How a Sheffield tech firm became a $1bn company
Plus, the history of Henderson’s relish
Good afternoon readers — and welcome to our Monday briefing.
One billion dollars is a staggeringly large amount of money. Sadly, most of us will never get to fully understand just how enormous it is. But as of last Thursday, one billion dollars is what Sheffield tech firm WANdisco is worth after its share price rose by 500% in a matter of months. The firm has been in business for 18 years, and specialises in data management and cloud computing. However, over the last year it has experienced rapid growth and now investors are beginning to take notice. Today, we look at the secrets of their success.
As well as that we have a lovely family home in Upperthorpe and a nice piece previewing a new exhibition about the pandemic at the Millennium Gallery. And why has a New York taxi cab been cruising the streets of Sheffield?
Catch up and coming up
In our weekend read, I looked at the major changes planned at BBC Radio Sheffield and what they might mean for both staff and loyal listeners. You can still read that piece here.
Last week we sent out two great newsletters to our 1,112 paying members. The first included a beautifully-written review by culture writer Mina Miller of Birds and Bees, a new play currently showing at the Crucible’s Tanya Moiseiwitsch Playhouse. And the second included a very useful piece by our regular contributor David Bocking which looked at two contrasting strategies for saving energy and keeping your home warm this winter: are you going to be team hemp and heat pumps or team keyholes and curtains? An extract from that first piece is below:
The play’s set is sparse but clever, putting few props to good use: three mics, two ring lights, a rainbow pile of knotted wires and a sound mixer and sampler mounted on wheels. The infinity screen that serves as a backdrop reinforces the play’s message that being young in an era of omnipresent social media is tantamount to constantly being on stage, being photographed from all angles, having to perform. Its soft curves show there’s no beginning or end to it, no clear demarcation between on and offline, and the midi controller’s ability to record and play the characters’ words in a loop, to a beat, turns everything into an echo chamber. The play makes the most of the small space: the intimacy of its setting allows the actors to hold eye contact with the audience at pivotal moments.
Next week we’ll send out two more including a write-up of a fairly disastrous visit Dani Cole and I made to the Sheffield Antiques Quarter, and another looking back at the strange and tragic tale of former Sheffield Hallam MP Jared O’Mara. To help fund a new way of doing journalism in Sheffield focused on local readers rather than shareholders, please consider subscribing using the button below. It costs £1.34 a week if you pay for 12 months up front.
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The big picture: Big yellow taxi 🚕
It might not meet Clean Air Zone standards, but the New York City taxi that was in Sheffield city centre on Saturday was certainly an impressive sight. The eye-catching vehicle was promoting Manahatta, a new Balm Green bar, which opens on Saturday, 11 February.
This week’s weather ⛅
Our weather forecast comes from dedicated Sheffield weather service Steel City Skies, who say high pressure controls much of the week ahead with a lot of dry and fine weather to come...along with the return of frosts.
Monday 🌤 A cold and potentially frosty start gives way to a fine day with spells of sunshine, turning hazier later. Light winds and highs of 8°C.
Tuesday 🌥 Similarly cold to start with another bright day following. Winds staying light with highs of 8°C.
Wednesday 🌥 Breezier and cloudier overall, but many staying dry throughout. Feeling rather cold with highs of 6°C.
Thursday 🌥 Risk of early light rain as a weakening cold front heads south. Brightening up thereafter with a lighter breeze compared to Wednesday. Highs of 7°C.
Friday ☁ Milder but largely cloudy too as low pressure puts the squeeze on to the north. Breezier from the west with highs of 10°C.
Outlook: A northwest — southeast split develops across the UK with the best of the weather further south and east. Sheffield looks likely to have a lot of dry and bright weather with temperatures close to average.
The big story: How a Sheffield tech firm became a $1bn company
Top line: Sheffield-based data management company WANdisco is now valued at more than $1bn after its shares rose more than 500% in less than a year. What’s their secret?
Rapid growth: Over the last eight months, the firm’s share price has skyrocketed. Back in May 2022, the company's shares were trading at just £2.30, but on Thursday they opened at £13.68, their highest rate since 2014. The company, which also has offices in Silicon Valley and Northern Ireland, specialises in cloud computing where data is stored on the internet.
How have they done it? WANdisco was formed in 2005 after a chance meeting between Sheffield-born Dave Richards and the firm’s chief scientist, “maths genius” Dr Yeturu Aahlad. The company’s products help firms move data from in-house IT systems into the cloud without having to take their servers offline.
