In the face of economic turmoil, these 20 London companies have excelled. Find out how they’ve grown
The London Top 20 Fastest-Growing Companies is sponsored by:
year 1 (£)
year 2 (£)
year 3 (£)
year 3 (£)
|1||165.5||M J Media||1,903,000||6,638,000||13,412,000||105,000|
|3||121.0||Montanaro Asset Management||5,076,000||7,035,000||24,789,000||Profit withheld at company’s request|
|4||115.3||The Flying Music Group||4,653,000||13,017,000||21,557,000||262,000|
|8||71.2||Thomas Gibson Fine Art||21,833,000||39,442,000||63,998,000||1,751,000|
|9||64.1||Double Helix Bio-Technology Development||6,101,000||12,222,000||16,438,000||2,498,000|
|12||58.1||Seven Investment Management||12,214,000||17,448,000||30,546,000||1,108,000|
|13||57.1||London Linen Supply||7,850,000||17,392,000||19,368,000||1,362,000|
|16||51.8||STM Security Group||2,570,000||4,734,000||5,922,000||175,000|
|20||42.7||Advantage Travel Centres||3,456,000||3,635,000||7,036,000||882,000|
*CAGR = compound annual growth rate. For full criteria used, please see the bottom of this page. Private companies only. All figures in the table above are rounded to the nearest thousand.
1. MJ Media
CAGR: 165.5 per cent
Turnover year 1: £1,903,000
Turnover year 3: £13,412,000
Smack in the middle of London’s ad-land is 14-year-old media planning agency MJ Media. Founded by Martin Jones (the MJ in the name), the Soho-based company plans and buys ad space for marketing campaigns in the entertainment, technology and youth sectors.
“Our client base will come to us when they have a new product to launch. Our job is to recommend the media that their customers are likely to be consuming, then construct an advertising schedule to promote the product,” explains Jones.
The company shifted up a gear half a decade ago when it become accredited as an agency, allowing it to buy media directly (where before it was using another agency to buy space on its behalf). So MJ Media “can now trade on credit terms with media owners such as ITV, Channel 4 or Google,” Jones explains.
To multiply the turnover acceleration from that change further, Jones decided three to four years ago to make significant investments in infrastructure. Some £300,000 increase in annual overheads later, the improvements made to computer systems, staff numbers, credit insurance and new Charlotte Street premises seem to have paid off.
The company has seen its growth rocket in the last three years and now employs 20 people, having started just with Jones. Most employees are in their twenties and thirties which helps them understand their clients’ needs better, says Jones, who believes his firm is on target for a further 20 per cent growth in 2011.
Want more details? Watch our video story on MJ Media
CAGR: 125.5 per cent
Turnover year 1: 6,168,000
Turnover year 3: £31,462,000
Seven-person-strong Prizeflex has always been fully owned and funded by the Surana family, growing organically over the years. When it was founded in 1987, it traded own-brand men’s clothing and jute. The clothing division has now grown to include womenswear under the direction of daughter Leena, and supplies the likes of River Island and TopShop.
The business has seen huge growth since director Nishel Surana expanded Prizeflex into mobile phone and phone accessory wholesale in 2004. The Carphone Warehouse, Phones4U and Phones International (Dragon Peter Jones’ company) are all clients. “We mainly deal with 20 or 30 clients who put in regular orders,” Nishel explains. He buys stock direct from manufacturers – an average order is £50,000 – then sells wholesale to high street retailers in the UK, US, Europe and other international markets such as UAE and Nigeria.
Prizeflex also purchases surplus from clients to resell. Retailers turn to Prizeflex for small orders when they run out of stock – orders average 300 units – rather than waiting three weeks for a large shipment.
Clients come mainly through word of mouth referrals. “It’s kind of a small industry at the top level, and you get a good or bad name very easily,” Nishel says. Prizeflex also lists on international trading platforms such as gsmExchange.com and IPT.cc. (Nishel had to take down Prizeflex’s website after being inundated with requests.) Nishel handles finances and has never received formal business training. “Everyone in my family has a business, and we’re very used to wholesale. You just buy something and sell it a bit higher, then you get confidence in sales and increase volumes.” He’s expecting £30m turnover this year.
3. Montanaro Asset Management
CAGR: 121.0 per cent
Turnover year 1: £5,076,000
Turnover year 3: £24,789,000
Profit: witheld at company’s request
Charles Montanaro founded Montanaro Asset Management in 1991 after spending 11 years as a stock broker (for private clients and institutions). The company has always been self-funded with no external shareholders. It manages €1.6bn of funds (as of June 2011).
