Redgate Software CEO Simon Galbraith on a record year, GDPR and international expansion
After a challenging spell of five flat years, we find out why the buzz is back at Redgate
The good times are back at Redgate Software.
CEO Simon Galbraith has revealed to the Cambridge Independent that the company enjoyed record growth of 25 per cent in 2017 – and expects to achieve the same this year.
It follows a challenging spell of five ‘flat’ years for Redgate, which prompted it to take some tough decisions in 2016 that refocused the team’s efforts on the business’s core purpose of providing tools for professionals working on Microsoft’s data platform.
“It’s really gratifying,” says Simon. “We said we would grow and that’s exactly how it panned out.
“When you are flat for five years but trying really hard to make it work, you can feel a bit down. That whole mood infected the company. But when you’ve got 25 per cent growth and new products coming to market that are working, it’s tremendously uplifting. For me and for the company, it’s so much more fun.”
Founded 18 years ago, and with 91 per cent of Fortune 100 companies among its customers, the Redgate story is undeniably one of success. But maintaining progress as the company matured proved difficult.
When the Cambridge Independent spoke to Simon in March 2017, he gave a searingly honest account of the business and the “uncomfortable conclusion” that the senior management team had reached during the previous year that the way it was set up was impeding progress.
But acknowledging the need for change and delivering it are two different things, as any business leader knows. So how did Redgate achieve it?
“Redgate had been too unfocused as a business,” says Simon. “We’d been trying to do too many disparate things. We didn’t have a coherent series of actions and strategies all tied together.
“We were doing lots of sensible things that worked, but it didn’t result in growth for the main business because they were too fractious.
“We made the business more focused by trying to do fewer things but doing them better.
“Secondly, we focused on one market – the Microsoft database market, rather than three or four different markets.
“Redgate’s goal is to be the best database tooling provider in the Microsoft space.
“We realised we were doing far better with smaller projects and smaller companies than big companies and big projects.
“Even though we had the best technology, we hadn’t worked out how to get in touch with that market. We were selling to big companies – but not to the big projects within those companies, which is where most of the opportunity was.”
A change in the sales strategy meant focusing more people on this key opportunity.
“We had four people doing it in 2016. We scaled that up to about 20 people in 2017 and we’ll scale it up to about 40 in 2018,” says Simon. “We’ve also aligned our marketing and products better behind that.
“The strategy is to do what’s been working – but more of it, and better. We know that will work in 2018. We’ll get a similar level of growth to what we had in 2017.”
Redgate is now the leading Microsoft SQL Server tools vendor, enabling companies to improve their productivity, protect and monitor their data and include their database in agile processes.
“The challenge for us as a business is that the opportunity to keep improving, just by doing what’s been working last year and this year, will fall away. It will be increasingly ineffective over the next few years, so we are also trying to invest in new opportunities for the whole business,” says Simon.
While many business leaders are groaning at the work involved in preparing for the forthcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) legislation, for Simon it offered a clear opportunity.
“Last year, we prepared the ground by making a number of acquisitions and building some technology. This year we’ve been taking that to market. It solves the problem of making your database compliant with the whole load of new privacy rules that are coming out,” Simon explains.
Redgate acquired SQL Manager from Croatia-based company SysKit to help customers meet the requirements surrounding data privacy and protection.
Simon’s investment vehicle, Redgate Investments, also made a substantial investment in SysKit, with the option for a further investment round in two years.
It also acquired Net 2000, a leading provider of data masking solutions.
Redgate has long the virtues of extolled the virtues of DevOps – a term used to describe a more efficient way of working with databases that encourages teams to work together, and leads to incremental releases in software, rather than major changes shipped less frequently.
But the growing demand from legislation such as GDPR to protect personally identifiable information presents a challenge to those handling databases and working in teams.
“We think that’s going to be a real growth area and we’re uniquely well-placed to fit it, because we’ve got a broad range of technology to fit it,” says Simon.
Redgate’s solution is ‘compliant DevOps’.
It offers virtual cloning technology with SQL Clone, creating databases in seconds using just megabytes of storage, which allows isolated development and testing.
It can anonymise sensitive data or replace it with realistic data using Data Masker so that data is protected as it moves between environments. A single central management system means the process is simple – and auditable.
