Before the onset of Covid, Microsoft Teams had 20 million active users. Just a year later that figure had topped 115 million, making it one of the fastest-growing apps of the pandemic and leading to a 700 per cent year-on-year increase in revenues.
Although growth has slowed from the early days of the pandemic, it hasn’t died out. Latest figures from the Seattle software giant put the number of monthly active users at more than 270 million as of the end of last year.
This has played into the hands of Glasgow-based Akari Solutions, a Microsoft Gold partner whose areas of expertise include the development of Teams apps. According to Microsoft, monthly usage of third-party apps and customer solutions in Teams has grown ten-fold in the last two years.
“Teams is a huge focus for us,” said Lindsay Climson, co-founder and commercial director at Akari. “That has been heightened by the pandemic, but Teams has always been a core part of what we do.”
Launched in April 2019, Akari is a rarity in the Scottish IT sector in that it is owned and led by an all-female executive team.
Ms Climson, Akari managing director Margaret Totten and operations director Kimberly Totten all previously worked at IA Cubed, a Glasgow-based IT solutions provider. Following the death of the company’s founder, each received a small stake in the business in exchange for preparing it for a trade sale. They stayed on for a further year as part of that deal before exiting in 2018, by which time Ms Climson was just 28 years old.
“There’s a lot of graduate positions with the banks, with Morgan Stanley or JP Morgan or whoever, and I think you can very quickly be pigeon-holed and sit and do the same tasks day in and day out, whereas in a small business everyone just needs to pitch in,” she said.
“I was very quickly learning about aspects of finance and project management and the marketing piece and sales. You get a very rounded experience from working in a small business.”
Born, raised and still living in East Kilbride, Ms Climson left school at the age of 16 after gaining qualifications for entry to the University of Strathclyde, where she studied computer science information systems. Although uncertain about her exact career course, she believed “something IT-related” would stand her in good stead.
“I finished university and I hadn’t enjoyed a lot of the aspects of my course,” she recalled. “It was very much hard programming language, a lot of Java and object-oriented development, so when I left university I took some time out to think about what I wanted to do.”
Having previously coached gymnastics, she took a job as a receptionist at a local gym, where she also handled some of its social media. She enjoyed digital marketing, and after 18 months joined IA Cubed in a marketing and project management role.
The decision to set Akari as a technology “partner with purpose” crystallised when its three founders were on the train journey home from a Microsoft global accessibility awareness day in London.
“We learned some really shocking statistics,” Ms Climson said. “At the time, just 11 per cent of adults whohad autism were in full-time paid employment, and only one in four young people with autism were going on to finish further or higher education.
“Our managing director Margaret has a son with high-functioning autism and that just didn’t sit right with her – the personality and the type of person she knows her son to be. How could 89% of a demographic be out of work just because of that?
“We were having a think about what we could do that would challenge the system and change the statistics, and our strapline then became ‘a partner with a purpose’. We actually wanted to drive meaningful change with technology rather than building technology for technology’s sake.”
They recycled their cash from IA Cubed to set up Akari and were soon expanding, initially by hiring apprentices and then via a couple of small acquisitions. Clients include both SMEs and larger organisations such as Menzies Aviation, the latter of which initially engaged Akari to help improve communications with its frontline workers through Microsoft Teams.
The onset of the pandemic led Menzies to shift the project’s focus to ensuring Teams was adopted by its office staff so they could work remotely. As travel restrictions have eased, attention has shifted back to frontline staff.
Now employing 40 people, Akari is packaging up some of the bespoke applications built for Menzies and others into products that will bolster its services revenue stream. The first went to market this month, with a second due to follow in the summer.
“We’re never going to be hundreds or thousands of employees, though we are on a huge growth spurt at the moment,” Ms Climson added. “We have got a lot of big orders for this year, so we are still on a recruitment drive.”
What countries have you most enjoyed travelling to, for business or leisure, and why?
For business it’s Toronto, and for leisure I really enjoyed both Aruba, in the Caribbean, and Portugal.
When you were a child, what was your ideal job? Why did it appeal?
I never had a “dream job” although I always remember my parents having such a strong work ethic, and wanting to find a career that provided job satisfaction.
What was your biggest break in business?
Winning the Microsoft Partner of the Year award as diversity and inclusion “changemaker” in the first six months of trading was a massive achievement for us at Akari and really instilled that even as a start-up we could be successful and drive meaningful change. The awards are entered globally with thousands of entries from organisations who have been in business for decades.
What was your worst moment in business?
The Covid-19 pandemic was a really difficult time for all businesses, but especially for start-ups and small to medium-sized businesses. We were fortunate not to have to make any redundancies, but as a small business it was a scary time.
Who do you most admire and why?
As a new(ish) mother, I very much admire and respect all parents, regardless of their circumstances. It’s one of the most challenging and most rewarding jobs many of us will ever do. I’m fortunate to have a good career, an amazing partner and supportive friends and family, but being a parent still has its tough moments.
What book are you reading and what music are you listening to?
We’re reading The Gruffalo on a daily basis. As for music, I’m listening to anything country – Sugarland, Luke Combs and Brett Young.