Unifying the market

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Unified communications specialist Gradwell has emerged as a key player in both fixed-line and mobile services. Its founder Dr Peter Gradwell discusses his firm’s strategy and ambitions with Michael House

The formation of unified communications specialist Gradwell is a perfect anecdote for any budding entrepreneur.

The Bath-based company was set-up in 1998, in a student house in the Welsh town of Aberystwyth, by its managing director Peter Gradwell, while he was studying software engineering.

The company, known then as ‘Gradwell dot com’, was focused on building and hosting web pages, and offering email solutions to small businesses.

But since then, much has changed. Gradwell, who became a doctor thanks to a PhD in computer science at Bath University, expanded the company to offer a large number of IP and data services for SMEs.

He claims the company is now the leading provider of unified communications to the ‘sub-10 employee SME sector’ in the UK.

Services offered include VoIP, voice to text, international calling services, broadband, email and web hosting as well as mobile.

Gradwell uses TalkTalk business to provide data services, but white labels all products and does its own billing.

Despite considerable scepticism in the mobile space surrounding services such as VoIP, Gradwell claims business is booming.

The company has amassed a customer base of more than 16,000, with aspirations to add a further 26,000, taking the number to 40,000 over the next two-and-a-half years.

Customer churn is at about two per cent – significantly low when compared to traditional mobile phone dealers.

Its annual revenue growth has been increasing by about 30 per cent year-on-year and its last financial results, ending October 2010, showed a turnover of more than £4.6 million.

The company now employs 46 full-time staff and has been recognised in the Deloitte Technology Fast 50 awards the past two years running.

Origins
It was in 2002 when Gradwell made its first significant impression in the telecoms space, having developed a VoIP solution that allowed people to be contacted on a single geographic number in multiple locations.

This was something Dr Gradwell claimed at the time was a “gap in the market” and one he set out to exploit. He launched the services the same year.

“The problem was that I had a colleague who lived in Leeds and a colleague who lived in Tunbridge Wells and I wanted them to be able to answer their office phone calls whilst at home.

“I also wanted to route these calls over the internet, as broadband was just coming out at the time and I didn’t want to pay for call-divert charges.

“But I couldn’t get a Bath number and settled for a London number.

“I eventually worked out how to get a Bath number, which resulted in us building our VoIP business which centres around a hosted private branch exchange (PBX).

“I have come into unified communications because I had these problems and asked, ‘How can I build these propositions myself?’”

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