UK Tech Entrepreneur Eyes $1bn Video Surveillance Opp

James Wickes made his name, and his money, back in the 1990s with Ideal Hardware, a company that changed IT distribution in the UK and made him a star in the sparsely populated firmament of the local technology scene. Today, he’s trying to disrupt another market, CCTV, while also overseeing sheep in a meadow... of which, more later.

Ideal’s reputation was a very Nineties one: high-octane selling, all-commission remuneration and lots of money sloshing around as PCs, direct sales, laptops and the web drove wave after wave of spending. I remind him of the story of a new Porsche being parked in Ideal’s forecourt: it was an incentive for the salesperson that brought most in through the door that month.

“I started Ideal a very long time ago and what interested me was not the product but the way we were selling… and the new technology at the time was telesales,” Wickes recalls. “It was innocent fun… no-one got hurt too badly.”

Wickes and his partners drove Ideal to a float, launched his own cable TV channel to educate the burgeoning tech market and was an early-adopter of the internet for business, creating a content management system that was later adopted by large media firms. Then, in another sharp turn in an unusual career, he stepped away from tech to work for a ceramics company.

Ideal’s success was based on a service ethos, Wickes says. Lots of people thought the giant US disties would crush Ideal but his conviction was that you could “maintain a high margin with a good customer service because you were saving them emotion and anxiety”.

Wickes learned a great deal from Ideal.

“You have to do things to make the business successful and we listened too much to what the stockbrokers said. It was a great experience but we could have been more successful if we had been more self-confident.”

The Ideal TV channel helped him learn about the value of video as an educative medium and now he is back in video again with Cloudview after an attempted burglary on his home some years ago prompted him to look for a CCTV system.

“I had imagined it would all be very hi-tech only to find that wasn’t the case,” he says. His notion was to use IP-connected cameras, plug them into CCTV boxes and offer the ability to control video recording of premises over the internet. The company has a consumer product but Wickes sees the big opportunity in business, identifying a large-scale market he calls video surveillance as a service.

Wickes’ ambition is to dominate the business cloud-based video market and he views that market as potentially having a value of about $1bn. He has UK and Germany development in place and a Jordanian investor on board. More funding, probably measured in tens of millions of dollars, will be sought quite soon, probably early in 2014.

“Either we will do it or somebody else will and I think we can do it fairly quickly,” he says. “The ultimate application of the technology is protection of brands. BP has damaged itself through foolish mistakes that have happened on the ground. The chief executive of Thames Water cannot know everything about health and safety at every asset; if he did, his hair would stand on end. Guys get fortunes to run businesses they cannot possibly know everything about. They get questions at AGMs they cannot know anything about. Video over IP helps managers better manage their assets. The big deal [Cloudview offers] is businesses have to have a better handle on what’s going on. They have all these CCTV cameras and they’re not using them to do anything. Brand protection is a market that hasn’t happened yet. [Companies are] absolutely wide open to being hauled over the coals. Businesses have to be prepared and the only way to prepare is to have the information.”

He reminds me that Titanic crewman Frederick Fleet said he would have seen the fatal iceberg earlier if he had been equipped with binoculars, and Cloudview is effectively providing organisations with the tools for visibility and governance.

A student of the natural world, Wickes rhapsodises about the meadow on his doorstep on his Twitter account where he describes himself as an “urban shepherd”. Reading his entries I had considered that Cloudview was a pet project. Far from it, and now it’s out of stealth mode, it will chew up even more time and concentration, so much so that he complains he has little opportunity to walk through his fields near Esher in the Surrey suburbs near London, admiring the grazing sheep, butterflies and birds.

“The biggest lesson [from Ideal] was making it up as you go along. You’ve got to keep pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone.” The meadow might have to wait as Wickes goes on another journey.


Martin Veitch is Editorial Director at IDG Connect


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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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