Role and company:
CEO and co-founder of Mimecast
Company turnover (and most recent ebitda/most relevant profitability metric):
Growth forecast for the next three years:
We plan to double the size of our business over the next three years.
In under 50 words, what makes your business distinctive in its marketplace:
We recognise the central role that email plays in company lives: in workflows, collaborations, information storage and retrieval. We have also invested significantly in innovations around this reality to make the information stored in email more accessible and useful, so that it becomes a corporate asset.
What’s the big vision for your business?
Information banking! We want companies to think about information ‘investments.’ Where are they putting their data? They can’t put it everywhere, so we want to be one of the premium destinations because we can make corporate data safer and more useful for organisations. If you think about what happens over peoples’ lifetimes, they accumulate vast amounts of data in varying formats, but they seldom have anywhere central to put it. This means they can’t easily find or use it again unless they specifically remember what and where it was.
Take that personal problem and multiply it by several orders of magnitude and you have a sense of the latent information loss problem that companies face. Mountains of information, knowledge and insights, mostly fragmented and forgotten… corporate memories tend to be very weak. We want to make them more powerful.
Current level of international business, and future aspirations:
We are a global business servicing customers in nearly every country. London is our international HQ and we have offices across four continents: Africa, North America, Europe and Australasia. Our aim is to have services deployed in all major market locations.
Biggest career setback and what you learned from it:
My very first business was in South Africa, which I started in my first year of college (just before dropping out and finishing my studies by night). After three years of building the company, my business partner told me he wanted his wife to run the company and that it was time for me to go. Being older and more experienced, he framed the reasons I should go as being more to do with me being misaligned with him and he essentially put a gun to my head. I was 21 years old, still pretty fresh in the game and so I rolled over. What I learned from this is that peoples’ motivations change over time and that you need to consider and agree the terms of a separation or exit long before you might think you need to.
I also learned that as some opportunities close, new doors open. About four years later, during the dot com bubble, I sold my next company for many millions of Rand. That in turn helped me bootstrap Mimecast. I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity!
What makes you mad in business today?
Company procedures which prevent staff from performing a common sense customer courtesy make me furious!
For example, I once booked two tickets in different classes on the exact same flight for exactly the same passenger by mistake. The airline accepted both bookings (which still amazes me) but, citing ‘fare rules,’ the staff would not refund me for one of the tickets when I identified the error. This was several weeks in advance of the flight, too. I was mad about that. It just felt stupid and opportunist that they hung onto my money in the short term rather than thinking of me as a long term customer.
To make matters even worse, the usual online booking system had no way for me to rebook for a subsequent flight, so I had to spend several frustrating hours waiting in phone queues. And they then charged me additional fees to book the new flight.
If this was your shop, what do you think you’d do for your customer? Yes, exactly, makes me mad!
What will be the biggest change in your market in the next three years?
The Cloud will go mainstream as the preferred delivery model for corporate IT. That might seem like an obvious statement but, in reality, the cloud has been on the fringe for many of our customers and peers in the industry. In three years’ time they will all be doubling up on cloud investments, and migrating off legacy platforms. This will mean more opportunity for Mimecast, but also more competition, potentially from unexpected sources.
Can businesses in your sector/industry access the finance they need to grow? If not, what can be done to improve things?
Investment is available on reasonable terms for things that external investors see as beneficial to them. Investors today often want a particular thing, like high growth, particular themes, subscription revenues, or experienced management. Entrepreneurs, individual companies and the economy at large might need a broader portfolio of characteristics and these might not fit investor criteria and afford shareholders a specific quantifiable upside within a clear timeframe. That doesn’t necessarily make them any less valid or important to pursue.
Financing to help entrepreneurs or companies investing in training or buying time to develop some products or business models does exist, but it is on the fringes and terms are seldom attractive for smaller companies. If I think about how we started Mimecast, I think there is a gap in the market for financing ‘hunch driven’ teams of people that are pursuing a still fragile idea. These are smart, determined folks who are still in search mode around their ideas and don’t have enough visibility to assemble an investment grade proposition. Too many of these never get funding and often end up disbanding just months before they could’ve gotten there.
Mimecast was in such a position during the first year. Luckily, we had our own personal money to burn and families that were willing to downgrade toward the breadline as we ran lower and lower on cash. This opportunity to iterate internally long enough to focus and afford our business a decent gestation period was invaluable. I think society could benefit by resourcing and enabling more business projects to start life like that.
How would others describe your leadership style?
Visual, I’d imagine. I enjoy getting people to imagine future states and then exploring these with them. We like to start with a picture of what this thing could look like in six weeks, two years, or seven years. Let’s describe that as vividly as we can and ask ourselves the questions of how we might get there. This may be something rudimentary like our developers developing early screenshots for a product we’re building through to discussing what the IT directors at our customers will specifically be doing on a daily basis in five years’ time. It’s all visual, we want to try to experience the future in our minds now and in that way we can prepare to adapt to it and even mould it. Why wait for the future when you can visualise it now?
Your biggest personal extravagance?
After several shopping trips I have amassed a collection of almost 30 pieces of Sonos gear. My wife is now banning it from several rooms in the house.
You’ve got two minutes with the prime minister. Tell him how best to set the UK’s independent, entrepreneurial businesses free to prosper:
Stop taxing employment. Taking money from companies for doing the thing you specifically want to encourage (hiring and job creation) is not clever. So that means no PAYE and no NI. The benefits of this would be staggering. Companies could hire top talent – and indeed bottom talent that they could develop – at a fraction of the cost. Entrepreneurs and business leaders would flock from around the world to build teams in the UK. Vast swathes of pioneering DNA that left Great Britain hundreds of years ago when we colonised many distant lands would head back generations later to make the UK an economic and innovation super power.
People could earn more and would therefore both save and spend more readily. This will stimulate growth and vibrant economic activity. Within a few short years the UK population would become a whole lot less dependent on the government for basic stuff, so you, Mr Prime Minister, and your team could focus on resourcing fresh innovations and big problem solving that really moves the world forward. Mimecast will volunteer to be part of a pilot study on this!
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