Five minute interview: Nick East, Zynstra

The CEO of Zynstra tells us how its so important to keep embracing change

Tell us what you do for a living?

I’m CEO of Zynstra, a software company focused on hybrid cloud computing for the Small to Medium Business. Zynstra helps make IT easy for SMBs by providing them with the security and performance of local IT combined with the economics and ease of the cloud.

Why are you the right person for this job? 

I’m passionate about technology, but with a clear focus on what value it can bring.  There is a lot of hype in the software and technology business, which can be confusing and off-putting. I’ve always seen software as a means to an end, and I’d like to think that if you spoke to the customers and partners I’ve worked with in the past – from the smallest business to the largest enterprises, you’d hear that I’ve brought concrete business value, not hype.

I’ve also had direct experience working for smaller firms and start-ups, which is the only way that you can get real insight into the pressure points and needs of SMBs.

What gets you up in the morning?

Invariably it will be my two young daughters who will wake me up at 6am, usually with questions I can’t answer.   

As soon as I leave the door, I’m fired up on two fronts: to be working intensively with the Zynstra team – who are, frankly, as superb a group of energetic and talented individuals as you could hope to work with; and getting with our partners and customers to drive business.

Who helped you get to where you are today?

I’m in the very fortunate position still to be working with them. The team who launched Zynstra are the same people who I was privileged to work with in my former role at Cramer. Together we built Cramer into a successful company developing systems for telecoms providers and it was subsequently acquired by Amdocs in 2006.

In spite of everyone’s different backgrounds, we’ve got one thing in common: our single-minded focus on customers’ needs. The best places to work are those organisations that have that clear focus.

What is the best or worst business advice you have received and from whom?

I’ve been given some great business advice from those around me the first piece is from our CTO at Cramer, who told me that once you’ve worked out how to do a job, pass it on to someone else who can do it better and move on to something else more valuable. He also told me something else – always look to hire people brighter and better than you.

And finally, while it might be a cliché, the most important advice is that the customer always comes first. I open every internal meeting with a reminder that our existing customers are always our first priority above any other work.  The problem with clichés is that they’re usually true – but all-to-easy to take for granted.

What advice would you give to someone starting out today in IT?

“Embrace change”.  The IT sector is undergoing tectonic shifts right now, and this is throwing up all manner of challenges and opportunities. Standing still and accepting the status quo is a recipe for irrelevance.    

Just look at resellers.  Many people were recently predicting the death of the channel, but the opposite is becoming true: as technology gets more sophisticated, people have an even greater need for local advice and personal support to make the right decisions.

The reality for IT businesses is that change is the only constant.

What does the next five years hold for the channel?

A great deal of change.  We’ll see a further and quickening transition from a pure box-shifting towards a subscription-oriented service model where the channel delivers value and expert advice.  The channel must ensure that it embraces this transition and help businesses to align themselves to the emerging subscription economy.  I see huge channel opportunity there.

Tell us something most people do not know about you?

In 1990 I spent a year working as a science teacher in Zimbabwe. We had no running water, no electricity and, obviously enough, no IT whatsoever. The lack of teaching facilities and especially science equipment was a challenge, but it forced us to be highly creative and create something out of nothing. It was an amazing and humbling experience.

What goal do you have to achieve before you die, and why?

It’s too early to think about death – I prefer to work on this year’s goals, personal and professional.   

What is the best book you've ever read?

It’s tricky to choose a single book, it would have to be a trade-off between the darkly hilarious and brilliant Catch-22, or Douglas Adams classic Hitch-Hiker’s Guide trilogy in 4 parts – I remember being addicted to the Hitch Hiker’s radio series when I was growing up and being able to recite long passages with friends. This all sounds a bit geeky doesn’t it?

What would be your Desert Island MP3s?

That’s the joy of MP3s – I’d take everything. If I was only allowed one record, I’d take Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. I saw him play in Manchester some years ago; he was breathtakingly cool.

What temptation can you not resist?

Food. Our family holidays are completely guided by where we’ll eat each day.

What was your first car and how does it compare with what you drive now?

I learned to drive in an Astra, but I’m much happier on two wheels. It’s not that I’m a cycling fanatic – though I did cross the USA bike with a group of friends some years ago – it’s just that I find cars far less fun.

Who would you least like to be stuck in a lift with? Why, what did they do?

I’ve always found that you can learn something from most people you meet.  No matter who I was stuck with, I’d hope we can find some common ground or at least something to have a good argument about to pass the time.

And finally, a grizzly bear and a silverback gorilla are getting ready for a no-holds-barred rumble. Who is your money on and why?

One of my daughters recently adopted a polar bear and the other one a snow leopard.   They talk about wanting their animals to meet, and I have caught myself wondering how that would work out – certainly wouldn’t be the warm and cuddly encounter they are thinking of. Couldn’t put money on the outcome - my kids would never speak to me again.

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