My Journey to Commercial Technology Officer - A CTO with a Twist

Saturday, May 23, 2020

es, that's right, we've all heard of the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) but what about a Commercial Technology Officer (CTO)? I would like to think that I have coined this phrase, however, there are most likely people out there that share my vision. In the last 5 years the role of the Chief Information Officer (CIO) has changed and the lines have been blurred, much like Infrastructure and NETSEC. A CIO is now heavily involved in strategy with a stronger emphasis on the delivery of the technology stack, taking on a similar role as an IT Director in some Mid-Market & Enterprise businesses.

VMware Charity Ball 2018 - Team Arrow

With the latest advancements in hacking, malicious attacks, ransomware & brute forcing etc are becoming more prevalent, and this is where the CISO (Chief Information Security Officer) now takes on their part in dictating the underlying security strategy, with a laser-like focus on Infosec. In some organisations the CISO & CIO are effectively the same person and will work closely together with the CTO to fully understand the threat landscape now and in the future, along with reviewing the tech vendors in each individual area of cyber security (End point, Deep Security, SIEM, Micro-Segmentation, Application, Behavioural etc) to set out a security posture and a 3 year strategy. Some businesses struggle to look past the day to day, which can be frustrating to see but not all IT departments have the allocated budget and are always expected to do more with less.

Over a 16-year career, most of it has been spent in sales, having started as a Junior Negotiator in estate agency as a fresh faced 18 year old. Fast forward and I've now worked in the IT Sector for almost a decade. I've been privileged enough to work in a number of roles in that time and with some of the best technical minds in the UK, as well as globally. Having begun working in the IT sector in 2010 for a small Managed Service Provider (MSP), I learned every facet of business, as you tend to working for a small company. I was still technically in sales at this point selling Managed Security services along with Private Cloud, Connectivity and Back Up solutions. However, I spent so much time doing other things that my knowledge was limited although I benefited hugely from meeting my first mentor here, Chris Brisley (CEO Take a challenge) who pushed me harder than anyone – I learned more in that 2.5 years than all the years previous. From there I moved on to a company called Intercept IT, one of the first Citrix Platinum partners – this is when it was invite only so very prestigious. It was here that I really started to broaden my knowledge. Having spent most of my youth cold-calling, cutting my teeth, I was now an Enterprise New Business Manager although still cold-calling. It was at this point that I felt incredibly vulnerable, having to call customers and book meetings to attend without having any real understanding of what on earth they were saying. I can remember scribbling down as much as I could and then walking over to the consultants and trying to work out what information I had gathered – my note taking ability isn't great so you can imagine it wasn't easy for me.

Slowly by slowly, I started to learn more and more, having started to get a good understanding of virtualisation and storage, but this still wasn't enough if I wanted to feel confident in what I was doing. I'll never forget the day that I booked a meeting and Richard Callis who was the Head of Consultancy (Now Managing Director – Metaphor IT) came with me and straight after the meeting he said, “I'm never doing a meeting like that ever again”, so I asked why? He explained that it was the wrong type of customer and opportunity, so I said give me a list of all the questions any of the consultants need to qualify an opportunity and I'll make sure it never happens again. I took that list and I memorised it – before long I had the respect of the consultants, which is unusual as sales and technical don't tend to get along. I made a decision to move from the sales area (which wasn't a popular decision with my team or manager) and sat with the consultants and project managers and immersed myself in what they were doing. My knowledge and skillset began to grow exponentially, the more meetings I attended the more I sat and listened. The consultants were like the ultimate weapon, a technically-minded individual that articulates like a sales person, not pre-sales, not sales, but the best part of both. I watched as these consultants spoke and how the customer listened intently as they knew they were getting value just from the meeting! This really resonated with me and from that day in 2012 I knew that I needed to learn as much as possible so that I could then hold my own in these meetings with Heads of IT and IT Directors. Intercept had some of the best Citrix consultants in the UK, along with a technical legend when it came to Storage, Sam Balanga (he now works as a Global CTO for Hitachi Vantara). By now I was starting to build strong relationships with Citrix, VMware, NetApp, EMC (now Dell EMC) and HP (now HPE) along with distribution, SDG, which is now part of Techdata.

