Based at County Gates House, which borders Bournemouth and Poole, C4L occupies four floors of the building and was founded in 2000 by chairman and entrepreneur Matt Hawkins. Now 38, his irrepressible drive and flair saw him launch his own business at 25. In just over a decade C4L has racked up – literally – quite a reputation as one of the leading data centre and connectivity solution providers in the UK, with capacity for thousands of racks of colocation, a resilient 1-100Gb network, access to more than 300 data centres globally and hundreds of happy customers.
With its own data centre, C4L houses 15,000 sq ft of very sensitive data for banks, businesses and technology companies from across the UK and Europe. With customer deployments around the UK, C4L has access to more than 100 data centres in the UK and around 300 globally.
What was your first business and did it feed into what is now C4L?
My first business, if you could call it that was at age five, where I used to go to a cash and carry and buy sweets, then sell them to the neighbouring children from my garage. At primary school I used to buy things from my grandma’s town in Norfolk cheap and sell them at school. During secondary school I set up a business selling software through magazines through school and college, then at university I set up a sideline building computers and selling them to students and local businesses which helped cover some of my tuition fees. While working for an investment fund company I started my first Internet business in 1998 called RevenueMakers. It was an educational and directory site about affiliate marketing, and became one of the top sites globally.
From this point I knew the Internet was the right direction for my business. I became well known for the site and was approached to help set up a new UK affiliate marketing company which I helped grow very successfully over a year. I also had another successful website and in 2000 was approached to undertake a large web design project. I won the contract and decided it was the right time to start my own full-time business, which was C4L. I started providing hosting and data centre space. At the time, there was virtually no one providing data centre space, Internet and connectivity as one solution, so it took off quickly and realising infrastructure was a 24/7, recurring and scalable model, a year later I changed my business model and focused on integrating infrastructure to where we are today.
Who heads the team?
My friend and associate Simon Mewett, who joined as CEO last September. His main objective was to refocus the strategy of the business, structure and prepare for massive growth and drive C4L’s profitability, taking away the day-to-day running of the business so that I can focus on innovation, strategy, products and business development.
How do you see business developing over the next few years, at a time of such swift technological change, for example, as organisations embrace cloud solutions and much more?
Our vision is to be a focused, customer-oriented global infrastructure provider, to be in the top 10 performance IaaS platforms globally and become a major contributor in enabling the advantages of the Internet to the world. I believe this year is the real start of software defined networks beginning to take shape, cloud platform widening adoption and standardisation, 4G coverage becoming widespread and fibre to the cab/home/property becoming the standard. All of this will bring together communications, cloud, connectivity like never before. In data centres true ’free air’ cooling will start to become the standard, traditional chillers and condenser-based systems will start to lose market share. 10G networks will become the norm during the next few years.
On a daily basis, what motivates you?
Helping customers and achieving excellent customer satisfaction, producing and developing groundbreaking and innovative products, being first to market with a product or service (building the most efficient or highest performance services) and enjoying working with the people around me.
How has C4L become an industry leader, in colocation and connectivity solutions?
By bringing the best of breed of multiple technologies together to provide the optimum solution; always aiming to provide the best customer service; providing substantial cost savings for our clients as opposed to traditional suppliers; having complete knowledge and understanding of the industry where it is now and where it is going; and developing new services and being the first to bring them to market. It’s all about innovation.
What makes C4L different to other providers?
We are much more than just a supplier, we work closely with our clients, understanding their needs to advise and provide the best solution in the marketplace. We also aim to provide the highest performance in the market, be it customer satisfaction of 97%, network and data-centre installations in a day instead of a month, one of the industry’s fastest storage and virtualisation platforms, or 10Gbps + as standard connectivity solutions.
What gives you the greatest sense of achievement?
Seeing the business and my team grow successfully, especially in the current market.
Running your own business has its ups and downs; what keeps you awake at night?
Having too many ideas about thinking how things can be improved and done better. I see hundreds of opportunities every day and have to try to heavily filter them all down to the most achievable ones.
Governments harvesting everyday data has been a major news topic thanks to Edward Snowden’s revelations; as a company which hosts very sensitive customer data, is it a good or bad thing (personally) and how do you reassure clients?
This is often people’s concern and personally I think the news is a good thing for our industry, to highlight how insecure data can be. One of the reasons to move your data to a data centre or cloud provider should be to make it more secure. In an office, data is often at high risk, with unwanted staff potentially able to access it, risk of physical break-ins out of hours, or the risk of staff accidentally bringing or opening viruses in the network. These risks are gone in a secure data centre.
Governments or any unwanted party can only intercept data on insecure networks or where they have been given access to by the network providers. Connecting to data over the Internet is secure, as long as it’s encrypted properly. Where we provide the network and the colocation/cloud, then this data is secure end to end and does not even touch the Internet. We can keep the Internet securely separated out.
Did you pass school science exams and what’s your take on the academic route, as entrepreneurs frequently bypass a conventional path?
I did do the usual school, college and university route. My courses were all around maths, computing and business, and gave me a rounded knowledge. University gave me a good understanding of many areas, but if I had not gone I would have started a business full time a lot faster. I don’t regret university and the Internet wasn’t mature enough in the mid 90s to really take advantage of it, but I think now as a true entrepreneur, spending those four years on building your business would be a much faster path to making it successful, as businesses can grow substantially faster now. However if you are an inventor/entrepreneur, then the resources of a university can be equally invaluable.
Who’s inspired you and would be a great dinner guest?
Richard Branson – I have read his book and admire the way that he has built his businesses over the years, originally starting from nothing. I have similar aspirations in growing businesses.
What’s downtime involve?
Home is just around the corner from the office at Sandbanks. I am addicted not only to my work, an obvious passion, but also to high-risk adrenaline sports, such as rock climbing, snowboarding, jet-skiing, and I really enjoy learning new skills or improving myself.
Do you have a bucket list of things you would like to do or achieve and, if so, what’s on it?
I didn’t, but I’ve started writing one and it includes: cage diving with great white sharks, diving the Great Barrier Reef, jumping out of a plane and having a family. Also to go near to space or space flight, and invent something amazing that can help to improve the planet. I would like to visit Tibet or the Himalayas, climb one of the top 10 mountains and complete my pilot’s licence.
Awards, quite a cache (data pun intentional)… What do they mean to you other than obvious recognition for all the team?
In 2012 the company was named winner of HSBC’s South West Business Thinking initiative and runner up nationally, ranked in the Deloitte Technology Fast 500 EMEA, Fast 50 UK as well as the Times Tech Track 100.
Beyond recognition and pride that the team receive from it, these awards can really help your business grow further. You can write as much of your own material as you like, but being seen externally as a leader really helps give confidence to potential new businesses; it demonstrates we are going in the right direction to support them going forward.
We also find, for our ongoing recruitment, awards show potential staff that we are the sort of business they want to put their future career into. We are doing everything we can to create the best working environment possible and awards like this help increase enquiries for positions.
If I called your best friend right now, how would he/she describe you – in three words?
I’ll ask him… He said: “Visionary, technologist, elusive.“