Episode 41 of The Andy Show
NICKY PENNYCOOK [00:00:40] Hello and welcome to today’s Andy Show. I’m your host again, Nicky Pennycook. Today is the 16th of June. Fairly sunny outside, a bit cloudy too. And so today we’re back to the tech industry. We’ve got a really lovely guest today with a bit interesting background as well. So we’re about to hear it all about that. He is Tim Mercer, who is the CEO of Vapour Cloud. Hi, Tim.
TIM MERCER [00:01:13] Hi Nicky, how are you?
NICKY PENNYCOOK [00:01:14] I’m good, thank you. How are you doing?
TIM MERCER [00:01:16] Yeah. Very nice. Thank you.
NICKY PENNYCOOK [00:01:18] Well, thank you for joining us today. I’ve got a lot of questions here. Hopefully we can get all of these. So I’m just going to jump straight in and so to begin with could you tell us a little bit about you and why you started out?
TIM MERCER [00:01:33] Some I’m Tim Mercer, “I’m 50, from it seems”. From Halifax originally and as you said, I’m the founder of Vapour Cloud. And we are a tech company that delivers voice platforms, network and back of the storage and infrastructure platforms. And going to the tech industry about 20 years ago. Now, after having a short career, about 7 years in the military and then working for Virgin Media business for about 11 years.
NICKY PENNYCOOK [00:02:04] Great. Interesting. So will come back to probably a bit more about Vapour Cloud and I’ve got a few questions on your time in the armed forces. So I can mixed these up a little bit. So what are some of the biggest highlights from your time in the forces?
TIM MERCER [00:02:25] Well, I joined really young, so I joined as a boy, so when I was 16. I didn’t really know what to do at school. I wasn’t the best academically at school so I joined the military. I joined as a chef, actually, and did my soldiering course and then didn’t like it at all, being a chefs so, well, I think I was in about 6 and a half years, I took a turn of Ireland and I was in the first Gulf War so, I thought done my stride after that and came out and really wanted to pursue a career out and about.
NICKY PENNYCOOK [00:03:03] Yeah. So, obvioulsy, to some people who probably as caught a big jump from the military into a tech career and you mentioned venture in business as well. How did you find that transition from the services into the city life? Did you face many challenges. How did it go for you?
TIM MERCER [00:03:23] I think I was quite lucky because I came out when I was about 23-ish, something like 23 and a half, something like that. And I’m still young enough to pursue a career in another area. I have seen some of the guys who’ve been in a long time who struggled to pursue a career when they came out. It did become so militarised and struggle to just civilian street, civvy street, as they call it. I didn’t want to do that. We’ve been in Iraq for about 8 months, something like that and then we came back and a lot of we were sat in a trench with UNL having to call Sergeant, and clean your boots and do a lot on it and it sort of lost its appeal, really, for me. You know, what’s commanding is different. So the transition for me was okay because I was young enough. I had a, you know, a good support structure around me and, you know, pretty level headed anyway. But I think it’s because of my age more than anything. And it allowed me to adapt to a different role. What role, as most people come out of force, isn’t it? Not particularly. I’m not an engineer and I’ve not got a trade. I wasn’t going to go to Ramsey, the cooking world, obviously. I enjoyed being a soldier much more than anything else. And it used to go to look for a role and then we normally fold lots of his fall into sales roles in commanding forces. I was the same, you know, sold all sorts from cars to photocopiers to printers, all sorts of stuff before, you know, I settled on technology, let’s say in 1999 when I worked for what was the cable industry then, which is Telewest, and then turned into into Virgin Media. Telewest merged with NTL and NTL and became Virgin Media business. And the rest is history, as they say.
NICKY PENNYCOOK [00:05:06] So, now you’re the CEO and Founder of Vapor Cloud. And I also have my notes that you’re celebrating the 7th birthday this year. What are the things that your career highlights?
NICKY PENNYCOOK [00:05:20] Well from Vapor?
NICKY PENNYCOOK [00:05:22] Yes.
