Neil How, entrepreneur and CEO of ten80, talks to Top Business Tech this week for our Founder Feature Series.
Neil is co-founder and CEO of ten80. With a background steeped in SAP transformation programmes, Neil has over 20-years working as an end user for clients, as a consultant for SI’s and as a contractor. After becoming frustrated with the state of the consulting he set up ten80 to disrupt what he describes as a ‘broken industry.’
Neil formed ten80 early in 2019 with the belief that outcome-based delivery should be at the heart of all business. He views selling time as a dead offering, and firmly believes that no business can sustain long term growth buying it. In late 2019 the ten80 platform went live and delivered the world’s first connected workforce – a marketplace linking every SAP client with every SAP contractor globally.
Learn more about Neil and the disruptive ways he’s changing the industry with ten80 in the interview below.
Q: Could you tell us about your company and what you’re striving to achieve?
A: ten80, which was set up in 2019 by myself and my business partner, Russell Carter, enables cost savings of SAP/software projects by an average of 43%. We do this by switching companies to an on-demand workforce — similar to what Uber has done in the taxi industry.
We created the ten80 marketplace and connect companies with around 47,000 verified SAP contractors. It’s a scalable remote workforce, our algorithms match companies with the very best experts and we put them to work remotely with A grade connection software.
We want to give SAP customers the ability to use the best in the world, help them break free from geographical borders and allow them to take advantage of market rates. Having a digital marketplace gives themcontrol over software project budgets and milestones, and they get to choose the exact resources, when they want them and for however long they need them for.
After securing a recent investment, we’ve managed to expand our team from two to 14 since January 2020, but we’re planning to increase that to 50 by the end of the year. We’re also aiming to achieve unicorn status and a $1bn valuation inside three years. Ambitious stuff but aiming high is in our blood!
Q: What made you decide to take on the challenge of founding your business?
A: I have been lucky enough to work with SAP my entire career, but after spending time working both end-user side and consulting side, it became obvious that SAP clients were struggling to access the best-in-class consultants and contractors at a sensible cost.
It was this challenge that led me on my mission to build a company capable of high-performance SAP delivery, coupled with business transformation, fit for the digital era, and that could achieve a more optimal project from a cost perspective.
Q: Who are you and what is your story?
A: As mentioned, I’ve worked with SAP since the beginning of my career. My journey started end-user side. I ran my first SAP implementation project early in my early twenties and went on to form an SAP Centre of Excellence to allow for long term improvement.
Over the next six years, I ran three other major change programmes before joining the consulting world. For the next 10 years, I worked with various consultancies running numerous projects in a variety of sectors, including retail, utilities, banking public sector and government.
I successfully led the completion of over 15 full SAP lifecycles, involving in-house, consultancy, offshore and contractor teams. At that point I took a senior leadership/board position and my work moved onto creating the same success for others.
Throughout my career, I have been fortunate enough to run some amazing transformation programmes for some big brands. I am a bit of a geek at heart and have a deep technical understanding as a result.
Q: What are some of the biggest obstacles you’ve had to overcome?
A: Not being able to be ‘put’ in a specific vendor type box. ten80 is operating in a new area – outcomes-based delivery. Corporates have a really hard time engaging with us in terms of procurement. They either want to put us in the Systems Integrator or the recruitment box, which we are neither. It’s a total re-education process.
Being the first to market is always hard. We are offering some really powerful benefits to businesses and contractors, but we have no one to follow and are learning at every step of the way. There is a great saying that I have always believed in – “Success leaves footprints.” The big difference with ten80 is that we are making them!
We are running agile processes on each stage of our journey. Everything is tested, iterated, refined, repeated. It’s the curse of being the first, but actually embedding continual improvement into our business has been one of our rocks of success.
Funnily enough, controlling deal size has been a huge problem for us too. Big corporates have latched onto the benefits of what we are offering and are immediately referring them onto the global business. It’s great, but what starts as a small to medium sized deal quickly escalates and then takes much longer to close. It’s a nice problem but doesn’t keep the accountants happy in terms of cash flow!
Q: How are you measuring your success? What are your metrics?
A: So, I am really ‘into’ metrics – ask any of the team. We have metrics measuring all aspects of the business, from sales and marketing through to finance, operations, development and support. If it can be measured, I want the head of that team to be tracking it. We have a start-up mentality and I don’t want anyone to become complacent.
The metrics give us a temperature check on the business and give us an early warning that something isn’t right. We have embedded continual development in the business, so I expect the team to take action if the metrics dip below the predefined threshold.
Our keys metrics are the pipeline and deals within them, but I also track the number of contractors signing up per day. Both are critical to each other’s success. We have such aggressive growth; I’m also keeping a close eye on team building and culture formation too. The team we are building is critical to our success.
Q: What’s most exciting about your traction to date?
A: The feedback from customers has been amazing. Thinking back, I don’t think we’ve had a session with a potential client who hasn’t complimented on the power and potential of the solution. It’s fantastic to get such great feedback. The same is true with the investment community too. They can really see the value in what we are offering.
