Appsbroker's Mike Conner on the benefits of building a business in Swindon

Ian Mean
Director of Business West Gloucestershire | Business West
23rd November 2020

Few people epitomise the heart of tech in Swindon more than Mike Conner, founder and chief executive of Appsbroker.

Mike set up the business 14 years ago and it is now Europe’s largest Google Cloud-only Managed Service Provider.

Appsbroker employs 150 people and has its headquarters in Old Town.

They work with some of Google’s largest multinational customers such as Santander and Jaguar Land Rover.

Google obviously rate Mike’s team very highly indeed. They are currently the Google Cloud Application Development Specialisation Partner of the Year and hold three Google Cloud Specialisations.

I talked to him recently about his tech vision and making an international reputation from Swindon.

Q: Why did you take the decision to set up your operation in Swindon?

I seemed to spend my life driving to Reading, Bristol and Heathrow or getting a train to London.

So, I guess part of the decision was to make life fit together a bit easier.

Having the ability to organise your work life around your home life has a lot to be said for it.

Everybody is working from home at the moment. It is quite nice to be involved with the family and able to drop the kids off at school, for instance.

Q: You have grown massively as a company in Swindon?

I would have liked to grow a lot faster. But we didn’t want to borrow money or take investors. We wanted to build a business in a very traditional, organic way.

We have done that to a large extent but being involved in partnership with an organisation like Google, the opportunity is enormous.

Although we have 150 people at the moment, there is no reason why that couldn’t be thousands of people.

The market is excited about what Google Cloud is bringing in terms of opportunities for businesses to be more agile.

That’s where we have built our expertise. Cloud seemed to be a good idea to me 14 years ago and it has taken this long to become the de- facto standard and way of operating.

Q: What is your point of difference as a business?

Large organisations typically have an array of global system integrators that build and manage their IT.

If you want something different and something that is going to move a bit faster and be a bit more personal, there is not a lot of choice.

The big guys have bought all the medium size guys and then there is the very small guys. We are one of the big, small guys. What we do is offer customers Google Cloud expertise at a level in the UK that no-one else can offer it.

This is just because we have done more air miles on the platform and delivered more projects on the platform.

And we have a just ‘Can Do’ attitude.

Usually, by the time a customer has spoken to us we will get a project live and probably delivered in the time a traditional vendor can even mobilise a team.

I think we tend to win business-led projects for large organisations that need to move quickly.

Q: And you have some big names in those clients—Santander, John Lewis Partnership and Jaguar Land Rover among the list.

Santander is a good example - had they not been MiFID II compliant on time it would have had huge reputational issues as well as a very expensive period about not being able to trade.

We built them a platform and it has been a great result for both sides.

Q: What about your business philosophy? You say: “I am a free-range chicken, not a battery hen. I wanted to create a company where people like me would want to come and work.” Is that still the case?

I think so. Different people have different requirements from work.

I like to feel alive. I like to look forward to going into work. I like to work with the customers I like working with, and with colleagues I like working with.

Who wouldn’t build a company based on those parameters?

Q: What about Swindon - do people really know much about the town?

Swindon has been a great place to live, bring up children and build the business.

I have often asked myself if I would have had the courage to start the business just as we started having children if I’d lived in London with a huge mortgage.

I think the fact that you can get a decent house in Swindon at a fraction of the price anywhere along the M4 from Bristol to Hammersmith. It just gave me a bit more freedom to try something that I believed in.

I think IT was just too difficult for businesses to buy and that’s the reason I thought Appsbroker needed to exist.

Living in Swindon meant I didn’t have a crippling mortgage when I went to set the business up meant that I could freewheel for a bit longer and figured out how to run a business.

Q: What does Swindon need to do to attract more people like you into the tech area?

I think Swindon has a real opportunity to capitalise from the COVID-19 crisis. Every morning you see queues and queues of traffic leaving Swindon heading off to Reading and Bristol as I used to do.

You see the train platforms crowded with people off to their tech jobs in other towns.

It’s just always puzzled me why we couldn’t get the talent in Swindon going to all these other towns working in technology in Swindon?

That has been a great opportunity for Appsbroker. Life keeps changing for us all and actually the commute and the hassle and stress of the commute is not up there in anyone’s top five reasons for working outside Swindon. 

So, I think it would be really interesting to see the change in recruitment because people I know are working where they live and that must be good for the tech community.

Q: Is there enough support from the council and the LEP?

Swindon Borough Council isn’t a customer yet! I think there is always enthusiasm and interest but I think there are models to de-risk that entrepreneurial leap that other towns and cities do better.

You look at Cardiff Bay - they are saying relocate your business there and you can get 50% of your payroll paid for 18 months and Birmingham City Council are making similar offers. 

As an entrepreneur, most of us are running on our private finance. It doesn’t mean the idea is bad and can’t scale.

It is just your personal attitude to risk. I wouldn’t have been able to buy 10,000 sq feet office here in Old Town anywhere else on the M4 corridor.

Q: Would you expand anywhere else?

A: I don’t really know what expansion is. Our customers don’t expect us on site anymore.

What does the new world look like?

All of our productivity has increased massively. I almost see a massive risk in the productivity lost if you are suddenly going to introduce a few idle hours a day for commuting.

The business has got much more international very quickly.

I am not sure what it’s going to look like the other side of this if we don’t have to visit the customer, and the customer wouldn’t want us to visit.

So, everything will continue to be delivered remotely. I don’t want to put employees at risk by mandating they need to be in the office following government guidelines.

They need to do what they feel comfortable with, and actually the offices throughout this have generally been used as a safe space away from kids and nagging spouses for some folk!

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