The Interview: Neal Criscuolo & Neil Crawford on choosing EO

Neal Criscuolo & Neil Crawford are founders of NC Squared, a cloud software company based in London with operations in the UK and US. They began formally transitioning their business to Employee Ownership in May 2020.

Q: When and why did you start thinking about transferring control or selling NC2?
A: It was early last year that we started thinking about it seriously. We’d had a couple of approaches about buying NC Squared which prompted conversations about what we would eventually do with the company. This was coupled with ongoing conversations we’d had over the years about how we would connect employees with the success of the business (share options/profit share etc).business (share options/profit share etc).

Q: How did you first become aware of employee ownership?
A: An article in the Guardian about Richer Sounds in 2019 prompted us to look at EO. We’d never heard of it before. That prompted us to join the Employee Ownership Association (EOA).

Q: How did you explore/evaluate the concept and practicalities of employee ownership?
A: We attended a few EOA meetings, talked with lots of a people. Standing around making small talk over a vol au vent isn’t usually our idea of a good time, but it was actually very useful. The EO community seems to be a very honest and helpful bunch of people.

Q: What other options for NC2 competed with Employee Ownership?
A: The usual suspects: Trade sale, private equity sales.. And of course the option of doing nothing and ‘kicking the decision down the road’.

Q: Why did you feel employee ownership was the right option for NC2?
A: We’d been really careful about who we hired, and we’d been careful to create a nice lifestyle kind of culture. Acquisition or having Private Equity take over would have dramatically changed the company and put the kibosh on the team’s work just as they were getting into their stride.

Q: Do you see any downsides to Employee Ownership?
A: Its easy enough to be an EO company. Its quite hard to be a good EO company! Takes work to “make it real” after the transaction.. to really find that balance between giving a voice to employees while also trusting your own judgement about steering the company in the best direction. We’re a small company, around 20 people and we had little formal leadership structure in place, so EO was a catalyst for us to get more organised. We’ve been working with J Gadd Associates to help with that.

Q: Any wisdom you would like to share with business owners currently looking to sell their business/reduce their day to day responsibilities/commitments to their business?
A: We’re really happy with the decision. No regrets. Its great to be able to sell the business without bringing in external influencers with their own agendas. Its important not to over hype the roll out to the team. EO is what you make of it and it takes time for the team to see real changes and benefits.

Q: Anything you would have done differently?
A: Not a huge amount. Maybe we could have done some of the organisation structure changes before going EO.

Q: How does the future look for NC2?
A: Looks good. Obviously we’re in uncertain times but its given us something to focus on and getting this transaction done while things are quieter with customers has been helpful. Feels like we’re creating a
strong ship, getting everything ready for when the wind picks up again.

Q: What’s next for Neal/Neil?
A: We’re still directors of the business. Learning (slowly) how to meddle a little less and hand over the reins to the team a little more. So we’ll get everything settled – we’ve given ourselves a year to complete the transition properly and then see how things look on the other side of that.

Q: Any comments on RVE, the service provided and the process of conversion?
A: RVE were really good, all went smoothly. They are a ‘safe pair of hands’, a very experienced and intelligent team and a nice bunch to work with. Took everything seriously without taking themselves too seriously which is always a good thing!


The founders (centre) relaxing with some of the NC² team

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