Company Founder Interview With Martyn Hodgson: I met Martyn, Founder and CEO of Accounting and Business Solutions company Swirral, on Linkedin, when he approached me as part of his proactive outreach strategy on Linkedin. His approach was so different that he’s one of only a handful of Linkedin contacts whom I have accepted without previously knowing them. We have subsequently built a professional relationship. His unusual approach is also reflected in his company, Swirral. Read the interview to find out more.

Martyn Hodgson combines the structured and analytical mind of an accountancy and financial professional, with the creative and commercial vision of a marketer and entrepreneur. By his own admission, it has taken him some time to hone this combination into something that is now incredibly powerful and relevant. With marketing and sales disciplines becoming ever more technical and analytical, Martyn appears to have hit the nail on the head.

By creating Swirral, has Martyn Hodgson identified a niche or a mainstream application for his knowledge and experience? Here’s the interview:

founder interview with martyn hodgson

Hi Martyn, let’s start at the beginning: Have you always wanted to start your own business? What inspired you?

Not really. My Dad was accountant and he quite rightly identified that I was good with numbers. He guided me in which direction to go initially, so I started down the defined path of an accountancy degree then and qualifying in practice.

I was a slow starter and it took me a while to mature. The way my mind works is that I first need to see the bigger picture to get the full context. Compared to others who are quick off the mark, it takes me a little longer to get setup with a structured approach. But, as a result, I typically overtake others with that approach, even though they may have started faster.

I always knew I wanted to work in business, so the pathway to becoming a Financial Director (FD) was the obvious one. I wanted to be where the action was, rather than in accountancy practice. So, I went for a Financial Controller and then FD role in manufacturing & engineering. And because I followed that structured pathway, I never really considered my own business. Whereas others, who study or work in sectors with less defined pathways, may be more open to considering their own business. But I also knew I didn’t have the skills to become a Managing Director and I didn’t want to be an FD forever.

I began work for a company called Ananova, which – during the early web-years – provided a web-oriented news service via a computer generated “talking head”. I learned a lot about internet marketing in that role. It was a huge learning curve. I also learned from online sources, which was a piece of cake, as it was so logical, for example how SEO works and why content influences it etc. I subsequently applied my knowledge by co-founding Physiobench in 2008, an online physiotherapy practice.

When Ananova was acquired by Orange In 2000, I moved across to Orange. It was near the time my first child was born and, being in my mid-30s, I needed something to enjoy rather than a role that would take up all my time and bring little family time or personal enjoyment. I started getting more involved with commercial aspects, such as marketing etc. I had much more fun doing that than just the finance side. I always need a new challenge and I just couldn’t see myself only looking after financial aspects.

At Orange I created an incubation team and learned rapidly about a whole variety of commercial and technical aspects as mobile was expanding. It propelled me into the internet space in the early 2000s. I learned a lot from a many very smart people in Orange. There was a very strong strategy focus. I listened a lot to my colleagues and was wowed by the insight and understanding they had of what lay ahead. I emulated what they did and since then have been looking at sources of information that provide the insight and basis for that strategic foresight.

founder interview with martyn hodgson

So how did Swirral come about?

Eventually after the France Telecom transition my time at Orange came to an end and I decided to leave.

I recognised that my core strength – after all – was finance, but wanted a broader scope than the traditional financial focus. I setup by myself offering interim FD services to clients and offered marketing advice as part of the package. This scope evolved over time by working with a couple of big businesses as virtual FD. With the rise of cloud-based accounting, it was obvious to me that I should offer a larger services portfolio with accounting services being only the entry point – as opposed to the end-point – for my clients.

Then, one day, I sat in a conference and listened to a discussion between FinTech founders about trying to connect Xero (an accounting application) to their new systems. By targeting the business owners who used Xero, it dawned on me that their accountants needed to become the guardians of their clients’ data, yet all they were focusing on was the processing of the data itself.

I quickly realised that this was my calling. I had already been the “data guardian” at Orange years earlier, but I could now see it had become an even more important aspect and companies needed help with this. I was able to draw from 25 years’ experience and there is a gap in the market for a commercially focused advisor with deep expertise in finance. The closest role is a generalist “business advisor”, but often they lack the deep financial focus, while most accountants won’t look at the commercial aspects and will only consider the final year end numbers – as opposed to the underlying business drivers & the raw data.

I setup Swirral on the basis that I had to outsource the services that I can’t (or don’t want to) offer myself. It was a big step, especially if you’re not busy and you’d prefer to have the money yourself. But it allowed me to grow.

My previous company was called “Organic Business Growth” and I offered my services as part-time FD to clients, but its direction and strategy for growth was never fully defined. Several contracts came to a natural end and that triggered the move over to Swirral. I started Swirral in 2016 with a new business model in mind, which is to offer a wide portfolio of marketing and commercial business services, as well as the accounting and financial advisory side. These services are integrated for customers to gain a deeper insight into opportunities of what enables, drives, and grows their business.

What is more difficult: winning your first 5 paying customers or the next 20? And why?

It’s fairly easy to pick up the first few customers, as they come from friends and warm contacts. The next 20 are harder because they require going out to connect with people you don’t know and asking for their business, generally through several channels. For that early second tranche of new customers, it’s too early to be picking up work through referrals from the initial clients.

What enabled you to grow your business?

At the core were two things. One was being part of AVN, a proactive group of accountants who share best practice, tools, systems to avoid having to recreate the wheel. The second was finding out how to generate high numbers of leads through LinkedIn.

As I mentioned earlier, it was also important to let go of – and outsource – areas of the business that Swirral offers, but that I didn’t want to deliver in-house.

But ultimately it comes back to that moment I had the Eureka moment when I sat in that FinTech conference. That’s what triggered the focused approach, which now allows me to work towards a defined and future-proof goal.

Which is more important for sustainable revenue growth: Marketing or Sales? Why?

I’m never sure what falls into each heading. I’m not into selling, preferring to use smart analytics to find the right prospects then open dialogue with them. So, I guess the answer is marketing.

What is the best business advice you have ever been given?

Spend 80% of time listening and 20% of time talking

What is your favourite business book, and why?

Flash Foresight by Daniel Burrus. It has added structure to my thinking and improved my ability to accurately predict likely outcomes over the next 5 years for clients

What is next for Swirral?

By December 2018 be generating enough income to enable my wife to quit the NHS. She deserves a break after 25 years.

Thanks for sharing your experience and story with us Martyn.

It was entirely my pleasure.

For more information about Swirral, go to If you’d like to connect with Martyn, you can find him on Linkedin (


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Lev Cribb started INBND to address one big problem: the disconnect between lead generation and sustainable revenue growth. Or in other words, between marketing and sales. He saw too many companies grow inspite of their lead generation efforts, not because of them. INBND brings the passion, expertise and focus to drive change in your organisation. Get in touch today and find out how a modern approach to revenue generation can help accelerate your growth.