Having moved on to work for Kelway (now CDW), still in a sales role and guess what, still doing new business. It was starting to get a little old, cold-calling at this point, I was 28 and I think with most good sales guys, they get to a point around that age where they think, how much longer can I start from fresh leaving all your accounts behind. Don't get me wrong, it's great place to start but the older you get, the more stability you want. Once again, I met some of the smartest technical people in the UK, VMware VCDX's, Cisco double CCIE's, Citrix CCIA's you name it. I remember that during my induction with Chris Kranz (EMEA Systems Engineer Sysdig), it suddenly dawned on me that outside of Citrix consultancy, the size of projects I had been dealing with were almost insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Chris and I would end up collaborating on a consultancy project around Continuous Integration & Continuous Development (CI / CD) for my consultancy company (Momentum Enterprise Solutions) almost 6 years later. At Kelway, I began to expand my knowledge into other areas such as NETSEC and Automation. My Private and Public Cloud knowledge at this point was strong and I had no issues attending a customer meeting with no resource and handling it with ease. I was then lucky enough to meet my second mentor who ran the Network and Unified Comms / Collaboration practice, James Masih (CEO – Izak James). It was James who advised me that my expertise had grown far too large to be sat in a new business sales role and that I needed to move. Having further strengthened vendor and distribution relationships and expanded the portfolio to include Cisco, Dell, Arista, Checkpoint & Palo Alto, I was ready for a fresh challenge.

Taking the advice that James had given me, I moved into a VMware Specialist role in 2014 after Verity Affleck (SAM Services Manager at Livingston) reached out to me on LinkedIn. At this point my knowledge of Citrix far outweighed VMware so for a short time I was back to feeling a bit vulnerable but there was absolutely no need as I literally took to it like a duck to water. I grabbed it by the scruff of the neck and in 2 and a bit years had grown the VMware business unit from 2m to 8m, culminating in COMPAREX going from 24 th to 2 nd in the UK out of the 26 VMware Premier Partners. During this period, we had delivered multi-million pound VMware ELA's driving the value of transformational technology with a strong focus on commercial modelling, I was able to handle this due to my experience. I was one of the top salespeople for VMware vCloud Air (vCA) and the first person to sell NSX in vCA (Advanced Networking Services), which was due to LD5 Equinix DC in Slough not being PCI DSS compliant, so we used NSX's Micro-Segmentation along with the reference architecture and built a customer case study with VMware. Both myself and COMPAREX were now starting to get some real exposure with VMware and my personal credibility sky-rocketed. Darren Bird at VMware (Partner SE) was amazing for me and two guys in the vCloud Air Team made a real impression – I'm still friends with them to this day – Steve Dempsey (Account Director – Concur) and Phil Deakin (Senior Business Specialist – Microsoft), along with the partner team at VMware, Harvey Smith (Head of Channel at Tableau Software), Minal Tyne (Partner Business Manager – Tableau Software) and Catherine Robertson (Partner Business Manager- VMware). At this point I had carved out a niche for myself and was beginning to become respected in the industry, which grew even further after I sold the first VxRail appliance in the UK, with the same customer that had a large deployment of vCA along with NSX and Palo Alto's at the edge. COMPAREX were subsequently nominated for an award at the VMware awards in 2016, though sadly we didn't win and I can tell you now, there was no gracious loser face. Things were going from strength to strength, I had now helped a 200bn turnover company roll out vSAN for VDI and they subsequently took vSAN platform wide, removing their NetApp 8800's and HPE 3Par. This was a customer that I worked on with Louise Delahoussaye when she was at VMware (Cloud & Security Specialist – Vodafone Global Enterprise) who was not only one of the best Vendor Account Managers but someone that was a force to be reckoned with, we got on like a house on fire and are still friends today. The more I understood about VMware and surrounding technologies the better I understood how to market these solutions and create compelling messages and value propositions accompanied by a go to market strategy, which went down a treat with both vendors and distributors.