“The problem customers have got is there is a blizzard of new rules, but data is an increasingly important part of their overall offering,” says Simon.
“You don’t want that data to get into the wrong hands because it’s valuable – and embarrassing. Your customers won’t like you revealing their credit card details to the world…
“Most of the valuable data in a company is kept in a database. You might have a website with data behind it that is protected with firewalls and special software. We’re not attempting to break into that market.
“But you’ve still got all sorts of copies of that database knocking about your building – for reporting purposes, development purposes and so on. You’ve got to have robust set of processes and technologies. In terms of volume, this is 90 per cent of your data.
“We launched this a couple of months ago and it’s been the strongest launch of technology that Redgate has ever had. It’s looking very strong.
“At current projections it will 10-20 per cent of Redgate’s business in two-three years. It’s growing very fast and it’s looking like a fabulous business.”
Redgate’s progress also owes much to extending and improving its relationship with Microsoft.
“We’ve been trying to partner with them in a more fruitful way for both companies,” Simon explains. “Microsoft don’t want to solve every problem – they’re such a gigantic company and have got huge competitors so working on the edges isn’t a good idea. But they want to ensure their customers are offered the right things.
“So their strategy is to build the basic version and allow another company like us to come along and supply a richer, more valuable solution. We’re trying to talk really early in that process so we’re working in a way that will allow both companies to optimise their investments.
“With data privacy, we’re working together to work on the overall format. We’re working in a way we’ve already agreed with Microsoft so things will tie together well.
“Having that very symbiotic relationship with Microsoft is a really good thing for Redgate – and hopefully a good thing for Microsoft as well.”
Redgate is also competing in once sense with Microsoft – for talent.
“Cambridge is a place that is very appealing for powerful, rich American companies – Microsoft, Apple, Google,” says Simon. “It’s an employees’ market. But that’s a happy problem for your readers. Don’t feel too sorry for me that we’ve got to pay more than we might expect to – it’s good news for the people being paid!”
Redgate took on 43 extra staff in 2017 and has taken on 18 so far this year. It is looking for a further 38.
“We’ve got better at making a stronger offer to future employees,” says Simon. “It’s really fun joining a growing company. There are lots of opportunities. I think we’ve gone from being good to being world class to the way we’re doing our engineering.
“If you come to Redgate, you’re going to learn a lot about your craft and we work with people who are truly excellent so that is appealing.
“And because we’ve been generating more profit, the bonuses have been stronger and we can afford to pay people more.
“The final leg of our success is what we’re offering our people. In the past, we felt making Redgate a great place to work was putting more emphasis on things that weren’t work. There was a really amazing summer do and big fun events.
“We still have a seriously amazing Christmas party and it’s still a friendly, warm place but we’ve tried to make the work more interesting.
“People spend 90 per cent of their time at work working, so our job is to make the work as empowered and challenging, in a good sense, so that you’re really learning and doing really interesting stuff, and have a chance to influence things.
“If we’re going to make Redgate a truly great place to work, the thing we start with is making the work great.”
As the Cambridge Independent reported last month, a conference at the Imperial War Museum in Duxford exemplified this approach to learning and development, with staff fully engaged in determining and delivering the programme.
“The interesting thing about the conference at Duxford was that it cost the same as sending two people to an international conference but involved everybody in engineering,” says Simon.
“We had three times as many people wanting to speak as we could have slots. The level of engagement was amazing.
“That emphasis on truly lifting the skills and learning of people in the building and getting them engaged is a more powerful thing for us to invest in than a nice trip to the pub.”
Meanwhile, Redgate has a strong eye on international expansion, with a second office now open in Austin, Texas.
“I expect if you come and speak to me in a year’s time, we’ll be talking about a decent expansion somewhere in Asia-Pacific. We’ve had one in the past but we’ve worked out what to do with it better now. We might open one in Australia this year to put our toe back in the water,” says Simon.
Exciting times, then, for one of Cambridge’s greatest success stories.
“It’s personally delightful and it’s great to be in an office with a buzz,” concludes Simon. “People are getting used to the idea that something will succeed. It’s really exciting.”
More by this authorPaul Brackley