TIM MERCER [00:05:24] Well, I think, you know, I worked at Virgin for about 11 years and had a decent role. I was a Regional Sales Manager, decent money, married, lot, house, etc., etc., and sold it all to start Vapor. So sold my house, cars, all the whole luxury to me. I was supported by my wife, which is great. We don’t have any children then, so I’m almost on the way. We just had one or two pregnant with one almost on the way. So it was a big leap of faith. We went and got some private equity. So I think the biggest thing for us, was for me, the challenge was setting it up and surviving. I know that’s the challenge, we had no customers. We’ve had customers in the industry, but they were all much bigger. And, you know, when you’re building people’s corporate networks for them and voice platforms, they have to be confident that you’re going to be around, you know, their contracts and then you go bust a year later. So we really had to find our feet and really build up our company over like, we say, 7 today, this month. Which is a real, you know, if you’re just gonna like a whirlwind, done it, obviously, it got some point. But we’ve got fantastic team around us and the that was it. The folks around us, we will get a great team and we will build a business and as I said, we’ve got some private equity money. Private equity buys a “fairly happy, that’s fine”. So I guess it’s I’d say that’s my biggest challenge was putting it all on the line and making it work.
NICKY PENNYCOOK [00:07:01] Wow, that’s great. You’re celebrating its 7th birthday and hopefully your nice and well established now. And so, obviously things are changing a lot. My “rent” with everything that’s going on in the world. And what impact do you think the telecoms or the digital attacking issue will have on shaping businesses as we look to the future?
NICKY PENNYCOOK [00:07:22] I think if you look at what’s happened over the last few months, we are at the forefront of making businesses, they supported really. Simple stuff to support their security platforms and services when they’re out, when their working from home or whatever they might be working from. And how they can integrate back into that workplace. And as with most tech industries, whether you’re selling “how I say like” recurring revenue business like we do. As a SaaS model, everybody was incredibly busy around March time when everyone was sent home. And the challenge is making sure that they can work securely and easily from their homes or far from wherever they are and the businesses continue to run. So we’re all really busy. We’ve had a record quarter. We’ve done one of our biggest deals ever and what you will “cost us for long, not really”. Which is great, I wish you were working on it previously, but not just coming out of the other end and thinking about the technology and what we can do with it. So, you know, an answer to that question, I think you’re going to see that a lot more. You’re going to see technology having a bigger driver. I think you’ll see at the budget table a lot more, people taking where you would see the people who wanted to make cuts previously. I.T. at spend was always at the forefront of the call from the boardroom, it’s been like that. In a lot of industries for a long number of years, I think, hopefully that will reverse and people will understand if you invest in the technology, you invest in your business. And I think that’s been prevalent, we’ve been seeing over the last few months.
NICKY PENNYCOOK [00:08:59] Yeah, absolutely. And so, you obviously in an industry, I know you’re in the office today. But you’re in an industry that’s largely working from home at the moment. We touched upon it, but do you think the trend is gonna stay when we go back to normal? Whatever the new normal looks like, and I’ve seen a lot of people have now been able to work from home. Do you think that will stay the case?
TIM MERCER [00:09:27] Well, thankfully, you’ve told people that I’m working from the office because that is not my wallpaper behind me. This is not standard for me to have the company blazoned all over the living room or the dining room “is right that way”. So I up in the office for a couple of weeks or so and we’re ready for people to come out to work. We’ve got all our COVID check, as it where we would demand how assessments for people to come back. Let’s not be a challenge for people as well. Have they got enough space? How did we get people back? Consider it to “be true”, etc., etc., But we’re ready. I must set to you before we came over. I know I’ve got a full house at my house. I’ve got children. I’ve got mother in law. And I’ve got a sister over from America. So, yeah, we’re busy and it’s quite nice to be out the way a little bit. But I do think the trend will continue, I do. I think there would be a hybrid does a lot more choice to think out there in the business community, people working from home. I think there was a previously, I think those are a little bit of distrust around, would people be working? Would they be watching sky sports when they should be working and all that sort of stuff. I think with the new technology and how they log on and a unified communications and whatever the platforms may be that they working on, there’s a lot more trust from the business. I know there’s a lot more trust for most, we’rre asymptomatic of that. We’re actually we’ve got a year left to run on this lease in this building here, we won’t renew this lease. We’ll take a smaller office because when we spoke to the staff, the staff wants to be able to come in and out, work from home. They like a shared office. They like somewhere that’s got, you know, a restaurant and a bar and a bit more of a meeting area and that’s all stuff with other people. So we’ve got to start looking at that. But, yeah, people will work from home a little bit more, or in an area where they feel comfortable gonna working. And I think you’ll start seeing that, that much more across business.
