In this Founder Story, we delve into the remarkable journey of David Rowe, Chief Technology Officer at Deltabase. From his early fascination with technology to co-founding a cutting-edge tech company, David shares his insights and the invaluable lessons learned along the way. Join us as we explore the pivotal moments that led to the inception of Deltabase and the three fundamental principles that any aspiring entrepreneur should consider.
Building a Passion for Tech and Commercial Experience
Technology was a passion from an early age. The first computer I saw was at primary school aged 7 in 1982 – a BBC Model B Microcomputer – the whole class queued up to press a button on it and watched in wonder as some coloured shapes danced around on the screen. That was it. Back to our desks. Fortunately, my dad got super-interested in computers and we got one at home – I remember Christmas morning coming downstairs and seeing it under the tree. Games were discovered, and then programming too – typing out a listing in BASIC from a computer magazine with a game to play at the end of it. I was hooked! PCs came along with Amstrad 286 with a 12Mhz processor and 40MB hard drive. Revolutionary! And I was even more hooked, saving up to building my own computers and getting the best configuration to play the latest game. This interest and love of tech has always stayed with me, weather its application platforms, AI, ML, or the last releases of Windows 11, MacOS and Linux.
The commercial angle on it was my passion – I loved Business Studies at A-Level, and then Marketing for my degree and post-grad. Always about using technology to drive business. I did my placement year for my degree with Marks and Spencer – using IT to do propensity scoring on their store card database to target mail shots to customers on mail order products. I then knew that as much as I loved Marketing, it was computers that were the future and were going to enable business, and that’s where I wanted to be.
After graduating I joined British Airways in 1998 – doing the BA Computer Training (BACT) academy to become an Assembler programmer. I was on BACT 91 – they’d been doing this since the 1960’s using IBM Mainframes and Assembler code to enable superfast mainframe hosted green-screen systems for reservations and departure control globally. It was quite an introduction to programming for a marketing graduate, but a great starting place from first principles of coding.
I then jumped in to my first dot-com experience – Sir Bob Geldof founded Deckchair.com in 1999 – one of the early dot-com companies selling flights on the internet, when just 0.5% of travellers had booked online. I joined from BA, bringing my knowledge of airline booking systems, and learned my first object orientated programming in Java. That only last 18 months, followed by a stint at Opodo – another early starter in the travel sector founded by McKinsey for the One World Alliance. My ride there was cut short by 9/11 disaster happening in New York, and then becoming a really bad time to launch a new travel website.
Corporate Career in the Energy Sector
Then followed a corporate career in the Energy Sector – having learnt a lot from the dot-com boom and bust, I wanted to get back into big business, so spent the next 10 years climbing the pole at The BOC Group, ending up as Head of Enterprise Architecture after it merged to become The Linde Group. I then moved to EDF Energy and joined the New Nuclear New Build project as chief IT architect in the early stages of a Nuclear Power Plant construction project. Most important thing here was meeting Phil Spratt – later becoming CEO of Deltabase. We both left after about 18 months, I headed to BP where I spent a challenging 18 months working on their group IT Strategy. I finally found my home at Microsoft, working as a Digital Advisor in the consulting division, helping enterprise customers digitally transform to get value from their investment in Microsoft, and use the emerging Azure Cloud capabilities. Satya Nadella was such an inspiring leader and it was a great environment to work in, I learnt so much there about ‘coming as you are, doing what you love’ and aspiring to be a ‘learn it all’, rather than a ‘know it all’.
There was still something missing though, and the career advisory board process at Microsoft helped me realise that I did have the skills and drive to think about starting a tech business of my own.
Getting the itch.
After 4 years of consulting at Microsoft, that’s when I started getting the itch. The thought that I felt ready to make the jump to being a CTO, really driving impact for a business using technology, and really I wanted to be the master of my destiny owning my own business.
