Founders on Fire: Justin Day, Co-founder and CEO, Cloud Gateway

Today we’re catching up with Justin Day, Co-founder and CEO, Cloud Gateway. Still relatively young, the startup won the Tech Trailblazers Cloud Award and has gone from strength to strength since.

Justin talks about how projects are all about an end goal and that these days work is about of journey of progression, to improve the product whilst staying flexible for challenges you won’t even be able to expect yet.

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Interview transcript

RR: I’m delighted to have join us today, Justin Day who is the CEO and co-founder of Cloud Gateway, which is our 2018 Cloud Trailblazer winner. Welcome to Founders on Fire Justin.

JD: Hello Rose, pleasure to be here.

RR: Well it’s a pleasure to have you join us. Obviously it’s been a little while since you guys won the accolade, and I know it was relatively fresh into your journey with Cloud Gateway, I think you were only about 18 months old when you won. Could you give us a brief description of Cloud Gateway, and what your focus actually is?

JD: Yes, so Cloud Gateway is a hybrid cloud connectivity platform, essentially it’s co-founded by myself and Neil Briscoe. We come from a network security background, and we wanted to create this secure connectivity hub, which isn’t anything new in its own right, but it’s about how we go about what we do, that we really wanted to change the face of that part of telecoms. I think what the most important thing to us was, was about how much we could leverage Cloud.

Now Cloud isn’t typically synonymous with comms directly, and what we’ve been able to do is, is build networks in software, build them as overlays, and it allows us to be able to spin up very, very quickly, something not synonymous with comms, and to dial up how big that platform is, very, very quickly as well. For us that was always what the goal was, it was to try and reduce the things that were synonymous with comms and secure comms, and take them away. So, basically time, incumbent contracts, concerns around how quick you can scale, and give that capability out there to everyone and anyone that needs it.

RR: Great, so giving it a degree of speed and agility, which really just wasn’t there previously.

JD: Absolutely, yes.

RR: Fantastic. Obviously things have progressed. You’ve gone from an 18-month-old startup to now being three/four years down the track. What are you seeing that’s evolving within your business, and within your client base over that period?

JD: Yeah, I think from what we’re seeing evolving in our own business, it’s about making sure that we’ve stayed true to the early ethos that we started with, which is listen, learn, and adapt. The world of IT across the board is changing so fast, we have to make sure that we’re not just keeping up, we’re staying ahead. If you’re going to be an innovator and you’re going to be disruptive, you need to make sure that you’re ahead of the curve. The reality is, is that planning is great, but sometimes you have to have a huge space in that plan for change, for things that you hadn’t foreseen.

We’ve seen a lot of change in the last couple of years. We’ve seen a much larger uptake of the public plan providers, particularly what I’d say are the big two, Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services. We’ve seen digital transformations start to complete, which I think has had a big knock-on effect to how we operate as a business, because a lot of companies, big companies and small companies, have been engaged in digital transformations, and with differing degrees of success. I think a lot of digital transformations have been based more around just putting your stuff in the cloud, rather than really transforming it, and leveraging the eco-systems that are available to you, and now that second phase is looking at how these companies can improve on what they’re doing, or possibly even move some of their workloads between clouds. And so for us that’s where we really help come into our own. We’ve helped the movement of this traffic, the movement of this data, keeping it secure whilst it’s moving, whilst it’s migrating, but also whilst it continues to be consumed, but now we can do that cross-cloud.

Like I say, you’ve got all these different companies moving at different paces, and doing different things, and whilst there’s similarities between companies from say different sectors, there’s then sector specifics that can change how you view what you do, and how that ultimately has a knock-on effect to how you approach your own business. So, it’s just constant change, and you have to accept, I think now, which is wonderful if you raise to the challenge that there’s no longer an end goal. Projects and programmes, everyone loves the term Agile of course, there’s no concept of an end any more, everything is just in a continual movement phase. So, it’s been a big cultural shift, and it’s been as exciting as it has daunting.

RR: So it’s not just about the technology, it’s about the people and the processes. That’s where the true transformation is taking place, from what you’re seeing I gather?

JD: I think so. I think it’s one of those things that is talked about, I don’t know if it’s talked about maybe as much as it should be, is the cultural shift is bigger than the technical shift. People in any field like to use smoke and mirrors to show what they’re doing and how they’re doing it, and there’s new buzzwords and all of that good stuff, but the concept of making more with less, doing more with less, and virtualisation of services has been going on for many, many years. In reality that’s the underpinning concept of Cloud, and what all technologies are trying to move towards. There’s nothing particularly new there, how it’s being done, sure, lots of things changing on a daily basis, but it is that cultural shift.

