How tech can make life easier for micro-enterprises - Q&A with Andy Gambles
(Guardian Web Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Company name: Servertastic Limited, www.servertastic.com
Company age: 11 years
Number of employees: 2
Elevator pitch: Supply SSL certificates (HTTPS) for websites and applications via simple, easy to use, online purchasing system.
How, when, where and why did you start out?
I previously worked for a large printing company in Scarborough. I had reached management level and gained a lot of commercial knowledge working in big business. I also learnt a lot about the contraints on big business. It was 2003 and my hunger for knowledge meant I had learnt how the backbone of the internet worked. Frustrated in my current job, I moved to self-employment by starting a hosting company. A couple of years passed and I saw an opportunity to start selling SSL certificates, which at the time were complex and confusing to buy. By taking advantage of improving technologies over the years we streamlined the process to be highly automated, but fairly simple.
What are the challenges facing micro-enterprises in the UK?
Technology has made the world a much smaller place but legislation, particularly around tax, is simply not keeping up. The majority of our revenue comes from outside Europe, which adds a burden on our VAT reporting and makes us uncompetitive for micro-businesses in Europe against our US competitors who do not need to charge VAT.
As a micro-enterprise, what digital technologies and innovations have helped you to establish and grow your company?
We were early adopters of cloud computing technology before it went mainstream. By using Software as a Service (SaaS) providers wherever possible, we avoided expensive capital purchases and support contracts. Google apps, Clearbooks accountants, Trello project management are all low cost or even free products that help the business run.
More recently we have been able to take advantage of Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), provided by the Layershift Jelastic platform. Our business is all online and we therefore needed systems able to cope with demand spikes and easily scale with us. It can be cheaper in terms of cost to purchase dedicated server hardware but this requires much more management and time, something many micro-enterprises do not have in abundance. By releasing time and worry about infrastructure we can concentrate on growing revenue.
What digital technologies do you not have access to that you wish you did?
Time machine (not the Apple kind, I have one of those).
How important has the democratisation of technology been, both in terms of accessibility and cost, in levelling the playing field for micro-enterprises alongside larger corporate competitors?
The advancements in technology, particularly IaaS, have meant that micro-business can start up with very low overheads and simply try any idea they have, launching something within a couple of weeks that can scale to millions of users overnight. This can scare larger corporations who can be particularly slow in responding to change due to massive teams and slow, overbearing procedures.
What one piece of advice would you give to a micro-enteprise starting out in the UK?
Consider carefully before investing in any long-term contracts or capital investments. Paying monthly for SaaS means you have the flexibility to change providers as technology develops and alternative solutions become better suited to your business.
Sometimes it may look more expensive long-term to pay monthly for software rather than upfront, but you must consider the flexibility it provides with cashflow and also ease of moving to more up-to-date technology. Too many businesses can get tied in to using outdated technology because they want to get their money's worth from the initial investment.
Andy Gambles is founder of Servertastic Limited and co-founder of Askew Brook Limited. You can follow him on Twitter @andygambles.
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