Gradwell targets SMEs

Gradwell Communications founder and CTO Peter Gradwell has joined the race to provide SMEs with channel-ready cloud comms solutions.

Gradwell Communications has found a new stomping ground in SME territory as it steps up from its traditional micro business heritage, eyes bigger fish and embarks on a fresh channel partner recruitment campaign that will form the next phase of its growth. Gradwell Communications currently serves 22,000 small businesses, has circa 32,000 seats and a similar number of SIP trunks under management and works with 300 partners. The ambitious hosted VoIP specialist also plans to add 10 more staff to its existing 70 headcount and double its £7.5 million revenues by 2022.

Gradwell has long-championed cloud comms as the key to growth, and he established the business at a time when new ideas about comms and networks emerged. “Gradwell Communications was born in the cloud 20 years ago so we are unencumbered by legacy services – we know this market well,” he stated. “Historically, we focused on SoHo and micro businesses and have played an important role in helping many of them grow into known brands. As we continue to serve these customers we are turning our attention to the growing and evolving SME cloud communications space.”

Gradwell was only 19 years old when he set the business up. He was in the second year of university at Aberystwyth and had in mind a notion to become a forensic scientist. But the influence of his father, who was a self-employed database systems designer, was telling. With no obvious flair for chemistry but oodles of natural aptitude for computing, Gradwell set about studying Software Engineering. “As part of my degree I experienced an industrial placement at Logica writing billing software for the Orange mobile service,” he recalled.

“I spent my evenings writing websites for people at the turn of the millennium. Working in London during the dotcom boom was an exciting time. But employment by a big corporate wasn’t for me, so I quit in favour of a small ISP to finish my year. The move helped me to start and grow my hosting company. I then sold my first email and web hosting business Clicknames to Onyx Internet, now Pulsant.”

Having graduated, Gradwell continued with web hosting and found himself wanting to route calls across the Internet between two friends, one located in Leeds and the other Tunbridge Wells. “This was in 2002,” stated Gradwell. “We’d just got broadband and hated paying for ISDN. So, we moved the ISDN lines into Telehouse, I built a web portal and we showed the service to our 1,000 web hosting customers. They loved it. The rest is history. We grew quickly by offering VoIP, broadband, fibre and web hosting.”

Some of the giants in the room have unlimited funds and broad products but they are slow, inflexible and unable to connect with the customer’s needs

Gradwell Communications was boosted by £1 million investment from Altitude Partners in 2012, which exited in 2017, leaving the path clear for Chiltern Capital to invest for a second phase of growth that ultimately saw the hosting business become relatively small and non-core, so it was divested to PickAWeb in 2018. Gradwell Communications also outsourced the broadband and fibre to Wavenet while rebuilding the VoIP platform into AWS.

“A change in leadership allowed us to be 100 per cent focused on becoming a next generation cloud communications provider for SMEs,” commented Gradwell. “Our priorities are to continue the growth story and bring to market the next generation of our platform. We are developing our services to be easy to integrate with business applications and partner ordering systems. Another focus area is rebuilding the management tools inside Salesforce, both internally and for partners so that we have one consistent experience from order to in-life management.

“Our biggest opportunity is to out-perform the competition in niche vertical markets. Some of the giants in the room have unlimited funds and broad products but they are slow, inflexible and unable to connect with the customer’s needs. Our main challenge however is recruiting and developing enough talented colleagues in sales and software development.”

In March this year Gradwell Communications scored an industry first when it was awarded Solution Provider status by 3CX in recognition of its capacity to provide an end-to-end solution including SIP trunks, hosting, service management and licensing. “Our hosted platforms are well placed to take advantage of the migration of SMEs from TDM services to hosted UC,” added Gradwell. “Customers are moving off ISDN and PSTN now the switch off has been announced.

“Meanwhile, businesses that adopted VoIP three to five years ago are coming out of their first contracts and looking for something that offers more. Our new platform will bring cloud-first innovations like office 365 integration. We are heavily into AWS and using some of its auto scaling systems. The platform automatically makes itself larger which is great for our call centre customers. We are also keeping a close eye on Microsoft’s Teams product. It will be interesting to see how much traction this gets and whether customers choose to consume voice services on the platform, or if they stick to more traditional methods.

“At the same time there is consolidation across the voice, IT and managed service providers space. MSPs are looking for recurring revenues and see voice as a way to achieve this. They are trusted partners of their customers and voice is a logical and relatively simple next step for them. Voice is moving inside applications.”

Just a minute with Peter Gradwell...

Role model:
Bill Gates. He was able to scale Microsoft over a long period of time and he knew when to do something else

Your biggest achievement?
Growing a well respected and profitable telecoms provider from scratch along with having two kids and obtaining my PhD

Biggest risk you’ve taken?
Having PE investment and ceding control. It meant that I wasn’t always right!

Best piece of advice you have been given?
Go to work every day to make yourself redundant by empowering the team

In hindsight:
I would have invested more in product. In a period of hyper growth we spent more on sales and operations which created a lot of manual workarounds. If we had hired developers we could have scaled faster

If you weren’t in comms what would you be doing?
Forensic scientist

One example of something you have overcome?
At one time the business was growing at such a pace we required more funding. I didn’t like the thought of ceding control, but ultimately it was a good thing and I can now leverage the experience of a very capable board
Your main strength and what could you work on?
I can quickly understand a high level strategic problem and the technical nuts and bolts that need oiling to resolve it; but I am not comfortable sharing my feelings and being direct with people

Top tip for resellers:
Your unique value is understanding the local context, so monetise that

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