In this episode with Paul Zimmerman from Invotra, we discuss the value of communication, how to differentiate a product and decide what to focus on as well as learn how they have managed to bootstrap a successful SaaS business that serves the public sector.

Episode Links

Connect with Paul on LinkedIn

Invotra Website

Episode Transcript

Matthew Todd
Hi. My name is Matthew Todd, and welcome to Inside the Scale Up. This is the podcast for founders, executives in tech, looking to make an impact and learn from their peers in the tech business, we lift the lid on tech businesses, interview leaders and following their journey from startup to scale up and beyond covering everything from developing product market fit, funding and fundraising models to value proposition structure and growth marketing. We learn from their journey so that you can understand how they really work, the failures, the successes, the lessons along the way, so that you can take their learnings and apply them within your own startup or scale up and join the ever growing list of high growth UK SaaS businesses.

Here today, really excited to be joined by Paul Zimmerman from in Invotra. Good morning. Good to have you on the podcast today.

Paul Zimmerman
Hi, Matt. lovely to be here. Thanks for Thanks for having me.

Matthew Todd
No problem. So really looking forward to the conversation. I think it will bring something different. I don’t think we’ve had a company that’s that’s quite like in invoked on the podcast, which is, you know, a good thing. I think it brings a bit of diversity in terms of the the type of products you’ve got the type of clients that you’re currently working with as well.

And so as always, I’d like guests to introduce themselves introduced their business, rather than me do it on their behalf. So yeah, over to you tell us a little bit about yourself and Invoker.

Paul Zimmerman
Great, great. Thanks again for having us. So my name is Paul. I basically got a background in funnily enough e commerce. So I joined a small company called, back in 1999, and wound up running their music division for about four years here in the UK, was part of the early retail management team for Amazon. Where we did a huge amount of expansion and growth in the UK. I spent several years in E commerce I worked for if you remember them and firebox, a small, little gift online gift retailer in Shoreditch.

And then I had a very good friend named Fintan Galvin, who’s the CEO of Invotra, who contacted me, we’ve been talking for a number of years, and we’re close personal friends. And he said, I’m thinking about turning my dev agency into a product company, and would you be interested in joining and, and long story short, that was Invotra. So I joined Invotra about eight years ago.

And and Invotra is an enterprise intranet delivered on a SaaS basis. So we are basically doing internal communications internets, extra nets, portals, knowledge management hubs. And we do that for, for very large enterprises. It’s funny when you talk when you talk to somebody on the outside, you’re kind of the you say, what is an enterprise to you? And you get lots of different answers, but what enterprises? So typically, we hear, sometimes, if you’re working like really small enterprise, you’ll hear the answers will be around 1000 people to maybe 5000 people. Yep, our sweet, our sweet spot is basically north of like 5000, and even upwards, upwards of 120,000 end users. So we’ll get on to a little bit of our client mix in a second.

Paul Zimmerman

We’re bootstrapped. So we’ve never taken external funding, never taken bank loans to fund our growth.

I think another thing that might be interesting for you and your listeners is the fact that we’re bootstrapped. So we’ve never taken external funding, never taken bank loans to fund our growth. Yeah, we’ve done it very carefully. There’s a handful of companies out there that that continue to be kind of bootstrapped in a traditional sense. And I think that’s a really interesting topic for us to explore is, you know, why do some tech companies decide to go down the bootstrap route, and try to fund all their expansion themselves versus go to the capital markets and find institutional investors, or VCs or angels to kind of spur their growth. And I think that’s an interesting topic for us, as well. So that kind of gives you hopefully a little bit of a quick intro to who we are and what we do. And when you’re ready, we’re gonna talk about sort of customer mix and and all that good stuff Uber’s kind of selling to and why we’re why we’re doing that.

Matthew Todd

Yeah, absolutely. So that’s really interesting. And good to hear about your background, as well as how Invoker kind of, you know, got off the ground as well, kind of moving from that dev agency to to a products platform. And yeah, I guess it would be interesting to kind of start with your what that customer base looks like you mentioned, different state enterprise means different things to different people.

Paul Zimmerman

I think it definitely really does. And I think a lot of startups and even people at the scale up stage can often be a little bit scared of tackling the enterprise market and feel that they’re not ready and they might have to start smaller, but I think that can often end up with quite a different products, which may even prevent them from getting to their target market. So we’d love to hear a bit more about the kind of the selection of that market and what it looks like for them. Absolutely. And that is actually a very, very good topic. So why did we go down the enterprise SaaS route versus what I would say the pure play SaaS route, and what are the differences between so let’s, let’s pick up on that.

