Kloud’s co-founder and managing director Nicki Bowers, has had a long and storied career defined by challenging herself, disrupting the local IT industry and a little bit of luck. Starting out as an electrical engineering graduate in a male dominated field, Bowers quickly made the jump into IT hands-on, became a top salesperson and rose through the ranks of Microsoft before splitting off to form the multi-award winning Kloud, which focuses on getting traditional IT customers into the Cloud, providing non-traditional business solutions that disrupt the market, and look to challenge the status quo.
So tell us a bit about how you got your start in the IT industry, were you much of a tech head growing up?
No one from my family really pushed me into technology. At school I was one of the first kids to have a PC, but I was never a coder. All I was interested in was problem solving, but not tech as such. It came through more from my electrical engineering degree in 1990 – I was exposed to more and more programming, and got the interest from there.
I was working at Worley at the time, and really saw what was happening in IT. It was really at the start of the world wide web, and as a grad coming through engineering, they grabbed me and said ‘you’re a grad, you’ll understand IT, so you can go and set up the LAN.’ So I really was just thrown into it. I managed to pick it up pretty quickly, saw there was an opportunity and went to BHP IT, which was the biggest IT services company at the time, 1994.
I very early on picked up SAP in Windows NT, and that’s how I got into the Microsoft world. BHP were looking for cheaper ways to deploy SAP across all of their different subsidiaries. This was in the old Unix days with huge mainframes running SAP. So I started trailblazing NT for BHP.
Because I was selling and deploying more Compaq servers than anyone else at the time, I got poached by Compaq to go and work with them around their ERP business. That was a great opportunity because it exposed me to PeopleSoft, JD Edwards, Oracle and SAP AG, all based on the Microsoft stack.
Those years went really quick. What I call ‘the fun years’, pre-kids, I was working hard etc. All of those roles have been based in Melbourne, even if most of those roles did have a very large travel component.
How did you end up at Microsoft then?
Because I was doing so much indirect Microsoft work, they approached me and said ‘you might as well be on our team.’ So I’ve really evolved from being an engineer, to IT, then to the ERP world around the Microsoft stack, and then finally into Microsoft.
I remember my first day there, I had never really done sales before. They brought me on board with all the juniors, gave me 100 customers, and told me to go and call them. They hadn’t heard from us before. Cold calling. I had no idea what I was doing.
But that was great. It was the best way to learn. I’ve still got the relationships with those CIOs today. They’ve all been big supporters right through to today, are are some of Kloud’s customers today. I make sure I tell our sellers how important building relationships are, and how to maintain those over the years. You do the right thing by them, and they’ll continue to do the right thing by you.
The Microsoft times were fantastic. I always talk of my time at Microsoft as a gift. Working in such a large organisation and getting the exposure to everything that allowed me to get to where I am today, to my own business. The training, the support, the mentorships, and gave me everything that I needed.
Where did the idea for Kloud come from?
I’ve always wanted to run my own business. And family’s always been very important. I wanted to go off and have some kids. Microsoft was great and helping and supporting that decision, providing me with part time roles and such.
I look back at my career and think I’ve been very lucky. I’ve had great supporters, great customers, a great time around me. And that’s no different to today.
But to get to Kloud, it came out of a glass of wine. Like every great idea does! I was having a chat to one of the other guys at Microsoft, Brendan Carius, who’s actually now one of our directors, and we were just looking at what the traditional SIs we’re doing. It was around the time Steve Ballmer was telling everyone to get into the Cloud, but no one really got it. They were still more focused on hardware, not delivering services, refusing to change the way they did business. There was just no evolution whatsoever.
I thought, ‘I’ve always wanted to do this, so lets go out there and do it. What’s the worst that can happen?’
Fortunately, the timing was really good, at the end of 2010. We hit the market in the early days of BPOS (which became Office365), so we got out there really early. Our focus has always been on the enterprise space, focusing on those bleeding edge CIOs, the real trailblazers, and we worked with them to transform their business.
We started with four directors, there was Brendan Carius, myself, Geoff Rohrsheim and Jamie Potter. We had no seed funding as such, we’re all self funded – have been from day one. We were billing from day one, which helped. It has all been pure organic growth.
