The great e-escape

Steve Gandy heads Quip! the e-telco backed by his former employer, BT. He tells Helen Beckett about life without the corporate...

Steve Gandy heads Quip! the e-telco backed by his former employer, BT. He tells Helen Beckett about life without the corporate comfort blanket

Where did you get your experience of start-ups? Back in the 1980s, at a company called Enterprise Computers which only the most hardened geek would remember. It was half owned by Intelligent Software and half by an Indian trading family - there were 15 staff. It was a start-up that failed but the scar tissue it gave me included a lot of information about how and where things go wrong. That's been very helpful. I also worked for BT Enterprises, which followed an entrepreneurial approach. The philosophy was, "lets plant 100 seeds and see which ones bloom."

What's the idea behind Quip.co.uk? Basically we're an e-telco - we run a telephone services operation, but with just 15 staff. We've put online all those services which PTTs normally employ hundreds of staff to do, like bill processing and call centres. This means we can offer cheaper calls to our customers. Quip is a BT, Bank of Scotland and Unisys-backed venture.

What are the pros and cons of corporate backing compared to venture capital funding?

They [VCs] have got deep pockets but short arms. All the backers see Quip as a learning experience but they also want to see an ROI. VCs are very focused around an IPO exit, whereas our backers have a different view of the venture's value - it's all about enhancing their position in the marketplace. Investors have and expect more money and control - they're not about to give me £1m to blow on marketing. They make me work hard for every penny I get.

What's the best thing about a start-up? The excitement. Each new day is a challenge and there's the knowledge at Quip that we're breaking new ground.

What's the hardest thing about a start-up?

Having the tenacity to see everything through to the last detail. You have to be a very good people manager - everything that's in the management text books you have to think about - and do. In the corporate environment, you're surrounded by this comfort blanket that does everything for you.

So a corporate background is no use at all in the e-economy?

Not at all. Corporate life is a good grounding - you have to stand on your own two feet and justify yourself. Generally corporate people tend to fall into two categories - those who argue their way through against the inertia, and those who go with the flow. It certainly knocks the edges off you and you're only ever as good as the people you're operating with.

What role does information technology play in Quip?

The whole company is based on IT - the IT managers we recruit are amazed at the control they have over business decisions. It took nearly six months to find the right technical director - he comes from an operational IT role. We searched other areas too, but found that those from the ISP background were less technically qualified. Innovation in IT comes from knowing how components work and looking ahead to see how they could be linked differently.

Steve Gandy - CV

  • Steve Gandy (39) founded EEscape, the holding company for the Quip! telephony service, in June 1999.

  • Joined BT in 1985, starting in international sales and marketing. Became general manager for BT's advanced services network in the UK, responsible for BT's main business networks.

  • Founder of BT Conferencing, the voice and video conferencing subsidiary of BT. He grew it over five years to a £65m business.

  • Business Studies degree from the University of Sheffield.

  • Married with two children; lives near Woburn in Bedfordshire.

    My favourite bookmarks

  • CharlesSchwab

  • Moneyworld

  • LloydsTSB

  • FT.com

  • Genie

  • Fool.co.uk - "Its a great name and must fit people like me who personally invest in Internet stock"

  • "Classic games on Excite.co.uk, my excuse being that my two boys like them"

  • Read more on IT for small and medium-sized enterprises (SME)

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