Earlier this month, Zak and Benji Borg, co-founders of ANCHOVY, and James Abela and Matthew Sammut, co-founders of NIU Ltd, announced that they would be joining forces to form a comprehensive technology and digital services group known as 9H Capital, with the aim of building on their individual experiences to create the largest digital services offering in Malta.
Sitting down for a chat about it with Matthew and Zak, we start by casting our gaze back to where it all started. For NIU, its foundations were laid 15 years ago, when Matthew was still at University, where he met his business partner, James. “We were studying IT, and we decided to start building websites for clients instead of taking the usual summer jobs. Our first client was actually my driving instructor,” he smiles. From then on, the business grew by word of mouth, going from strength to strength.
Meanwhile Zak started ANCHOVY some 10 years ago alongside his brother, Benji. “I studied software engineering for real time systems in Germany, but found that there wasn’t really a job in that industry in Malta. So, when my brother returned from California where he studied design, we decided to go into business together,” Zak recalls, explaining that their first foray into the business sphere was via the creation of an app, before launching their marketing services for clients. Since then, key milestones have included internationalising their business, as well as taking a bond issue four years ago.
In recent years, NIU and ANCHOVY have come together to collaborate on several projects for clients, bringing together their individual strengths and areas of expertise. “ANCHOVY’s forte is design, branding and marketing, and ours is the development side of things, so we complement each other very much in that respect,” Matthew explains, noting that the projects they worked on together resulted in some of their best work, so it was natural to discuss merging their operations, “not just for ourselves but also for our clients.”
“The merger took us from 30 employees to 70, and we are now tackling the full spectrum of services, not just web development but also design and marketing,” he continues, as Zak nods in agreement. “Together, we now offer clients a service which is unique locally, taking them through the entire process from idea to end product with one contact person.”
The partnership also comes with other advantages, Zak explains. “When you’re based in a small island like Malta, it’s difficult to do international work. Our combined resources create bigger economies of scale, and the overarching principle is creating this mass that can take us abroad. It’s also changing the status quo in our industry locally, where mergers don’t often happen,” he notes, adding that this is just the beginning of what they have in mind.
“We’ve kept the two brands independently, ANCHOVY and NIU, and have created a new holding company called 9H Capital, named after the call sign for aircrafts in Malta. We are doing this so that together, we can really set our sights on the international market, with a view toward acquiring more companies,” he explains, thus paving the way for an international growth programme in the rapidly growing sector.
Delving into their individual leadership styles and qualities, it’s clear that Matthew and Zak share a similar mindset which they utilise to propel their companies forward. “To be a good leader, you need to have passion for what you’re doing. You need to wake up in the morning and love it,” Matthew says, adding that honesty is another important quality. “More work will come if you’re honest and treat clients with respect.”
“It’s so important to build good relationships with clients,” Zak highlights, adding that internally, good leadership is also about knowing how to motivate your team. “It’s understanding a person and seeing how far you can push that person so that they progress in their career. People are different and are motivated in different ways.”
As for important lessons learned along their journey, Matthew shares, “talk less and listen more. Both when it comes to clients and employees,” as Zak adds, “trust your gut. You’re driving the ship – listen to the advice you’re given, but your gut is rarely wrong!”
And now, as the pair sets their sights on the future, they look at the main opportunities going forward, to continue to grow both organically and exponentially, through 9H Capital. “We still have some hard work ahead in that we have to finish the integration between both companies. We have an office in Saudi and one in Dubai which we’re also working to take to the next level. The biggest challenge in all of this is to start embarking on raising more capital to give us the fuel to keep on going in relation to 9H Capital. This is our vision, and now it’s about getting there,” says Zak.
We close our chat with their final words of advice for aspiring leaders. For Matthew, it’s all about taking the plunge and avoiding getting caught up in the details. “Sometimes, the more elaborate your plan is, the more at risk of failure it is. It’s important to focus on the essentials: the right people, the right product or service, at the right time. Develop it as quickly as possible and get customer validation, and based on that feedback, keep building on it,” he maintains.
And finally, Zak adds, “don’t give up! That’s the only way it’ll definitely never happen. Give it your 100 per cent. You can’t go at 95, because you’ll almost certainly be outrun.”
Photos by Inigo Taylor. Shot on location at Malta Marriott Hotel & Spa.
The interview forms part of the 50 Business Leaders 2022 project. The new online serialisation on MaltaCEOs.mt will feature 50 distinguished business leaders, CEOs, and emerging business minds to create debate and encourage business leaders to share their journey with our readers.
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