Simon Smith is founder and CEO of Extrinsica Global, a dedicated cloud services provider since 2006. The company offers bespoke cloud services to companies around the globe. Their clients include the Kawasaki World Superbike Race Team and the security team at the 2010 Fifa World Cup.
Q: Have you always wanted to be an entrepreneur?
A: Well the simple answer is No. I actually wanted to be a military pilot when I left school. I did join the RAF and flew operationally, not as a pilot but as mission crew and had a very interesting and exciting career that spanned over 20 years. I didn’t consciously decide to become an entrepreneur until I had embarked on my second career after leaving the RAF and completing an MBA.
Q: Where did the idea for Extrinsica Global come from?
A: It came from the experience that I had working for some very interesting Central Government departments that tend to work at the forefront of technology. They used some great technology that provided fantastic flexibility by delivering software functionality remotely. The technology was commercially available but very expensive and required expert technical specialists to get it working to its full potential. I thought it would be a great idea to build a platform and deliver an enterprise-class remote working capability via the Internet on a service basis to small businesses who wouldn’t be able to afford to build the capability for themselves. The idea worked really well in practice and we started to get customers who were astonished at the extent to which it transformed their businesses and the way they were able to operate. This was 6 years ago and some time before the concept was articulated as ‘the Cloud’ and started taking root in the consciousness of business owners.
Q: What were three challenges you faced while setting up Extrinsica Global and how did you overcome them?
A: Funding, technical expertise and marketing.
The development of Extrinsica Global was funded by its parent company at the time, Extrinsica. However, this funding was limited which restricted the extent to which the other challenges could be addressed.
Finding technical staff of the right quality is very hard, but essential
Finding technical staff of the right quality is very hard, but essential. I was lucky because I knew a couple of very skilled technical specialists who I was able to persuade to join me in trying to build the capability.
Marketing was a big challenge because we had to devote nearly all of our financial resources to developing the capability which left very little in terms of marketing. We decided that we needed to create a quality of service that gave an outstanding user experience and let the customers speak for us. If the users of our service loved what we did, we felt they would be likely to tell other people in their network about our services. That has worked really well for us in gaining customers but we soon recognised that we needed to back this up with a dedicated marketing strategy.
Q: What are the main difficulties of working in such a new and rapidly growing marketplace?
A: Understanding the emerging marketplace and making commercial sense of it. Because it’s a technology-based market, developments happen very quickly; new competitors with new offerings emerge very quickly; customers’ awareness of the possibilities develops at different rates. Making sense of what is happening on the supply side and how the demand side is developing is complex and requires constant attention.
It’s also important not to just offer what is technically easy; our cloud services must provide genuine business benefits and solve real world problems. In our line of business we need to anticipate what our customers are likely to want to do and how cloud-based technology could enable their businesses; getting that right is quite challenging.
Q: How do you ensure you and your clients are on the same page?
A: We have dedicated account managers who make it their job to get to know their customers and their specific requirements. It is critical for us to find ways of personally knowing all of our customers and their business’ requirements. We also use the Extrinsica Global blog and we routinely make use of Twitter to keep our customers informed on what we’re doing.
Q: What advice would you give to a new company working in the cloud market?
A: It’s not all about the technology. Too many cloud service providers focus on the technology, which is critically important; but it’s not the whole story. Service providers need to focus on the customers’ needs and the user experience. The key word is ‘services’, which means that it is not about just transactional relationships with customers. The key is to build a relationship based on mutual trust and respect where the service provider understands what the customer’s business challenges are and how these could be solved with technology.
Q: What is the best piece of business advice you have ever received?
Turnover and profitability are clearly fundamentally important but every business needs to be able to meet its financial commitments
A: Cash is king! Turnover and profitability are clearly fundamentally important but every business needs to be able to meet its financial commitments as they fall due – old fashioned, I know, but as harshly true as ever in the history of commerce.
Q: How would you advise someone with a great product and no marketing experience to proceed?
A: Creating great products and services is hard – however, bringing great products and services to market successfully is even harder! The key is to find an investor who is experienced in developing great products and services in the relevant verticals and bringing them to market. They will tell you very quickly if your product is not great (good to know so you can waste no time in getting back to the drawing board) and they have the resources and a network of expertise that will enable a great product or service to be developed into something that can generate value in the marketplace.
Q: What is the single most important thing you can do to be successful in business?
A: Be determined. If it was easy to be successful in business, everyone would be doing it; it isn’t and that’s why relatively few people succeed. It seems to me that the people who can combine positive determination (without being blinkered) with adaptability and resourcefulness are the most likely to succeed.
Q: What's next for Extrinsica Global?
A: We have begun talks with a really progressive global technology company about how we can work together with them and leverage from each other what we do best to create joint value. They have huge commercial and technology expertise and we have about as much depth of knowledge and experience about delivering cloud services as any organisation out there. We think that together we can make a great team and become a leading player in the emerging cloud services market.