By Simon Woodhead
As we near Christmas I wanted to say a huge thank you to all of our customers and wish you and your families the very best for the festivities.
This has been an amazing year, that has seen us grow tremendously. Operating with substantially over 200 active customers, in 24 countries, business units on two continents, and a growing team whose working days now span 24 hours, is not without its challenges. Add to that a farm, a home that is rarely without builders, three children, the oldest now 5 and one who, whilst much better, remains a challenge, and things are pretty hectic in my world. Personally, I’m blessed with an amazing partner in Rachel who does far more than I deserve whilst also working full time in Simwood – she’s enabled me to focus heavily on the business and this year it shows. We’ve also made huge changes internally to put more useful weight at the top of the business.
We’re not interested in merely ‘demonstrating’ our innovation. Instead, we’re laser-focussed on walking-the-walk and bringing the best new technology to our customers – some have described us as the industry’s point-man and I like that metaphor. Not everyone does of course, and we’ve seen increased competitor aggression – being a Simwood customer is the fastest way to get some to drop their pants if price is your game. Thankfully though, the clueful realise that value is so much more than price. As one customer kindly and unprompted said only today:
I can honestly say that the move to Simwood from my ‘margin based’ reseller business model with my previous very incompetent provider is the best thing I have ever done. The voice side of my business has dramatically increased – our modest little business can compete with the bigger operators. How cool is that.”
That is echoed across our customer base. Our support satisfaction stats have consistently exceeded 90%, (the dissatisfied includes non-customers, suppliers, and competitors who bring light to their dull lives by poorly rating our non-interaction) but there are the odd occasions, usually once a quarter or so, where a ticket is rated other than positive by an actual customer. We take that really seriously and fix it (grateful for the free consultancy!) although it is fair to say we’ve been stretched this year. We said goodbye to some junior, but highly trained, staff and have frankly struggled to find the right people to not only replace them but grow the team. I think we’ve got in front of that particular wave now and I’m really pleased with the people that have joined our team – you’ll no doubt have dealt with Andrew or Alex in a Level 1 Support capacity, or Ateeq, Nikki, and Mandi on the porting team. Kathleen King joins us from FreeSWITCH in the new year in a Level 2 capacity (Home Office permitting!), Grahame Davies has gone executive in a COO capacity (he also remains Group Chairman) and Alister Ross has joined us as CMO. That is just in the UK business, and excludes the several conversations I’m having with other well-known industry figures and the numerous expert consultants we have behind the scenes – Simwood seems to be where the cool kids (or rather the very serious but cool grown-ups) want to be, and I’m proud of that.
We recently conducted a Net Promoter Score survey, something that is new to us. Rather than a simple satisfaction rating (which would amount to 96% if it was), NPS groups scores to segregate promoters, detractors, and passives. One takes the percentage who are promoters and subtracts the percentage who are detractors and arrives at a score that by definition isn’t a percentage but is relative. Ours was 88.9. Having never done this before, that didn’t mean much to me until I DuckDuckGo’d “what is a good NPS score?” and was stunned to read that telecoms is typically negative as an industry, 50 or above is excellent, and 70 and above is considered ‘world-class’. Wow! The best bit was the really kind comments you’ve made to back up the score which the whole team appreciated.
2018 was certainly a year of growth. Owing to the gift of wholesale margin to retail but primarily the incumbent, by our glorious regulator, a company like ours has needed to grow minute volumes substantially (50%+ per year), just to stand still, whilst a retail operator could expect to grow at 50% whilst standing still. It is no surprise that our retail channel-focussed competitors stun my long-former City colleagues with 15-20% growth (minus 30-35% in real terms) and closer competitors continue their decline. By contrast Simwood has grown revenue by 50% (100% in real terms) which is not bad at all for a company in its 23rd year!
The big event this year was the inaugural SimCon in our new office in Bristol. We were really touched to have so many of you attend. We were able to bring in some of the great speakers from around the community and the feedback was really really positive. SimCon2 is happening very soon, the first hotel is now full but there’s still a few tickets for the event and at the second hotel (just over the road) left – don’t delay or you’ll miss out. For some reason we saw a big uptick in bookings when we announced Ms Rachel Riley would be attending to host the inaugural SimCon Awards!
Our security book gained traction both in terms of requests for copies and feedback on it. It was the basis of our first trip to the USA of 2018, and our first to IT Expo where we both exhibited and I had the luxury of an hour long speaking slot to convey our fraud research and USPs – this is a good video for those who want it all in one chunk. May saw Ross presenting at SOCEX (Serious & Organised Crime Exchange) to senior law enforcement professionals on behalf of ITSPA, spreading our fraud and security work.