So So yeah, when you go to a conference like SaaStr met I don’t know, if you’ve been to SaaStr and in San Jose, the Bay Area, or SaaStr Europe or if you’ve been to SaaStr doc over in Dublin, but when you meet SaaS companies, you typically you’ve got sort of one or two sort of camps if they fall into one is they’ve got a product, it is completely automated. It is on their own website, or it’s an application or a product that is just sitting on an on a phone, for instance, or mobile operating system. Yep. And, and it’s what we would call touchless. So you’re looking for customers to kind of use that SaaS product without ever even talking to somebody and numerous applications or, or SaaS products out there are sort of good examples of, of that pure SaaS play.

The other end of the spectrum is enterprise SaaS, where you there’s a lot of manual onboarding processes. There’s a lot of heavy lifting, there’s maybe content migration, there’s things like that high, high reliance, for instance, from clients standpoint, on security and performance. So you as you get, you know, accustomed to dealing with larger customers, you have to deal with those bigger issues. And that involves a lot of non automated, sorry, a non-manual sort of processes. Yeah. And that’s kind of that’s kind of where we wound up going to we went there, mainly by accident rather than by design.

So as I said, at the beginning, we were a dev agency. We had a lot of experience in Drupal. So we actually our dev agency was formerly known as IO one. And IO one was one of the very first entrance to the Drupal market. Several years ago, I’m thinking 20 years ago now probably okay, we knew Dries, our team’s new Dries, who founded Drupal and then dressed went over to emigrated to America and founded Acquia. We were at the very first Drupal cons. We had the and still have actually, a former lead for Drupal security team globally was on our teams. And so we were solving a lot of Drupal problems for people. And as you may know, Matt, so a lot of sort of public sector, departments and enterprises actually decided to adopt Drupal, either for their external facing websites or their internal communication needs. Yeah. Here in the UK, we wound up doing some work on some rescue projects. For the Cabinet Office that started off, I would say, maybe 910 years ago, the cabinet office called our guys in. And basically we did a rescue project on a project called That was fairly well known at the time. And the architects who worked on that project scattered across central government, one of them went to work for the home office, and the Home Office got to talking to us about our ability to to use Drupal, to make internal communication systems. And again, probably nine years ago now, home office kind of said to us, Hey, why don’t you make your intranet product into a SaaS product? If you did that, we’d love to sort of procure that from you. And I think that even predated the digital marketplace. G Cloud. So we we did that. And we wound up working very, very closely with the home office. And to this day, the home office is our longest standing customer having been with us for all those nine, nine years now. From the home office, we then wound up and this is actually something that I think people who’ve got experience with a public sector we’ll find is that actually, firstly, you have a tendency to do longer term deals with public sector, so you have a sort of less they’re less likely to churn on you. They’ve got sort of longer scale budgets and timeframes. And we found that to be true for sure.

From the home office, we wound up working with the likes of HMRC and the department for works and pensions to the larger government departments. So HMRC has 75,000 civil servants working for them and DWP the department for works and pensions, which, for your American listeners, it’s kind of like an amalgamation of the Department of Labor and Department of Social Security over here where you’ve got two very large departments that are formed, merged into one over here called the department for works and pensions. Well, DWP has got 120,000 end users, and we serve those guys each and every single day. So every job center plus here in the in the country mat, every single job center plus the the employees and civil servants who work in those, they’re known as JCPS. internally. They basically are using our intranet each and every single day.

So, so yeah, so that’s, we went from there to kind of other government departments we wound up working with the Department for Transport. During lockdown, we won tests and trace, and we’re working closely with IHS, we also have a big NGO in America over in Oakland, California is one of the largest environmental organizations in North America called Sierra Club, which is a cause really close to my heart. They’ve got several 1000 volunteer members who use us all the time. So yeah, that’s kind of kind of where we wound up going to, we wound up playing in the large enterprise market. So very early in our experience, we found out about the importance of a few things live service, right? Yep. So if you’re running, if you’re running a large scale, SaaS, you you quickly understand the importance of not ever being down. Yeah, having served having service delivery management systems. And so yeah, so you get a you get a really good sense of basically what’s important to large numbers of end users.

If I was running a pure SaaS, a pure play SaaS, you actually, as an end user, Matt, you probably have found this where, where you’re using an application, and occasionally, very rarely, hopefully, but occasionally, you’ll see that that app is down or the services, and you just check in maybe an hour later, and it’s back up and running that kind of thing. For us, we have mission critical internal communication systems that are running in large parts of the of the UK Government, so you can’t afford to be down. And what we had to do early on, was figure out how to invest in our live service management system and our and our service delivery. And that was a huge part of our culture, in the beginning, in the early days. So give you an example. So we were speaking at the beginning about the differences between bootstrapped on taking external funding, you have choices to make all the time and as as a founder, I would encourage your listeners to really think carefully about where they take funding from before they then, you know, take a decision that they maybe regret in the future. Increasingly, every single day that goes by it becomes easier and easier to to you to build a technological platform, or an app or service. And then to roll that out to 10s of 1000s, if not millions of users.

