A day in the life of Matt Surkont, CEO of BlueSky

1. Describe your job: What do you do? Which level do you occupy within the business?

I’m the CEO & founder of BlueSky and Lodestone Capital. My role is to grow value for the stakeholders in BlueSky being the employees, partners and shareholders. I try to spend my time as a CEO focusing on the future and how to drive better value for our customers.

2. Tell us about your journey to where you are today?

I come from an IT background with an honours degree in Information Systems from UCT. My ambition has always been to successfully grow my own businesses. Everything I’ve done since University has been geared towards developing my skills to be a successful entrepreneur.

I spent the first 10 years of my career building my IT skills as an independent consultant in enterprise technology. My first entrepreneurial endeavour was to partner with two friends to start an online SaaS fleet management business. We successfully secured funding and scaled the business over several years.

The success of my first venture gave me the confidence to start a second business focussing on enterprise and mobile technology consulting which was core to my experience and background. We experienced further success with this business and I successfully exited in 2015 to a large listed corporate.

After having watched too many shows of Dragon’s Den, I decided to set up a small early-stage technology investment fund called Lodestone Capital. Over a few years, we made 6 investments all of which were successful to varying degrees. As part of one of those investments, we seeded BlueSky to scale into a boutique enterprise cloud technology service provider. We’ve successfully hyper-scaled BlueSky over the past 4 years to 70 people with ambitions to scale to 500 people by 2025.

3. What are the soft and hard skills you require to be effective in your role?

I think critical skills to be a successful technology entrepreneur in South Africa include persistence and local understanding. There’s a lot to be learned from first-world technology hubs but a lot of that is not applicable in South Africa. I think it’s important to be practical about what works in the local market.

In order to be successful in my role to hyper-scale BlueSky, I must be able to constantly reinvent myself based on the needs of the business which are changing every 6-12 months. I try to focus a lot of my energy visualising the needs of the business 3 – 24 months ahead and investing in my skills to meet that need.

4. Tell us what constitutes a typical working day for you, pre- and post-COVID-19?

My world has gotten much smaller! From a work point of view, I’ve always had multiple offices in Cape Town and Johannesburg which I tend to move between. For many years I’ve travelled to Johannesburg from Cape Town twice a month as well as regular overseas trips. Working exclusively from home has made my world very small!

In order to de-risk the impact of COVID-19 it seemed obvious to me that we’d need to grow new business to off-set the inevitable loss of revenue due to the economic impact of the pandemic. It also seemed obvious to me the degree of difficulty to grow new business would be significantly more difficult than pre-CV-19.

We realised very early on that existing client relationships were going to be far more important than new client relationships during the difficult times of the pandemic. As a result, we focused much of our energy on delivering great value to existing key accounts which has almost certainly served to maintain our growth rate.

We asked a lot of our staff during CV-19 and it’s been an interesting crisis that’s brought us closer as a team.

5. What are the best/least favourite parts of the job?

I’ve always been very proud of the job creation aspects around entrepreneurship. We’ve invested significantly in a Cloud Technology Academy which has developed around 35 candidates over the past 3 years with around 25 of those still within BlueSky. One of my favourite things about my job is the ability to use technology to create jobs in South Africa. I feel like I’m contributing to what our country needs to be successful.

My least favourite part of my job is managing my own sometimes unrealistic expectations of people.

6. How do you define and measure success? What KPIs do you use to do so?

I’m very much growth-oriented so my definitions of success are focused around our ability to successfully scale a business. Delivering outstanding value to clients is a critical and core component without which scaling would be impossible.

I like to measure our success by the number of jobs created. We aim to maintain 33% of our head count having come through our Academy – these are brand new jobs and skills created by BlueSky.

7. What are your favourite technologies and platforms that you use to make yourself more productive and get more done, especially during this time where employees are working remotely?

We implemented Salesforce extensively inside BlueSky so we drink the Kool-Aid, which has been vitally important to manage our monumental business development drive during CV-19 and support our customers. We’ve also implemented Jira.

We use several excellent tools for employee & remote engagement including MS teams, Telegram and Quip.

We implemented a standard Friday weekly 1hr engagement session called BlueSky Fridays which is an informal drink over MS Teams to communicate updates on the business and keep engaged. We’ve had several outstanding guest speakers who’ve joined to talk about their CV-19 experiences generally and to offer advice.

BlueSky Fridays has been an invaluable way to stay connected and positive while learning from the experiences of some other great technology entrepreneurs.

8. What can you tell us about your future plans for BlueSky and Salesforce in SA?

We are very excited about the positioning of BlueSky. We focus on enterprise cloud technology within primarily the early adopter verticals of financial services, insurance, media, telco and FMCG. We are in a fast-growing market with an appetite to scale into various products including Salesforce, AWS and more in future.

We’ve developed a delivery methodology that uses cloud technology to re-define how value is delivered during a company’s digital transformation using a start-up mindset and Agile methods.

Oh and hopefully continue to create some jobs in the process!

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