Originally published as an interview on uktech.news.
At Tech City News, we’re always keen to shine a light on those who make up the UK’s thriving technology community.
This week, we spoke with David Mytton, founder and CEO, Server Density, a SaaS-based product that helps users manage and monitor their infrastructure.
Mytton spoked to us about the challenges of founding a business and how to maintain a good work/life balance.
Tech vertical: Cloud infrastructure
Staff count: 20
Location: London and New York
Q: What made you found Server Density? What were you doing before?
It all started while I was working in an IT role at a startup in London. I realised that great server monitoring tools were hard to come by, so I decided to build one myself, with the graphing capabilities, dashboards and low management overhead that I, through personal experience, knew modern businesses needed.
Server Density came out of this effort. I founded the company with a school friend in 2009, and have grown it from bootstrapped startup to institutional funding rounds. Right now we’ve got 20 employees based in Chiswick and across Europe serving 700 customers including the NHS, Drupal, Firebox and Greenpeace.
Q: Has being your own boss been exactly like you thought it would be?
Before you get into running an actual business, it’s very easy to imagine that you will always be able to do the best thing in the best possible way. However, that assumes perfect knowledge of everything with unlimited time and resources! While you always aim to take the best decisions, constraints will always get in the way. This means being pragmatic rather than idealistic, which can often be at odds with what some people imagine before getting into business.
That said, constraints can be a good thing, because they force you to focus and actually ship products. Working in stealth mode until you get to the perfect release is a recipe for bankruptcy.
Q: In your experience, do the advantages outweigh the disadvantages?
Yes. When you see a better way to do something, most of the time you can just fix it the way you want. Having that level of influence while working for someone else is usually impossible.
Q: What kind of impact did setting up the business have on your well-being?
When I started Server Density I was lucky enough to be living and spending time with many of my friends, which helped. Being constantly on-call, as is usually needed in the early days of a small team, was probably the most challenging. I often had to leave social events to go off and respond to incidents but having that first hand experience really helped develop the product to help our customers.
I have also met a number of great mentors, who have always been available to talk through all kinds of issues. The best advice comes from people who have experienced the same things and can understand your own perspective. It’s invaluable being able to call someone to discuss a problem at any time without worrying about conflicts or formalities.
Q: What do you miss the most about working for someone else and why?
There is a sense of security in knowing someone else is ultimately responsible, especially for financial decisions! The toughest choices involve allocating resources when everyone in the business is asking for more. When that person isn’t you, you might be frustrated at the budget but at least you know what to work with and aren’t frustrating everyone else with your choices!
Q: It’s estimated that the majority (55%) of UK SMEs don’t survive more than five years. What’s behind Server Density’s success to date?
At Server Density we’ve had a longer runway than many other startups for a couple of reasons. While we have taken investment, we’ve found the biggest factor in our success has been our ability to attract real customers and real revenues early on in our company lifecycle.
This has allowed us to choose our path and make decisions with time to experiment. Having this time to run experiments, see what works and iterate your product based on the results makes a huge difference, and many SMEs don’t have that luxury.
Q: What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
Ignore all the success stories – they focus on outlier situations and highly unlikely events while ignoring all the struggles to get there. Start a business because you think you can do something better, and then actually deliver on it, understanding that this will require hard work, patience and good advice from others. The best investors to get involved are those who you could imagine being friends with, because it’s not just about the money but about their experience and support for the long run.