An idea formed as a teenager has spawned a million-pound enterprise for techie Matt Parkinson – and he’s way from finished building his dream.
Within 14 years of first offering to run gaming servers for friends while still at the Howard School in Rainham, Kent, Matt now has data storage centres in Maidstone, New York, Los Angeles and Frankfurt and in January his company expanded its point-to-point network, with additional connectivity between its sites.
Matt’s company VooServers now employs a staff of 10, all based in Kent, and serves 300 clients in more than 80 countries. So successful has it become that he is seriously thinking about installing someone in the US, to keep an eye on business across North America.
“At the moment, I send an engineer to the States every three months or so, but the way the business is growing it will be worth having someone over there,” Matt says, admitting he sometimes has to pinch himself to realise how quickly the company has grown.
What began as a hobby, offering server support to his gaming mates at school between the ages of 13 and 15, continued to develop during his GCSE studies. “It was just before my 16th birthday and I gradually began to devise an idea for a business providing IT infrastructure to members of the public. I finished my sixth form and did some training with Microsoft, then spent two years working for an IT company in London, getting more experience and travelling a lot.”
The travel arose from a role as IT support for cruise ships, the clients of his London employers. At first, he provided the support remotely, but after about three months he was asked to join the ships, which allowed him to visit places like India, Egypt and almost to Antartica, although that trip was called off at the last minute, much to his regret.
At 20, Matt left the commuter conveyor belt which had involved four hours’ travelling into London and back from his home in Kent. He sold the game servers operation he had set up with a friend, and used the money to launch VooServers. The name, he explains, came from a popular game of the time called “Voo”, which had a good following on Google, so would ensure him better search engine optimisation with the new enterprise. However, the name has some issues in the US, with the “voodoo” connection and Matt has considered setting up under a different brand there.
He also runs a company called Vidertec, which develops software.
Why Maidstone as a base? “We looked at London and 10 years ago, it was the only place with data centres, but these days tech companies are much more diverse and rents are far lower out of the capital.”
The New York venture in 2013 arose from client queries, as VooServers’ reputation for customer service grew. “We had a client who was US-based and he was really happy with what we could do for him, but wondered why we didn’t have anywhere in the States. It gave us a launch pad into the lucrative New York market.”
The Frankfurt centre was also driven by a client inquiry and now hosts game servers across Europe. Its capability was expanded in October and Matt says the potential is excellent.
The “really small” LA site was launched in August, but Matt hopes it will lead to bigger opportunities across the States.
So does this 27-year-old have a life plan, having come so far so soon? He pauses. “All of the international links came from our clients, I hadn’t really expected to expand this quickly. I didn’t imagine having anywhere near the number of servers we have.”
Home life for Matt means spending time with his wife Helen, who he met at a friend’s party and married two years ago. She helps with some admin in the company office, but is devoted to her job as a nursery nurse. A baby is very much on their horizon, too.
In his leisure time – what little there is of it – Matt enjoys playing ice hockey at the stadium in Gillingham, a sport he returned to in the autumn after a break. He started playing when he was nine and finds it stimulating and very active. But it’s work which really absorbs Matt, as our short chat soon reveals. I caught him just after a weekend break at CentreParcs, where he had switched off his mobile phone for a whole weekend – a rare event indeed.
Matt is determined to grow the company, but not so dedicated to the industry that he cannot see himself trying a different career some time. “In five or 10 years, I’d like to be running, rather than ‘in’ a business, perhaps developing software, perhaps even in the nursery sector – who knows?”
One other aspect of business that Matt is passionate about is giving young people a chance to test their skills. He has just given a full-time job to 18-year-old web strategist Sam Tutt, who completed a “creative pioneer” apprenticeship with VooServers in May 2016.
“I’m determined to help more young people come into the industry. The pace of change within IT is fast, we need their input to come up with more creative and enterprising ideas. As a company, you definitely get out what you put in with apprentices.”