NICKY PENNYCOOK [00:11:18] Yeah, absolutely. I think we mentioned the bar and restaurants that I think weirdly like even though, everyone’s in a lockdown or at home. It’s when we’ve made people more sociable. And it sounds like you guys that kind of more avenue having that bar and restaurant kind of feel. And that if people are gonna be staying at home after this is all over, but also, if we do go back into a lockdown situation, how can businesses create a robust strategy so that they can prepare in your right way? And should anything like this happen again?
TIM MERCER [00:11:57] Well, I think it’s almost been attest, doesn’t it? Well, you know, if anything like this happens again how we prepared? I mean, technically, I mean, you know, in the business community and our social lives as well. I think a lot of instances, you know, can we sustain it? Can we handle it? Because we’ve done a lot more Zoom calls, you know, we’ve done a lot more Team calls or, you know, Space’s calls on the Viber platform, whatever whichever platform you want to go. I think what you do find without ways that you jump from one meeting to the next meeting to the next meeting. And if you bit like me where you normally travel, and you go to a meeting and then you have a little bit of downtime before you get to the next meeting. I think it’s the Zoom burn out? If that’s what they want to call it, but video burn out. But you don’t get in time to process those meetings before you get into the next one. And I am guilty of that. I’ve tried to put some spaces in between those meetings and also not do as many videos. Go back to doing the normal conference calls. It’s not, “as made up” to see everybody every day. I do think we’re better prepared. And I do think businesses are better prepared to understand what’s gonna happen to them if this happens again after the second spike? What happens in the winter ? Or whatever it might be, whatever challenges we might have moving forward. I do think the businesses are understand what it’s like, not technically, but actually on your culture and on your staff. What challenges it puts on you as a leader? One. But also what challenges it puts on your staff. You know, working from home, how to manage the children, home school, that all those challenges are put in place. It’s not like you said by any means yet. And, you know, especially if you’re a single parent, it’s even harder. You know where, you’ve got to try and work and do all those things of that. So I think, you’re worried about getting to that is that you’ve got to be flexible. The businesses have got to be flexible. They’ve got the right culture. You’ve got the right stuff as well. You know, don’t get me wrong, but we have to be a little bit more flexible, a little bit more dynamic than we have been before, which is you come into work, you go home, you come into work, you go home. There has to be that little bit more flexibility and definitely use a technology that’s available.
NICKY PENNYCOOK [00:14:19] That leads very nicely into my next question about flexible working. And you’re obviously bringing in those measures to help yourself and your staff. Do you think other firms are doing it correctly in your experience?
TIM MERCER [00:14:36] Yes, I do. I think everybody’s trying to do it in the right way. Again, rather than getting a soapbox around whether it is the right information that’s been tried and delivered towards that some other conversation. But I do think the leaders of the businesses that we do, where they’re trying to do it in the right way. You know, to try to look after the staff. They’re trying to make sure that they’re leading in the right way, they’re trying to make sure in most instances that if they fell out that they’re coming back. All they’ve got jobs, that the jobs have always been available. We’re looking at in front of anybody here. Because the environment that we’re in, we’ve got to support those customers. Night and day. You know, in our industry, it’s slightly different, but, you know, we look after a company called BCTC “600,” which- they are the biggest car dealers in Britain. They’ve got 50 car dealerships. And, you know, it was a challenge for those guys. How did they manage and support and look after the stuff with everybody else as well? And how did you bring them back? So, you know, I take my hat off to them, you know. Things did change for us. But we’re actually busy, really busy in March and April, you know, setting people up and getting going. And then we’ve just been supporting people and helping them and picking the tickets up and supporting their I.T. teams and making them work. You know, I think the challenge is COVID, people are, as you can imagine, are in hospitality and travel and things like that where it’s actually just, you know, it’s just added a death for them. And how does that? How do they get support? So I tell them it’s not easy, but I do believe that we are all been trying to do in the right way.