Matthew Todd


Paul Zimmerman

And so, you know, if you think back to like, 20 years ago, for instance, it probably was a good decision to take VC funding. Today, you’ve got operators working out of a bedroom, who are building an app and putting it onto Apple’s App Store, or Google’s App Store, and basically hitting millions of users within a couple of weeks. So we have some choices to make. And one of the choices we had to make as a bootstrap company was to invest heavily into lead service. So we have, you know, a very strong background and understanding what a service delivery or line service team at a large enterprise requires. Things like understanding their change management programs, what do they go through when you need to put something into the live environment? When you want to roll some bit of new functionality to the front end? What does that look like? Yeah, how do you do that? How do you plan that? How do you talk to the customers about that? And so that’s a huge part of our early stage of our growth. So can you imagine it just gives you a sense of this?

Can you imagine basically, if you’re running a SaaS product, and you’ve got the 30 35,000 employees or civil servants of the home office, and it goes down, right? Yeah, you, you’ve got a P one for like, basically, I don’t know, let’s say six hours, people will start to notice, they really need that service, they’re gonna really start to notice. So you can imagine as a bootstrap company, we were heavily reliant on investing in things that we felt were way more important than for perhaps sales and marketing. And that goes to the heart of that decision that I was talking about at the outset about being basically bootstrapped versus taking the front. If you’re going to be bootstrapped, you’re going to wind up doing things like investing heavily in product and tech, and ensuring that that live service is up and running 24/7 in the early stages of your investment. And so you think about it, you’re going to hire your talent, your resource, all that you’re going to hire early and invest early in your product in your tech in that last service to ensure that it is up and running as much as possible, and that its performance.

Matthew Todd
And how did that feel that and kind of initially, saying yes to a client that’s gonna give you 10s of 1000s of users in the early days, that must be pretty scary wondering and hoping that the tech will hold up and the architectures Yeah, I’m gonna deliver what’s needed.

Paul Zimmerman
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it’s a really, really interesting one, right? Because we’ve got we’ve got some very bright folks who work for us and we have had for a number of years and and I think that that’s, again, one of the things you’ve got to have, you’ve got to have real strong faith in your ability to deliver the tech and the and the product that you’re you’re you promised you said you would do We, we may get onto this, but we’re big fans of AWS we’ve been working with AWS services for as long as they’ve been around in the UK, we are one of the early users of AWS services. And and I think when you’ve got the backing of somebody very large, like an AWS, and obviously there, there are other sort of cloud providers out there, I think you’ve got the that’s, that helps give assurance to people like security architects, large organizations. So yeah, we obviously go through a heck of a lot, I was going to come on to security, but I may, might as well talk about it now.

Security is one of those things where you have to prove to people that you’re strong enough and performant enough to deliver whatever you can in a secure manner. So some of the steps that we took, we regularly have penetration testing of our application and service that is done for our customers who pretty much demand that Yeah, we went through the ISO 27,001 accreditation process, about, Gosh, six years ago, and we then had the I think it’s called the the audit ever since then, and successfully passed that with non non conformities.

Each time that we’ve gone through the audit process, we’ve actually developed a culture mat of being highly aware of insecurity conscience of like, oh, like, imagine if you got to see so right in your organization. And then they were like, Yeah, I’m struggling to get the comms out about how important security is for us. Security is like Paramount we, we actually have gamified security. So we had we moved offices several times through our history. And one of the times we were living working in a in a smaller office, we didn’t have a dishwasher. And so we used to try to get into other people’s laptops, other people, other employees, laptops, and we did have fun. Yeah, okay. If somebody left an unmanned laptop open and accessible, then if you could get in there and type the word dishes into somebody’s like, main main team chat, for instance, yep.

Then suddenly, the whole company would see that. And that person would wind up having to wash the dishes in the old office. And when you use that, we use that to this day. So we call it dishing somebody, yeah, where you basically go and you find somebody’s laptop, if it’s open, you try to get into it. Now, obviously, we’re gamifying security consciousness there. But what we’re also trying to do is ensure that we have a little bit of fun when you’re dealing with the highly important issue of security. Many of our laptops, for instance, that we would have worked with in the past would have been laptops that are provided by UK Government departments. So you would have had security clearance to be using those and that was one of those things are like yeah, we’ve we’ve got all these SC clear that tops lying around the the office, we do not want anyone to be leaving those open and accessible to anyone who’s non security cleared.

