Cuesko's heavy investment in IT means staff
nationwide can access its centralised software system, and regular
video conferences allow management to discuss marketing plans,
targeting clients and revenue forecasts.
"We have many processes in place to forecast
resources months in advance and identify and circumvent potential
challenges. As quantity surveyors, we're used to doing a lot of
forecasting and crystal-ball gazing. We're also fairly conservative
in our approach to the business and our mantra is: driving informed
Work-life balance is a critical component of the
directors' business plan, and they're working towards adding
another layer of senior staff to manage future growth. "We haven't
set the business up to work our lives away," jokes Vince. "Our
business plan includes having fun and enjoying activities outside
of work. Eventually, we'll sell down our stake in the business to
others and adopt a less hands-on, more advisory role."
But with quantity surveyors currently on the
skills-shortage list in New Zealand, recruitment has been an
ongoing challenge for Cuesko.
"With our forecasting, we're projecting turnover
through to 2017 now," comments Vince. "We have a good idea of what
we've got on the table and how we're meeting our revenue
Vince Baldwin knows the cyclical nature of the construction
industry, and when another dip eventually comes, he feels Cuesko's
diversified project portfolio and forward planning will help
industry-proof the company.
Cuesko Managing Director Vince