Neal Gandhi founded his first tech company when he was 21 years old. It was 1988, Information Technology was in its infancy but he built up the business and sold it for £37million before he was 30. The young entrepreneur went on to found and sell three more firms, generating a further £80 million in the process.
Then, in 2012, he had a crisis. Aged 45, his second marriage broke up and he found himself wondering how and whether he could use his talents to do more than just make money. A brief attempt at voluntary work failed and Gandhi decided to return to what he was good at – technology.
This time, however, he wanted to establish a company that would have a social impact as well as creating returns for shareholders.
Help in a crisis: Neal Gandhi’s tech company The Panoply built a system to provide ventilators quickly for the NHS
In 2016, he and finance director Oliver Rigby set up The Panoply. Focusing on public sector bodies and charities, the business helps government departments, local authorities and non-profit organisations to use technology to save money, become more efficient and help more people.
The business has made impressive progress. Having joined the junior AIM market just two years ago, Panoply has already more than doubled in size. At £1.18, however, there is still plenty of potential in the stock. Too many government IT contracts cost the earth and fail to deliver. Panoply aims to be different.
Uncluttered by expensive, old-fashioned systems, the company offers technology that is reasonably priced, easy to operate and actually works.
In the spring, for example, when the Government was desperate for ventilator machines to help Covid19 patients, Panoply created an online platform from scratch that allowed UK manufacturers to work together and build the equipment that the NHS needed.
The system was up and running within two weeks, eliciting 5,000 responses from businesses willing and able to help. Homes England and the Planning Inspectorate are Panoply customers, too, adopting the group’s technology to streamline the planning process and encourage the development of more new homes.
Other customers include the NHS and the Government departments for education and transport as well as business, energy and industrial strategy.
Numerous local authorities also use Panoply’s software to improve processes and results in areas such as social care, housing benefit and unemployment so that councillors can do more for less and vulnerable people can obtain the support they need.
Charities such as Unicef and Diabetes UK have turned to Panoply as well to make online fundraising campaigns more effective.
Panoply is not just about doing good, however. The business is highly profitable and growing fast. Interim results will be published next week and Gandhi has said they will show double-digit sales and earnings growth. The group also intends to start paying dividends and a maiden payment will be revealed alongside the half-year figures.
For the year to next March 31, analysts expect revenues to increase by 34 per cent to £42.5million, with profits soaring 62 per cent to £4.7million. A total dividend of 0.6p is pencilled in, rising to 0.8p in 2022.
Gandhi is confident that group revenues will reach £100million over the next three years, with further growth thereafter. Panoply is already winning plenty of business from the public sector. As the company grows and earns its spurs in central and local government, Gandhi is likely to sweep up even more business.
To date, Panoply has expanded through a combination of organic growth and canny acquisitions. Starting with four businesses at flotation, the group now owns 11 firms and more deals are forecast.
In each case, Gandhi and Rigby don’t just look at what potential acquisitions do but also at what motivates the people behind them and whether they will fit with the Panoply culture. Research is extensive but it seems to work, as businesses have been melded together and often collaborate on projects.
At the start of the year, there were concerns the Covid-19 pandemic might knock Gandhi off course. Instead, cash-strapped Government bodies are keener than ever to find nimble firms that can help them use technology effectively, rather than large, traditional providers who seem more adept at wasting billions of pounds of taxpayer money than delivering results.
Midas verdict: The Panoply is an unusual name for a company but Gandhi chose it because he wanted to build an impressive collection of businesses. The strategy has proved successful so far but Gandhi is determined to do more. His track record is encouraging and he owns more than 14 per cent of the business so he is incentivised to make it work. At £1.18, the shares are a buy.
Traded on: AIM Ticker: TPX Contact: thepanoply.com or 020 3405 0206