So it was a really issue for our for our public sector customers. And and we made a point of driving security consciousness through the culture of who we are to mutrah today. So yeah, we’ve got a couple of things that we talked about. And I mean, I think that when when we’re when we’re basically security conscious. It’s the beginning of being a bootstrap company, your security conscious, you’re investing product and tech, you’re also trying to figure out what can you do to differentiate yourself from other sort of sass products that are similar. So we kind of compete with the likes of Microsoft and SharePoint. Right? It’s about this some in SharePoint, I mean, got a massive, a massive thing. It’s a massive product. Microsoft sells, obviously a bit of a company, and we kind of have to compete with them. So we’re kind of we’re kind of probably frenemies with Microsoft, we kind of, we have to integrate with them offense, we do a lot of integration work with Active Directory, we have to do a huge amount of integrations with other Microsoft products in Microsoft 365, for instance, and that kind of thing, a lot of search, integration stuff within as well.

But also at the same time, we’re probably competing head on with SharePoint. And most of the time that our customers are talking to us, they’re going, we really don’t like SharePoint anymore. We’re really, we want to have an alternative to the big SharePoint in the skies out of thin. Yeah, well, when you’re investing early on from a bootstrap standpoint, you’re trying to find ways to kind of different differentiate yourself between yourself and those large competitors. We do that in two ways.

But the first way from a product standpoint that’s really important to us, is the subject of accessibility. So we were always double a compliant, right? Okay, for years. We were double a compliant Non accessibility issues. And then we had one of our larger customers, DWP invited us up now. They invited us up to see their end users who have site issues. And they said, Listen, we believe that you’re double a compliant and never doubt that you are trying your best to be highly accessible. Well, we’d actually like you to come up and sit with our end users who had sight issues and sit down with them and and try to use your intranet as a SaaS product. We said, okay, so we went to Blackpool, Leeds, York, offices of theirs in London, and the very first meeting that we ever had with them and our product teams, the employees from DWP turned off the monitor.

And they went, Okay, now use your product. Yeah. Nice. And it was a wake up. Yeah, hugely challenging. And I would encourage all of your listeners to to explore accessibility issues WCAG 2.1 compliance, if you’re interested, you can hit our website and you can, you can explore what we’ve done there. But we found that culturally, we could actually differentiate ourselves from the bigger players out there by responding to customer needs. On something like accessibility issues, I say, yeah, it turns out that roughly 8% of Dida, DWP is workforce have got a site issue of some sort.

Now, that could be full blindness all the way up to sort of mild color blindness, or is there a color differentiation when they’re reading certain things like, I’m looking at an app right now, where we’re doing the podcast recording, there’s a red call to action button. And I’m looking at other things on the screen, they all look sort of make sense to me. But if you’ve got certain side issues, they may not make sense. And so it’s being able to pay attention to those accessibility issues, we’ve worked exceptionally hard on driving accessibility awareness throughout our entire company, it’s now become a good part of our culture. We before locked down, we used to have permanent offices, and we had an accessibility lab in those offices where you could mimic certain sight issues using various vision impairment glasses.

And we would encourage our employees to put those on experience what it was like I have, I’ve spoken publicly at conferences where I’ve encouraged people around at a conference with you know, 250 people to put on a, a night mask to mimic for blindness, and then listen to screen readers, and turn up the screen readers to what somebody who I call it fluency, somebody who’s completely fluent in in screen reader technologies. Listen to it at the speed that somebody with massive sight issues, you know, they have to listen to screen readers. And it’s like a foreign language and you’ve ever listened to it, Matt, but it’s pretty, pretty darn impressive. So as a bootstrap company, you finding, it’s incredibly important to, to to find something that you can be really, really super excellent at, that your larger competition has, has ignored. I think it’s a really, really good advantage.

Matthew Todd
Yeah, and I think that’s really interesting. And I think the accessibility is an excellent point, I’ve worked with a few clients with different Sass apps, and most don’t pay attention to accessibility, the ones that do are using off the shelf solutions. But you know, it’s very rare to find a company going to those lengths and depths that you have. And one thing I wonder, as well is when you have, you know, clients with so many employees, there must be so much diversity in terms of job function alone, let alone how, you know, personal and individual differences in terms of how they experience any given platform or intranet or area of an intranet. How do you even get customer feedback and know what quality customer feedback looks like when your clients have that many people working with working with them and using the platform?

