Life in the forces helped to shape Yorkshire entrepreneur’s business dream

Tim Mercer of Vapour Cloud is a former soldier who became a CEO. He plans to dramatically increase the scale of his business. Deputy Business Editor Greg Wright reports.

Tim Mercer of Vapour Cloud

You never forget the places you celebrated your landmark birthdays.

While his contemporaries were out partying, Tim Mercer of Vapour Cloud was serving his country in the forces.

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His time in the army helped to shape his attitude to life. He never runs away from a challenge and takes pride in taking full responsibility for the performance of every element of his business.

“I spent my 18th birthday in Northern Ireland and my 21st in the Gulf during the first Gulf War,” he said. “There were some incredibly scary times and incredibly fun times.

“We were a real band of brothers and were in a helicopter squadron away from the frontline, although we did see some of the atrocities committed by Iraq.

“We went right into Iraq and spent time there in the clearing up operation before going home.

“It really did shape me as a person. If I was 17 now, I would certainly go back in, although I might have tried to do better at school and become an officer.”

His experience in the army gave him the confidence to take calculated risks. The success of the company he founded, Vapour, shows that a dash of boldness really can pay off.

Vapour has announced a trio of new industry collaborations as the company prepares for expansion.

It is carrying out a £350,000 investment in its toolkit, and hopes to create at least seven jobs, as Vapour aims to record £7m turnover by the end of 2021.

The Elland-headquartered firm has been appointed as a Microsoft Cloud Solution Provider (Microsoft CSP), having signed a new deal with global distributor Tech Data.

The partnership means customers can source any Microsoft product or service, through Vapour with one wrap-around support service. Vapour has enhanced its relationship with existing firewall partner Fortinet, to launch a security-first network proposition.

The third collaboration sees Vapour strengthen its long-standing relationship with Veeam, with the launch of a new suite of hybrid back-up, data management, servers, storage and disaster recovery services.

Mr Mercer has never seemed to fit the conventional business mould.

“I don’t think I’m a typical entrepreneur,” said Mr Mercer. “I’ve only wanted to earn a few quid to look after my family.”

In a previous job with a major telecoms firm, he was told he was “a bit spiky and not a corporate person”.

He added: “I had hit a glass ceiling. I decided I was not going to work for someone who didn’t want me to work for them.

“I did pretty well at my grammar school but unfortunately my father died when I was 13. He was only 53 and it was a struggle from that point.

“I left school and joined the forces because I needed to find myself. I was in the army for six-and-a-half years and I was a good soldier.

“I’ve never been worried about taking risks,” he said. “Vapour is built around the belief that if you can build a network and layer applications we can offer a better class of service to the customer.

“If you’ve got £50,000 to spend, why should you be treated differently from a customer who has got £500,000 to spend?”

The first hurdle to overcome was access to finance. Mr Mercer rolled his sleeves up and soon found a willing partner.

“There was no Dragons’ Den in those days, so we got some funding from Finance Yorkshire ” he said. “It was an education in the role of private equity and corporate finance.

“We were very vocal about the market for cloud but it has taken it a bit longer to move than we expected.”

The company’s growth is set to accelerate. Vapour, which employs 23 people, is creating high-quality long-term jobs.

“We employ really good people and have started to build a company that can scale up,” said Mr Mercer.

“We understand technology and have the skill sets to understand what a client would need and talk to them in a non-technical way. It’s about demystifying cloud technology,” he said. “We did this really effectively in work we did with JCT600 (the Yorkshire-based car dealers).

“They had 50 sites and phone systems. The question we asked them, was, ‘Why?’

“What are you trying to achieve? We need to understand the fundamentals first.”

The company has flourished due to strong financial support from its investors. Mr Mercer takes pride in the company’s ability to retain clients.

He added: “We’re not perfect and we do learn from our mistakes. We don’t hide and we stand up to be counted, which takes me back to my military background.

“Customers often ask how they can run the business to make it a bit slicker. We have been doing this for a long time and we have got great experience to support customers.

“We need to scale up for a reason. We hope to turnover £30m in the next five years. We will be adding customers and hiring super people.

“I expect we will have around 50 staff and an acquisition or two in there. We could acquire a company that would make us far more robust in remote process automation.”

He acknowledges that it can be hard to find the right people.

Mr Mercer added: “I’m looking for a certain type of person. We want someone who can fit in with the team.

“It’s been a bit easier due to the pandemic because people don’t have to come to work in the office. We can pull people in from different parts of the country.”

He encourages others to have the courage of their convictions. There is no point in procrastinating.

He said: “If you want to set up your own business, you just need to go and do it. And don’t worry about being perfect. There are plenty of people who will offer mentoring and support.

“You will need to work harder than anyone you know and you need a teflon skin.But the most important thing is to do it with a smile on your face. You’ve really got to enjoy it.”

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