NICKY PENNYCOOK [00:16:09] Absolutely. So obviously, I’ve seen we’ve had the discussion. People have like the way we working has completely changed and we’ve completely had to adapt in a very quick span of time. So now that organisations are sitting up and paying attention to unified “comms” as a result of everything that’s happening currently. What can you tell us about its benefits?
TIM MERCER [00:16:34] Well, I think if you look at how businesses have survived on working and keeping going, then they’ve been using unified communications and I think lots of them in different “guises”. If you’re running your business in some way, shape or form, you’ve got a unified communications strategy. Whether they had a dial strategy for this very instance, is an another conversation. And I think lots of people will now have a much more robust strategy moving forward. You know, we had a lot of customers that said, you know, right, okay, what do we do? Help us. And we had lots of customers said invoked that. And we know what we’re doing and we know where we going. And “that, our” strategy in a lot of instances meant there were much more people working from home for much more sustained period of time. So they needed to be paying clients and different firewall rules and different security processes and things like that. But in general, most people had something that they thought about. And if they didn’t, we could get them up and running fairly quickly. I think you ought change the thought process around the businesses moving forward. What do they do? As I said earlier about when you look around the board table, what you’re going to invest your money in? Moving forward, you’ll invest your money. Or you should be investing your money in your technology stack to make sure that you can run a sustainable business. If something like this ever happens again and you can support your clients, what are you selling? Sweet. So I am in bars, in “reddens”, whatever it may be, bicycle’s, whatever it will be. That you can support your staff and your clients and your customers. Because I think that’s been the challenge for some people. It’s actually getting them up and running. Fine. But sustainably getting them up and running and keeping them supported has been a better challenge. I hope, as I said earlier, that more money comes into that border, not just for us, because I know that our filter down tools, and I get that. I’m not just waxing lyrical about sending money into our pockets, but I’m also making sure that I want to make sure that people are doing things in the right way, in the right amount of technical. Utilising the right technologies so that they can be more sustainable moving forward and they don’t get stuck if this ever happens again.
NICKY PENNYCOOK [00:18:50] Absolutely, absolutely. And if have touched on it, but I’m gonna make it more specific to you. How have you found this period has much changed for you as a business? Have you seen it staying fairly the same? Or how have you had to work around that?
TIM MERCER [00:19:09] I think we’ve got the challenges like everybody else. In the business, this was built, as you can imagine, for this very reason, we work from home anyway. Lots of us. We don’t particularly have a work from home policy, as it were. People work from home if they want to work from home, as long as we know where they are, if it should be in the office. We know that they’re coming into the office. We don’t want to feel that the staff in the morning and we don’t know where they are and we’re not expecting them. So we actually want to know whether you’re coming in or not. But we’ve got that policy around. If you want to come in, great. If you don’t, don’t. And we’ve always have that. I think the challenge is being around the culture, around people. You know, technology. We can all work around it. We can always sort people out, look after customers. But it’s about our staff that’s most important in our culture. And I think that’s where some of I struggle with. I’ve had a couple of Mondays where I’m thinking and I’m probably one of the most positive people around and thinking, I’ve had enough of this. I almost want to do it “everyday”, as I said, you know what today? And so we’ve got those. You know, I said a few weeks ago, say on the Monday, you know what, guys? It’s not for me today. I’m just don’t fancy it. So I’m turning my phone off. And unless you really, really need me, let me know. But don’t ask me from and we’ve had the same. So I think that’s, we have to be supportive of that. And I think that’s been our biggest challenge is making sure that even though the staff are remote that we look after them in the right way. And I think that’s been one of the biggest challenges for me is making sure that. We’ve kept up to date with that. And, you know, we share with everyone with “tractable”. Quizes and whether Zoom, under the week where it was our birthday and our PR company previous birthday and we bought an online facial. So we all did facials and all that sort of stuff and just had a bit of a laugh and a drink. So there’s plenty that goes on. But I do think we have to understand that the mental side of it as well. That can have a challenge as they do, especially if you’re a single parent on your own. You might be at your house for 10 weeks, you know, and that’s a massive challenge for people. So I think that’s what our biggest challenge is being. Technology we can live with. We can always work around but headspaces is a different angle.