Paul Zimmerman
It’s a really, really great question. And I think that the whole accessibility challenge that was given to us by our lead customers, and I’ve, first and foremost, when you’re dealing with a customer that’s got 10s of 1000s of end users. And particularly, I think in public sector, I think this is increasingly a challenge for large enterprises anywhere you could be a large private sector company and say oil and gas, media, technology, real estate, whatever. But there’s an obligation if your public sector, large department to be very inclusive and diverse. And in fact, actually, you’ll see that there’s diversity inclusion champions, all throughout the public sector as their as well there should be Yeah, and I think that one of the things that the accessibility challenge gave us was this kind of like we already were a very diverse organizations.

So we have a very diverse board from a gender standpoint, we’ve got a we’ve got what we call that a meritocracy in our in our organization. So we believe very strongly about a meritocracy approach, meaning that somebody can join today, that could be an 18 year old apprentice, I’m gonna come on to apprenticeships here in a bit, because it’s really important point for how you grow as a bootstrap company again, but you could be an 18 year old apprentice come into our organization, you have to have an open and transparent culture that allows for people to get feedback and to then to ask questions. We have several meetings, where we encourage the entire company to join a kind of book in two meetings every every week, there’s a Monday morning sort of kickstart around 10am. Everyone joins the call. It’s nice and easy at the beginning, and we talk about everyone’s weekends and how they are and I make sure that everyone around the table gets a chance to sort of tell us what’s going on in their lives, especially when you’re remote working.

And especially during this lockdown period where you know, that we’re just emerging out of, you’re kind of, you’re asking for people to really kind of commit on an on a remote basis and tell us what happened in their work work, sorry, in their personal lives. And on Fridays, and we also do a bit of a tools down at four o’clock, everyone grabs a drink of some sort.

And basically, then they dial into a bit of a deep dive where we go deep into a subject like accessibility, for instance. And we might get an update from the team that’s working on those, what they’re what they’re doing on accessibility from a product standpoint. Now those, those two meetings are showcases where anyone can ask anything, and that 18 year old apprentice can put their hand up and ask our CEO, and our and our founders, they can ask us any questions that they want, right? And we will answer them to the best of our ability, we will answer them always that openness. And that transparency is what our large customers have always demanded of us. As in that what they are looking to promote themselves. I see. So when we look, when we look at our home office, when we look at sort of a DWP or Department for Transport or any large organization, they represent society. They represent society insofar as their makeup.

So you have to be a diverse and inclusive organization, if you’re going to want to be able to talk to them about what their end user needs are. Most of the time, we would sort of give you an A good example about this. So DWP, there, you know, 120,000 end users, a lot of their teams are late adopters, not early adopters. Yep. So if you think about this, a lot of the civil servants who work at a large organization like DWP, they aren’t going to be people who’ve come to technology late in their lives, maybe are not as ofay with it as folks like you, me, I’m assuming Matt. And or like my teenage daughters, who basically been, you know, on Tik Tok and Snapchat for years and using all sorts of other apps and using only mobile and never watch TV and all that kind of stuff.

And so yeah, you’ve got to learn how to talk and set up really personas with your, with your customers, getting to know the the main personas of your target organization, your target sort of customer or prospects. It’s so essential that you speak their language, right? They understand culturally, the makeup of that organization, who they are, why do they why do they go to work and do what they do? Who are they how do they get their jobs done? And most importantly, from a from a sort of user needs standpoint is, what do they need from the product that you’re trying to pitch them that you’re trying to sell to? Right?

Matthew Todd
Yeah, I think that’s really interesting. And when you think of organizations of that size, and like I mentioned, there are a lot of people resistant to change, as well. So I imagine it must be a challenge to innovate and deliver value across an organization of that size. But I think it’s a really interesting point that you mentioned that it’s the bigger companies are often a better reflection of kind of the diversity that is in society. Whereas if you stick to very small businesses, and you know, some of the the smaller, they are almost the less that that will be kind of present in the organization. And absolutely, the less personas they will will definitely be.

Paul Zimmerman
Yeah, absolutely. I mentioned another talking point that I thought we interesting for anyone who’s kind of interested about how do I grow from a bootstrap standpoint? Because yeah, if you’re Bootstrap, you really are kind of cash constrained. And you really don’t have a lot of sort of, you can’t hire a lot of high paid salary techies. Yeah, so we, we’ve been working on our apprenticeship program for a large number of years. So we hired Are two apprentices as our first ever apprenticeships programs, we hired two on the same day. And that was mainly because our founders could not decide who out of the two they should select. And, again, we stumbled into something that is hugely beneficial, which is we created a buddy system for our apprentices when they start.