I was now creating a strategy that leveraged the breadth of my knowledge and skillset, creating a value proposition from a technical perspective, devising a Sales, Marketing and Business Development strategy, constructing a plan and executing it with precision. I had been commercially shrewd and aligned my strategy to VMware's around vSAN, NSX & vRealize (I was already well-versed in vCOPs before the addition of Business Suite and vCAC, now vRA). However, in order to be a trusted advisor, you need have a holistic approach so I was already talking or selling Cisco (around ACI and UCS), Nuage Networks, vArmour, Nutanix, Pivot3, SimpliVity, Scale I/O and Red Hat (Ansible) so I was able to give the customer an accurate assessment of the technology at their disposal. I was really starting to build a seriously useful pool of knowledge across Public and Private Cloud, Hyper-Converged & Converged, Software Defined Data Centre, Software Defined Networking, End User Compute, Automation and DevOps (I was already talking to customers about containers in 2015).

During this incredibly successful and life changing phase for me, I also took on Veeam at COMPAREX as there was literally zero footprint and it was a vendor that I liked and had good knowledge of. This turned out to be one of the smartest moves I could have ever made, much like deciding to move into an overlay technical role with a Business Development element (which was ultimately my background). With the same customer that rolled out vSAN we sold the first ever Veeam ELA UK in 2014, this was a history making and record breaking deal for Veeam in the UK. The Veeam Account Manager at the time was Randeep Bahia (Enterprise Account Manager at Ensighten), and the COMPAREX Account Manager was Nick Tubby (SAM Specialist – BT) who are both to this day very good friends of mine. Ian Wells (VP UK – Blue Medora) at the time was VP of UK for Veeam and none of us could have closed the deal without his input – what a guy and still someone that I have absolute respect for. Thanks to this deal, COMPAREX won a prestigious award and I was presented with it at VeeamOn UK 2015 by their Founder and former CEO, Ratmir Timishev, which was a very proud moment for me. I was fortunate enough to meet Michael Cade (Global Technologist – Veeam) who had literally just started at as a Systems Engineer coming from doing pre-sales at Avnet for NetApp. In an effort to get under the covers from Veeam I had asked his then manager Chris Dearden (Technical Account Manager – Sysdig) for a technical session and it was Michael who delivered this to me in Royal Exchange, Arrows old offices. It was a fantastic session and Michael had the ability that all great consultants have which is to articulate the information in a way that I could digest, I learned a lot from that session and I still joke to this day with Michael that it was him that first told me about Rubrik, had he not I probably wouldn't have gone home and spent hours reading up on it. Pete Gibbons (Enterprise Account Manager – Veeam) had been a real influence on me, older and more experienced I kind of looked up to him and we did a couple of significant deals and we also lost a very significant deal where we led with HPE 3PAR and Veeam but were usurped by Pure Storage & ArcServe, I still remember the day we got the call from the customer, we were both shell shocked.

That same year I had managed to miss meeting Pat Gelsinger (CEO VMware) at a vCA event at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in London. I had picked up an ear infection whilst on holiday with my fiancée in Turkey – I was absolutely gutted when one of my friends at one of the customers I sent, text me to say that he met Pat Gelsinger that night. I did make up for this by being fortunate enough to meet Biphul Sinha (CEO & Founder of Rubrik, Co-Founder Nutanix) at a specially hosted event for valued partners a few years later, in 2018.

