Having set up three tech businesses and been in at the start of the ISP revolution, Simon Hansford is currently out to disrupt the cloud computing market for the public sector. He also tells us why he interrupted his honeymoon to go to a computer show.
What did winning the Sunday Times Hiscox Tech Track 100 in 2016 mean to you and your business?
It was superb to win and very motivational for everyone here. External recognition like this validates what we do and is an excuse to celebrate – something we don’t spend enough time doing. For our clients, it’s another talking point and I think makes us more interesting as a business to work with.
How has UKCloud developed in the twelve months since?
We continue to grow despite the current political uncertainty. Our market is exclusively UK public sector which is going through a massive change. No one was predicting Brexit in mid-2016 and, with the snap general election, there has been a public sector slowdown.
But we still remain very confident. The underlying issues for the public sector when it comes to IT are still there, which makes the benefits of cloud computing ever more relevant. We will carry on investing and growing our business, confident that public sector growth will return in 2018/19. I always talk about the ‘why’ rather than the ‘how’ and we think cloud computing is a massive way to save money, be more flexible and deliver public services faster.
What are your biggest challenges?
Aside from the political instability, we currently have 30-40 vacant positions but the skills we need are hard to find. Many of our specialists have unbelievable depth in a single skill and a lot of applicants think they have more experience than they really have.
Talking of recruitment challenges, do you see more women coming into the tech industry?
We are big promoters of diversity but I don’t see big changes yet unfortunately. Around 30% of our employees are women. I wish it was higher and we will actively recruit and campaign to increase that figure.
Do you see yourself as a serial entrepreneur?
I hate the word ‘entrepreneur’. I admit that I fit the dictionary definition of an entrepreneur and have started three businesses but the media portrayal of entrepreneurs is often of pompous self-promoters – like Dragons’ Den. I hope that I do not fit that image. It’s very anti- what I am. I drive a five-year old Suzuki Swift and am very happy with that.
Who has been your biggest influence?
When I was 18, I was lucky enough to go to Hong Kong to meet a close family friend who was a very successful CEO. He had a first from Cambridge University in civil engineering, trained as an accountant and then moved into sales. He motivated and inspired me to realise that to be a CEO I would need to work through different business functions to get the skills I needed.
So I worked in sales – starting out for an American software firm involved in data visualisation – then, while on honeymoon in Malaysia, I persuaded my new wife to come with me to a computer show in Singapore (I had to buy myself some long trousers and work shoes) which led to a job offer for WordPerfect in technical product management. After that I had roles in marketing and PR.
When I finally came back to the UK, I started my first business – an internet service provider. The launch of Freeserve undermined that business model overnight and we sold the business three days later but kept the hosting element and launched a new business, before leaving that in 2010 to set up UKCloud with my co-founder Jeffrey Thomas.
Do you work a punishing schedule?
I’m a 45-minute drive from the office and get in at 730am–745am. I usually finish at 6pm to spend time with my family. I’ll also spend half a day at the weekend on work. Away from the office I enjoy cycling and do local sportives whenever I can. I’ve also been doing occasional triathlons for the last six years.
What’s been your worst day at work?
Any time a client is not receiving a good service or has a tech problem is a heart stopping moment. Best moments? I love it when I hear a client say they have made a major cost saving using our service or how they can now get something done in hours that previously took months.
What business will be the next disrupter?
Can I name a business? No. But we have developed a culture at UKCloud that follows a number of values which includes disruption and innovation – focusing on anything that we can do to disrupt the industry to make things cheaper or faster. It’s the innovator’s dilemma – successful and enduring companies must be able to disrupt themselves in both their business and technical delivery models.
Are successful entrepreneurs lucky?
Luck always plays a part so I like to surround myself with people who are serially lucky! But if you only rely on luck, success might not be repeatable or sustainable.