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Interview with Robert Sturt, CEO and Founder of Network Union

Interview with Robert Sturt, CEO and Founder of Network Union

What is your startup and what does it do?

 Network Union is an authorized partner of BT (British Telecom). We established a niche position by creating a very focused workflow which is designed to help clients understand all of the key vectors which matter when procuring global connectivity. Our processes were built using decades of experience working with and for large service providers across MPLS and VPLS Wide Area Networks. Using this experience has allowed us to understand where problems, issues and opportunities exist and bring the best possible connectivity designs and proposals forward. We continuously evolve our approach using live experience from opportunities we are working with on an ongoing basis. 

The combination of a highly focused consultative approach along side the vast capability of BT Business essentially creates a great environment for large Enterprise organisations to achieve the right outcome vs their specifics across technical, strategy and budget. The boutique nature of Network Union creates a unique enhancement to BT’s global logistical network services.

Where did the idea for the startup come from and what void is it aiming to fill?

 With each of us working for large organizations and service providers, we found trends emerging throughout the Enterprise WAN design and proposal process. The trends were pretty much repeatable with most clients suffering one or more of what we call “typical issues and problems”. The issues experienced were sometimes simply frustrating, e.g. billing errors and issues, through to major problems with slow application performance and network downtime.

Our thoughts surrounded creating a process which would help bring these issues to the forefront by building a workflow ensuring the specifics of a business were well aligned to BT. If any aspects of the business requirements are not a good fit, the client is made aware and is well positioned to react accordingly or consider a work around. Where strengths exist, the organization is well placed to leverage extra ability resulting in increased productivity or customer service.

The original remit for The Network Union was to create company which solved a problem without the need for huge investment.

How does your company differ from competitors?

 We have managed to distill years of experience into a step by step workflow for BT prospects and clients to align their specific business requirements. We cannot stress the need to sell by using a diagnostic approach in 2014. The companies which are still selling on ‘features’ and ‘benefits’ alone do not often achieve a good overall business outcome for their clients. We are not re-inventing the wheel but we are tying to become true business partners for our clients, an extension of their team. We ask ourselves the question “What would we do as the ICT Manager of a large global’ on specific accounts.

How did you become interested in entrepreneurship?

Some people talk about freedom. However, the freedom only arrives when any business is financially solvent. During a growth phase, entrepreneurship is more restrictive than any 9-5 position I could think of since switching off is difficult and the hours are long. However. The rewards can be significant and you are able to operate within a highly creative environment vs the typical 9-5 position. Success and achievement spurs you on to improve and innovate further. I love that aspect. Those unique light bulb moments which result in significant growth or success are very satisfying. Ultimately though, entrepreneurship is about creativeness and finding a nice which helps clients solve problems on your own terms. In business, who wouldn’t be interested.

What has been your biggest challenge so far as an entrepreneur and how did you overcome it? 

I would say marketing our idea. The saying “If you build it, they will come” is not necessarily the case! It is in fact the opposite in an ever increasingly crowded space. Without a huge marketing budget, gaining our first clients (back in 2009) was a significant challenge, which required careful thought since funds were restrained. We overcame this challenge by concentrating on an area which didn’t require a huge investment financially but did require significant time which surrounded LinkedIn and some content production which we sent out to contacts. With this said, I believe new businesses underestimate the need to start this process early simply because creating content and making new contacts will require significant time investment.

What emerging trends do you see in your industry and how will your company adapt to them?

The telecoms market is pretty much crowded with the majority of organisations selling services on a commodity basis. This is a trend which creates a major challenge for the Enterprise since IT Managers are often attracted by great pricing. This commodity based sale lacks substance and rarely involves any form of diagnostic sales approach. With contracts typically set at 3 or 5 years, organisations that experience issues due to poor sales process, will no doubt experience the WAN as a bottleneck. Our company is fundamentally built to adapt by bringing forward an approach which places the correct design at the core of any sales process. We are not suggesting commercials are not important but it is clear any design should be correctly created before price is considered.

What growth trajectory do you envision for your company over the next five years?

As time moves forward, we gain further clients, connections and content in the market place. We are already seeing growth from our existing client base. We are working to double marketing on all fronts, which should see a year on year doubling of sales from the 2015 financial year onwards.

What is one thing you wish you had learned about entrepreneurship before launching your startup?

Hindsight is a wonderful thing! When creating a company for the first time, there isn’t generally too much real world experience to draw upon and consider. When looking back retrospectively, we would create more focus on specific areas of marketing rather than jumping around. In the early days, some weeks were dedicated to content production as the best strategy, other weeks we would focus on LinkedIn marketing. All of these tactics are valid but are less effective when limited focus is placed on each area. I would advise any entrepreneur to complete tasks fully before moving to the next area of focus. This does not mean you shouldn’t pivot but all things being equal, focus is your number one priority.

What is your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

It is not always necessary to create a new product or service. I think some entrepreneurs are looking for niche areas, which offer something, brand new and revolutionary and this is totally fine and commendable. With this said, a brand new product or service is not always necessary. Sometimes entrepreneurs are able to look at an existing business and add a workflow or additional service, which enhances a route to market. I believe this is a great place to start, partner with an existing business and bring forward something new. Once sales are good, the business is able to evolve and perhaps would be better placed to create that new product or service which the world has

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