So nowadays, we have about I would think, Gosh, 60% of our staff are either apprentices or ex apprentice graduates now well, we promote them heavily. We promote apprentices very strongly within our organization. In the last year, we have made 3x apprentices into directors of their subsidiary companies at Invostra, which is now a subsidiary of our group company. The MD is one of those two very first ever apprentices to joined us at the age at the age of 18. He did not even know HTML. And now, you know, for many years, he headed up our product, and now he’s leading in Bucha, the company itself, apprentices and the apprenticeship programs are hugely beneficial, because you can develop talent, the way that you specifically need it from an organizational standpoint. And it gives you just a wonderful way to kind of have almost like a ye a kind of a collegiate kind of feel in your organization, as people grow and develop over like the years that they’re taking their apprenticeship program. And so yeah, it’s one of those things that if you’re bootstrapped, and you’re wondering how to grow your talent, you’ve got a long term view, really strongly think about apprenticeship programs, and how to how to invest in those from your talent growth standpoint.

Matthew Todd
Yeah, I think that’s really good advice. We’ve had a couple of people on the podcast talking about apprenticeships, even people running apprenticeship platforms. But I think it’s something that I don’t see that much of with clients that I work with. And I think it is something that that should be encouraged. And I think maybe a lot of people aren’t actually aware of what an apprenticeship is, what it means and whether there are, you know, people in in tech that can come up through that path as well.

Paul Zimmerman
Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. It’s one of those things. And I think that when you’re when you’re, you’re a young company, you’re just starting out, and you’re thinking about the future and where to go. Again, it’s one of those things that you once you decide to do something, if you’re bootstrapped, you better not be doing stuff kind of haphazardly, because we burn your resources so fast. Yeah, if you decide to do something, on the other hand, like, in our case, being strong, and security, being strong, and accessibility, being strong in an apprenticeship development, then you decide to invest in it. And you make it part of your culture. So you choose to do something, stick to it, put the flag in the ground, go for it, and rally everyone around that. And I think when you do that, you’ll have a huge amount of success.

You can always back off something if it’s not the right idea. You know, we you there’s certainly things that like all good tech companies, we’ve we’ve definitely failed at some things. And I think that’s great, by the way, because it shows that you’re an innovative company, and that you’re you’re trying to, to, you know, be creative as you grow. But when you decide that something’s right for your company, then stick to it and invest in it and apprenticeships is one of those things that I think is that it’s very helpful. From a talent growth standpoint, particularly in this climate, where you get people who are kind of turning jobs a lot and interested in moving around, you’ve got to develop a right culture early early on. So

Matthew Todd
yeah, it certainly sounds like throughout everything that we’ve been talking about this morning, that culture is one of those things that invoked you really, really worked on and consciously thinking about, I think, you know, culture and commitment are two words that I think for me some of the conversation so far, if you’re gonna go in on something, then give it the proper care and attention it deserves. Otherwise, why are you doing it?

Paul Zimmerman
Absolutely. And I think it leads to how we’re successful, right, those kinds of things, actually, culture and the commitment that you that you mentioned there, those two aspects are the arguably the reasons that were successful today. We’ve got, you know, customers who really just don’t leave us. I mean, it’s very rare that a customer leaves us and I think in the enterprise market, that’s, that’s for a relatively smallish company, and our turnover is in the millions of pounds, which we think is small.

And, you know, I think that that’s a market success. If you look at how happy our customers are, and how hopefully happy we make their end users. Yeah, I think that’s that’s a really interesting things like how do we, how do we wake up every single day and then ensure that our customers are 100% happy and really, really work hard to mitigate circumstances where they might be down on us or were negative about us. So we’re constantly learning from our customers and trying to make sure that our customers succeed at every turn.

Matthew Todd
No, I think that’s really interesting. And one thing I kind of wondered and wanted to ask as well as when you are taking on those kind of enterprise clients of that size, I imagine that that each of those clients is going to be coming with with something different than on all going to be wanting exactly the same thing. They’re going to have their own unique requirements, their unique ways of working, and the unique ways of communicating internally as well. And therefore what they need of your platform. How do you kind of cope with the, you know, what is kind of at the core, but also then the differences between those clients?

Paul Zimmerman
Yeah, good question. Well, I mean, a really good case in point is the aeroclub. Over in America. I mean, we, I think, I, I’m trying to think of i Oh, no, I’m, I’m no longer the only American in our company. So. So there’s another American intercompany now, and but I’m trying to think, you know, there’s lots of differences, for instance, between British culture and American culture and, and most of it’s all good fun. And yeah. And so understanding those nuances between American culture, and British culture, or, or more progressive cultures versus more conservative cultures.

So if I can highlight that home office in the UK, is an extraordinarily conservative, risk averse culture. And I don’t think I’m saying anything out of turn by saying that they’ve got to their their remit is to protect our borders, and to protect our national security. And so home office, by their very setup and definition, is going to be, they’re going to be a lot more conservative and risk averse. On the flip side, you’ve got somebody like Sierra Club, who is a progressive organization, they’re an NGO. They are, you know, funded by charitable donations across North America in the world. And their goal is to progressively push an environmental agenda. And and I think that their their very makeup and definition is one where you would expect them to be very sort of very progressive and less risk averse than some of your customers.

