Tech firm founder Mike Conner on spotting opportunities, taking risks, and growing a business in Swindon
Ian Mean of Business West talks to the chief executive of Appsbroker
Mike set up the business 14 years ago and it is now Europe’s largest Google Cloud-only Managed Service Provider.
Appsbroker employs 150 people and has its headquarters in Old Town.
They work with some of Google’s largest multinational customers such as Santander and Jaguar Land Rover.
Google obviously rate Mike’s team very highly indeed. They are currently the Google Cloud Application Development Specialisation Partner of the Year and hold three Google Cloud Specialisations.
Q: You have grown massively as a company in Swindon?
I would have liked to grow a lot faster. But we didn’t want to borrow money or take investors. We wanted to build a business in a very traditional, organic way. We have done that to a large extent but being involved in partnership with an organisation like Google, the opportunity is enormous. Although we have 150 people at the moment, there is no reason why that couldn’t be thousands of people. The market is excited about what Google Cloud is bringing in terms of opportunities for businesses to be more agile. That’s where we have built our expertise. Cloud seemed to be a good idea to me 14 years ago and it has taken this long to become the de- facto standard and way of operating.”
Q: What is your point of difference as a business?
A: Large organisations typically have an array of global system integrators that build and manage their IT. If you want something different and something that is going to move a bit faster and be a bit more personal, there is not a lot of choice. The big guys have bought all the medium size guys and then there is the very small guys. We are one of the big, small guys. What we do is offer customers Google Cloud expertise at a level in the UK that no-one else can offer it. This is just because we have done more air miles on the platform and delivered more projects on the platform. And we have a just ‘Can Do’ attitude. Usually, by the time a customer has spoken to us we will get a project live and probably delivered in the time a traditional vendor can even mobilise a team. I think we tend to win business-led projects for large organisations that need to move quickly”.
Q: What about your business philosophy? You say: “I am a free range chicken, not a battery hen. I wanted to create a company where people like me would want to come and work. Is that still the case?”
A: I think so. Different people have different requirements from work. I like to feel alive. I like to look forward to going into work. I like to work with the customers I like working with, and with colleagues I like working with. Who wouldn’t build a company based on those parameters?”
Q: What about Swindon? Do people really know much about the town?
A: Swindon has been a great place to live, bring up children and build the business. I have often asked myself if I would have had the courage to start the business just as we started having children if I’d lived in London with a huge mortgage. I think the fact that you can get a decent house in Swindon at a fraction of the price anywhere along the M4 from Bristol to Hammersmith. It just gave me a bit more freedom to try something that I believed in. I think IT was just too difficult for businesses to buy and that’s the reason I thought Appsbroker needed to exist. Living in Swindon meant I didn’t have a crippling mortgage when I went to set the business up meant that I could freewheel for a bit longer and figured out how to run a business.”
Q: What does Swindon need to do to attract more people like you into the tech area?
A: I think Swindon has a real opportunity to capitalise from the Covid crisis. Every morning you see queues and queues of traffic leaving Swindon heading off to Reading and Bristol as I used to do. You see the train platforms crowded with people off to their tech jobs in other towns. It’s just always puzzled me why we couldn’t get the talent in Swindon going to all these other towns working in technology in Swindon. That has been a great opportunity for Appsbroker . Life keeps changing for us all and actually the commute and the hassle and stress of the commute is not up there in anyone’s top five reasons for working outside Swindon. So, I think it would be really interesting to see the change in recruitment because people I know are working where they live and that must be good for the tech community.”
Q: What does the new world look like?
A: All of our productivity has increased massively. I almost see a massive risk in the productivity lost if you are suddenly going to introduce a few idle hours a day for commuting. “The business has got much more international very quickly. I am not sure what it’s going to look like the other side of this if we don’t have to visit the customer, and the customer wouldn’t want us to visit. So, everything will continue to be delivered remotely. I don’t want to put employees at risk by mandating they need to be in the office following government guidelines.
They need to do what they feel comfortable with, and actually the offices throughout this have generally been used as a safe space.