InvestorsFast growth

Nick and Richard Mealey don’t look like two brothers who have just secured a whopping £93m investment.

The pair are the co-founders of cloud-based customer engagement platform Connex One and don’t normally do interviews.

Richard, who at 25 is seven years younger than his brother, brought a packet of chocolate biscuits into our meeting at their new offices in Bauhaus in Quay Street, Manchester.

Leading technology advisory and investment firm GP Bullhound are one of a number of investors who have pumped £93m into the business for a minority equity stake.

You might think that would be reason enough to celebrate with a chocolate biscuit or two but it quickly became clear I was the only one eating them so I stopped at three.

“The exciting part of the journey is just beginning,” said Nick. We’re expanding the global team to 1,000 people in the next 18 months and are opening further international offices.”

They’ve recently opened offices in Miami, Melbourne, Barcelona and Stockholm, the brothers are in no doubt Connex One will achieve unicorn status soon.

So why is this tech business one of the UK’s most highly tech rated companies?

To understand that we need to understand the brothers behind it and what makes them tick.

The family are originally from Liverpool but moved to Chester when the children were young.

Their dad Shaun, was from a working class area of Liverpool and set up his own construction company when he was in his 20’s. At 32, Nick is the eldest of his five children, followed by Lucy (28); Richard (25); Rachel (24); and five-year-old Ted.

As well as Nick and Richard, Rachel, their youngest sister works at Connex One as a technical engineer.

“I’ve always loved building things,” said Nick. “My parents always tell me that when I was young I would spend days building complex arts and crafts kits in my bedroom. Now with software the opportunity to build is endless”

Richard explained: “He has an ability to see things and put them together in his head. It has been key to the vision for Connex One.”

The brothers are distant relatives of the world famous engineer Thomas Telford, who built canals, roads and bridges including the Menai Bridge in Wales.

Nick was studying economics at university but left at the end of his second year to focus on Connex One.

Meanwhile his younger brother Richard was quickly showing a similar interest in software.

“I was very energetic as a child,” he recalled. “I taught myself how to code and built a basic educational app at school to help people pass their GCSE’s. I was good at troubleshooting.”

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The pair launched Connex One in 2013 after quitting their studies – much to the annoyance of their parents.

Nick said: “Mum was very unhappy that I dropped out of university. Then when Richard said he was quitting his A-Levels and not going to university, she thought I was corrupting my younger brother.”

Richard, who was barely 17 at the time, had no such concerns. “I just knew that Connex had the opportunity to be huge and I didn’t want any regrets,” he said. “I never looked back.”

The brothers recognised the value of big data at an early age.

“Businesses were starting to use data to automate activity in the workplace to improve efficiencies,” explained Nick.

“I did a research piece on the value of big data and Internet of Things. At the time it was forecasted to be circa 3 per cent of GDP, £300bn to the UK economy, which is more than the size of the NHS and defence budgets combined.

“We started small, with a few tech guys, built a minimum viable product and started knocking on doors in Manchester.

“Back then it was rare to come across a business that had adopted omni-channel and AI customer engagement technology.

“We’d speak with businesses and explain the power of a single communication layer across their business. Why have disparate phone, live chat and email systems, when all your communication can be in one place? A holistic view of the customer journey from start to finish.”

As well as wanting to create a unicorn business, the brothers were determined to do it in the North West.

Nick said: “When I was younger I saw friends leaving Manchester to find better opportunities. One of my closest friends moved to Hong Kong. A lot of the guys I grew up with were moving to London to work for big businesses in various sectors.

“Seven or eight years ago there weren’t any internationally recognised multi-billion dollar B2B enterprise software companies in the North West, but the potential was there. Seven million people live within a one hour transport time from the city centre, that’s 10 per cent of the UK’s entire population.

Within a year of launching, Connex One reached a turnover of £1m.

In early 2017 their angel investors exited in a deal that valued the business at £13m. The new investors Latium Tech, the investment vehicle owned by Brian Kennedy, former Tesco CEO Sir Terry Leahy and The William Currie Group would then go on to support the brothers and their vision for the next five years.

Connex One has developed an AI-powered customer engagement platform that provides omni-channel communication and business automation.

The platform is used by the likes of FTSE 100 Admiral Insurance, Old Mutual and 02 to power customer journeys, increase revenue and optimise the efficiency of the workforce.

In recent years, the firm has rapidly expanded its product and machine learning teams and launched a range of next-generation AI customer engagement features, enabling the business to achieve consecutive years of triple digit-growth of enterprise clients and ARR.

The company now has offices in nine countries across the globe.

Earlier this year the company took 17,800 sq ft of space at Bauhaus in Manchester’s Quay Street.

The brothers say the opportunities for growth are limitless.

“There are millions of businesses globally using legacy outdated technology to communicate with their clients,” explained Nick.

“Our platform is revolutionising the way that companies communicate with their customers.”

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The £93m Series C investment has done nothing to dull the brothers’ phenomenal work ethic.

Nick said: “This is what I enjoy doing so I do it seven days a week. Connex One is a 24/7, 365 business, our software is used by emergency and critical services so our technical support desk never closes.”

Richard added: “Most weeks I spend 80 hours on Connex One.”

The business attracted a lot of interest from US investors but they eventually settled on GP Bullhound as one of their new investors, due to the longstanding relationship with founding partner Hugh Campbell whom they met at the Northern Tech Awards in 2017.