Investment is focused exclusively on small quoted companies in Europe and UK. Charles Montanaro explins that the appeal of investing in small-cap equities rather than blue chips is the lure of the higher returns that can be found in an under-researched, inefficient market.
The company notes that small caps have historically outperformed large caps in two years out of three – and by seven per cent per year in bull markets. Montanaro believes that his team of 24 is the largest in the UK dedicated to researching and investing in European small caps. Clients are predominantly international financial institutions.
4. The Flying Music Group
CAGR: 115.3 per cent
Turnover year 1: £4,653,000
Turnover year 3: £21,557,000
Music and entertainment production company The Flying Music Group was established in 1982 by band promoter Paul Walden. He was soon joined by his promoting peer from north of the Scottish border, Derek Nicol. Separately, they have promoted the likes of David Bowie, The Who, Fleetwood Mac and Otis Redding.
Producing and promoting shows for over 25 years, Flying Music has branched out into the West End musical scene. Its productions include The Magic of the Musicals, Hollywood And Broadway, Salute to Sinatra, and The Rat Pack Live From Las Vegas.
Their latest fore into the West End is Thriller Live. It celebrates the music of Michael and the Jackson 5. After its debut in 2006 the show spent three years touring the UK and Europe, before making its West End debut at the Lyric Theatre in January 2009 to packed houses, rave reviews and standing ovations.
The popularity of Thriller Live has helped their compound annual growth rate weigh in at 115 per cent. This year will see Thriller Live travel as far as Australia and the USA.
CAGR: 114.4 per cent
Turnover year 1: £5,521,000
Turnover year 3: £25,375,000
Fixnetix provides outsourced services for ultra-low latency trading (electronically-controlled trades on stock markets determined by algorithms that react to stock movements in microseconds). In June this year its iX-eCute Field Programmable Gate Array microchip for ultra-low latency trading became the world’s fastest trading appliance for the financial markets.
Fixnetix also provides market data, infrastructure connectivity, hosting and risk management to hedge funds, international banks and proprietary trading groups. The company was founded in London during 2006. The three co-founders come from investment banking, technology and prime brokerage.
Since launch, Fixnetix has grown through partnerships with financial data centres, telecoms and platforms. The company is a Vendor of Record (VOR) and Network Service Provider (NSP) for the majority of exchanges in Europe as well as nine major North American markets.
6. Miroma International
CAGR: 88.9 per cent
Turnover year 1: £9,125,000
Turnover year 3: £32,560,000
Miroma International uses one of the oldest business models known to man. It allows advertisers to part-pay for their advertising using their own products or services – a form of bartering.
Their clients’ products and services are traded for use in promotions or sold on in new, untested markets. Advertising budgets can be stretched while trying out new distribution channels.
While working on marketing a television event, CEO Marc Boyan came across a highly effective barter system that was generating momentum in the US and realised that barter could be used in all areas of modern commerce.
Miroma was founded in 2002 by Boyan and Michael Hindhaugh (COO). The company has grown from a team of two to 20, with small offices in Singapore and Sydney.
It is the only media company to have featured in the Sunday Times Virgin Fast Track 100 for the last three consecutive years – proof, they say, “that barter is now firmly on the map and a recognised part of the media mix.”
With no finance needed to launch the company, growth has been 100 per cent organic.
7. Moo Print
CAGR: 72.5 per cent
Turnover year 1: £2,719,000
Turnover year 3: £8,089,000
Founder Richard Moross is a minor celebrity among London’s start-up tech crowd. But unlike most of his peers down at Silicon Roundabout, Moross and his company Moo Print deal in physical products.
Launched in September 2006, digital printer Moo started out making business cards, and has since branched out into stickers, postcards and greetings cards. Not the glamorous-sounding concept that you might expect from one of London’s most established tech stars, but one that has proved a success.
This is down to Moo’s use of digital media to create cards with high definition imagery – and because each card can be customised. Moo’s “Printfinity” allows customers to print a different image on every card in the pack: a huge point of difference from their competitors and one of the reasons their cards have really taken off with the creative crowds. That, and the fact the business cards are half the height of usual ones, which helped them gain quick cult status among London’s tech and creative cards. (“Ah, you’ve got Moo cards too,” and so on.)
Moo.com has raised more than $5m in venture capital from The Accelerator Group, Index Ventures and Atlas Ventures; the investors behind Skype, Betfair, LoveFilm, Last.fm and MySQL. Based in Old Street, Moo.com opened its first office in the US this year.
