Piers Linney: New Dragon in the Den

q & a

What was your motivation for joining Dragons’ Den?

Well they approached me! I think they wanted to freshen up the show a little bit because Kelly’s joining as well [interior designer Kelly Hoppen]. Also I think I represent a more diverse society that perhaps the old panel didn’t.

I think we bring a new wealth of experiences and interest to the table. Kelly is quite creative and I bring that ‘information economy’ experience, I think is the best way to describe it. Hopefully that will attract people pitching and a wider audience.

You’ve started filming already. What have the pitches been like so far?

I can’t give too much away. Obviously there’s an element of entertainment, but what’s interesting is that you have to make that decision in the Den. In real world you might take several months to think about it. You are committing your money to these businesses there and then. It is quite real because it’s your hard-earned money and it does get competitive.

The problem is, people go in thinking, right I want to get Peter Jones or Deborah [Meaden] or Duncan [Bannatyne]. Kelly and I are an unknown quantity so we have to fit that little bit harder – in a professional way of course.

There were some reports published in the tabloids last week about your involvement in a number of companies that have folded – which you have addressed on your blog. Did you expect that?

You expect it, but you don’t think they’ll make up a load of rubbish – especially when you’ve given them the facts. I just find it annoying and completely unnecessary, but that’s just the nature of the beast. You get used to it.

You argue on your blog that business enterprise should be the news – do you think the media should be focusing that instead?

Firstly, [the reports are] complete and utter nonsense. Secondly, is that really the story? Aren’t there lots of much better things to write about in terms of what goes on – not just on Dragons’ Den – but in the economy.

As you know, a lot of people in the channel are entrepreneurs. Most of the channel are SMEs; people that are trying to build businesses during changing times and changing technologies. To me that’s more interesting…

You say that failure shouldn’t be viewed as a negative thing…

You can’t set up companies then shut them down and leave everyone in the lurch to go set up the next one – that’s not how businesses should be run. But just trying your best and it not working out is the nature of being an entrepreneur.

How you manage it when it doesn’t go right is very important. But failure shouldn’t have a stigma attached to it.

People try things and sometimes it just doesn’t work out. A lot of businesses are struggling in the recession; it’s not down to a lack of ability or hard work. We all know there are lots of companies that couldn’t get finance a couple of years ago. It’s not their fault.

Talking about the channel, what Outsourcery is up to at the moment that may be of interest to your partners?

We’ve been beavering away over the last 12 months.

People don’t tend to realise, when we sold off the mobile business we started again from scratch. We have completely re-built the whole business platform up; our platform, services, our own telco network – from the outside looking in, people don’t really see what we’ve been up to. We’ve completely restructured the whole business.

We’ve done that to be extremely credible, and also go for scale. And an important part of it is to be the best partner for the channel to get into these cloud-based solutions.

So we’ve been quieter than we have been previously because of that. But over next six months you’ll see a lot of news flowing from us.

Where do think the channel sits on cloud adoption, and what advice do you have for partners trying to build a new cloud service model?

We’ve been signing up partners of all sizes to really build up the business – because the opportunity is absolutely there now. A few years ago we had a lot of conversations with partners about the cloud and what that opportunity might be. 12 months ago the conversation was more about ‘Ok, the opportunity’s now arriving – how do I doctor my business to make something out of it?’ And since the end of last year, most of our new partners signing up to us are doing so because their end customers are asking them to do it – and that is a completely different dynamic.

Our focus is on working with our growing number of partners of all sizes; enabling them to get them up and running, get them in front of their customers and get them in a position to sell all of these cloud services.

It’s a challenge for the channel. You’ve got reinvent your sales process, your thought process, your cash flow and to be completely honest with you, the channel partners we see really grasping the opportunity are those that commit resource to it. They really are focused on it.

Most people who come to us and say, ‘We want to have it in the kitbag, just in case,’ it doesn’t go anywhere – not quickly anywhere.

Yesterday Channel Pro published a report that says while a third of resellers have overhauled their business models to sell cloud, another third still don’t offer any cloud services. Is that your perception?

We thought we’d see cloud take-up coming from quite small companies who are cost-conscious, and don’t want to refresh ICT. But in actually what’s happened is real traction has come from the enterprise, large corporates and the public sector – because they pay people to think about their ICT strategy. Because they get it, and are thinking about it, they are adopting it massively.

A lot of our partners are larger partners with large enterprise customers, and that is starting to filter down to the midmarket. In terms of the SMEs, it’s not that they don’t want [cloud], it’s just that I’m not sure they’re aware of it. It’s about awareness – once a company understands the benefits they will adopt it very quickly.

Over 2013, 2014 you’re going to see smaller business become more aware of what’s available and begin to adopt it very quickly.

In the channel there will be a shake-out over the next five years. I firmly believe there is a systemic change in the way ICT is going to be delivered. The same way that the internet transformed how we consume technology, exactly the same will happen in the business space.

The [resellers] that grasp the opportunity today will be the ones that succeed in the future.

But it is a challenge for resellers to make that transition…

It’s not easy. Look, rewind four years and essentially we were a mobile phone reseller call centre [Genesis Communications]. If anyone knows what it’s like to go through that transformation, and the pain and the mistakes and the cost and the challenges, we’re it. That’s something we share with our partners. We’ve been through that painful transition process.

Dragons’ Den Piers Linney labels tabloid claims “rubbish”

Christine Horton

Christine has been a tech journalist for over 20 years, 10 of which she spent exclusively covering the IT Channel. From 2006-2009 she worked as the editor of Channel Business, before moving on to ChannelPro where she was editor and, latterly, senior editor.

Since 2016, she has been a freelance writer, editor, and copywriter and continues to cover the channel in addition to broader IT themes. Additionally, she provides media training explaining what the channel is and why it’s important to businesses.