Over a drink with Phil Spratt, who would go on to become one of my Deltabase co-founders, we realised we were both in the same place – he’d had an idea for a start-up with another colleague of his – Alastair Whiteley – the third Deltabase co-founder – and they were looking for a more tech-focussed person to join them as CTO. There could be a good fit here! We talked some more, I got to meet Al, we all had dinner together, signed NDAs, and talked about our ideas. I knew there was something special there. We all had a common idea to want to use data to make better decisions. Lots of companies were transforming how they use data for decision making, and we could be there to help them. That is how Agency Delta was formed, later launching as Deltabase. We spent a lot of time forming our ideas for the company and incorporated in May 2019. I left Microsoft in January 2020, and now we’re approaching our 5th birthday. It’s been such an exhilarating journey so far with an exciting future ahead!
Three Essential Lessons.
These are the three things I’d recommend anyone thinking about starting their own business think about that have been essential to me on our journey:
- Understand your strengths.
Knowing what you’re good at, what you enjoy is just as important as knowing what you’re not good at, what you don’t enjoy! It’s always going to be a mix of both but making sure you have a balanced team who have a good mix of skills and perspective and that you know you con confidently work with is essential for success. I’ve been so lucky with Phil and Alastair, not just because Al is a chartered accountant! but the perspectives, drive, and ideas we all bring to the table give us a great set of experience to draw on across this business.
My strengths have always been in the convergence of technology and business and creating platforms that customer love – the accounting, the sales processes have never been my top passion. Getting to focus my actions on what I know I’m good at, and knowing the strengths my co-founders and our wider team have means we have the best mix to make our business work.
You need to build the right founding team, understand what you’re good and bad at, what skills you need for the business. Get help from others where you need it. Also think about your styles and ways of working – how do you ensure you have an environment where everyone can effectively contribute with differing styles.
- Do what you love.
When you start your own business, it stays with you 24/7, so having a passion for your business is essential – doing something you love means that you’ll bring the best of you to work. For me the mix of technology, business and really being able to have a tangible impact for your customers and building a proposition that clients want to sign up for and buy has been such a motivating factor.
Making sure your business is in an area where you have knowledge, expertise, contacts and is something your passionate about is essential.
Seeing Deltabase grow into a business where we’re making products that people love to buy as they get so much value from them, seeing our team grow with new talent and ideas coming along, getting investors involved in our business – there is so much exciting potential ahead, and I can’t wait to see where Deltabase gets to in the coming years.
- Be prepared for the rollercoaster.
I was probably quite naïve going in to starting Deltabase looking back – we thought we’d create an amazing product, everyone would want to buy it, we’d sell millions of them, and then we’d be on the beach with cocktails in 5 years. If only life were so simple. The thing I wasn’t prepared for was the cycles of ups and down – on day you’re feeling on top of the world when we’ve made a big sale or delivered something smashing a new record for speed and accuracy, to then having an emergency cash flow session to see how we get through the next few months when something else unexpected is happening. These high-pressure events happen frequently and its easy to let them overwhelm you as a co-founder.
The lesson is that you have to take every week, or even every day as it comes, celebrate your successes and be aware that the next challenge will be just around the corner. As a co-founder the only people that can fix things that come up are your team led by you. It takes time to build up the customer base and getting clients to trust in your product to get to that stage of resilience where you have that runway ahead of you smooth out the peaks and troughs of running your own business. Having the right co-founding team with you is essential – these are the people you can rely on to work together and effectively to surmount the never-ending stream of problems coming up.
If you have the passion, find a gap in the market and can bring together the right team to found a start-up I recommend anyone to go for it, but make sure you follow those three essential lessons – it’s a massive up-hill challenge, but hugely rewarding when you make it work.
Thank you for joining us in this Founder Story. Stay tuned for more inspiring tales from the world of entrepreneurship, innovation, and technology. The journey is just beginning.
If you’re curious to explore Deltabase, its products, or connect with us, don’t hesitate to reach out. We’re excited about the future, and we invite you to be a part of it.