Interview: Damian Hanson, co-founder of Manchester telecoms startup CircleLoop
Damian Hanson is the co-founder of CircleLoop, a Manchester-based startup looking to make waves in the telecoms sector by offering SMEs a more modern, flexible approach to telephony.
“I joined a computer company straight from school and worked through the ranks in a number of commercial roles,” Damian told me. “In 2002, I left to join an early-stage technology company called 2ergo.
“I was a young guy with very limited sales experience, but as part of their commercial team I helped to grow annual sales from about £500k to around £32m over a seven-year period.”
In January 2010, Damian and his business partner David Hague established retail tech firm One iota.
“We focused on helping retailers sell more of their e-commerce range across new paths and devices, new channels, working with brands as big as JD Sports and SuperDry,” he said.
It’s a sector we feel is going to see quite a bit of change and disruption over the coming years. We plan to be a challenger in that space.
One iota was acquired in October 2013 by software giant Sanderson Group plc, but it wasn’t until March last year that Damian and David gave life to their next venture, CircleLoop.
The duo personally funded the business to get it moving. Damian explained: “We went in and invested heavily to overcome the poor experiences we see in the telecoms sector.
“Our aim is to offer a more modern approach to delivering telephony. It’s a sector we feel is going to see quite a bit of change and disruption over the coming years. We plan to be a challenger in that space.”
CircleLoop is a platform with architecture completely in the cloud, which means it’s not tied down by traditional telecoms infrastructure or systems.
Damian continued: “We’ve built a modern-day system from scratch for modern-day businesses. CircleLoop is completely self-serviced and runs in applications and hardware you already have, like your PC or smartphone.
For small businesses there’s been a shift to more modern ways of making and receiving calls.
“There’s no need to buy telephony equipment like desk phones or worry about line rentals. It all runs completely in the cloud.
“For small businesses there’s been a shift to more modern ways of making and receiving calls. You can use our system whether you’re working from home or a city centre office, or on the train, on the move. CircleLoop is a phone service that works wherever you are.”
The CircleLoop team is based at The Sharp Project, highlighted last week by Deloitte as one of the region’s foremost digital hubs.
“When we founded CircleLoop, we knew we wanted it to have a presence here. At the turn of this year we took some space for the new business. For us it’s a great location, a great environment for creative and digitally orientated businesses.”
Damian’s first company, One iota, had an office at The Sharp Project.
“We’ve been involved with this hub for a number of years. It ticks all the boxes for us so we’re happy to be back.”
BT and Cable & Wireless are big names in this sector, but we’re taking them on with new developments.
In the near future, Damian plans to ramp up CircleLoop’s commercial, sales and marketing activity as the business rolls out across the whole of the UK.
“We’ve opened CircleLoop up a few times over the last six months to BT users and now have around 1,000 users,” he explained. “We’ve been working to really get close to what businesses want from their telephony, to introduce the features we think we need into our development roadmap.
“I’d say our main hope for this year is to raise overall awareness of CircleLoop. Turn the brand into a front-of-mind proposition for startups and small businesses. We’ve got several ways we’re planning to do that, both alone and through key partnerships.”
As an experienced entrepreneur, Damian knows achieving growth won’t be easy.
He said: “Not a day goes by without us facing some sort of challenge! That’s just part of being an early-stage business.
“One of the bigger ongoing obstacles for us is making sure our product is stable and robust, and rich in terms of the features we know our users want.
Telecoms is a massively competitive industry. We’re going to have to be on our game.
“A secondary challenge is that the telecoms industry is full of huge businesses, many of which have been around for decades. BT and Cable & Wireless are big names in this sector, but we’re taking them on with new developments.
“It’s challenging because it means getting to customers that they either already have or are also trying to reach.
“We’re under no illusions that telecoms is a massively competitive industry. We’re going to have to be on our game to make sure we’re able to take a share of it.”
I asked Damian about the geographical spread of CircleLoop’s current 1,000-strong user base.
“We focused a lot of our initial beta onboarding in the North West as that’s our local network. From our base in The Sharp Project we’ve built strong ties with other technology hubs in and around the city centre.
“We’ve worked within our network to onboard people we’ve done business with or worked with in the past, raising our profile locally. But other than that, we do have users right across the UK.
“We’re gaining signups organically every day. Interestingly, we’ve had quite a few from international businesses that have, or are looking to have, an office in the UK.”
Some of the big incumbent firms have gotten sleepy, resting on their laurels in certain areas. We hope to challenge them hard.
CircleLoop could itself become an international operation over the coming years, although its focus right now remains very much locked on the UK’s multi-billion pound telephony industry.
“Looking at how we’ve architected our business, we can already supply phone numbers in about 80 countries. Part of our plans for the medium term will be to look at how we can internationalise the business.
“While we’re based here in the UK, it’s not inconceivable for us to be able to sell internationally. For example we could launch in the States fairly quickly, given the modern architecture we’ve built into our platform.
“We’re by no means planning that too soon within the business, but certainly a few years down the line we could go global.”
Looking at the core CircleLoop platform and its potential to vastly improve the way businesses communicate, Damian believes he’s only scratched the surface.
“It’s still just a fraction of what we know it will be in the months and years to come. We’re excited about the difference we can make in the sector and the opportunities we see ahead of us.
“Some of the big incumbent firms have gotten sleepy, resting on their laurels in certain areas. We hope to challenge them hard in the next few years.”
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