What led to you launching your business, Cloud9 Insight?
I started Cloud9 about 10 years ago, and it was an opportunity to support small businesses to deploy CRM in the cloud for the first time, because I saw a trend of more and more clients moving to the cloud. There’s an opportunity to help clients with making the most of their data in the SME space, plus they’re able to use Microsoft technology to get more insights – hence the name Cloud9 Insight. At the time, most of my competitors were still looking to sell on premises-software, but I saw a gap in the market.
Historically, what I’d seen with enterprise clients I had worked with, is that CRM projects had been at least a year long, and often you’d question whether the business had moved on since the definition stage of the project, and if it was still fit for purpose. I think projects these days need to be a lot more agile to support clients with business transformation; for me, working with cloud technology allows that agility.
There’s a quote on your website where you say you have a love of change and disruption – what does that mean to you, as a tech leader and expert?
I think it comes naturally to me. I’m moderately dyslexic, and some say that dyslexics are quite creative people. I find it hard to read anything without having a pen and paper in my hand, because I always got lots of ideas, and I think part of the reason that entrepreneurs have often been so successful as dyslexics is that we often think differently. If you look at tackling problems the same way they’ve always been tackled before, then you’ll probably come up with the same answers – but if you can address things differently, then maybe you might come up with a better opportunity.
When I started my business, I moved almost immediately to the Alps; I hadn’t worked in the Microsoft channel, and I had no preconceptions about what did a Microsoft partner selling CRM did. That meant my business model turned out very different to a lot of others. I also recruit a lot of young people into my business – which is why I’ve set up an apprenticeship programme, called Vantage Academy – and having them involved in the business has helped maintain that creative, disruptive model.
So is company culture very important to you?
Definitely. I used to work at IBM, and it was quite normal to travel around different offices around the country, visit your clients and just pop in and hot desk. Depending on which office you went to, some people were a bit more chatty and you got to hear a little bit more about what they’re doing. But what I noticed about my business, as it was growing, was it was becoming departmentalized and siloed in the same way that many of my clients complain about. I didn’t want that; I don’t want the salespeople not working with the support people, or projects people, and so on. There’s so much opportunity to learn when you have conversations with colleagues across different parts of the organisation, and I really wanted to make sure that we worked as a team.
I know you’re a big advocate for diversity in the workplace, and in the general realm of technology – what are some of the benefits diversity can bring?
First of all, organisations need to make sure that the demographics of who they employ reflects the demographics of who you’re selling to, because it’s difficult to understand them otherwise. Certainly in a B2C market, having representation across age groups in your workforce is really important. What I’ve found is that what really motivates the older generation is the ability to be a mentor and a leader to those that don’t yet have the experience. They want to give back.
As for younger people, they have energy, ambition and hunger to pass on to across the workplace, allowing great things to happen, and I think it increases the performance of my overall team. Diversity could also be gender; certainly in many sectors like tech and oil and gas, it is heavily biased towards males, and a lot of my staff do tell me that it’s nice to have a more balanced workplace.
I’m a lot more people centric than maybe a lot of my peers might be; I like to embrace the people and the value of people in businesses, both within my clients and within my own team. That’s really important to me.
You wrote a piece about how working from home is changing attitudes to work, specifically citing children gatecrashing video calls and how that represents how the life part of work-life balance can no longer just be hidden away – with technology supporting people really successfully to work from home, will things ever go back to ‘normal’?
I think there’s no going back to ‘normal’, for sure. The old way is not going to exist at all. There’s two types of businesses: those who are probably kidding themselves and just about surviving, and those who are probably a lot more agile and forward-thinking, who are going to look at the trends that have been happening, jump onto those trends and allow a lot more flexibility around people working from home.
The other great thing about this mobility of the workforce, is that maybe your team don’t even have to be in the vicinity of your office – maybe not even the vicinity of the UK. Maybe we can tap into where the best talent is.
How do you think female entrepreneurship can be encouraged in tech, and other STEM industries?
I love that question. One of the exciting things about me being able to set up an apprenticeship business is I’m definitely going to use my voice and position to be a great advocate for younger females to come into the tech sector. I think there might be a perception that you need to have technical skills, but having great leadership skills, having creative skills are also very important and greatly valued in the sector. It’s just trying to open the younger generation’s mind, especially for young females, as to the skills that they have inherently, in great abundance, how are they valued, and how can they use those skills to make a difference.
And for me, technology is a great enabler of change and making a difference. I’d like to see schools working more with younger people to help them feel confident about working with technology. When I hire people that are fresh out of school, I’m absolutely dismayed by how few skills they have in using technology. That crosses all genders, but it’s really sad to see the percentage of females attending degree courses that are highly attended by males. However, when you look overseas at places like Poland, they have a much greater balance, so I think we have a lot to learn about what is it that overseas countries are doing that we’re not. I suspect that starts at a young age in school, and if we could create more entrepreneurs, then our economy will be much more successful.
So it’s about encouraging STEM topics in schools, full stop, not just for girls but all genders, in order to fill that skills gap.
Yes, absolutely. I think that if there’s more integration between businesses and their involvement in schools, and that opportunities to learn entrepreneurship and problem-solving using technology exist, that might open their eyes.