I think you said how it affects us as a company, as a startup, I think one of the big, big cultural shifts is a risk appetite from larger companies in SMEs. Historically, particularly in the comms industry, there’s a lot more of a safety-net in taking a big contract. Whether you wanted it or not you kind of accept a couple of penalties, by taking a big contract with a big SI because they’re a big name, and they’re underpinned by lots of stocks and shares, and they’re a FTSE100 company. I think that has changed insomuch as we work with some big companies who treat us the same way, or certainly treat me and the buyers the same way, as they did when I was part of those bigger companies. That shift has been more seismic, I think, than technology.

RR: That’s a very interesting insight. So, you’ve been on this startup journey with your co-founder Neil Briscoe for about three – three and a half years now?

JD: That’s right.

RR: What would you say have been particular challenges that you guys have faced, or you personally have faced?

JD: I think a lot of them are personal challenges, are about knowing when to change, and when to let go. Myself and Neil are two people that like to be in control. We’re very lucky, we’ve known each other for a long time, we work very well together, but in our respective areas I think it’s about learning when to allow others in to kind of pass the baby over. So, I know Neil in particular, he was responsible really for the great technical concept and core and heart of what we’ve got, and he knew that he needed help from software engineers, from other technical areas, and that’s been a big change. I think for me, it’s coming to grips with areas of business that are new to me, and accepting that I’m up to the challenge, and that I’m comfortable with that. Nobody starts as a CEO ever, someone has a Day One in that role, and you’re learning things that you’re not traditionally used to.

Now, I come from a tech background. All of a sudden I find myself a few years later finding more interest in profit and loss, accounts, and sales and marketing, and actually I love that and that has been a challenge as well because you have to step outside of your comfort zone. I think that’s probably the same there for me and Neil. Neil’s comfortable when he’s in control of that tech, he starts working with a team. For me, I’m used to something historically that I’m now no longer used to, it’s a bit more of a distant memory now. It is a challenge, it’s a personal challenge, but it’s one that you quickly embrace because the journey is definitely worth it. So yes, it’s been exciting, and given the chance I would do it all over again as well.

RR: Cool. Well, challenges are there. So, it sounds as though there are also some things that you’re particularly proud of from that journey so far as well. What would they be?

JD: I like to think of one particular thing that’s important to me and Neil, and how we created the company, and culminated in a recognition for this as well, which I think is great. We have a very strong belief in how we grow a culture and how we grow a team, and how we put that all together; what our company looks like, the type of person that is part of what we do. And we’re not scared at all to take the right people who in some instances have absolutely no experience whatsoever, in the job we’re taking them into.

Now I know you can’t always do that, but we’ve had plenty of opportunities where we have been able to do that, where we’ve taken known quantities, really good people, great work ethic, great attitude, just good people, and taken them in and said, ‘Right, we know this is going to be a learning curve. We’ll work with you, you knuckle down, let’s see what we can do’. And I think where that really was probably our proudest moment, was when our employee number one was recognised last year at the UK Cloud Awards for Best Cloud Newcomer. This is a guy who a couple of years before that had come from a small town background, working in print and publishing. He’d had nothing to do with the field of IT. Cloud to him was the white fluffy thing in the sky, he had absolutely nothing to pin his name against, but we knew exactly what we were going to get, and that’s the kind of person we want.

That makes you proud, because when you set out with a set of values like that, they don’t always necessarily work. So, to see them be successful, and they’ve been successful in so many other areas of our business as well. Yes it’s something we’re very proud of.

RR: Brilliant. I know it’s something you’ve done quite a lot of, which I think was something around the time when Neil was actually recognised as a runner-up in the Male Trailblazers in the same year, you’d also done a lot of work I think with AWS around recruiting ex-service people as well. So, definitely very commendable that you’re taking that very creative approach, and open approach to the skills gap that we’re not just hearing about, but obviously you guys live with on a day-to-day basis.

JD: Yes.

RR: So, beyond that, is there anything else that you’re particularly proud of? Within what you’ve achieved so far.

JD: I’ve always been someone that takes a six-month wait point, and what I mean by that is, let’s say for the sake of keeping it on a calendar basis, every kind of June-July, or December-January, just stopping for a second and looking back at where we were, what we were doing, what our thought process was, what we had achieved, all of those things and just seeing what that gap was, where we stood the six-months prior, and what we’ve then achieved. I can’t have possibly believed or imagined we’d be in the position that we’re in right now; it’s one thing knowing that you’ve got a product and a platform that works, it’s a whole other thing to completely improve it, perfect it, grow it, grow a company around it, change the livelihoods of people whilst having an amazing time doing that.

I think it’s lovely to be recognised, be that through an award, which is a wonderful achievement, or be that working with some of the big companies that you look up to. So, we have spent, in fact very recently, these last couple of weeks in particular, a lot of time with Microsoft and Amazon, who invest a lot of time in us because of what we do and how we do it. When you’ve got two of the biggest companies on the planet, if not the two biggest companies on the planet, giving you that attention and giving you that kind of praise as well, we’ve had some wonderful notes sent to us. Yes, it makes it really worthwhile, it makes you feel that you are making a massive difference.

