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Horisk: Cupar web developer on running a company and artificial intelligence ‘before it was cool’

Brian Horisk speaks to The Courier about the highs and lows of his web development career.

Horisk founder Brian Horisk. Image: Steve Brown /DC Thomson
Horisk founder Brian Horisk. Image: Steve Brown /DC Thomson

Getting into Artificial Intelligence “before it was cool” and helping public sector businesses like Historic Scotland are all part of the charm of Cupar business Horisk.

We speak to founder Brian Horisk about missing out on the dotcom boom, developing a trusted web development company and the benefits of a good walk to help solve business worries.

How and why did you start in business?

As a teenager I was fascinated by computer programming and my degree was in Artificial Intelligence before it was cool.

I built my first website when working for a publishing company in 1995, but I was doing more general database development until 2001. I’d come back from three years in New Zealand and was keen to work in web development. A friend asked if I knew anything about a particular web programming language. I didn’t – but bought a book and two weeks later started as a contractor.

How did you get to where you are today?

I slowly built up a freelance web development business, but when I landed a big project in 2004 knew I needed some help.

I’d worked with Iain Leslie previously, so he joined me as a partner.

We started getting bigger projects with organisations including the Scottish SPCA and London School of Economics, and then began to grow the team.

Brian would much rather be out on his bike than stuck behind the wheel of a car. Image: Horisk

A big step-change for us was getting on to a Public Sector framework in 2017 – since then we’ve worked with lots of big organisations such as the Scottish Government, Historic Environment Scotland and Crown Estate Scotland.

We’ve always been technically strong, but we’ve gained and kept clients because our aim is to solve their problems and make things simpler to use, rather than sell them a product. We’re also good at explaining technical concepts to non-technical people.

Who helped you?

Lots of people. Our business mentor, Kenny Wiggins, has helped us focus more on the commercial side of the business over the years.

Business organisations like Fife Chamber and the FSB have helped us grow our network and pass our concerns to government. And there were a few key clients in the early days (you know who you are) who trusted us to deliver when we were less well-established.

My wife Clare died in 2021 after a long illness. It was obviously a really difficult time, but Iain and the team were fantastic at keeping the business delivering while I wasn’t around.

Having been through that, and now being a single parent, I have a much-improved perspective on work/life balance. It took a while for my work motivation to return, but I’m in a much happier place now.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever had?

You don’t have to be good at everything – focus on the type of work you’re really good at, rather than trying to offer everything your competitors do.

What is your biggest mistake?

Missing the dotcom boom. After building a few websites in the mid-‘90s, I couldn’t really see how people were going to make money out of the internet (online payments weren’t really a thing yet). So I went travelling in 1998 and ended up staying in New Zealand and the dotcom boom passed me by.

If I’d stayed in the UK, I could have established myself in the web business earlier and made some good money. But I don’t regret it as I had a great few years and also missed the dotcom crash.

What is your greatest achievement?

Building a small business that’s trusted by organisations large and small to develop business-critical, user-friendly systems and support them over the long-term.

How are you managing rapidly rising costs, and how could the government help?

Salaries are our biggest cost and we have to raise them to keep pace with inflation. As an extra reward for our staff, last year we moved to a 4.5 day week, without any reduction in salary.

If the UK Government wants to keep cutting tax, then reducing employers’ NI would help. The last few Budgets have ignored small business. But it might be better to invest in public services so the country has a healthier, happier and better-educated workforce.

What do you still hope to achieve?

We still have room to grow as a business and we’d like to be able to help many more businesses improve their productivity by moving their processes online.

What do you do to relax?

Anything outdoors – walking, cycling, running, climbing, skiing. Last week I managed to work out a tricky problem by going for a run! I love going for a long hillwalk with my partner Rosie and Teddy the labrador.

What are you currently reading, listening to or glued to on TV?

I mostly read crime fiction – currently an Ann Cleeves. I listen to lots of podcasts when walking the dog – current favourite is The Rest is Entertainment. I don’t watch TV much, but usually have a boxset on when I’m cooking – most recently The Tourist. That or old crime dramas on ITV3.

What do you waste your money on?

Is it wasting money if you enjoy it? Hanging out in nice coffee shops after a walk, or going to good restaurants.

What’s the first thing you do when you get up in the morning?

Make sure my daughter Evie is up for school, and then take Teddy for a walk.

What do you drive and dream of driving?

I don’t dream about cars – if the question was about bikes I could probably think of plenty!