Q&A: Peter Bauer, CEO and co-founder of Mimecast

Mimecast logo

Why did you start up in business?

Fundamentally, it’s about the pursuit of adventure. Every time I've started a business - and this is my third – I’ve been filled with energy and anticipation of what might happen next.

It's addictive and infectious. Once you've started doing this and seen it work, it's very hard to stop and go back into employment.

I was lucky to start my first tech company just before the dotcom boom, so got to ride a wave, learn a lot and taste success early on.

This experience gave me some of the knowledge, confidence and cash to be able to start Mimecast, which has already outgrown my previous business.

Take us through how you developed it.

Neil Murray and I set out to tackle the complexity of running corporate email, which we saw stifling IT departments, and we were clear that SaaS was the way to do it.

After that it was pure persistence. After six months, we thought we’d bitten off more than we could chew, and in the end, it took us 18 months to build a platform that could do what we set out to do. So Mimecast began to hit its stride towards the end of 2004.

Since then, the focus has been, naturally, on sales, but also on continuing to innovate and build out the services we can offer. During the economic downturn, we invested a significant amount of resource and effort into research and development, increasing this area by 50 percent in 2009.

And at the end of last year, we secured £13m in venture capital funding, to further fuel our innovation drive, invest in our channel programmes, and enable us to grow our US presence faster.

What sets your offering apart from the crowd?

We approached the business email challenge from an entirely different angle, considering all the major issues together and building a single platform that could address all of them very elegantly and cost effectively.

So instead of customers having to run three different applications for email security, archiving and continuity, we provide all that functionality through a single platform.

At the same time, we attract most of our customers because our standalone archiving, or continuity, or email firewall capabilities are best-in-class.

Building our offering as a SaaS solution has also been a major advantage, as customers can adopt it very quickly and avoid the costs associated with complex on premise systems.

We also represent a great opportunity for our channel partners to add ongoing value to their customers, particularly when it comes to migrating to Exchange 2010 or BPOS.

What has been your best moment in business?

This may sound strange, but I live for the moment when someone on the customer side, usually an IT manager or a technical consultant, "gets it".

I am a sales engineer at heart, and some of the best experiences have come at demo time, when you see someone look at you and say, "Wow, I can tick so many things off my to-do list if I have this".

And despite many amazing experiences – such as raising £13m in funding, signing our 3000th client and winning over 50% of the Top 100 UK law firms, the best are those moments with a prospect, when their eyes light up.

What was your biggest mistake (be honest)?

Listening to too much advice, on occasion, and in particular people telling me to be less involved in the business and to hand over to "management".

Maybe I misunderstood them, or did it wrong, but after nine months in this mode, I realised that my place was in the business, sleeves rolled up, innovating with the team.

What is the hardest part of running a business?

As a business owner you have to be tenacious and have courage in your convictions, but there is inevitably doubt on some occasions. Despite our success, we are a sapling in a forest of giants, so we have to know when to change course and do it quickly.

There is nothing wrong with questioning the fundamentals of your business – brand identity, customer base and future – as long as you turn that analysis into positive outcomes and drive forward changes decisively.

Sometimes there is a need to dig up the runway and re-build it, which takes time and money, but it is important to recognise that making these changes will strengthen your business. And invariably, the runway is still pointing in the same direction.

What are your plans for the future?

I really believe we are in a great position to benefit from one of the most fundamental shifts we’ve seen in IT since mainframe gave way to client/server. So much is up for grabs again, and with the giants of the industry throwing their might behind the cloud computing model, the opportunities for companies like ourselves are massive.

Looking ahead, it’s hard to see past the challenge, and the opportunity, to work with our channel partners to tap into the 300 million users connected to corporate email systems – whether they still run their own Exchange Servers or move to hosted environments like BPOS. That’s our addressable market, and we’ve barely scratched the surface thus far.

What is your best advice to would-be entrepreneurs?

Never give up. For me, pushing the ‘failure’ button has never been an option. I don’t think this is a case of blind optimism. It’s more about having a philosophy which suggests that if you keep going, keep trying, things will improve. The combination of time and application eventually gets results.

Leadership is also desperately important. As an entrepreneur and business leader, my particular ability is to make people realise that, actually, things have never been better. It’s a perspective thing, and as we all know, fatigue can cost you perspective.

I am careful to recognise, and help others recognise, that failure is an entirely different beast. Having said all of that, mine is not a philosophy that would work if the business was not built on solid, well thought through foundations. That’s what enables me to trust that things will come good.

Nobody is immune to the occasional wobble, though. As a leader, it’s important to surround yourself with hard working but fundamentally positive people.

They may not know it, but they help build you up – you can draw on them when you need to derive energy from an alternative source. This is particularly important in the early stage of a business.

There’s no room for doubters or cynics. What you need is wall-to-wall zealots. People who find the pursuit of adventure as addictive as you do.