How Outsourcery whisked a mill-town boy to cloud nine

The £44m 'number-one hoster in the world' is 'not your average IT shop', and things are moving fast for its co-founder. Joy Persaud tries to keep up
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Meeting on the day of a London Tube strike is no big deal for Piers Linney.

He suggests Soho House, a London members club, as a venue, but Linney, the joint chief executive of cloud computing firm Outsourcery, would be happy being interviewed anywhere – being tied to one location is anathema to what his business is about.

Linney, 39, and his co-chief executive, Simon Newton, 44, want to transform the way people work on an everyday basis. "Changing work for good" is the strapline beneath Outsourcery's logo – and it's this concept that is making money, despite the recession. The company is worth £44m and has invested more than £10m to date in the "cloud". But what does this nebulous term mean?

Speaking quickly and softly, with a Lancashire burr, Linney says: "Five people can have five laptops with 3G cards, can sit in five different London parks, and have the same IT infrastructure as most big corporates – and we can set it up in 24 hours.

"Using a phone is becoming a thing of the past. I sit all day with a headset on and it doesn't matter how I am called, or call, or videoconference, it is all through one headset. I call from applications. I just click on someone's picture or name and it'll call. I can chat, voice call or video chat. I never make 'phone' calls. We sell this stuff but we actually believe in it."

He likens its use to the way consumers buy and pay for utilities such as electricity. Businesses – usually with under 250 employees – sign up for integrated services such as email, internet and mobile phones, and pay a monthly fee per user. There's no IT room with servers whirring, and no on-site IT person maintaining the set-up; it's all housed remotely. This is, insists Linney, far cheaper for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) than buying and maintaining the infrastructure. When users are warned that their free trials are coming to an end, the response, he grins, is: "not on your Nelly"

But what about data security? And backup? You can almost hear Linney's internal groan as the oft-asked questions are raised, but he answers in his affable manner, only occasionally showing the sharpness that enabled him to thrive in both law and banking before breaking free.

"When companies ask, 'Are you reliable, are you resilient?' We say no. We've spent £10m on this – have you?" he smiles wryly. "And we say, 'who does your backup?' And they say, 'Maureen, I think she does it every week'. So we ask Maureen and she says she's not done it since before she went on holiday. So we test the tape and it's broken."

Outsourcery owns two data centres that provide backup and real-time replication of information. It is also building a primary virtual platform that will be hosted in a new, state-of-the-art data centre guarded by "the highest security and resilience, as well as extremely high availability guarantees up to government standard", says Linney. This new platform will allow Outsourcery to scale up the business and work with large corporates and the public sector.

Outsourcery's current clients are largely SMEs, a sector that took a heavy hit during this downturn. But clients' drive to save money benefited the fledgling Outsourcery, which reaped financial rewards as struggling companies cut costs by not forking out on in-house IT. And, Linney adds: "Weirdly, the mobile business went up: people don't stop making phone calls because of a recession."

Remarkably, for a concern that started in 2007, the company carries no debt, having financed developments from its growing customer-base. Linney says he looked into borrowing but, a month after Lehman's crashed, there were no loans to be had.

With such success, it is unsurprising that Linney is confident about the future of the company he founded with trusted colleague and friend Newton, a former managing director at ING Corporate Finance. In 2007, they led a management buyout of Genesis Communications, a "tired" mobile phone company owned by DSG International, and made another three acquisitions, rebranding as Outsourcery in 2009.

There is a touch of awe in his voice as he describes going from "not doing anything in 2008, to being number-one hoster in the world as far as Microsoft are concerned. The company has moved from strength to strength and we are revisiting it as we have got through the teenage years, uni, done a master's, but now we need to build for scale so we could even go for government contracts. There's nothing we won't be able to go after," says Linney, hands resting on his designer jeans.

This sums up the attitude of the boy who grew up in Bacup, a small mill town in the Rossendale Valley, and who is now on the JP Morgan and Thomson Reuters Power List 2010 as one of the most influential black people in Britain today. His Barbadian mother, Norma, worked as "a pillar of the community, as a midwife", while his father, Derek, from Manchester's working-class Cheetham Hill, won a scholarship to study languages at Cambridge.

Piers's mixed-race background has not held him back, he insists. "You are what you are, not what you look like. If you don't like me and just look at my colour, I'll just go round you, go over you, under you, whatever, to get on in life. I've had a few TV programmes approach to ask if I had been in gangs and reformed, but that's not me at all."

However, Linney says the lack of African-Caribbean colleagues during his law and banking days struck him as unusual, and inspired him to become a Reach national role model to raise the aspirations of young black men.

"I've spent the last two years going to schools, uni, the Cambridge Afro-Caribbean society – you meet kids who don't fit it in at home anymore. It's opened my eyes."

So, what's next on the agenda?

Linney muses on the language differences between the UK and the rest of Europe, and suggests that Outsourcery's next stop will be the US.

"We are number one in the world and the US aren't happy about that," his eyes glint. "I'm not afraid of going to the US market. Competitors have problems with the speed we move at – they're shocked. We're not your average IT shop." And with that, Linney smiles, scoops up his smart phone, walks through the muted elegance of Soho House and steps into the autumn sunshine.

Curriculum Vitae

Education: Fearns School, a comprehensive in Lancashire; Burnley College; accounting and law at University of Manchester

Career

1985: Started paper round business delivering papers purchased directly from wholesaler

1995–97: SJ Berwin. solicitor with City private equity law firm

1997–98: Barclays de Zoete Wedd: investment banker

1998–2000: Credit Suisse First Boston: associate in mergers and acquisitions

2000–03: Founder of a dotcom that aimed to develop a community of doctors to provide online research for pharmaceuticals. Chief executive in dancemusic business that managed digital rights and owned a record label

2003-07: Chief executive of a technology venture capital fund specialising in alternative financing.

2006: Founder of Key Homes a provider of social housing

2007: Acquired mobile business phone company that became Outsourcery

2008: Joint CEO of Outsourcery to transform it into a provider of cloud solutions for businesses

2010: Outsourcery named by Microsoft as its worldwide Hosting Partner and Hosted Dynamics Partner of the Year; Trustee of The Gag Project, which aims to improve the lives of gang-affected young women

Family: Wife, Tara and two-year-old daughter, Tiger

Hobbies: Bikes.

Interests: Aspires to create for-profit social businesses

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