8. Thomas Gibson Fine Art
CAGR: 71.2 per cent
Turnover year 1: £21,833,000
Turnover year 3: £63,998,000
Thomas Gibson Fine Art, founded in 1969, is a family-run private art dealership. Thomas Gibson’s son Hugh joined less than 10 years ago after training at Sotheby’s and Christie’s, and now runs the business supported by two employees, and his father as advisor. The company specialises in European art from the impressionists up to the 21st century. It regularly deals Picasso, Matisse, Giacometti, Gaugin and Monet.
The company deals its own stock and takes commission on handling clients sales and purchases. “Getting works of art is the difficult part – we know where they are but they’re not for sale,” Hugh explains. Finding a buyer for a “great picture” among the “very private” 4,000-strong international mailing list is easier.
Hugh says the perception of the art world as glamourous is false, and believes expertise in one area is key. “We are traders – we just trade in pictures.”
There are no external investors in the company, but it has a “very good relationship” with its bank and “everything is backed up by stock”. A large number of sales on behalf of clients last year accounts for fast growth. Hugh thinks the success in spite of the global financial turbulence is partly due to the fact that faith in financial funds was shaken by the crash. “Art is a viable asset class – as long as you know what you’re doing.”
9. Double Helix Bio-Technology Development
CAGR: 64.1 per cent
Turnover year 1: £6,101,000
Turnover year 3: £16,438,000
Since Wayne Phillips started out solo in 1995, having spent a career in pharmaceuticals and medicine, Double Helix Bio-Technology Development has grown completely organically with no bank loans or overdrafts. Headcount is now nearly 90 with offices in London, New York, Philadelphia and Singapore.
The company advises many of the world’s top 20 pharmaceutical companies on how to achieve the correct price for their drugs in different countries – prices acceptable to governments, insurance companies and hospitals. It also carries out market research on drugs, and sometimes medical devices and consumer healthcare products.
Phillips explains: “A lot of the research is on drugs that are pre-launch. We also do development strategy on how the company can commercialise the drug.” The company has been profitable for all of its 16 years. Since the very first days of Phillips “just getting on the phone and cold calling people in biotech companies”, he has been focused on growth. “As soon as I made profits, I employed people who knew far more than I did about individual areas, and that’s what I’ve constantly been doing. We now have lots of experts.”
CAGR: 62.9 per cent
Turnover year 1: £1,918,000
Turnover year 3: £5,090,000
< p>FirstCare is an absence management specialist, helping large public and private organisations reduce sickness leave and supplying occupational health services. It runs a 24-hour call centre manned by nurses to provide confidential healthcare advice to staff. It also streamlines workflows and absence procedures when employees do take sick leave. Clients include Coca-Cola, the NHS Trust and local authorities.
Founder and CEO Aaron Ross is the first to admit that he and former partner Alan Ambridge (who has since moved on) weren’t the first company to come up with the idea; Bupa and Capita are among those in the market. Ross thinks FirstCare’s IT systems keep it ahead of larger competitors. “I’m truly a tech geek at heart,” he confides.
Finance for the 120-employee-strong company began with a seed round, friends and family. FirstCare has since brought in two VCs and now has around 140 shareholders. Ross hopes to grow his 120,000 client list to 500,000 over the next year.
CAGR: 60.5 per cent
Turnover year 1: £2,381,000
Turnover year 3: £6,136,000
Bodystretch manufactures and wholesales fashion garments. Clients include Arcadia Group, H&M, BHS, Tesco Europe and Oasis. Since it was founded in 1992, the company has expanded from a small office in West London to five locations, including multiple manufacturing units in Bulgaria and Bangladesh. Bodystrech has an office in China to source trimmings and fabric, and also manufactures out of Dubai. Bodystretch attributes its growth to a new production unit in Dhaka, Bangladesh. (Duties on clothing manufactured in Bangladesh are considerably lower than India.)
The company expects to triple production capacity in Dhaka by the end of 2011. The firm says that is producing complex garments there, despite Bangladesh usually being the base for the production of straightforward retail garments.
12. Seven Investment Management
CAGR: £58.1 per cent
Turnover year 1: £12,214,000
Turnover year 3: £30,546,000
Justin Urquhart Stewart and Tom Sheridan founded Seven Investment Management in 2001 after many years working in other financial institutions, with a team of seven. Funded by personal savings and an investor friend, the company has grown organically to 120 employees and two offices (London and Edinburgh). The principle has always been to do things differently. “Don’t charge commissions. If you earn more, you get more; if you don’t, you don’t,” explains Urquhart Stewart. “There is ‘no get rich quick’.”
