PCR sits down with Andrew Fryer, owner of private cloud provider Challow, to discover the problems with working near a cheese factory, why all his employees must spend a year on help desk duties, and why his ultimate goal is to make himself ‘redundant’…
Around 16 years ago, Andrew Fryer decided he’d had enough of running technical departments for big box shifters, and so he planned to work as a contractor and even had a two-year job set up in Dubai. But with a friend keen to start a small business, and meeting the woman who would end up becoming his wife, Fryer’s career took a slightly different turn.
“My father had a small company when I was a kid and I can always remember us being very poor. I initially said no, but around the same time I met my future wife, so going to Dubai for two years started to sound less and less appealing,” reminisces Fryer.
So Challow began with three employees living the life of break fix engineers, working mainly with small companies.
“Our clients wanted to be able to work remotely and wanted their stuff backed up, all without an IT manager, because an IT manager for 10 to 15 people is a big expense,” explains Fryer.
At the time Microsoft was getting into virtualisation, and being big Citrix users, Challow started designing bespoke packages, which charged customers per person.
“We thought it would only appeal to three or four-user companies,” Fryer says.
“In the first year we ended up with 200 people. With so many people on it, our servers were putting out so much heat that in the middle of winter our development team were wearing shorts.”
About five years ago Challow came to the decision that they would become a private cloud provider.
“By that point we had around 300 to 400 people on it,” Fryer explains. “We built a data centre downstairs and what I learnt from that is we should not have built a data centre downstairs.
“There have been a number of times the power has been cut. Over the back is a cheese factory and one day it had drawn so much power with its huge fridges that the substation had blown.”
That was the point that the firm decided to step things up as they were dealing more and more with bigger clients from the legal and non-for profit sectors. And so Challow made decided to build its own primary data centre in Telecity.
Looking around the one-room office, I notice how quiet the phones are.
“We’ve got 14 employees now and if you get it right you don’t get phone calls. You can see that the phones aren’t off the hook. The theory is, do it right; do it once,” says Fryer.
That’s not to say that the help desk isn’t an important part of the company. In fact, Fryer reveals that his employees have to survive a whole year on the help desk before they get a chance to move into any other part of the business, stating: “If they don’t make it on help desk, they don’t make it.”
Challow seems to pride itself on customer service, and Fryer says that most of his employees don’t actually come from an engineering background: “What I’ve done is take people who can give good customer service and then trained them technically. Everyone is familiar with the engineer that communicates in grunts. Well that just doesn’t cut it anymore.”
Looking towards the future of Challow, Fryer reveals that he aims to make himself ‘redundant’: “Everything I do with this team is to train them to be able to work without me. In the next four years I plan to get to a point where I spend my time fiddling with old, obscure American motorcycles.”
Telephone: 020 7609 2277
Address: Unit 19, Tileyard Road, London, N7 9AH
Year established: 1998
Number of employees: 14