Founded by developers Lawrence Manning, Richard Morrell and George Lungley in 2000, Smoothwall was originally launched as an open source project, evolving into a firewall then internet filtering product. Its technical strength led to incredibly strong growth and market share in the UK, and a US office opening in 2009.
Driven by disruptive tech businesses with a strong purpose, Georg Ell’s leadership background at Tesla, Yammer and Microsoft paved the way for his first CEO role at Smoothwall. Georg is passionate about Smoothwall’s growth potential and its ability to positively impact people’s lives as the internet becomes an integral part of everything we do.
Looking for an injection of capital to take the business forward, the Smoothwall management team found a true partner in Tenzing: a unique combination of high intelligence, low ego and “a real sense of backing us”, according to Georg.
Trust, support and high standards stood out to Smoothwall as values to define their partnership with Tenzing. Working with Tenzing is helping Smoothwall achieve its goals of being the most trusted provider of internet safeguarding solutions in the world. “We literally save children’s lives every day. When they’re going through a difficult time, we’re able to help schools make appropriate interventions, whether that’s in cases of bullying, sexual exploitation, self-harm or even suicide,” says Georg.
As someone who relishes working with smart people, Georg has thrived on working with an experienced Chair and Board, as well as the smarts of the whole team at Tenzing. “I’m a first time CEO, with an entrepreneurial background, so I’m very focussed on learning and improving. It’s been fascinating to see how Tenzing thinks about strategy and valuation, and how they helped us to navigate through a turbulent pandemic period too,” he says. “They keep you on your toes. They’re good at saying, ‘Let’s take a step back because here’s a broader perspective about how we think about things on the market.’ It’s been a lot of fun actually.”
With Smoothwall’s Founders successfully exiting shortly after Tenzing’s investment, and Georg being appointed CEO soon after, the level of advice and support provided by Tenzing has been incredibly valuable. Working with a “world class set of investors” was in fact what attracted Georg to the role, as well as Tenzing’s ability to build strong boards. Tenzing Managing Partner Christian Hamilton has also been a respected and trusted advisor to Georg in his career journey. “Christian and I have spent many late nights talking about business and business problems,” he says.
The first 18 months were “unbelievably busy”, recalls Georg, with the acceleration of pace going hand in hand with the injection of investment, energy and expertise from Tenzing. Smoothwall made two acquisitions (Future Digital and Safeguard Software), and built a new, award-winning, student monitoring service, going from a one-product business to a multi-product offering. In parallel, Smoothwall overhauled every single company system: CRM, HR, finance, data, productivity, email, employee engagement, and more, revamping both management and overall working practices. Fostering a whole new culture of transparency and collaboration has led to Smoothwall being awarded three stars in the Sunday Times’ “Best Companies to Work For”.
Georg now has ambitions to position Smoothwall at the centre of a school’s technology stack, using real-time student behavioural data to make supportive interventions. “The world of edtech is very hot right now and Smoothwall’s got an exciting future,” he says.