Keep an eye on the market and understand your competition. There’s a danger that you become very introspective and that’s when someone will come in with something more disruptive and more valuable for the marketplace. You need to keep an eye out and ensure that you’re staying ahead of the curve for the business problem that you’re trying to solve.
As part of my series about the “5 Lessons I Learned When I Created My App or SAAS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Justin Paul. Justin is a former Royal Engineers Bomb Disposal Officer, now Marketing Director at Zeetta Networks, a technology innovation company with their HQ based in Bristol. Justin studied Geology at Royal Holloway College (University of London) before being commissioned into the Royal Engineers. He served in the British Army for nearly 6 years in Germany, the UK, and Ghana. He finished his military career running a training team in Ghana in 1996. Since then he has worked in telecommunications in global consultancy, product management, and marketing roles, bringing new technology and innovation to market. He is currently Marketing Director at Zeetta Networks, a business innovating digital transformation through network automation.
Thank you so much for joining us, Justin! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
After leaving the Army, I wanted to work in a new and exciting area. The telecoms market and particularly mobile telecoms was just starting to expand and 2G networks were being rolled out. I thought that telecoms would be an interesting domain to work in. Twenty years, it is still exciting but has changed beyond all recognition: voice was once king, and now applications and services have taken over.
Zeetta Networks is one of many exciting businesses in the South West of England. We are based in Bristol, which is a real hub of innovation and acceleration, and very much an area which is known for its deep technology. Zeetta Networks is scaling up at present, working across the UK and Europe providing intelligent network automation for enterprise and managed service providers.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
I can’t claim the credit, but Zeetta Networks was created to address a lot of the issues that we as individuals face in day to day use of technology, particularly network technology, that realistically shouldn’t exist. It’s about things you should be able to do easily, things that technology should make easier for you, but in some cases it makes it harder or impossible.
We started with the premise: there must be a better way of doing this, an easier way to address these issues and not be so reliant on IT and engineering for businesses to go about their day to day tasks.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Scaling up is hard. As a scale up, you need to move away from experimentation to commercialisation, and that necessitates developing a clear strategic focus for the business, a clear commercial focus, and once you’ve established those, driving them hard to achieve commercial success.
What this means in practical terms is the business has pivoted several times and had to focus ruthlessly on developing a product, understanding the business problems the product solves, and then looking to exploit that understanding to deliver commercial success.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Zeetta Networks has been very fortunate to work alongside Ashton Gate Stadium in Bristol, who are our first customer and very much a collaboration partner. Ashton Gate Stadium underwent a £50m two-year rebuild which was completed in 2016 and is an excellent example of the type of enterprise, dynamic, business that can benefit from NetOS through their multiple usage site.
Having a lead customer has helped us develop and refine our product, so we can deliver much more business value. We have acquired new customers such as Bristol City Council, and are in the phase of rapid customer acquisition. Our strategic focus and drive, through understanding business problems, means we know we’re going to grow our business significantly over the next few months and years.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
One of the things you take for granted as a technology company is the ability to solve complex technological problems. Because that becomes commonplace to you, it’s sometimes difficult to understand the scale and complexity of the problem you are solving for other businesses.
For example, we had a lightbulb moment when presenting our latest product NetOS Rapide to a potential customer. We took a cable out of one port and put into another port, and we said, “Of course, that is us reprogramming a dynamic VLAN.”
We then paused because across the table they were looking at us in amazement. The CEO leaned over to their CTO and said, “Have they just reprogrammed a dynamic VLAN?”
The CTO nodded and said, “Yes, this is true software defined networking.”
While we knew we were doing something complex and clever, we hadn’t appreciated the business impact to this company. The CTO of that business then qualified their statement and said, “We can do that, but it takes a senior qualified engineer around twenty to thirty minutes, and they have just done it with plug and play. This will have a huge impact on our business and our profitability.”
