An Interview with Matthew Lawlor

We want you to get to know the members of our diverse, international team we’ve assembled here at Spearline.
On Thursday 04 August 2016

We want you to get to know the members of our diverse, international team we’ve assembled here at Spearline. These are the people that help us to deliver a superior level of service and quality, and make our company what it is! First up is Matthew, CTO and Co-founder of Spearline. Matthew is responsible for the development and implementation of Spearline products and services as well as the management of our global network. Although originally from a programming background with a BsC Commercial Software Development, from WIT, he has extensive knowledge of the telecommunications industry and enjoys working directly with customers to help improve their phone system networks.

 

What inspired you to start Spearline with co-founder Kevin Buckley?

As with many companies our current product offering is very different from what we originally planned. The company was founded in 2003 which was a very exciting time in the Linux world and was a period where there were big strides being taken to bring Linux from just being a server operating system to one that you could use on your desktop.

At the time Mandrake Soft later known as Mandriva was leading this drive and we successfully agreed a partnership with them to localise and distribute their software in Ireland. Our initial goal was to make Linux a popular operating system on desktops in Ireland.

Kevin and I set up the company at the age of 23 with a complete lack of business experience and a bountiful supply of naivety but perhaps we would have not setup the company if it was any other way.

 

You’ve been CTO in Spearline for nearly 14 years…tell us a little about this journey

As stated above we initially set out to localise, distribute and support Mandrivia Linux’s suite of software for the Irish market. For various reasons it became apparent that this wasn’t a business model on which we could build a viable business. Being a keen advocate of Open Source software there were many applications being released at the time. One of the most popular was the Mambo content management system which became the key product offering of our business. We also provided collaboration software for users through Zimbra.

While we were providing these services I was always keeping in touch with Open Source software. Needing to install a phone system in our office I decided to try and configure it using Asterisk PBX. At the time there were no GUI interfaces like FreePBX that would allow you to configure the system so everything had to be configured through a command line. Being the nerd that I am it was something I enjoyed as i explored all the functionality Asterisk had to offer.

A point came where we decided that developing phone systems for small/medium sized businesses was something we wanted to concentrate on. This was to prove successful until the recession hit Ireland in 2007 however it provided us with a big opportunity.

One of our customers was complaining that the phone system we installed was not working correctly as their call volume was significantly lower. I created a test that would dial their numbers and ask the user to enter 1 via DTMF to verify the call was successful. After performing 5,000 tests with no failures we were able to prove the issue was down to the recession than the performance of the phone system.

From my experience users are very sensitive to the performance of their phone system. If you upgrade or change an old system you need to get it 100%. If there is any doubt the user will start to lose faith and you are fighting a losing battle. At this point I always say the phone system will be blamed for everything that goes wrong in an organisation... if there was a cat in the office and it died it would probably be blamed on the phone system.

We were lucky to have installed a system in a conference company and through discussions told them about the test calls we had performed. They were extremely interested in the offering and within months we were deploying servers around the world to perform in-country tests on their global toll and toll free numbers.

 

Spearline has grown rapidly in the past couple of years. What do you attribute the recent growth to and how has this changed the organisation?

The telecommunication industry is currently very dynamic with a lot of change over the last 10 years. There is a large move from the traditional PSTN to IP circuits where suddenly transcoding can come into play. Many organisations have started to bring all their traffic into a central location before distributing it to outsourced contact centers. Also carriers are being squeezed on the rates they are charging which has cut their margins and can push them towards lowering quality or using cheaper but less stable routes.

All of these factors are leading to more issues on an organisations telecommunications infrastructure and increasing the need for testing.

From the early days of the company we were always devoted to customer support and service. Our testing software works on a SAAS model so we work closely with our customers and adapt our product to make sure we are testing their problem areas.

On how it has changed the organisation there are the obvious ones. When it was just myself and Kevin burping out loud in the office it wasn’t frowned upon so much and there seemed to be more drunken people at Christmas parties. Overall I think we have managed to keep that small company family feeling in the organisation which is something that will be a challenge as we grow further. Being a bit of a control freak I will probably get involved

 

How do you measure your success?

Hopefully the sales people don’t read this but I think the initial sale is the easy part and I wouldn’t personally call that a success. I always believe that we as a company are successful when a customer renews for a second year. It means that everyone in the organisation from the sales team, product developers, account managers and support staff have done their job successfully.

Also getting that phone call or email from a customer saying they are having an issue and is there anything we can do to test it, shows we have been successful and are at the front of our customer’s mind.

 

What do you do when you’re not working?

I have 3 kids, so i really enjoy spending as much time as possible with them. I’m also involved with my daughter’s football club on both training and administration. As my wife is from France I am also trying to spend some time learning the language. I’ve always being more of a maths person so it’s not going so well at the moment and I am at about the same level as my 4-year-old daughter.