We are always looking forward, always looking at the blockers that are stopping people from going to the Cloud. We have to ask the hard questions of ourselves too – how do we disrupt ourselves? How do we continue to be that one step ahead of wherever the rest of the competition is, without ever losing focus on what our customers and their staff want. That’s the key to where we are, and why we’ve grown so quickly.
Who have been some of your key customers?
One of our largest initial clients was Coles. The impact of our solution to the Coles team members, to be able to have access to all their timesheets, and all their internal tools, was huge. It’s a 100,000 seat organisation, so it was one of our bigger clients in the Sharepoint space.
From a development point of view, the work we did with Spotless, was big. We did mobile development, apps, providing those field workers with access to their technology. It was interesting because it was about dealing with non-tech people, cleaners, cooks, and how they access IT. Building those apps that interface with legacy applications, and getting it all to work seamlessly was a lot of fun.
When we look at some of the clients we deal with, I think its 40-odd of the ASX 200 are our customers. It’s very cool. We’re dealing with massive customer issues at the top end of town every day, and solving them.
What are some of your key life focuses outside of work?
I’m a mum. I’m a dance mum; both my kids are in theatre and dance. My external life is musical after musical, dance show after dance show, competition after competition. I love it. I have a huge focus on the family, and a huge focus on my two girls, one’s 14 the other 12. They keep me really busy. We’ve had six theatre productions in the last six weeks.
Did they get their dance skills from you?
Hell no. I have two left feet, I can’t dance, I can’t sing – as my daughter likes to remind me every day.
Will they join you in the tech sector when they grow up?
Yeah, we try and drive it. One was right into robotics a few years ago, which was great. We really encourage the kids both at school and at home. We got involved with the coders day at school, we taught coding to the whole school. I’m constantly trying to change and transform my girls’ view of IT, and the general population. It's so important. These are the leaders of the future, and they still look at IT as dorky. It's incredibly frustrating. They still see it as a bunch of geeks playing on a computer.
The kids today are amazingly technically; the stuff that they make is amazing. It was great watching them through coding day saying: ‘wow this is cool, this is fun, look what I’ve built, etc.’ I still think we’ve got a long way to go to change that mindset to get girls into IT. It's something we want to continue to grow and foster.
What does the industry need to do to encourage more young women to get involved with IT?
Both government and the private sector have to do a lot. We encourage women to take up IT, but there just isn’t the talent pool coming through. I’m personally not one for quotas or ratios, I think it's about the right person for the right job. I would love to be in the position where if we had 100 applications for a job, 50 of them would be female. At the moment, about five are female. We have a lot of women in our business, but not many from the coding end. A few techs, but not enough.
I also mentor people inside and outside the business, including females. Its not an official thing, just something I do myself. Its all part of the gift back.
What are you most proud of in your career so far?
Building Kloud from scratch was huge. After that, getting the Microsoft global awards was a massive achievement for me. We also picked up the BRW fastest growing company last year, another massive win. They’re probably the highlights. Getting recognised by Microsoft globally, that was huge.
Where do you see Kloud across the next 12-18 months?
We’re actually doing more across the networking space. We’re going down the stack, as well as continuing to grow the business.
Our growth trajectory this year is huge, we’re focusing on new areas we weren’t looking at a year ago, such as Windows 10, we are also continuing to invest in things such as devops and automation, which is taking off.
For us the business has evolved from being purely consulting, but we’ve gone through the steps – done the IP, the managed IP, the managed services. The managed services business has been growing dramatically, so the question now is, how do we continue to accelerate the growth? A lot of our customers now just say ‘you deployed it for us, can you manage it for us as well?’
That’s a whole new business model for us, we’ve only being doing that for two years.
We’re seeing more and more large enterprise moving away from the traditonal outsourcers, and we’re picking a lot of that up.
You mentioned that you want to disrupt Kloud before anyone else does, where do you see the next big disruption to the market coming from?
I think the big changers will be the data analytics, and IoT will become real.
There are some exciting little projects that we’re working on right now. We’re not a company that comes up with an idea and then pushes it on customers. We’re more about listening to what they want. So we make sure we focus on how we continue to offer value. How we continue to disrupt and evolve their business. We don’t see ourselves as a service organisation to our customers, we really see ourselves as key partners, key advisers, around how technology can continue to help and evolve the organisation overall.