The Entrepreneur: Paul Lees, Powwownow

The founder of the £13m conference call company on building the right team, the importance of timing and the rise of remote working…

Founder: Paul Lees
Company: Powwownow
Description in one line: The instant, contract-free, hassle-free conference call provider
Previous companies: ViewsCast and BT
Turnover: £13.1m in 2013
12 month target: Undisclosed

Describe your business model and what makes your business unique:

  • “Disrupt, Liberate and Simplify” – we believe smarter working should be accessible to all.
  • No hassle, hold-ups or complications and definitely no price barriers.
  • We provide the right tools for getting the job done in a simple and efficient way.

What is your greatest business achievement to date?

Making the decision to build a brand quite early on and the success that this brand has had in such a low interest category.

What numbers do you look at every day in your business?

Our call minutes and daily registrations.

To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your plans?

We currently operate in 15 countries around the world. This year we are actively pushing into Germany and France. We have previously operated there, but haven’t actively tried to encourage business.

Describe your growth funding path:

Myself and another partner sold businesses previously and had some seed capital to invest. Up until 2010 Powwownow’s growth had been completely organic and we had never borrowed any money but when the government launched its business lending scheme to help with the financial crisis, we received a loan to help us acquire a competitor – Conference Genie.

What technology has made the biggest difference to your business?

The ability to use VoIP data in the same way as computer data. This means we can analyse telephone calls in the same way as computer data. In the old days we needed telephony hardware to handle phone calls, now we just use software to process VoIP data. Modern languages such as Node JS allow us to write complex code at a much quicker rate than using traditional C language.

Where would you like your business to be in three years?

The aim is to be as well known in collaboration as we are in audio. Currently, every one in four social media content conference call conversations is a Powwownow conversation; we want to emulate this in collaboration.

Growth challenges

What is the hardest thing you have ever done in business?

Becoming a Telco (telephone communications) business. It was a year’s programme to make the transition over and in one day we moved 70% of our traffic over to our own infrastructure which potentially could have been disastrous had our infrastructure not been ready. Luckily we had no problems and it was a success.

What was your biggest business mistake?

Running a social media campaign too early in terms of social media adoption. We released a campaign called Love/Hate Travel quite early on that was relatively successful but, at the time, didn’t translate into registrations. We saw a dip in growth that year as a result of the investment in that campaign.

Piece of Red Tape that hampers growth most:

Red tape doesn’t really affect us.

What is the most common serious mistake you see entrepreneurs make?

Trying to do too many things at once and never finishing them.

How will your market look in three years?

Remote working will dominate more of the market as businesses start to move to a more flexible way of working as commuting costs continue to rise and businesses look for alternative ways to retain top talent.

What is the single most important piece of advice you would offer to a less experienced entrepreneur?

Surround yourself with the right team. Build the right team with complementary skills so you can all excel in your given areas and make sure you set the tone; your business is a reflection of who you are.

Personal growth

Biggest luxury:

A new home cinema

Executive education or learn it on the job?

It depends what possibilities there are for on the job learning. I was lucky that I had an unusual background as a computer project manager which touched on all business points from finance to development. Not all people have the luxury of experiencing all of business, so in some cases an executive education is a good idea.

What would make you a better leader?

I’m not a small detail person, so I made sure that I built a team around me to support the weaknesses that I have.

Business book:

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, by Malcolm Gladwell.


(will not be published)