In September, the firm reported a 74% rise in revenue thanks to an “explosion” in the use of the Internet of Things (objects that send data directly to the cloud).
In 2022 the firm also made record bookings of more than £23m — including one contract with an unnamed automotive components supplier worth £10m.
A tech hub: Sheffield has long been associated with heavy industry, but it is increasingly being seen as a destination for a host of tech firms attracted by two world leading universities, low property prices and a strong “ecosystem” of support. According to investment firm CBRE’s 2022 UK Tech Cities report, Sheffield tech firms now employ over 14,750 people across 1,135 companies.
As we reported last month, “wellbeing platform” Champion Health was sold last year in a deal which could be worth £10m thanks to support from incubator TwinklHive.
At the other end of the spectrum, last January Sheffield-based computer games firm Sumo Digital was bought by Chinese tech giant Tencent for £919m ($1.1bn).
Four-day weeks: As well as being successful, WANdisco is also a forward-thinking firm in terms of its offer to staff. Employees already got unlimited leave when Richards announced last year staff would only have to work a four-day week. He said that being able to spend Friday with family and friends, pursue hobbies, volunteer, or go away for a long weekend, would contribute to a greater work-life balance, and improve mental and physical well-being.
Our take: From Benjamin Huntsman to Henry Bessemer and Harry Brearley, Sheffield has long been associated with innovation. While the industry that those men transformed is a shadow of its former self, the city is slowly but surely reinventing itself as a high-tech hub. The stock market is notoriously fickle — what goes up can easily come down. But the fact that Sheffield now has two billion dollar tech companies — WANdisco and Sumo Digital — could act as an incentive for even more to come. Maybe in tech there is life after steel after all.
Home of the week 🏡
This spacious four-bedroomed semi in Upperthorpe is spread over four floors and has an enclosed rear garden. The property comes with no chain and is on the market for the newly-reduced price of £330,000.
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Our media picks 🎧
‘A tribute to the city’s resolve’ 🦠 A forthcoming exhibition at the Millennium Gallery about how Sheffielders survived the Covid-19 pandemic is previewed in this piece in Now Then. A Lasting Testimony From Sheffield takes the form of rooms in a lockdown house, with visitors invited to interact with exhibits via TV, radio, coffee tables, pictures and other household objects. The page also includes a preview video for the show, which starts on 25 February.
How murder of 16-year-old boy gunned down in city park shocked city 🚨 A fascinating report in The Star about Jonathan Matondo, a teenager who was shot dead in Burngreave in 2007. Matondo had arrived in Sheffield 10 years earlier, fleeing the war torn Democratic Republic of Congo in search of a better life. However, becoming involved in the so-called Sheffield postcode wars would ultimately cost him his life. His killer has never been caught.
‘Nobody wants to strike, they don’t do it for fun’ 🎸 A brilliant interview in The Independent with Richard Hawley ahead of Standing at the Sky’s Edge’s debut at the National Theatre in London. Hawley meets reporter Megan Graye in one of his favourite pubs, Fagan’s on Broad Lane. As well as the success of the musical, which begins its run in the capital on Thursday, he talks about his visceral dislike of the government and how Sheffield has kept him grounded.
Things to do 📆
Talk 🗣️ On Tuesday, 7 February at the Showroom Cinema, acclaimed food historian Mark Dawson will give a talk to the Victorian Society about the history of Henderson's relish. A Saucy Tale traces the origins of Hendo’s in late Victorian England, and considers how it became Sheffield’s favourite sauce and best kept secret. Doors open at 7.00pm for a 7.30pm start. The talk is open to society members and non-members alike and costs £5.
Walk 🌱 Nothing heralds the start of spring better than snowdrops, and Wentworth Woodhouse in Rotherham has got one of the best displays in the UK. Carefully nurtured over the past 20 years by head gardener Scott Jamieson and his team of volunteers, the stately home’s gardens are currently littered with this delicate flower. Self-guided walks take place throughout February from 10am-4pm. Tickets are £7 for adults and free for children.
Art 🖼️ Sheffield Museums’ famous Ruskin Collection has been redisplayed for 2023 with Comes the Flood, an exhibition which examines the Victorian critic’s fears of environmental change. This brand new redisplay imagines the future Ruskin predicted, with writers and performers using objects from the Sheffield floods of 1864 and 2007, and depictions of Venice, as remnants of cities that have been destroyed by rising waters and climate change.