Business Leader recently spoke with Evan Wienburg, CEO of Truespeed to talk about how his company is changing the change within the broadband connectivity industry in the South West.
To set the scene, can you give us a brief overview of your career to date, and your pathway to forming Truespeed?
I built my career in the RAF, where I ran multinational IT programmes, often in highly challenging and changeable environments. Transitioning from the military to business leadership might seem like an unusual career trajectory, but the skills I gained in the forces – from acute problem solving to agile working in high pressure situations – combined perfectly with my passion for technology, and is ultimately what led to the formation of Truespeed.
We founded Truespeed in 2014, with the aim of bringing future-proofed full fibre broadband to poorly served areas of South West England. We – myself and two fellow entrepreneurs – had rescued a failing social enterprise, bringing its former investors onside. We steadily built the company from there, and in 2017 were able to accelerate our growth plans after securing a £75 million investment from Aviva Investors.
What made you set up the company? Was there a lightbulb moment?
It wasn’t so much a lightbulb moment as a growing frustration with the poor connectivity that has plagued the South West for years. The region had largely been ignored by major broadband providers who favoured investing in easier to connect, more profitable areas. Many people I spoke to were finding home and working life increasingly difficult; the broadband networks available were simply not fit for purpose.
With Truespeed, we saw an opportunity to provide major benefits to our community and the wider region, by providing a built-to-last full fibre broadband infrastructure that would transform digital connectivity for generations to come.
What was the ambition for the company on day one?
Our ambition is simple: to bridge the divide between the digitals haves and have-nots, by providing world-class full fibre infrastructure to harder to reach areas of the South West. And that includes some of our famous historic cities, such as Wells, as well as rural villages.
Six years along the road, how close are you to meeting that ambition? Are you where you hoped the company would be at this point?
I’m immensely proud of what our team has achieved since we started out. In the past three years, we’ve passed over 20,000 properties with our network and are on course to pass 40,000 by the end of the year. Our ambition is to get to 500,000 over the next five years. There are thousands of customers who now have access to some of the fastest, most reliable broadband connections in the world. Residents, businesses, schools and community hubs in over 100 communities have signed up to benefit from our infrastructure. Is there more to do? Of course. But are we well on our way to meeting our goals? Absolutely.
Establishing any business means overcoming setbacks. What was the biggest challenge you faced and how did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge was finding and hiring the right people. This is the perennial issue with all companies that are growing. Since the Aviva investment, we’ve grown considerably and have a great team of people who share the vision. People are the heart and soul of a company, and that’s especially true for Truespeed.
You’re privately funded and independent, operating in a market typically dominated by major players. What gave you the confidence you could make Truespeed a success?
A belief that we could do it better, and a community that reinforced that belief. The old adage “it takes a village” rings true. It’s the people that make a business a success and we’re very lucky to be staffed and supported by incredible people who are dedicated to achieving our shared vision.
How easy was it to get others to buy into your vision when you sought funding? How did you sell it to them?
I think lots of entrepreneurs would agree, securing funding is one of the most difficult elements when making their vision come to life. It was hard at the very beginning, convincing others that we could build a network where other conglomerates had deemed commercially non-viable. But once they understood the true value of the project and how it would benefit thousands of people for years to come, they were keen to come on board.
Does Truespeed’s independence and relatively small stature within its market create an advantage or a challenge? Why, how do you utilise/overcome that?
Our independence and size has many advantages – particularly in terms of flexibility, agility and our ability to deploy the ultimate in full fibre connectivity, unencumbered by previous deployments.
Plus our community-focused ethos, which is impossible for large broadband providers to replicate, is also a key differentiator and something that is fundamental to our continued success.
What kind of difference is Truespeed making to business across the South West?
Across the board, having access to ultrafast broadband boosts business, the bottom line, and the customer experience – whether that’s through making business processes more efficient, enabling access to video conferencing and online business tools, or offering new opportunities for flexible workers or budding entrepreneurs.
For example, we provide our network to local café Chew Kitchen, and they have seen a huge increase in customers bringing devices to the café to make use of their connection, as well as increased bookings for business meetings in their private function room. That’s great news for their business, but it also supports their customers and community too.
Truespeed has been described as having a ‘strong community commitment at its core’. Can you tell us more about this, and why it’s important to you?
For a twenty-first century business, purpose should be just as important as profit. Truespeed was born by and for the community, and that’s why it’s so important that our community-centric model continues to sit at the heart of our business.
We believe that everyone should benefit from our investment, which is why, for example, we provide free broadband for life to schools and community hubs passed by our network, as well as partnering with local organisations and groups to volunteer time and resources.
How big can Truespeed become? Where do you see it – and yourself – in two years, five years, ten years?
As I mentioned, we’ve already passed 20,000 properties with our network and are on course to pass 40,000 by the end of the year alongside our ambition to get to 500,000 over the next five years. In ten years, I still see myself at the helm of Truespeed, and by then I hope to be able to say that we’ve delivered on our promise of making full fibre connectivity available for all, regardless of postcode.