As part of our interview series catching up with previous winners of the UK Tech Awards, we chat to Peter Bauer, CEO of Mimecast, the cyber-security provider that helps thousands of organisations worldwide make email safer, restore trust and bolster cyber resilience, and the 2018 winner of the ECI sponsored ‘Tech Growth Business of the Year’ award.
Please note this interview is from July 2020.
Hi Peter. Feels like the world has changed quite a lot since you won in 2018, what has changed at Mimecast?
There’s been quite a few milestones, especially around expansion into Central Europe. We’ve made three acquisitions, added thousands more customers, and earnings have grown by over 60%.
What’s the strategy behind the different acquisitions you’ve made?
Our M&A strategy is really focused around technology and talent tuck-ins, so they tend to be smaller acquisitions giving us new capabilities. That can be really varied, so those three acquisitions include a Dutch company specialising in DMARC implementation, an Israeli cyber-security company and a data migration company based in London.
Given the different specialisms and geographies, is it hard to successfully integrate?
We make sure that we partner with businesses for several months before making the decision to acquire them, so we really get to know the organisations and know that they’re a great team and the right fit beforehand. It’s important though that they’re not standalone businesses. They might sound like they do different things, but they connect into our platform, and the technology serves a purpose in terms of expanding the capabilities of the suite for customers. Your integration will depend on the platform you’ve built. We didn’t do M&A for the first 14 years – we built a good organic platform with mature architecture. Getting that right means we’re now in a position where we can do a few a year.
Do you think those M&A plans will be affected in the wake of Covid?
I think our plans are unchanged from an M&A point of view, as we’re still looking to feed our platform and our team with new, interesting technologies and capabilities. Covid may have an impact on potential targets that might make joining a bigger business more compelling for them, but we’re not about capitalising on low valuations. We want to make sure the sellers of the business are happy – they’re going to be part of the journey for a long time. And we know we’re able to monetise what they have a in way that they couldn’t on their own across 38,000 customers.
Have you seen a greater intensity of attacks in the current crisis?
There’s definitely been an uptick, and you tend to see in times of an economic downturn there will be more crime as crime pays, and cyber crime is no exception. Covid is quite unique in the sense that organisations are more susceptible as people are working outside of the supervised work environment. They can’t double-check with someone as easily, and the line between personal choices and professional choices becomes blurred. I think the bigger framework is also just that organisations are in a more fragile place. No one ever wants a cyber incident, but they really don’t want one now. So, people are paying more attention to how we can help them be more secure and resilient.
What has working from home taught you about your business?
As an organisation we’ve found we’re more connected than ever, from our mission, to our purpose, to our values, from leadership all the way down. Our Glint (employee engagement survey) scores have gone up and it’s made us realise that there’s a limit to how much engagement you can achieve when you’re relying on people flying on planes and getting people into rooms. We’ve become much better at communicating in a different way. For example, every Sunday I do a short video for everyone in the company, my chief of staff made me call it… “The Bauer Shower of Love”. It’s important to show that you’re still there, relaxed and confident about the future.
We’ve had to do our company events virtually, and we’ve approached it more like morning television. You don’t turn on the television and watch someone droning on for a 45-minute keynote. You have to make it dynamic and add the surprise and delight that means people can engage for a longer time. It’s hard work but it’s important to get it right.
Mimecast has won awards for being a great place to work. What do you do as a leader to create the environment?
People always worried about how that culture would translate as we went from 30, to 300, to 1000, and people are still asking me how we will keep our culture through the next phase. Which is great, it means we still have something they want to preserve, and they’re asking because they care. A lot of it does come down to simply who you are, and who you hire, but as you grow, especially with M&A, you do need to be more deliberate around the values you want to communicate and the behaviours we expect. You can’t legislate for this stuff, but you have to be programmatic about how you keep those front and centre.
What role do you think a CEO has in demonstrating those values in action?
I think it’s hugely important, and this crisis has been a good example of that. When we went into the crisis we knew that economic hardship might be coming, so we made it clear that our number one priority is to protect everyone’s job. Being really clear on that means people can understand why we were being a bit more fiscally conservative or slowing down hiring, as we try and understand the angle of the road ahead. But at the same point we were able to say to our lowest earning employees that we’d be giving them a bonus as they might need to brace themselves and we didn’t want them worrying. Or we set up an anonymous resilience fund that allowed employees with particular needs to draw from. It’s important to show your people ‘we’re in your corner here.”
One of my views that has changed has always been whether we talk about that sort of thing externally. You don’t want to be doing these things just to talk about them. But I’ve reached a point where I think you’re doing these things because it’s important to you, but also it sets an example and gives people in your business the courage to talk about things they care about, which is important as these things aren’t always easy decisions.
What’s the best advice you’d give tech entrepreneurs who are scaling their business?
It sounds cliché, but the main thing is to understand your role and the importance of your team. There’s a special thing a founder can bring and it’s not being the expert on everything. There’s a moral authority, there’s a vision, there’s a long arc of strategy that the founder brings and represents.
But you only get to do that if you have a well-constituted team. At some point you begin to understand that as a founder CEO, your number one job is bringing together and curating that team. Once you do, it’s completely liberating. The big question isn’t are you super smart or do you have a great idea, it’s can you build a team that can capitalise on this opportunity?