I was really starting to evolve at COMPAREX and with them being a software-only company, it was very difficult for me to do all the cool stuff I wanted to do with the likes of Pure Storage, Nutanix, Rubrik, Avi Networks etc but things happen for a reason and my second mentor, James had taken over at Misco in January 2016. After closing a 3.5m VMware ELA with James Bishop (Sales Manager – COMPAREX now part of SoftwareOne) in March, I began to think about moving on from what had been my family and home for the last 2 and a bit years. James had tried to employ me as soon as he landed at Misco, but in my eyes they were not just a tin shifter but a company that had been on the decline for years and that wasn't a company that I saw myself working for, especially with the offers I already had coming in for senior positions at Vendors and Resellers. However, I have more respect for James than I have for most people and he called me every single day without fail to tell me why I should come and work for him and the Solutions and Services revolution that he was overseeing. After meeting with James and James Talbot AKA JT (Head of Architecture – Hutchinson Networks), I was sold on the idea of running a technical team and practice and having the free reign to define and execute the strategy. It wasn't a tough decision for me to leave COMPAREX but it was sad for me to be leaving some great people behind and thanks to Mike Chambers (Sales Director – Evaris Solutions), who was the Managing Director of COMPAREX at the time, I was allowed to attend the VMware awards even though I was actually on garden leave, which was a lovely gesture. I will always have a huge amount of time for Mike as he really understood me and the value I could bring if he supported my vision.

I started at Misco in August and I can honestly say the first month sitting with my new colleagues in the Services & Solutions team, it was probably the best time I've had in any of my jobs. What an incredible bunch of super talented guys but better than that (all the people were awesome), for the first time in my career I really felt part of a team which was spear headed by James. Things didn't continue in that vain and it became both an incredible time but probably the most frustrating time of my career. 80% of the business wanted to fight against the team and the change we were trying to bring but I made some fantastic friends there that will be friends of mine for life. The vendor community was awesome, the support I received from the likes of Pure Storage (Gary Matson – Head of EMEA Channel), Dell EMC (Nick Chapman – Enterprise Account Manager) & Rubrik, was overwhelming. My strategy was to design solution stacks that solved multiple problems for customers and helped define their journey in a specific area whilst leveraging multiple vendor solutions to create something compelling for both them and distribution. One of these was Arista, VMware NSX, Trend Micro & Palo Alto which I called “Securing your Software Defined Networking Journey” and we built a virtual lab to demo for customers, with the vendors supporting the technical teams at Misco. I was so excited about being able to finally do things like this and really add value to both end user customers as well as the vendors. We were the first reseller to launch Flashstack (Pure Storage's Converged Infrastructure offering with Cisco) in the UK and we were doing things with Dell EMC's VxRail that no other reseller had even thought of. I had an incredible infrastructure team who really embraced the changes I was trying to make, and it was great to have technical resource that was brilliant, at my fingertips – they were an extension of me. I loved all of the guys but one architect in particular had a massive effect on me and that was Greg Heath (Solutions Architect – PCM). He was a bit misunderstood at Misco and it was my responsibility as his manager to help him get the most out of his skills and knowledge and it became an unlikely friendship. Gareth Meyer (Director – Ultima Business Solutions) joined Misco from Insight and he was someone that I instantly got on with, there was a mutual respect for one another's achievements and experience and I can honestly say he is one of the smartest people I've had the pleasure of meeting, let alone working with. I can remember the two of us doing customer meetings together and it was a thing of beauty – two enterprise guys, with experience and a bit of charm. I thoroughly enjoyed my time working with Gareth and some of the sales guys in Weybridge, building relationships that can make a difference.