Seven spreads its £4bn under management across a broad asset allocation that includes timber, property and private equity. “There are lots of legs, so if one falls off it doesn’t matter,” Urquhart Stewart says.
Seven works closely with financial planners to serve “not the uber wealthy, but the middle class let down by stockbrokers who say: ‘Do you want BP or Shell?’ ” The average client will be a family trust in the £500,000 ballpark, though the client base spans individuals entrusting Seven with £5,000 upwards, right up to the £50m plus mark. Clients are usually acquired through word of mouth.
Urquhart Stewart is keen to see the finance industry “go back to some of those standards the City of London used to known for: responsibility, respectability, and servicing the client.”
13. London Linen Supply
CAGR: 57.1 per cent
Turnover year 1: £7,850,000
Turnover year 3: £19,368,000
Established in 1935, London Linen Supply provides a range of linen and uniforms for the restaurant market, laundering the items and delivering fresh ones on a daily basis. The company is still family-owned and run – which has given them a loyal customer base.
Having conquered the restaurant linen market, the company branched out to create the subsidiary of London Workwear Rental and even more recently The Caterers Linen Supply. In expanding their offering, their client base has grown substantially, while turnover has more than doubled in the past three years.
The Caterers Linen Supply has acted as a blueprint for the group in terms of sustainability. Some of the £3.5m invested in the subsidiary went towards creating an environmentally friendly factory. They have built the only steam-free laundry in the UK – saving huge amounts of water, gas and energy.
14. Top10.com Media
CAGR: 56.1 per cent
Turnover year 1: £4,025,000
Turnover year 3: £9,806,000
Number 14 on our list, Top10.com is unique in our collection of fastest-growing companies: since our research took place they have been acquired by another company. Top10.com was the UK’s most popular comparison website for broadband and mobile phones, with over 1.5 million users a month. Offering consumer tools, market insight, news and product reviews, Top10.com was founded in 2006 by school friends Alex Buttle, Harry Jones and Tom Leathes. It has doubled in size every year since.
uSwitch.com, the utility comparison website, wanted to expand its offering and as the UK’s largest broadband and mobile comparison site, Top10.com was an obvious choice of merger. The original Top10.com team are still in place, working as part of uSwitch.com.
“We saw joining forces with uSwitch as a natural progression for Top10,” explains Tom Leathes, co-founder and director of Top10.com. “The two brands are a perfect fit – we both believe that consumers are looking for support and advice to help them find the best deal for their circumstances.”
15. Ixaris Systems
CAGR: 54.7 per cent
Turnover year 1: £3,543,000
Turnover year 3: £8,476,000
Ixaris creates innovative ways to make online payments. Using its technological expertise, the firm solves problems for small businesses that need global payment processing.
The company cemented its position as industry leader when it launched Visa Europe’s first virtual Visa card. This works in a similar way to its plastic counterpart but can be issued within minutes. If you want, you can even issue a new card for each transaction you make, providing huge security for your payments.
CEO Alex Mifsud’s background in computer science provided him with the knowhow he needed to develop the technology behind advanced payment methods. Founded in 2002, Ixaris launched its first product in 2003.
Initially it was self-funded, but the firm soon raised money through a number of business angels and seed funds. The Oxford Technology Fund backed it in the early stages.
“Once we had established some revenue,” explains Mifsud, “it took us a while to work out the business model. We decided to focus on the payment products and services themselves rather than selling the technology.”
Having grown from three co-founders to arou
nd 80 current staff, the firm is always ahead of the game and constantly watching what customers do, what they like – then using its technological and payment skills to deliver better products.
16. STM Security Group
CAGR: 51.8 per cent
Turnover year 1: £2,570,000
Turnover year 3: £5,922,000
STM works across a wide variety of industries, providing commercial security solutions. It offers a number of services, such as manned security and personal protection staff.
The company has been around since 2005, and progressed to its current form in 2008 when it invested heavily in infrastructure and decided to provide a different type of service to its clients.
Owners Perry Simpson and Humayun Shahzad put their significant growth of the past three years down to growing reputation and the use of a new technology infrastructure. They find that real-time reporting on their staff’s activity increased their service and efficiency.
“This emphasis on supplying trained and skilled customer service staff is a valuable addition to our clients’ core requirements and continues to complement their own business in a significant number of ways,” a spokesperson told us.