I was sad to miss it but at exactly the same time was in Berlin, where I spoke at Kamailio World on The Auto-Pilot Pattern, a fundamental philosophy in how we’re now architecting our application stack. We also published a reference architecture and invited existing and prospective customers to come into the office to whiteboard their infrastructure. We’ve done an awful lot of this since and the invitation remains open. This approach has worked really well with new entrants to the market, particularly international operators entering the UK; we’re proud to be the go-to provider for such people and to be given the opportunity to help them get it right from the start.
When we went to build our hosted cloud PBX offerings in the UK, Simwood was our obvious choice as a partner. Beyond the technical advantages, they’re an absolute pleasure to work with as well.
Simwood took the time to understand our business and our unique needs, and then offered suggestions and solutions above and beyond what we’ve ever received from any other carrier — even when there wasn’t a direct financial motivation for the additional help.
Simwood has a great combination of technical advantages, community focus, and great people. We highly recommend Simwood as more than just a telecommunications vendor, but as an invaluable business partner.
— Jared Smith, Director of Cloud Technologies, Sangoma
Mid-year we were proud to be Platinum Sponsor to the inaugural CommCon, an event that went really well and where we were delighted to see so many customers and speak. We also made our Anycast SIP proxy available in alpha – another industry first to add to the list. I’m pleased to push that to a beta today for those of you who haven’t tried it yet.
August was a hugely busy month for us with the launch of the Open Porting Initiative and our overt porting policy. Oddly, the take up from peers who share the same policy as us but hide it, has been poor. Whyever would they not want to be open about their policy and join with us to make it easier for customers to migrate? We took some flack for the policy statement from resellers of resellers of resellers of competitors, claiming to be competitors and experts on a process they have nothing to do with, but the response from customers has been generally positive. It seems you like honesty and transparency and it isn’t something we’re willing to compromise on.
We also revealed more of our plans for the USA both in the blog and more recently on the newswires. This is a huge step for us and one that cannot be fully comprehended without familiarity of the market. So many over there are resellers but we’re blessed in having Tom Hadden (COO, Simwood Inc) and his small team working hard on getting us to the same place as we are in the UK. Meanwhile, a healthy proportion of our growth has come from this market and our customers valuing that whether in any of the US PoPs, or any of the UK PoPs, our single global SBC performs the same, only local.
In the tail end of the year, we continued to do a lot more in the way of traditional ISP services, bringing more and more customers on-net, be it co-located with us, buying our transit, or using us for inter-site connectivity. This not only ensures performance of voice to us, but also improves it to end users through our massive peering (did you know we have over 700 connected peer networks, 90%+ of IP traffic over bilaterals as well as no less than 7 n x 10GE interconnects with tier 1s for the rest). It is also an interesting ecosystem in itself as we most likely peer with our customer’s other carriers as well, and see an ever-increasing amount of customer-to-customer traffic which never leaves the Simwood network. We’ll be talking more at SimCon2 about the further changes to our uniquely low-latency optical network but do speak to Frazer if you want to get on board.
We also went public with our BTZero initiative – in pursuit of fairness and efficiency in the marketplace by eliminating BT from our routing wherever possible, instead growing our bilaterals to peers. This improves quality for all, protects us from coincidences, and offers some insulation from our esteemed regulator’s next brain fart. This is going well with the majority of outbound bypassing them, and 20% of inbound in place on bilaterals, or going through the establishment process. We want to grow this as far as we can.
November saw us launch US numbering in testing, bring on a huge amount of new capacity into (or rather out of) BT, be the cover story in Comms Business again, and launch VoxAP – mobile VoIP that just works. VoxAP is now in early-beta for those who signed up (invite imminent if not with you already) and we look forward to talking more about it at SimCon.
Last but by no means least, in fact probably the highlight of the year for me, was being asked to keynote Astricon, the largest event in open source telephony. I don’t get nervous with presentations any more but I managed to rack up 20,000-odd steps just around my hotel room the day before trying to condense my material to a reduced time-slot. It went well, the feedback was epic and hopefully the message resonated – you’ll be reading this on Brave, or found it in DuckDuckGo, and will send me a Signal message with feedback. If you found it on Facebag, reading about in Chrome, and telling people about it on WhatsApp, then apparently we have a lot more work to do! Privacy isn’t a Simwood product of course, but represents a real issue that we care about and which goes hand in hand with things that we do provide such as encrypted SIP, and our expanding work in intelligence.
So we close 2018 in a fantastically exciting place, with some amazing customers that we’re far closer to as a result of SimCon, our workshops, and conferences. As I mentioned, we’re the go-to provider for the bright and the brave, and our customers are winning in the marketplace. We also have a great team with signs of it getting bigger early next year, and as such I’m confident 2019 will be our best year ever. I don’t like repeating what I’ve said before but it seems apt: We’ve never cared who or what is in the rear-view mirror but rather the road ahead and for those travelling with us – thanks to you, whether already on board or getting on soon.
Have a great holidays and thank you again.