Interview: Ben Milsom of Echosec

Ben Milsom is the UK business development manager of Echosec, a social media analysis tool. We talk to him about the business and the Welsh tech scene.

TD: Can you tell us more about yourself and what you do, please?

BM: I’m Ben Milsom, and I opened the UK HQ for Echosec. We help organisations find relevant social media based on location, as opposed to searching via the typical keywords and hashtag method.

TD: What makes your business unique?

BM: Without a shadow of a doubt, the team. The Echosec team has an incredible array of industry backgrounds, knowledge and experiences. This includes GIS, robotics, computer science, graphic design, civil and electrical Engineering.

This mix has resulted in Echosec developing a product that’s usually met with the response of stunned silence, “wow!” or “that is so cooool”. That was even before we developed our latest image recognition technology which people get very excited about. Being innovative and creative has ultimately led to our success.

TD: How does it benefit customers?

BM: We can break news and information quicker than news agencies and other social media analytic platforms. To identify that first eyewitness account of events on Twitter or Instagram relies on the “Poster” having made it easy to search i.e. a relevant keyword or hashtag.

But of course people’s concern when posting on social media is not necessarily to make it easy to search. This is where Echosec is advantageous, because we can simply hone into an area of interest and find what people are posting right now from not only Twitter and Instagram, but 18 others sources.

TD: What’s been your biggest success and your biggest obstacle?

BM: Our biggest success has to be the partnerships we’ve secured this year. In the US, we have Motorola, globally with ESRI, and we’re very close to announcing our latest partnership in the UK.

This is excellent for us as we can focus on doing what we are great at, developing the software. These partnerships provide us with exposure, a larger sales force and routes into notoriously difficult organisations to break.

Our biggest obstacle has been transforming Echosec from a proof of concept into a business. Developing the product is only half the battle. Once it was built, we needed to get customers to pay for it.

When customers start paying for products, expectations increase. So you have to behave differently. No longer can you brush issues off as “we are just a startup”. You now have customers asking for support, for marketing brochures, or for you to speak to 100+ security professionals about your product and why they should use it.

But fear not, these are, of course, all good challenges to have. And if you’re ever stuck, there’s usually someone else who has done it before you who can help and offer advice. This is where an experienced mentor/friend can be very useful to bounce ideas off. We were lucky enough to have support from the Alacrity Foundation.

TD: What do you think of the Welsh tech scene?

BM: It’s fantastic and it’s thriving. There’s enough of us that we cover many tech areas of interest, but few enough that are aware of what each other is doing. There’s a great community feel, and that’s really advantageous as we can all look out for each other. Also, it was great to see the South Wales tech cluster recognised as one of the fastest growing in the UK. We must be doing something right.

TD: How is your business contributing to it?

BM: At present, our involvement has been more passive than active. We attend many of the South Wales tech events to network including Tech Tuesday, Producthunt Cardiff, and Cardiff Start. However, with the new year and expanding into new offices in Cardiff, we’ll look to involve ourselves more actively and throw our own tech events.

TD: Where do you see yourself in five and ten years?

BM: In five years, the hope is that either Echosec is still going strong with a 100+ team and even more offices globally or that someone has realised how awesome it would be to acquire us into their company.

In ten, I’d personally like to be working on a new venture. I recently attended Venturefest Wales, where two pieces of tech really grabbed my attention – 3D printing and drones. So in the future, I’d like to explore tech other than just software. As long as it ticks the ‘tech’ and ‘startup’ box then I’ll be there.

TD: What advice would you give to someone looking to set up a tech start-up?

BM: Speak to everyone you can (within reason of course). Never underestimate how useful they might be, young or old. Just because someone isn’t the CEO of some company doesn’t mean they aren’t interesting or capable of introducing you to someone who can help your company grow. And the flip side of that is to give back. It’s not always about benefiting yourself. It’s always good to meet up for a coffee and help someone out.