Each week, we ask small businesses key questions. Here we speak to Neil Christie, owner of Aberdeen firm Converged Communication Solutions.
How and why did you start in business?
I have always been into technology, right from school, with networking and the internet at the heart of my interest. It goes back to the days when you required a modem, tying up the phone line to get online, and waited until 6pm so the call costs went down.
I suspect many people get to a point, as an employee, where they think “I’d like to try doing this for myself” or “I could do this better”.
Of course, they may quickly learn there is a lot more to business than they thought and come out with greater respect for those they were dismissive of. I certainly did.
How did you get to where you are today?
Incremental and controlled growth has been our principle. Converged started with two people – myself focusing on the technology, and someone else to do the sales and business side of things.
We later took on our first employee to pursue an opportunity, which changed and threatened our viability. We had to adapt to stay afloat, and so it continues year on year.
I sometimes think the earliest years were the easiest – simpler and less at stake – but I still relish work every day.
Who helped you?
I’ve had great support from family, parents and colleagues. We see many of our customers as friends, so are keen for them to succeed. I’m also a member of the Federation of Small Businesses for peace of mind afforded by legal and employment protections. It has been invaluable since day one.
What has been your biggest mistake?
I may need to wait to truly tell, but I fear it will have been to err too far into work, rather than family and leisure. It is easy to persuade yourself that you need to build for the future, but I’m conscious of the risk of letting life pass me by, whilst focusing solely on work.
Being reluctant to easily entrust others with things is partly due to a strong desire to ensure our work and reputation are maintained. It also comes from past occasions where I’ve been let down or misled.
What is your greatest achievement?
Converged was built first on my technical reputation, and then on the expanding reputations of those I felt had something to contribute as part of the team. We aim to be a trusted advisor to our customers, guiding them towards the most appropriate technologies for their business, large or small, and never selling them something for the sake of it.
We won’t sell something just because it is new and flashy. Instead, we’ll test it, ensure it can be relied on and is truly useful before offering it to our customers.
If you were in power in government, what would you change?
A lot of effort is required to respond to government and mandatory requests for information. I appreciate gathering valid information helps shape policy and thinking, but question whether it is always relevant or easily enough gathered.
Sometimes, when it comes to taxation or VAT etc, it seems hard to find a definitive answer to something. You read what you can and find other opinions online, but at the end of the day you need to go with your hunch as to what is the right way to handle a given situation.
Asking for official guidance is often time-consuming and doesn’t always leave you with the feeling the answer you’ve been given is guaranteed to be right, and it is not always assured the fact you’ve tried to find out will stand you in better stead if you get it wrong.
What do you still hope to achieve?
I’m still heavily involved in the day-to-day, technical delivery of our services, often out in the midst of it and not sat alone in a management office focused on the longer-term goal.
It would be good to allow myself to have faith the team has it fully covered, so I can enjoy watching them succeed and grow and give me more time on wherever my interests fall at that moment.
What do you do to relax?
I’ve always enjoyed music, driving, podcasts, and concerts – something I’ve missed a lot during lockdowns. We’re also a sociable team at Converged, so nights out are usually good fun.
What are you currently reading, listening to or glued to on the TV?
I enjoy Rebus and Stuart MacBride’s detective writing. Also, watching old episodes of Columbo, while on the exercise bike, and Line of Duty was a must-watch. Binge-watching a series that really grabs you is great, but so is looking forward to a special night of the week for the next episode.
I find Twitter an irresistible draw, for laughs, but also to stay abreast of news, technology and new cyber threats.
What do you waste your money on?
Technology, gadgets, and junk food. Looking for bargains online, but asking “do I really need this, even though it is on sale”.
How would your friends describe you?
As someone whose first drink always disappears really quickly, and who enjoys socialising with them and is happy to lend a hand.
What would your enemies say about you?
I was told a competitor once described Converged as “too helpful” but I couldn’t fathom that one out.
What do you drive and dream of driving?
I drive an electric vehicle now and feel there is no going back. Top speeds have always been ludicrously high, given speed limit and road safety, but good acceleration makes for an enjoyable drive, and when used properly makes safe overtaking a breeze.