So yeah, I think I mentioned persona development. And thinking about your, your, your customers, and what they do, why they wake up, and they go to work, what challenges them, why do they why do they choose to do the thing they do? And then also, how do they get it done? And what do they then expect you to be like? Those are all really, really massive considerations. So yeah, I think you’ve got to be able to be finely tuned to listening to your customers. And to to develop customer success programs means that you’ve got to be really adept at reading the room with them and understanding what their what they need. I say so. Yeah,

Matthew Todd
yeah, no, that makes a lot of sense. That sounds like yeah, that’s kind of that continuation of that that culture that you you spoke to, before that really understanding the personas within your clients and taking the time and care to appreciate what they’re trying to achieve. as well.

Paul Zimmerman
Yeah, absolutely. It’s paramount. And I think, when we look at basically why why are we successful with our customers, why do we have you know, nearly 100%, retention, we we work incredibly hard, I think, again, being a bootstrap company, working in the enterprise market versus a pure play, I think if you’re a pure SaaS, there’s a there’s kind of a almost an expectation, if you look at various VC, SaaS models, they are, you know, well, there’s always going to be churn, people are going to leave you. And that’s it can be quite natural churn.

Just to be absolutely clear, it could be that somebody’s just moved on. They don’t need the product anymore. The product didn’t one thing, and they’ve done it now and they know exactly anymore. So there’s the churn model is kind of baked into the pure SaaS model. If you’re in the enterprise world, you feel pain, right? If you lose an enterprise customer, you wake up and you find out that you’ve lost a customer with 5000 end users, you will feel it. And particularly you’ll feel it in your bank account. If if basically you’re a bootstrap company, and so so you have to be finely tuned to what makes your customers succeed. And are you delivering a product and a service that really matches their expectations? You can’t win every battle, but But you certainly can try. And I think that when it comes to listening to your customers and helping them succeed, building great customer success teams is something that is absolutely essential to our success.

Matthew Todd
Yeah, I think that’s that’s really, really good point. I think as well as it’s kind of clear that you’re you company culture, but also your platform is all hinges around communication and effective communication and collaboration. And and you mentioned the pandemic test and trace earlier as one on one thing, as what I like to just ask you you briefly as well, as you know, during the last couple of years, obviously, we’ve seen a lot of changes in terms of the way that people are working, as well as obviously then communicating. I was just kind of curious as to how you’ve kind of felt the impact of that and, and what changes you’ve had to make to your products to cater for those changes in working patterns these days?

Paul Zimmerman
Yeah, great question. I’ll take that in two parts. So one is basically you know, what do we do internally, and from a product standpoint, then what changed about our product? So internally, we were already fairly well equipped to deal with remote working. We have several offices, or, well, we’ve got three main offices around the country. We’re just outside of London here in Surrey. In a town called Woking, we also have offices up in Newcastle in the northeast of the UK, and in Dublin, Ireland. And the first thing that happened with lockdown, of course, everyone had to work from home. What it did was it actually brought us closer to our satellite offices. So folks in Newcastle, they kind of went hang on this is actually really good. We’re now more connected to the company than we’ve ever been.

And so there were some definite positives there. I think there were some significant challenges as well as everyone went through. But I think some of the challenges that we faced were introverted people, and I’m gonna generalize here but bear with me introverted people effectively, we’re okay with working from home. Yeah, and I think extroverted people kind of really struggled. And I’m kind of extroverted, I can be introverted, sometimes, but I’m mainly extroverted. And I kind of can’t, you know, just sit at home and kind of going I’m really miss, you know, Friday night drinks with a team or just random random acts of get togethers and that kind of thing. Or we had a table tennis table in our old office and in here in Woking, you know, missing the old table tennis tournaments and that kind of thing. And the serendipity of kind of relationships that you build and make in an office environment. I think people who are extroverted, really, really missed that.

But that said, a lot of folks actually quite comfortable, particularly in the tech world, super comfortable with working from home 24/7. And also, I think the other thing was reinforced the fact that actually, you just don’t care when people work. So if you have this kind of mentality that you’ve got to have people punch o’clock at like 9am, or whatever, and finish at five, forget about it, we’ve got some people who are night owls and love working all night long. And you’ll never hear from them all throughout the day. And that’s absolutely fine. So I think it kind of helps the weirdness of lockdown helped actually kind of reinforce a good culture of saying, it doesn’t really matter to the individual. If it doesn’t matter to the individual, it doesn’t really matter to us, what really matters to us is, you know, how do we get a job done? And how do we work together to make that happen?

