Panintelligence CEO and Co-founder Zandra Moore recently appeared on the podcast ‘How AI Built this’. We’ve plucked out some of the topics she discussed, from how she got started in tech, to company culture and pi's plans for 2021.
I was the first in my family to go to University; I did a business degree then a CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personal Development) course. I did a placement year at ICI, thinking I wanted to work in HR because I liked working with people. Promptly, we made about half the staff redundant on the chemical plant and I decided that HR wasn’t for me! I ended up in sales and tech and haven’t looked back.
I had a really great role model at home. My mum fell into IT after replying to a job ad in The Yorkshire Post for the first internet service provider in the North of England. At that time she had no idea what the internet was, but she went on to work her way up through various companies and ended up becoming head of international sales at a very large corporate and doing a number of acquisitions. I saw how much she loved the industry and I was really inspired by that so when I left university I just wanted to go and do what my mum did, so I followed in her footsteps.
The tech sector was also a buoyant part of the economy and there were a lot of companies looking for graduates at the time so it was an easy place to fall in to. I absolutely love the tech industry – the people, the pace, the markets, the energy – it really suits my personality.
After having two children, I wanted to have the flexibility and opportunity around my family, which wasn’t really possible to do at that time in the tech industry. So decided I needed to be self-employed and opened my own consultancy business. After doing some work for Panintelligence as a client, I saw an opportunity for working on a product and team that I loved and ended up doing a management buyout and bought the IP. I have been growing the Panintelligence business for the last six years.
The concept of acquiring customers in a SaaS business is talked and written about endlessly, with detailed metrics and funnel flows along each step of the way. But the concept of attracting and retaining great staff doesn’t get talked about enough.
If SasS companies like ours could put tangible metrics around the cost of acquiring and losing staff and the value of retention, that would help the whole work culture conversation.
Retaining staff is absolutely as vital as attracting them. If you’ve gone to all the trouble of attracting great people – and there’s a lot of cost in that – how you keep them and focus on them is critically important.
We’re based in Yorkshire, UK and have an amazing team of people who have been with us for a long time. We have low attrition; we are still a small enough organisation that we’re able to keep our arms around the business and check in with everybody - even remotely.
We build roles around people not people around roles so there is a lot of ability for people to work creatively and innovatively and operate across teams as opposed to just in silos which I think really helps them to get the most out of their working life and enjoy what they do.
I think if people are given the opportunity to create and ideate and contribute and bring their whole selves to work, they enjoy themselves better at work. Our culture here at pi plays a huge part in enabling that and keeping really talented people. And now that we’ve built our brand we’re finding that it’s easier to do than when we less well known.
One challenge we are starting to see now is competition from companies in London, which have better access to funding, and such companies are starting to pick off teams of developers and consultants from other companies in the regions. We’ve seen it happen to some of our peers, but that’s where our work culture becomes so essential because we have to offer more than just money for people to want to stay with us.
We are extremely transparent at pi and have regular ‘All Hands’ meetings (when all staff attend), where we go through every aspect of the business, from how much money we’ve got in the bank, to which customers we’ve won or lost. So we’re totally transparent.
Sometimes it’s just as important to share the things that are going wrong as the things that are going right. People want to feel like they know exactly what’s happening – you have to be as open as you possibly can – warts and all – which creates an open and honest environment. We over-communicate. We don’t try and hide information under the guise of ‘protecting’ people. People don’t want protecting, they want to have a relationship that is honest and two way.
In these times where we’re all remote working, you’ve just got to work so much harder at the culture. You can never over-communicate to your team, you can never make assumptions on where they’re at. You must be having those conversations whenever you can.
We have tried lots of approaches to keep us feeling connected since the start of the lockdown. But we found that the things that worked at the start don’t work any more. We did happy hours every Friday, and everyone joined in, with an early work finish and quizzes.
But then everyone got bored of quizzes, so we’re constantly trying to innovate to try and keep our teams together. We’ve got to keep innovating. It’s no good to assume that something that worked at the start will keep working forever.
We did a ‘Secret Banta’, like Secret Santa but we sent tricks in the post to each other: fart spray, severed plastic heads, a scary bear. It was fun and daft but it made people smile and I think that’s what people need at the moment – something to lift them and make them feel a bit lighter.
It’s a fine line because doing things like this can sometimes feel a bit awkward and forced, so someone’s got to be brave enough to say: you’re going to love it. We’re going to keep pushing the boundaries of that, but most things are just about trying to make people laugh and bring us together.
No. We opened the office for about 6 weeks during summer 2020 when the COVID cases were low and the difference to the energy of the individuals who came in was huge. Right now we’re all remote working, but we have already seen how important it is for people to get social interaction.
So there’s no way we’ll be a permanent remote-work-only business. Because actually, we’re a people company, and people need to be around people other than just those in their home environment. So for many people, work is just as important in their social interactions as it is a way to pay the bills.
I know that I get a lot from just being around other people – it motivates me, it energises me, it just gives me a lift. So I don’t think it will be practical for any company to have a 100% online work culture for the long term. I think you’ll find a quick a dilution in your culture and it will be very difficult to retain those people and keep them feeling connected to your business.
So I think physically getting together is important. Whether we have a hub as opposed to an office in future – I don’t know. But for now, we’re not worrying about it. We’ve got a building that we’re keeping for the time being and will make that call if and when.
We were already servicing the whole of the world from the UK and one of the benefits of all this remote working is that it has become even easier for us to do that. It’s become more of a given that it doesn’t matter where you’re based.
As long as our customers can get support and are not restricted by time zones, people aren’t really bothered that we’re in the UK and they’re in the US or Holland or New Zealand. We’re attracting customers for our business intelligence tools from all over the world and therefore I think we might be able to continue to build out the Panintelligence operations here in Yorkshire, which would be great.
I read a book by Sherly Sandburg who had set up a community to help inspire the next generation of female leaders and that inspired me. So I looked for a local circle but couldn’t find one so I created one – Lean In Leeds – because I thought it would be really nice to have a community of female founders and leaders.
Four years later, we have 800 members, a steering group of 12 female business leaders, we have mentoring programmes with over 100 women being mentored, and we run 2 events a week which are all run by volunteers and totally free. It just shows the need for people to be connected to peer groups where they feel they can be open and honest which perhaps in their working and home environments might not exist. The group is run by a bunch of amazing ladies and I’ve very proud of it.
Find more SaaS vendors and be found by more SaaS vendors. We want to more grow globally, grow our customer base and team, and be a leader in embedded analytics. We're going to be pushing into market and trying to be a little bit more ‘ballsy’; we’re going to go out there and make a lot of noise.
A big thanks to Liam Wilson from How AI Built This podcast for the invite to appear – you can listen to the original podcast on here: Zandra Moore on How AI Built This Podcast #40.
If you’re a SaaS vendor looking for Embedded Analytics check out our products. And if you’re interested in coming to join us and our great work culture – take a look at the current jobs at Panintelligence.