NICKY PENNYCOOK [00:21:30] Yeah, definitely. Obviously, mental health has been so prominent at the moment as well. And they said, there is people on their own at home who’s getting that interaction that they would have had before. And it’s going to work was that interaction say. So, it’s really nice to have like that co-chair and hopefully everyone’s sort of come to terms with things a bit easier with that. And so distance of summarize and finish up? Well, obviously, this year has been completely unheard of. Like, no one would have expected this happening 6 months ago. But as we start looking into 2021, what do you anticipate for the future of tech? And are there any big trends that you are expecting to come next year?
TIM MERCER [00:22:26] Personally, being tested to see what video does, you know, because we so used to doing this, right? We used to see whether this is going to stay in some way, shape or form. And how we’re going to embrace that? Because I think before this, we weren’t embracing it that much. And we’ve probably moved on 2 or 3 years, maybe 5 years in speed from using video. I think that’s also worked massively in the health industry. We’ve seen a massive push forward in health and around tech and pushing forward and some of those barriers breaking down the old school, as it were, which is what we’ve never done it like that before. We’re not gonna do that. We’re not gonna try that. I think you’ll see a lot more challenges. I think you’ll see a lot more people open to try and technology. I hope so, anyway. I think you’ll see a bit more automation. Especially for large contact sentences. How we start seeing A.I. automate into those environments. And you know as well as I do, once you start once you start bringing the bar in a larger corporate level and then dropping that down, it drops down into SMEs. I think the drop down would be much quicker than ever has been before. I think businesses will be more open to the technology and more open to their I.T. teams coming in saying can we test this? Can we have a look to that? Can we integrate into this this? Can we build an application for that? Can we do this? I think there’ll be much more around that. So I don’t see an underlying change per se, if you know something’s going to come in and disrupt the whole market space. I think we’ve moved on significantly. In the last 3 months, I think it’s opened people’s eyes a lot more. I think you’ll see a lot more people working from home, I do. I think you’ll see a lot more people been open to it. Staff being open to it. Lead has been open to it and a big companies as well, I know lots of them already do. But how does that work? And how does that say? And will we start? Will we start employing people from further a field as an example. Because, you know, we’re a Yorkshire business. We employ people that are local to us, obviously, normally. We’ve got people in London and Scotland. But, we’ve pushed them further a field and we will do a bit more online than we’ve ever done before. So I don’t see it as a massive drastic change. Lots of security policies, lots of changes, lots of money around the area. But definitely a change around some A.I. automation and especially in sectors like health, especially. How far from this, I must admit. I do think it comes back to the people more than anything. I think as leaders and leaders from businesses, I think they’ve got to be a bit more open and let their I.T. teams of companies, suppliers, challenge them a bit more in those areas and so well, have you looked at this? You know, let’s discuss it in a little bit more. Rather than just being what we want one of those. Is that you really know what you want? That’s broaden that field a little bit. So I hope that hopes, is gonna be the case.
NICKY PENNYCOOK [00:25:33] That’s really interesting, Tim, thanks very much for joining us today. You’ve been really insightful and nice to hear about what you were doing and also how you’re looking at your people at your business. Thank you for joining me.
TIM MERCER [00:25:45] Thanks Nicky. Appreciate your time.
NICKY PENNYCOOK [00:25:46] No problem at all. So that was Tim Mercer. He is the CEO and Founder of Vapor Cloud. And that’s it for another Andy Show today. We’ll be back tomorrow again at 12:30. If you yourself want to be involved, liked Tim, please visit the website, disruptive.live or our Disruptive social media channels. See you soon.