From a product standpoint, I think actually, there’s clearly I mean, you saw this from the very word go right in what was it March of? Can’t even think about it 2019, I guess it was when video conferencing really skyrocketed. And you saw the like the zoom, and Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts, or exploding. And so the video videoconferencing was a massive, massive thing. And we obviously have felt the need to look at that way, the way that video technologies are kind of augmenting internal communication. So so we’re looking at that in our product as we speak, you know, what do we do from an integration standpoint? Why are we choosing to go with the vendors that we’re going with or partnering with folks that we’re partnering with? That kind of thing? One of the other things, I think that from a product standpoint that we’re really, I think excited about actually, is that we had, you know, our product was based on Drupal, and we talked about Drupal at the beginning of the conversation.

We had a lot of kind of, we had what I would call a monolithic architecture from from a Drupal standpoint, and, and we’ve had to introduce all sorts of other services into the product. And we did that really effectively during lockdown. So we’re migrating to a micro service world. Lots of different sorts of services that actually make sense from a tech standpoint, that are integrated into the product. Now, obviously, you know, react, no JS, all sorts of sort of features and functionality that are sort of more relying on those services rather than Drupal, for instance. So we’re doing a Drupal migration, we’re doing a migration from monolithic to sort of a micro services kind of world. And I think those are all kind of accelerated during lockdown, when arguably, you had more time to think, and to be reflective about where your product is going. Yeah, sometimes it makes sense.

Matthew Todd
Yeah, I think a lot of businesses actually saw that as an opportunity to reflect and work out what actually it was that they were really, really good at. And therefore what direction do they want to take things? And I think it’s, it’s given that space. And I think, now we’re seeing, you know, hybrid is the kind of the word of the moment hybrid working. And I think we’re seeing people trying to balance letting people get the work done. However, they want to get the work done with the other side of things, still trying to maintain a very strong culture. And I think if you go too far in one direction or the other, you sacrifice one of those, I think it is a balancing act to get those right.

Absolutely. Yeah. Cool. No, I think that’s, that’s really interesting to hear your perspective on that both from an internal point of view, as well as from a customer point of view. Compared to where we were talking for a little while, I think we’ve covered quite a few really, really interesting points as well, I think there’s a lot for listeners today to take away from the podcasts, you know, certainly in terms of addressing enterprise clients, what that looks like the bootstrapping journey, and reasons for making that choice. But before we kind of wrap up, you know, what, where’s Invoker? heading next? What does the future look like from from this point forward over the coming year or so

Paul Zimmerman
there’s, we’ve got a very strong growth strategy, we are very focused on maintaining our presence in the public sector. And so you’ll see growth in terms of public sector growth, particularly in central government, expansion, probably in NHS, we do a huge amount of work with local authorities. And then secondarily, I think you’ll see us expand dramatically into private sector. And again, our sweet spot, our sweet spot, and private sector are going to be those who’ve got a lot of synergies with the kind of product and and team that we’ve developed and invoke TRA.

So those kinds of entities which have a real care, or a need around performance, scalability, security, when it comes to their internal communication needs, those are the private sector customers that we’re probably looking at from a sweetspot standpoint, they could be anybody, right? They could be banking and regulation. They could be big media, they could be anyone who feels that they’ve got some sort of cybersecurity vulnerability, that they’re interested in maintaining and protecting anyone who’s got a security consciousness. So that’s kind of where we’re headed is looking at sort of private sector growth as well, where there’s a lot of synergies with who we are today.

Matthew Todd
That makes a lot of sense. And yeah, I’m, I’m sure if you you carry the the culture and the values that you’ve already described ahead. I’m sure that that will go extremely well, indeed. And I can imagine a lot of growth there. And yeah, thank you for for sharing all of this this with us this morning. Is there anything else you’d like to kind of leave our audience with before we wrap things up?

Paul Zimmerman
No, I don’t think so. I think we’ve covered a lot, Matt. And it’s been a real pleasure talking with you today. And I wish you guys all the best at your podcast. And I look forward to it. And I’m obviously going to be listening in on what the other startups that you’ve got on your program, what they do and and how they manage their growth, because it’s really a fascinating subject.

Matthew Todd
Yeah, absolutely. And it’s, it’s great to see so much on a diversity in terms of the businesses that we have on the kind of clients but also the ways of working. And yeah, I think we’ve got a lot of covered a lot of really valuable lessons and points today. So thank you again for your time, much appreciated.

Paul Zimmerman
Absolute pleasure, Matt, thank you so much.

Matthew Todd
Thank you for joining me on this episode of Inside the scaler. Remember for the show notes and in depth resources from today’s guest. You can find these on the website

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