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Meet the boss behind StarLeaf, the UK tech firm vying with Zoom

Simon English
·4 mins read

Mark Richer’s StarLeaf video meeting software could be the British Zoom. Simon English meets the entrepreneur to find out how the pandemic has put a rocket under Watford-based StarLeaf’s tank.

We’ve all done so much video conferencing, don’t you worry that we’re sick of it?

Video-call fatigue is definitely a thing and there has been a drop off in those weekly quizzes and virtual events we all rushed to at the start of lockdown. But video conferencing still has a big role to play. Many people are worried about returning to offices, so it looks like we will all be having video meetings for a while longer.

Is the push for people to return to the office going to be bad news for you?

We’ve been in this business for more than a decade and the need for secure cloud-based video conferencing technology was growing steadily, even before lockdown. Video meetings will help to bridge the gap between those who want to, and can, return to offices and those who can’t.

This must have been your best year yet, but can you sustain the growth?

We have had over 1,000% increase in growth from January to April. We helped some of our biggest customers to get all of their people onto StarLeaf, including huge NHS Trusts like Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust. When the crisis hit, we launched a new free plan and we’re still seeing a lot of people downloading and using this, before switching up to a business plan. Many organisations are now looking again at what they are using for video meetings because what they quickly put in place for the pandemic isn’t necessarily the best long-term solution for them.

How can you hope to compete with the likes of Zoom and Cisco Webex? Isn’t it likely that one of these video conferencing giants will end up buying you?

We’d be flattered if they did, but we founded StarLeaf because we really wanted to create something different. Last year we went past over $100 million in global sales for the first time, so I think we have something people like.

You’ve built up two other businesses, why do you keep doing it?

I’ve always had a passion for looking at a problem and trying to solve it. The businesses I’ve founded, sold and worked at have all had that at their core. With StarLeaf I wanted to remove the barrier to business of people being spread across different geographies. In the case of the NHS, by solving this problem, doctors and clinicians can get back to saving lives. Building up businesses has never been solely about making money for me - it’s about making a difference.

How can London’s tech companies make sure that they survive the pandemic?

Many of London’s tech companies have faced adversity in the past, either they emerged from the financial crisis or they face constant challenges in recruiting or paying high rents. “Keep calm and carry on” is a cliché, but it’s true. Remaining steadfast on why you do what you do will be the key to coming out the other side.

What’s your top tip for a successful StarLeaf video conferencing?

My top tip is to make sure you have good quality lighting. It makes the world of difference to be able to clearly see and focus on who you’re talking to, without backlit shadows.

What’s the most unusual event you’ve heard about being held over StarLeaf?

Earlier this month a small Scottish tourism business attempted to break the Guinness World Record for the most number of people doing a live online whisky tasting. Sadly, the numbers weren’t quite there but everyone had a lot of fun.

Who do you most admire in tech and why?

Brian Acton, who co-founded WhatsApp. He and the team were dedicated to creating a simple, consumer tool that people could immediately understand and use to solve problems and get things done. And that’s a guiding principle for us at StarLeaf, in what we want to do for businesses.