That was great validation for us, but it was also quite funny to see what we take for granted is addressing some very complex real world problems.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
One of the things that makes Zeetta Networks stand out is the ability to quickly respond to a business challenge. Our key customer shared with us: “Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could take what you do for us in the stadium today away with us to other sporting events?”
That was an interesting challenge for us. We went away and created a deployable version, both of hardware and software, so they could take the functionality with them. That was the birth of our product NetOS Rapide, which is a deployable enterprise network for in events, smart cities, public safety — anywhere where people need fast and effective network connectivity.
We created a new and exciting category for us as a business by listening to what our customer actually needed.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
The secret to not burning out is to work smarter not harder. It’s also to recognise that businesses go through peaks and troughs, and when you have periods of very intense working, you also need to ensure that you take downtime at the end of that to refocus and reassess, and give yourself space.
I think the final thing is that in a scale up, our focus is often very tactical: a lot of firefighting and focus on the here and now. It’s important to be able to step back and take the time to take a strategic view, and confirm your focus and objectives, what you’re trying to achieve, still makes sense as a business. If you can succeed in doing that, let me know how you did it!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I’m very fortunate that I have a close school friend who is an author and a qualified coach, and from him I get valuable coaching support and a sounding board, probably worth thousands of pounds!
Richard Maun has written a number of business books, including a book which I think should have been a global bestseller. He’s given me invaluable advice over the years, and I think it’s important to have someone to discuss the day to day challenges with, and have an objective sounding board external to your business.
I’d recommend anyone who doesn’t have a coach or a safe person to talk to, find someone, as it’s invaluable for you as a manager and a business leader.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?
We have a number of customers today, and because of what we do, there are far more end users who benefit from NetOS without even realising that they are doing so.
A great example of this is the recent Harbour Festival, as part of the 5G Smart Tourism extension project, we created an application to provide 360 degree streaming of the major stages at the festival to over 4000 people. At the same time, we were also supporting Bristol City Council who were using our technology to provide public safety and crowd analytics across the whole event.
We had 250k people over two days who benefitted using our technology which was keeping them safe.
What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?
In terms of monetization, we sell software as a service with a monthly or annual service fee for both our NetOS Enterprise and NetOS Rapide products. What we have found is that this model is one that our customers like. They have control of their spend, and for us, we know that as we continue to offer them high value, they will continue to spend with us. Having a recurring revenue is really key to our business model.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know before one wants to start an app or a SAAS? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Most importantly, what is the business problem you plan to solve? That sounds like an easy thing to know, but it requires analysis and thinking.
- You must have a team you can trust, and are capable of developing and delivering the software you require to solve that problem.
- Particularly true for technology companies, can you articulate and communicate the value you bring, the problem you solve, and how you do it? This is very true for disruptive technologies where part of the challenge is educating people that there are different ways to do things.
- Can you quantify the value that you deliver with your solution? Not just enough to know the business solution, but can you tell people what the ROI is, what the saving is? Typically these are hard things to work out, but they are required as you scale up.
- Keep an eye on the market and understand your competition. There’s a danger that you become very introspective and that’s when someone will come in with something more disruptive and more valuable for the marketplace. You need to keep an eye out and ensure that you’re staying ahead of the curve for the business problem that you’re trying to solve.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
At a personal level, I find there is a lack of courtesy in the world today. You see it on trains, when people have food and leave cups of coffee and wrappings for someone else to clear up. People don’t hold doors open any more, and people’s behaviour is getting more selfish. If there was one movement I would like to address, it’s bringing back some common courtesy and politeness, and people thinking about other people, rather than just about themselves.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
About the author:
Mitch Russo started a software company in his garage, sold it for 8 figures and then went on to work directly with Tony Robbins and Chet Holmes to build a $25M business together. Mitch wrote a book called “The Invisible Organization — How Ingenious CEOs are Creating Thriving, Virtual Companies” and now his 2nd book called Power Tribes — “How Certification Can Explode Your Business.” Mitch helps SaaS company founders scale their own companies using his proprietary system. You can reach Mitch Directly via firstname.lastname@example.org