I also love the team we have pulled together too. We grew the business during the lockdown and the entire team only met face-to-face about 4-5 months after starting. It’s the most surreal time ever, and you would never choose it, but seeing them meet each other for the first time was wonderful. It was like meeting a long-lost family member for the first time. Heart-warming.
Q: What are your biggest threats?
A: We are lucky in that we are first to the market in our niche, but that doesn’t make us immune to threats. There are lots of opportunities to copy what we do, but we think we have about 12 months on the rest of the market. Our goal is to push hard and get as far ahead as we can during that period so that there is only one option for customers.
Ironically one of our biggest threats is rapid growth. Our plans need us to be at about 50 heads at the close of the year, and 150 the year after. It’s frighteningly fast. It is going to be critical to get through the ‘forming’, ‘storming’, ‘norming’ and into the ‘performing’ phase quickly. Gelling the team, creating a strong organisational culture and bringing everyone on our journey is going to be critical to success.
Q: What keeps you up at night/what are you paranoid about?
A: That’s a tough one… I am always switched on, so there is always something on my mind. I keep a notepad next to my bed to keep track of ideas and thoughts. It’s normally whatever the next business challenge is, but I am always on the hunt for the first competitor. It’s not really a worry as such, but knowing the starting pistol has fired and we have someone on our tails is something I am acutely aware of.
Q: What is your plan to adapt if your industry is completely disrupted?
A: I am surprisingly comfortable with this because we are the disruptor. We built ten80 in 18 months and deliberately positioned change and innovation at our core. I can’t tell you how many times we have changed various aspects of our business. It is a different business to how we started — by design. If we were disrupted by someone else, I have absolutely no doubt we would adapt again and change for the better. I see disruption as healthy, as it moves everyone to a better place and is the next phase of any industry.
Q: Do you see yourself as an underdog?
A: Totally. I have a quote on my desk reminding me that David beats Goliath, despite the odds. Logically we shouldn’t be able to do what we are doing but we are. When I speak with our prospects, they are swapping out some really big brands and replacing them with us. It is very humbling.
Q: How do you manage the duality between driving new business and overseeing daily operations?
A: I am very fortunate in that respect. My business partner is all about new business, while I am all about operations. It means that both of us can give 100% to our areas. There is no doubt it has contributed to our rapid growth. It is the perfect partnership as we let the other get on with what we do best.
Q: What has surprised you in your journey so far?
A: The support and buy-in from those we have hired so far. We have an amazing team who are laser-focused on what we are doing. Every one of them is going above and beyond to make ten80 a success. I couldn’t ask for any more from any one of them.
It has also been really surprising to see how much attention we are generating in the investment world too. We have managed to attract the attention of some really big investment houses really early in our lifecycle. The same is true with some of our partners too. Our external legal and financial support is world-class.
Q: What are your goals over the next 12 months?
A: We are looking for our first major investment over the next six months, so that is a definite focus/goal. That’s the first ticket to the major league and will give us the potential to grow to 150 heads and some pretty big numbers revenue wise. We are entertaining some pretty important investment houses and are looking forward to one of them closing.
Running alongside that we have some really amazing companies in our pipeline, and I am looking forward to welcoming them onto our platform.
Q: How much money you needed, how easy it was to raise, and how much money you really needed (like if you did it again how different would funding be)?
A: We raised funds quite late in our journey, having funded the initial phase of the business ourselves. The first round of external funds was important and fuelled growth, but we are already ready for the next round. If we were to go through things again, we’d definitely ask for more earlier, but you might question whether we would get it.
It’s a really difficult one to judge. You want enough to grow but clearly everyone has a limit in terms of risk/reward. Our biggest problem financially has been the speed of growth. We have accelerated through the early stages of growth quickly and the financing/investment world hasn’t really been fast enough to keep up with us… perhaps that the next place ripe for disruption.
Q: Can you tell us who your mentors and heroes are, and what impact they’ve had on you?
A: I could be cliché here and say Jobs, Branson, Musk or someone like that. They are amazing individuals in their own right and have done so much in terms of impacting the world. My slight problem with them is that they are behemoths of the business world, which is fine to aspire towards, but sometimes hard to learn from. It is a little bit hard to relate to them day to day.
I am a huge fan of learning and education. Everywhere you look you can learn something if you take the time. I have sat watching buskers on the London Underground, marvelling at how they captivate a moving audience to encourage a donation. It’s an incredible art, something we have incorporated into our sales pitching.
I have learnt a great deal business wise from Daniel Priestley. If you haven’t heard of him, I urge you to read his books. They are a fantastic starting point. I have had the chance to work with him quite closely on helping us to develop ten80 and the value has been extraordinary.
Q: What’s one piece of advice you’d give to budding innovators taking the same journey?
A: Get a PhD in your customers’ problems and understand them so deeply you know what they are going to say before they do. Then sell to the signals they are giving you. Then build and create what you have sold, delighting them and going beyond their expectations.
Have passion in what you do. If you aren’t bought into the problem/solution, find something you are. You won’t succeed if you are just lukewarm about something.
Understand more about ten80’s mission to disrupt traditional workforces by visiting their website: www.ten80.group.