On assignment for the Croydon Council Economic Development Team, Gary Ling, visits a local business making the most of the government's Connection Voucher Scheme.
Natterbox Connection Stats:
Supplier: Switch IP
Type: 100MB/1GB Leased Line
Installation cost to server room: £3000 (plus VAT)
Length of Contract: 3 Years Monthly Cost: £450 (plus VAT)
Some ambitious worldwide tech companies try to retain and recruit their talent by offering free organic grub and skateboards to aid their mobility around a vast campus. Others offer their critical people a personal masseuse and the services of a professional snipper, who trims that all important Bonsai tree, which reminds the unworldly that not all that is beautiful on this earth emanates from a fat pipe fast internet connection. Yet at up and coming, Croydon based, independent global telecoms company Natterbox Limited, it’s got to be the spectacular, panoramic view that clinches it!
As one of Croydon’s latest participants in the Connection Voucher Scheme (CVS) I visit Natterbox just as it is moving into the Borough and as with all well managed firms the directors have made the most of it. While the CVS aims to award vouchers to small and medium sized businesses, charities, social enterprises and other not-for-profit enterprises to assist them to upgrade their Internet connections to Hi-Grade broadband, it is only one of the schemes that Croydon uses to attract businesses. As well as taking advantage of the CVS, Natterbox had matching funding for some capital costs and a year free of business rates. With Croydon’s great transportation connections, a good supply of IT talent and a supportive buzz about the digital economy, Natterbox are off to a great start in the world’s first Tech Borough!
I am met in reception by Natterbox’s Chief Operating Officer (COO), Adrian Evans on the 11th floor, which is a temporary slot for the company before they move up to take over the top floors at 23 and 24. Adrian seems surprisingly relaxed for a man overseeing a £400,000 redesign of the new offices as well as making sure Natterbox’s customers are happy with their current services. He is wearing a t-shirt which shows a chest full of binary code. Since this is part of the logo for my business, I immediately assume he is a kindred spirit and it turns out I am not wrong. Adrian is full of energy and as a former ICT secondary school teacher has very specific ideas of the type of culture that Natterbox is cultivating for the assembled crew at their prestigious setup at No.1 Croydon, an address known locally as the ‘50p building’ because of its peculiar shape.
Since I am known for stating the ‘bleeding obvious’ and subscribe to the view that the only stupid question is the one you don’t ask, I quiz the COO of this telecoms software house about how important fast internet is to his business. I am grateful for Adrian’s forbearance when he brings me up to date with the market that Natterbox serves: “There are very few industries which are not being transformed by digital technologies today – particularly in the B2B space where we are. We have a wide range of customers from Groupon, which of course didn’t even exist a few years ago but is now a marketing powerhouse, to publishing giant Trinity Mirror in the UK which is morphing its traditional publishing model to a digital one, and some of the world’s most important Tier 1 financial institutions, such as global banks, where geographic routing and recording of calls for compliance purposes is really important.
“All of our services demand some form of data connection. Our VOIP product can work on as little as a 2MB connection where the VOIP takes priority over PC data requests through a proper traffic sharing regime. Our proprietary software profiles a call and routes it intelligently to the appropriate person or team. But recording all voice communication for compliance via our special SIM cards is storage intensive and moving around large chucks of data demands a bigger pipe.”
So is all this data is stored in the 50p Building and is this why the CVS connection is so vital? “We only have a few in-house servers here for our developers to play with and all that data is backed up off site,” Adrian responds. “Otherwise, all our data is managed in data centres around the world. In addition to the Croydon UK office we have a presence in the US and Asia since this is where our clients operate and where we turn their information into data points that they can use as a part of their CRM (customer relationship management) activities. Operational guys on this floor support all our international services as required. The accounts team use cloud based services such as Salesforce.com to power their sales effort. The finance guys use SAGE in the cloud to organise our financials and the customer services team use Mindtouch in the cloud to improve customer support and workflow. From these activities alone you can see why, with the added incentive of the CVS voucher, putting in a very fast connection is a real value add to our business.”
Before long, we are whisked in a dedicated express elevator up to the top floors where Natterbox’s new operations centre is under construction. As we exit, I am slightly lightheaded and recall a time a decade ago helping my American mate, Joe, ‘pull wire’ as he built digital homes in Florida. I can almost feel the leather tool belt around my waist and imagine that I looked like one of those bare chested blokes from the Village People (minus the rich, oily tan, flat stomach and the highly developed pecs). Then, as I regain my equilibrium, the true memory of that time returns and that is that Joe was always screaming at me to not ‘over pull’ the Cat 5 as it ‘degrades its conductivity’.
It’s also fortunate for Natterbox that the connection voucher of up to £3,000 awarded under the CVS can be used to cover the pulled wire cost to a recipient’s business premises because it’s a heck of a long way from the street to the 23 floor of the 50p building!
As I return to earth, the warm, positive vibe from my Natterbox visit leaves me with a spring in my step. It’s great that a UK business can be started from a room over a hairdresser in Oxted and start to employ such good people. It really looks like this business will scale which is an essential ingredient for success. It’s great that central and local governments have been supportive of this sort of business which is essential for the UK’s economic future. I decide that I must maintain this positive momentum with some friendly natter, pull out my smartphone and VOIP Joe in sunny Florida: “Hey mate, any chance that leather tool belt is still available…”