Zynstra offers best of both software worlds
Bath-based cloud software company Zynstra offers its customers hybrid cloud systems – and is taking on Silicon Valley competitors in the process with its mission to be nothing less than the global leader in the private cloud systems business. Chief executive Nick East – fresh from receiving a TechCities Award – explains all to Toni Sekinah.
For almost all of the first two years of the existence of Zynstra, his software startup, founder Nick East (pictured) was extremely hush-hush about the company’s business activities. But, in the last two years it has been making enough noise on the UK tech scene to make up for that earlier silence.
Zynstra, which provides hybrid cloud solutions for small and medium-sized businesses, came out of stealth mode in mid-2013 and since then has won five IT and technology industry awards and been shortlisted or a finalist in a further two.
At the back end of 2015, the company won the Bristol and Bath category of the inaugural TechCities Awards (see photo below) and also picked up other honours including Infrastructure Innovation winner at the UK IT Industry awards. East describes the recognition as “a great accolade.”
It is of course quite common for tech startups to operate in secret in the early days because it gives the team time to validate the proposition and test the technology and the market.
“You can make sure that what you have is something that customers and partners want, and that you are getting the proposition right,” says East.
That proposition is cloud-managed server appliances. Zynstra’s server appliances allow businesses to keep high-priority data and IT applications – including those that require faster networking or security – on site while running other applications like Office 365 or backup in the cloud.
East says this hybrid cloud server appliance approach combines the best of cloud – remote access, disaster recovery and backup and simple management – with the best of local or on-site IT. This private cloud offers the best security, the fastest access to local data, flexibility and control.
This approach helps Zynstra to eliminate obstacles for its clients. “People need to be able to keep their storage, their computer and their network capabilities close to them, as well as capabilities in the public cloud,” says East.
“There wasn’t a solution that helped people do that without a lot of manual integration and upfront expense,” he says. “With Zynstra you have capability in the cloud and capability on site all for a monthly fee and all managed from the cloud.”
Zynstra’s clients are SMEs, usually with between five and 250 people, but also at larger businesses with remote or branch offices. The business partnered with HP Enterprise, which supplies the hardware for the on-site IT.
Zynstra software is pre-installed on those servers so that when they arrive on the client’s premises, they can be plugged in and up and running within five minutes. Zynstra charges a monthly or annual fee for the service, including the hardware.
“We secured Made.com as a customer a while ago. It is always nice to receive a reference for the first time from a brand people are aware,” says East.
Zynstra secured a significant amount of funding over two rounds in 2013 and 2014, closing over $26m from Octopus Investments, on top of over $2.5m in 2012 in two rounds of seed and angel funding.
The company operates in the UK, US and Canada – and has partners in France and the Netherlands who sell their solution on the ground.
Zynstra is the second startup East has had a hand in building. In 1998 he joined Cramer, which sold software technology in the telecommunications space, as director of engineering.
“When I joined we were about 20 people working out of a house in Bath,” he recalls. “I was literally coding in the spare bedroom and by 2006 we were 600 people with customers worldwide.”
Cramer was acquired by software and services provider Amdocs in 2006 and East remained as the general manager of the operation support system division. In 2011 he left to found Zynstra with a number of the former executives of the original startup.
“We’ve basically taken a lot of the core software DNA that made a very successful startup into a very successful business at Cramer and bought many of that same talent pool together to create Zynstra,” he says.
But it could so easily have gone in another direction. The level of talent at Cramer was so great, says East, that when it was expanding into the US another software company in the same space tried to steal them away.
“The largest US competitor was so threatened by us that it ran an advertising campaign on local buses all around the city of Bath trying to attract our engineers away and move to the US,” says East.
He took this as the ultimate testament to the quality of tech talent in the Bristol and Bath region.
“The Bristol and Bath tech community is very good. The technology DNA in this city has been developing for quite some time. I’ve worked a lot with fellow tech company founders in and around Bristol and Bath. There is simply a great network.”
One of the hubs in that network is the University of Bath Innovation Centre, where Zynstra is based. It has “great facilities and a really good, buzzing community of top companies,” according to East.
The Innovation Centre is part of the SETSquared partnership that links the universities of Bath, Bristol, Exeter, Southampton and Surrey. SETSquared director Simon Bond is also based in Bath, while over in Bristol the partnership is led by Nick Sturge at the Engine Shed.
East sees Zynstra being able to stay in the Innovation Centre for a while yet, but as the company grows its sales and business development teams, it will need to locate them to where the biggest markets lie.
That all coincides will the biggest challenge East sees Zynstra facing.
“We need to make sure we devote the right focus to the US as a route to market and an actual market,” he says. “Finding the right partners and the right customers in the US as a British startup is our biggest challenge and also our biggest opportunity.”
Nick East – CV
Co-founder and chief executive, Zynstra
General manager – OSS Division, Amdocs
VP product management, Amdocs
Director of engineering, Cramer – Amdocs OSS Division
Software Engineer, NCC Group
BSc, Computer Science, University of Nottingham.
Disclaimer: This article was first published on TechCityInsider.net on 21 January 2016.
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