RR: Brilliant. You’ve kind of touched upon it and the reason that you’re here is being a winner in the Tech Trailblazers. What words of encouragement would you give to other organisations, other startups who are weighing up whether to jump into an award, and you’ve had a recognition not just in the Tech Trailblazers, but in others as well where you guys have been recognised, what would you say on people jumping into stuff like this?

JD: What I’d say to those guys is be bold. Don’t do the self-judging of anything yourself. Don’t think, ‘Oh, that company’s a bigger name’, or, ‘Oh, we couldn’t do that’, or, ‘We can’t do this’, be bold. If you think that you’ve done something that’s positive, something you think that absolutely you’d like to go and show the world, if you haven’t already, absolutely go forward and do that.

Also, depending on what sort of category that you would be entering, for me it’s about the recognition of potentially individuals in your company. It doesn’t always need to be that you win a category. I think you can really show a lot of recognition to people who’ve really gone above and beyond, and have been a really great part of your journey, by just showing that you’ve invested the time in nominating them, in showing that you think that they’ve done an amazing job.

And so that’s what I’d say, I’d say absolutely do it. Remember that winning doesn’t necessarily take away from what you can achieve by being a part of it, and certainly don’t self-judge, don’t judge yourself out before you go ahead and enter. That’s what I’d say.

RR: I know that you’ve also been a judge, so you’ve won accolades and you’ve also been on the other side of the fence, having to make the decision and weighing up relative entries. So, this is a particularly good question with that hat on, what would be your tips to give organisations, to help them when entering awards?

JD: [Laughs] Yes, I have. I think one key tip is, if you’re going to enter then do consider the effort that you’re putting into the entry, that’s all I would really say. From my experience there were some that were too much of what I would call an afterthought, it was putting a name down and just throwing it in the hat. That’s not really good enough, it doesn’t show enough respect for probably the awards, nor for who’s entering, be it an individual or a company. So, do put in the effort, don’t worry about trying to make it an absolute masterpiece, be succinct with what it is and why, and be honest. Don’t second-guess what you think that we’d want to see, say what you’ve done, why you’ve done it, why it means a lot to you, put some sincerity around it and I think you’ll go far.

And I think having been a judge, I’m the kind of person that couldn’t care less whether the company is a FTSE100 company or a startup, I’m judging that entry based on those kind of things. So, I do think that’s really important.

RR: Obviously we need to think about advice to startup companies, and I know there’s been a lot of advice now, and we haven’t talked about the bigger picture here, because I don’t think either of us are experts on what’s actually going on in the world at the moment. But obviously one of the questions we normally ask is how to survive in the current economic climate. Now the current economic climate is perhaps for many, as well as in other ways outside of business, very, very challenging at the moment. What advice are you taking onboard or giving to yourselves around what’s going on at the moment, how to get through it, and hopefully not just survive but thrive through that?

JD: Yes, that’s the magic question isn’t it. Everyone’s going to be in a different position, so there’s no one answer fits all. I think for a startup you’re going to find yourself in a position where you almost certainly have, or have had, some seed capital at some point. Ultimately cash is king, you need to keep your eyes on that. I think you’re going to have to make some fairly brutal decisions which doesn’t necessarily mean having to move people about per se, but you have to think for the business and the long term future of the business, which ultimately then means the people inside it as well, you’re looking to protect them.

This is going to be a long haul. Whilst I’m no expert on epidemics, I will say from what I’ve seen so far that the financial ripple, the commercial ripple, that will go for a little while yet. We could be talking about years rather than months. So, it’s about preparing yourself as best for that by making the decisions now, because the reality is otherwise you will struggle to get through it.

I think also, depending on what your business does, if you have the time and at the moment it’s a bit of second-guessing, but try to plan for what the world on the other side is going to be, because without trying to get too deep into a philosophy, I think peoples’ approach to all walks of life is going to be quite different, and if you look at it from a professional and a business point of view, the way people consume is going to be very, very different. So, most businesses can change to positively reflect that.

So that’s what I would say, have those thoughts, and I do appreciate it’s very difficult for some businesses. But that’s what I’d say, make the brutal decisions now to keep it going forward, and try to forward plan for coming out the other side.

RR: Absolutely, it sounds like very, very good advice there. Well I think to wrap up, I don’t know if there’s anything else that you would like to say, Justin, that perhaps you feel you’d have liked to have shared at the moment?

JD: I would probably just say that on that note, good luck to everybody, and I hope everybody’s taking the governments advice. Stay safe, and genuinely god bless the NHS. I’ve nothing further to add.

RR: Well that’s not a bad sign-off on that, and on that note I wish you and yours, both personally and professionally, the team around the UK, the very best. And as you say to you and all the listeners to the Founders on Fire, stay safe and speak to you soon. Thank you Justin.

JD: Thank you.