CAGR: 51.5 per cent
Turnover year 1: £2,207,000
Turnover year 3: £5,063,000
Fluidata specialises in wide-area broadband networks for business. It uses unique technology to bond networks together, giving companies the benefit of double speed and the security of a second network if one is to crash. As the only company to offer this service, growth has been organic for the internet pioneers.
Winner of the ISPA Best Business Broadband award 2001, Fluidata was started by young entrepreneur Piers Daniel in 2004. The company was born out of Daniel’s first enterprise, an IT consultancy, which he began at age 15.
“Because our service is agnostic, the client can change services if something is not working for them,” explains Daniel. “We have short contracts, a large turnover of technology and a team of dedicated account managers to accommodate this.”
Finance for the company began with credit cards. In 2006 it received angel investment in order to set up in London and grow the core offering. Finding the investment shoe didn’t fit, the founders bought their angels out nine months later, backed by family and an increased confidence in their success.
They are currently in talks about an acquisition of an associated company and are working closely with the UK government on their rural broadband plans.
18. avantage Reply
CAGR: 50.4 per cent
Turnover year 1: £4,291,000
Turnover year 3: £9,708,000
Formed in 2004, avantage was the brainchild of three risk management experts who saw a niche for a specialist consultancy that went beyond compliance advice.
The recent swathe of new financial regulations, and the post-recession demand for risk management compliance, have benefited business.
As co-founder Martin Clark says: “Never in history has there been so much work to do in risk management.” avantage has doubled in size since 2007. It has 90 staff spread across offices in London, Amsterdam, Edinburgh, Brussels and Luxemburg. In February this year, part of the original avantage was sold to Italian-German IT company Reply, giving rise to the new name avantage Reply and allowing access to new markets.
Clark cites difference in price, volume of experience and specialised knowledge as the points of difference from their competitors: “The big four consultancy firms are our main competition, but unlike them, we are not trying to be all things to all people.”
19. Lakehouse Holdings
CAGR: 43.4 per cent
Turnover year 1: £50,559,000
Turnover year 3: £103,993,000
Lakehouse was founded in 1988 by chief executive Steve Rawlings. The company works with social housing and other public buildings on refurbishment projects. It regenerates existing buildings, works closely on new builds and provides long-term repairs and maintenance.
“It is our aim to create better environments for people to live, work and learn,” says Rawlings.
Winner of HM The Queen’s Award for Enterprise: Sustainable Development 2011; Building Awards Diversity Champion of the Year 2011; and Building Awards Contractor of the Year 2010, the company has grown significantly since its inception and employs a workforce in excess of 300 staff. Turnover for 2009/10 was £104m.
Lakehouse has headquarters in Romford, Essex, and regional offices in Camden, Hackney, Richmond, Andover and Kent, enabling it to provide a full service throughout London and the south of England.
20. Advantage Travel Centres
CAGR: 42.7 per cent
Turnover year 1: £3,456,000
Turnover year 3: £7,036,000
Advantage is the UK’s largest group of independent travel agents, with a network of over 800 outlets across the country and an annual combined group turnover in excess of £3.5bn. It offers independent travel agents enhanced commissions, that only a strong buying group can secure, plus marketing support and cost savings.
“This ownership structure gives the organisation clarity of purpose to do the right things to boost wealth and add value to our members,” says marketing director Colin O’Neil.
Its own financial services company allows it to develop and introduce insurance products to meet changing conditions within the travel industry. The firm pioneered a disaster coverage policy (“Travel Disruption Insurance”), which protects agents against financial losses as a result of ash clouds, earthquakes and terrorism. As well as offering this to its members, the firm also sells it to the rest of the travel industry.
According to O’Neil, recent growth is down to restructuring the financial services company, the removal of non-profitable services and the introduction of new products.
Financial data provided by Jordans Ltd
- Ranked by turnover growth using the compound annual growth rate over the last three years of accounts filed with Companies House
- Company headquarters must have postcode within the M25
- Companies must have filed with Companies House full (long) accounts for the last three years – ie. including profit and loss
- Companies have to show year-on-year turnover increase for the three years
- Annualised turnover exceeds £250,000 in the base/first year
- Minimum £5m turnover and maximum £500m turnover in most recent/third year
- Must be profitable in most recent/third year
- Limited companies only (ie. no LLP, plc, CIC), no subsidiaries
- Cut off point for last filed accounts is 30 May 2011
- Must have either a website or number listed with BT Directory Enquiries (118500) (as of 25 July 2011)