“5 Things You Should Know to Create a Successful App or SAAS”, with David Standingford and Mitch Russo

I would like to see the real value of maths being communicated more widely. It needs better PR. Each year, I talk to students at the University of Bristol, one of our local unis, about how they can use their degree in business. The potential of mathematical algorithms to make our world better are huge from tackling climate change by optimising renewable energy sources to predicting extreme weather to understanding big data for improved healthcare and the effective day-to-day functioning of smart cities. It all needs people who understand maths. I would like to set up a movement to inspire more young people to study this subject with all its exciting applications.

I had the pleasure of interviewing David Standingford, Director and Co-Founder, Zenotech. David Standingford is a technology leader and director and co-founder of Zenotech, an innovative HPC solutions company based in the UK with a global reach. David’s career has taken him across the world as a lecturer in mathematics and fluid dynamics at the University of Adelaide, a postdoctoral researcher on the NASA Microgravity Programme at the University of Delaware, and most recently at BAE Systems Advanced Technology Centre as the Theme Technology Leader for Design and Materials Technology. As a testament to his expertise in the field of Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD), he is a Lead Technologist at the Centre for Modelling and Simulation (CFMS) and Chair of the Knowledge Network Committee of the foremost repository of the application of CFD. Connect with David on Linkedin.

Thank you so much for joining us, David! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

We had all worked in the aerospace industry for large companies for many years in the area of computational engineering and computation services. We had long felt that the sort of tech we were working on — that is the use of massive computer power for simulation — had broader applicability beyond aerospace and defense.

This inspired us to set up on our own, moving our reach to also include civil engineering, automotive and renewables.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

The emergence of the cloud in 2012 signaled our “Aha Moment”. Now we could harness the benefits of supercomputer power combined with access to the cloud. This pivotal change offered a considerable opportunity for us. There were two key reasons we decided to go for it at that time.

Firstly, we had all pretty much hit 40 years of age and thought it was now or never. Secondly, the confluence of newer, modern hardware began to be enabled through the cloud, allowing smaller companies to participate alongside the big boys, the global corporates.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

When you start off, you consider giving up every other week. The hard times always come when a large customer cancels an order at short notice. This has caused us issues in the past, but it isn’t anyone’s fault. In the software game, tough times also come when your development schedules are not what you initially hoped for — but you have to get things done anyway.

We’ve been pretty determined all along, with a long term belief in the vision of our company, and the trend towards the tech we develop. We’ve been surprised since we started about the relatively slower levels of adoption in engineering compared to what we expected. But through feedback, we know we are doing the right things and that we’re placed in a strong position to help the big players migrate to a hybrid cloud strategy. This knowledge helps drive us forward.

So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

Things are good. We’ve grown our team, which is great, and we are working on a range of exciting projects, innovative tech and industry-first developments. Our two main products — EPIC and zCFD — are now commercially available. We are working with partners around the world with commercial relationships in Europe, America and Asia.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

Thinking we could walk into the education space! Our premise was that it would be great to get kids developing tech, so we ran a competition to help them design a car. We even thought that we could potentially use the tech the children devised in a live product. But we didn’t have any knowledge of how children are educated nor the expectations of an average school kid.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

At the heart of our company is a unique combination of skills. We have people who really understand computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and in particular, CFD, in relation to aircraft and automotive. Then we have the necessary knowledge of mathematics and physics to help us apply complex algorithms. With most software companies in the market, there tends to be a segregation of skillsets. We combine a range of skills in our small but mighty team.

Our particular skillset has come into its own to help the aeronautical industry continue its work to reduce air noise pollution. We have the expertise to create the appropriate algorithms on modern hardware which will give the industry access to the flexibility of cloud modelling and simulation securely at a competitive price. This work is attracting global attention and serves as a great example of how our business stands out in the market.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

I’d go back to basics and say that to thrive as a small business in the tech sector, you need to maintain a fundamental interest in what you are doing. When you’re running your own SAAS business, the highs may be higher, but the lows can be even lower, and it can feel as though it’s all on you. You have to build resilience and be willing to accept the setbacks. If you don’t believe in what you do, this becomes a challenge.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

We are hugely grateful to the help of SETsquared, a business incubation accelerator in the South of England for high-tech businesses with high-growth potential. I’d like to send a particular shoutout to Nick Sturge, then Director of business hub Engine Shed, and Entrepreneurs-in-Residence, Greville Commins and Rick Chapman. They offered us invaluable mentoring and strategic advice on business skills, such as how to manage sales processes and how to recruit a sales team.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?

Since forming our company, we have now significantly broadened from a focus on the UK market to branching out to work with international partners, especially the USA and China. Currently, with political uncertainty in the UK, it has paid us as a high-tech business to seek partners globally. There is strength in being a small company that is agile to market changes.

There are three key steps we’ve taken to build our community.

1. We have a first-class team comprising people who are extremely good at what they do. This means that we make products that our community can trust and feel happy endorsing.

2. We have a strong shared vision which we effectively communicate with others via all our channels.

3. We build long-lasting relationships with champions who help test and improve the products and share them, in turn, with their communities.

What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?

The audience for high fidelity cloud data is niche. The monetization model is usually through direct contracting, and we did not really consider other approaches.

However, in addition, we value offering the academic research community, or anyone running our tech on a single device, to have access to our products at no cost. These people then join our community of champions. Often people using our products will be keen to develop and push the boundaries in their spare time. By offering them access to our resources, we add value to our products. They help us improve our products by feeding back and by sharing the word with the broader community.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know before one wants to start an app or a SAAS? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. You need to create a product that people want. It is vital to work with experts in your target sectors and then refine with industry feedback. You may find that the audiences for your products change or expand. We were very familiar with the aeronautical industry, working with partners such as Airbus, but are now working closely to help optimize wind energy turbines too.
  2. The product needs to be fit for purpose. You must have robust quality control on your products. We offer a suite of applications that have been tested and optimized for our HPC providers.
  3. Being user-friendly is also essential. With our EPIC product, we invested in User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI) and have received positive feedback that it is very straightforward to use.
  4. We offer an online reference guide and tutorials to make it easier for people to use. Ours is a highly specialized software, and we make it clear it’s a tool for experts. However, it is essential to build a community. As this community grows, they help and support each other. We are also proud to be building a network of PhD students.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would like to see the real value of maths being communicated more widely. It needs better PR. Each year, I talk to students at the University of Bristol, one of our local unis, about how they can use their degree in business. The potential of mathematical algorithms to make our world better are huge from tackling climate change by optimizing renewable energy sources to predicting extreme weather to understanding big data for improved healthcare and the effective day-to-day functioning of smart cities. It all needs people who understand maths. I would like to set up a movement to inspire more young people to study this subject with all its exciting applications.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Follow Zenotech via @zenotech on Twitter and on Linkedin, and you can follow me on Linkedin too.

Thank you for all of these great insights!


“5 Things You Should Know to Create a Successful App or SAAS”, with David Standingford and Mitch… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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