By Peter Gradwell
November marks 20 years since I founded Gradwell. It has been an incredible journey growing the company, one I am proud of and feel has only been achieved through adaptation and innovation.
Innovation is key to a company’s growth and expansion, our advancement in products completely reshaped the business year by year, shifting Gradwell from a Web Hosting company serving 10 customers, to a Calls, Connectivity and Cloud company serving 22,000+ customers.
As part of the celebrations of 20 years working in this ever-changing industry, I have been looking back in detail on the innovations Gradwell has made over the past two decades creating a timeline and assessing how this has revolutionised how we work. You can see a snappy version of this below, the one for later this year will feature significantly more detail, for all the techy lovers out there, on exactly what happened each step of the way. For now, I will guide you through some of the crucial changes, as I see them, and how they affected us as a company,
1998– The Founding Year: Whilst at university, I was a web developer, and so, as it was originally called “Gradwell dot com Ltd” started as a Web Hosting company because there were very few UK players and increasing demand.
2000– Creation of Clicknames: Clicknames was a website for buying low-cost domain names online, previously these had cost $80/yr from the USA registries and required a cheque payment.
2002– Creation of original VoIP Platform: Having graduated and moved to Bath, wanted a City of Bath local phone number (01225…) that could be answered across the UK by my two colleagues (in Leeds and Tunbridge Wells), without having to pay BT ISDN divert charges. No one was offering “cloud based telecoms” over the internet at that time so we sat down to see if we could route the calls over the internet.
2007– Version 2 VoIP platform: We now had 14 VoIP servers which were unmanageable, so we re-designed the system with an updated format that gave us a single cluster, improved reliability, made it easier for us to scale the customer base and made it easier for customers to manage their phones.
Although the above only consists of the largest points of change, it illustrated that within the first ten years of launching the company, Gradwell had changed significantly. The creation of new products to assist us with our current business had completely altered the company’s main commercial selling point. Our VoIP system is now our key offering, contributing 70% of our yearly profit, but this would never have been the case if my partners and I had not been inventive in our problem solving and open to adapting our initial plan for the business.
VoIP was a fast-growing business opportunity for the company and we needed to ensure we could supply it effectively, our next innovation needed to ensure a smooth service which compelled us to move into supplying broadband.
2008– Broadband designed for VoIP: We were the first to sell high quality broadband targeting specifically at voice customers. The quality of VoIP was occasionally poor due to unreliable broadband. We needed a specific type of broadband to improve customer experience, so in 2008 on the back of some new products from Tiscali (now TalkTalk) we launched Voice Ready Broadband.
2009– Voice to text service: We created a voicemail transcribing system that texts you the content of the message through the use of an early speech to text engine called Spinvox.
2010– Voice conferencing: We attempted a high-value product named ‘Gradwell One’ which was “Unified Comms” – one phone number on your phone, your mobile, or your computer. Although this project was unsuccessful, it laid the foundation for our ambitions around Unified Comms and Mobile.
2011– Rebuilt London datacentre: New Conference Calling Platform- our data centres host our VoIP platform and customer websites and we did a complete rebuilt of all the network and servers, removing all the historic and organically grown equipment, so this was an important update for us.
2013– Hosting Platform revamp as Gradwell Cloud: with the original hosting platform now looking dated, we reworked the product & launched an updated hosting and cloud applications system called Gradwell Cloud.
2014– 1st version of Gradwell App Launched: increasingly, customers are looking to use their smartphones and apps to make calls, rather than a physical desk phone. The Gradwell Phone app has continued to be adopted and upgraded since it’s initial versions.
2016– Launch of Office360. Customer Migration to new control panel: updating our voice control panel was important for our customer satisfaction and also allowed us to empower them to fix minor issues and update details themselves.
2017– Call Recording in the Amazon Cloud: We built a completely new opensource based VoIP platform, this time hosted entirely within the Amazon AWS cloud, allowing unlimited scalability for call recordings and voicemails.
2018– Next Generation Platform A15: the next step in our VoIP platform – currently in beta testing , we have a new platform, built in AWS, supporting a wide variety of new features, including HD Audio & Video, Encryption, presence, webrtc.
Whilst the first ten years of Gradwell were based on new products and broadening our scope of services, the last ten years have revolved around improving our products using advancement in technology and systems. In order to retain customers and entice new ones, improving your services is key.
You cannot build a company that will stay relevant and prosperous without ploughing forward and exploring unchartered territories. For a business to flourish you must be bold, choose inventive employees who will drive transformation and, keep an open mind and an eye on the very changing digital environment. You never know what the next big thing relevant to you will be, but if you’re not paying attention you’ll miss it or, be too late to the party, and your company will suffer.
Sometimes things may not work out, such as our 2010 Voice Conferencing tool ‘Gradwell One’, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have tried it, or that it was a waste of time. As I said ‘Gradwell One’ laid the foundations for our ambitions around a combined mobile and cloud based PBX and we are still actively working on that. I feel gratified to think that we were so ahead of our time in that instance, that technology, eight years on, is still not as advanced as we would require to launch this with adequate functionality, although there is currently a lot of innovation going on in this space.
Gradwell has been innovative from its origins. Every year we endeavour to drive the company to new heights and this cannot be achieved without new ideas and products. I am extremely proud of the pioneering team that constantly improves our services by pushing against technological boundaries.
I’m sure we will continue to modernise and advance our products in future years, continuing to be the inventive company we started 20 years ago.