Image: 9 Spokes CTO Jesper Peterson
Small businesses are often treated like the ‘younger sibling' in the corporate power struggle – even though they make up more than 97% of all businesses in New Zealand, according to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.
What does it take to get into a better position? 9 Spokes cofounders Mark Estall and Adrian Grant recognised that for many New Zealand SMBs, the reality was that they didn't have access to the right technologies, and they had fewer business insights than their corporate peers.
Estall and Grant decided to do their part in levelling the playing field for SMBs, which is why they created a business that empowered small businesses with apps, analytics, and growth resources.
9 Spokes chief technology officer Jesper Peterson says, “Small businesses use lots of different tools to deliver services to customers – whether it's an accounting package, Outlook, Mailchimp, web analytics, Office 365, payroll software or software to monitor and manage HR – it can all be incredibly overwhelming for them and hard to manage.
Contrast that with large corporates that can afford to pay dedicated people to glean insights and manage the platforms, it becomes clear small businesses are getting the short end of the stick.
So, in 2012 9 Spokes created a dashboard that integrates with different apps and services to provide business insights in a central location. An online marketplace followed shortly afterwards. It looks easy, but in reality, there were many hurdles along the way.
“We realised that if we wanted to take ourselves to the next level for our customers, we had to move it to the cloud and we just weren't set up for that,” explains Peterson.
"So, we looked at the different cloud providers and, while other technology stacks competed in terms of performance and features, Microsoft was the only business that could offer us a strong and established co-sell partnership. We also wanted to sell Office 365 in our Marketplace, so it was win-win situation. In the end, we partnered with Microsoft because we got the trifecta – the Azure Cloud Stack, the co-sell partnership, and we could offer Office 365 to customers.
With a co-sell partnership, 9 Spokes took its services to the next level.
Banks were quick to recognise the importance of the small business sector – even with a high regulatory environment. As a result, 9 Spokes is working alongside Bank of New Zealand, OCBC Bank in Singapore, and even Bank of America.
“The banking sector is facing incredible disruption. The advent of peer-to-peer lending as well as the creation of new forms of currency like cryptocurrency is forcing the banking sector to look hard at how it can better serve customers. The 9 Spokes solution is integral for these banks who are looking for ways to provide value added services, and drive better engagement,” says Peterson.
He notes that Bank of America alone has millions of small business customers, which has been immensely useful for helping 9 Spokes reach customers it otherwise could have missed.
Speaking about 9 Spokes' integration with Azure, Peterson says, “Having DevOps feed into Azure makes it easy for us to release new software. We love it because our dev guys can create containers in Azure Kubanetics (AKS) in real-time, then they can replace the front end, test it with traffic and switch off the old version without downtime and disruptions to customers."
He adds that 9 Spokes can use AKS to run different containers on virtual machines, and different containers for different customers. Azure also enabled more streamlined operations, moving staff from compliance tasks to app and tool creation.
The company can also spin up a new app or tool in a few weeks, rather than six months.
Peterson believes that 9 Spokes' co-sell partnership with Microsoft and the move to Azure has set the company up for a ‘growth year'.
“We have the potential to be a billion-dollar company – we just need to get more businesses using the platform and realising the benefits. Our partnership with Microsoft has been a significant step towards this and we're excited about the future.”
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