Getting involved with the likes of Nutanix, Rubrik and Avi Networks allowed me to engage and build a relationship with BigTec, who are owned by Exclusive Networks, and I was luckily enough to meet Chris Crouch (Cloud Sales Director – Vanquish Technologies) and Dave Mitten (Business Unit Manager – BigTec) there, two guys that I have a lot of respect for and they continue to  support me to this day. I was fortunate for a lot of things at Misco but one thing in particular was working on a 6.5m deal for a complete active / active, stretch cluster design for a start-up bank. This was a super slick design and I learned more working on this project with Greg and the team than I had for a while. This led me to meeting James Rees (Managing Director – Razorthorn & CISO of Cumulus1) who is not only a true gentleman but a legend in the Cyber Security space. For a number of reasons things didn't work out at Misco and having been disillusioned at the lack of value being added by resellers in the industry, I decided I would try to do something very different and I started my own consultancy company – Momentum Enterprise Solutions. The idea behind my consultancy company was to deliver my skills to both end-users and resellers, and leverage both my experience and network which at this point was very strong. I had originally planned to launch this company when I turned 40 but I was 32 at this point and was a little bit naïve regarding how hard it would actually be. I had become accustomed to a luxury lifestyle so it was a real shock to the system to start living off of my savings and I can promise you, everything that could go wrong did go wrong – it was a humbling experience. I was still being offered top jobs and starting to wonder whether it was a good idea to continue but as usual I can be quite determined and decided to push forward and made it work.

Then after finishing a contract I really didn't enjoy, a former colleague of the rock-star Solutions and Services team at Misco asked me to help him with his start-up, Cumulus1. After making so many great friends in that team, a few of us as well as some of the Weybridge sales team all kept in touch on a WhatsApp group. Remel Marcelle (CEO & Co-Founder – Cumulus1) was one of those guys and not only a super clever person but someone with a hugely engaging personality and he actually sat sit opposite me in the Weybridge office. It's funny how things work out when 2.5 years later I'm CTO and Co-Founder of Cumulus1, helping to execute his vision. In May 2018, Remel came over to my flat and asked me for some help with his business plan and what started as two friends and ex-colleagues using a whiteboard to brainstorm, resulted in us securing pre seed investment and building one of the most awesome tech start-ups, something that I'm immensely proud of and privileged to be a part of this team. I was humbled to have the chance to fly over to Berlin and deliver a TedX style speech on my career in front of 260 women, which was probably one of the most intimidating experiences of my life but something that I will never forget.  Everything that I've described from the start of this article has led me to this position and ultimately gave me the experience to approach this role in a different way to most.

My ultimate goal was to create a niche for myself and combine all the commercial acumen I had acquired over the years with the technical understanding and vendor / distribution relationships. When you have a plan and the experience to go with it, anything is possible and what we have managed to do at Cumulus1 is create partnerships with billion dollar tech vendors as we understand not only how to leverage their technology but to really work with them in a win / win way. It was at an Enterprise100 Investment event in December 2018 at London Business School that I thought of describing myself as a Commercial Technology Officer to the other companies pitching for investment and I think that is the best way to describe my role at Cumulus1. I can't wait to see what the next decade has in store for me and if you haven't already heard about what Cumulus1 is or how we plan to level the playing field and democratise enterprise compute, please visit our website and follow us on LinkedIn to support our journey.

It wouldn't be fair if I didn't mention my relationship with Arrow ECS and how they have helped me in the last 5 years get to where I am today. This could go on forever and there are way too many people to mention but in a nut shell, I wouldn't be in as good as position now if it wasn't for their unwavering support. It would have been easy for them to just support me through the good times at resellers when huge deals were being done but to have supported me the way they have since I started my consultancy company and to now be a pivotal cog in the Cumulus1 engine, brings a HUGE smile to my face. A moment I'll never forget was when Matt Peacock (VMware Business Manager – Arrow) called me to invite myself and my partner to the second VMware Charity Ball which was in 2018. I was fortunate to have already attended the first one they hosted 2 years ago, again with my partner. The reason that this sticks in my mind is that I was consulting for a small reseller, insignificant in VMware's eyes and I hadn't done a large VMware deal for a while, so to get that call was amazing, it shows the value of building long lasting relationships. Dean Ellingham (Enterprise Account Manager – Arrow) has been through it all with me and is the best friend I have made in the IT industry and someone that I have so much time and love for. Dan Waters (Solutions Director) and his entire team have been incredible over the years and I look forward to working with all of them over the next decade.

There you have it, not as short as I was hoping for but here's to all of the commercial people trying to understand more about what they are selling!

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