From Limerick to US tech leader: ‘I sought out roles with growth potential’

28 Jul 2022

FileCloud CEO Ray Downes. Image: Don MacMonagle

Ray Downes championed his home county when he was at the helm of Kemp. Now, he’s leading another US tech company and bringing it to Limerick.

Irishman Ray Downes is the CEO of FileCloud, an Austin-based SaaS provider of enterprise file-sharing software. He has led the business since December 2021, when it secured $40m in a venture capital funding round.

FileCloud is now making a move to Ireland. Earlier this month, it announced plans to set up its EMEA headquarters and a new R&D hub in Downes’ home county of Limerick.

Before FileCloud, he was the CEO of Kemp Technologies, another US software player with a Limerick base. He oversaw its transformation from a niche load balancing product into a leader in the application experience market, before it was acquired last year for $258m.

Earlier in his career, Downes held several leadership positions at FDI technology companies including Cabletron Systems and Enterasys Networks. In 2002, he co-founded Arrosys, a sales and marketing consultancy specialising in launching technology companies into various European markets, and served on its leadership team until 2010.

Educated in his native Limerick, he and his wife have lived in New York for the last decade.

‘The biggest risk I’ve taken was leaving a well-paid position in a large company to co-found a business’

What does your role at FileCloud entail?

As a CEO, I think of myself as a Jack of all trades. Of course, that also means that if you are a master of none – you have to build strong teams and leaders, and surround yourself with smart people like we have at FileCloud.

The core part of my role involves planning and strategy with the management team stakeholders. I am passionate about leadership development – no matter what position you hold. I like to focus on removing complexity from processes to ultimately make FileCloud easier to work with.

I have a quality assurance background and that has served me well over decades, as has my continuous improvement mindset. I believe that leaders should create opportunities for anyone to develop – from a raw intern to a senior leader – if they put in the work and rise to the challenge.

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

The enterprise file sync and sharing (EFSS) and content collaboration sectors have a long history and are now quite mature – as evidenced by the enormous number of vendors that participate in that space. You’d expect that the majority of customer-facing problems would have been solved by now. Unfortunately, that is far from the reality.

Most EFSS providers have created easy-to-use, cloud-based content solutions. In many cases, file sharing can be ‘turned on’ by the individual users, though often without any help or knowledge from IT, and might inherit some basic forms of control and security as provided by the platform providers.

However, this method of file sharing can create a host of issues for enterprises, especially when it comes to the control and compliance of sensitive files. In addition, placing everything in the hands of one ‘cloud’ provider and virtualising everything can create opportunities for cyberattacks and data leak vectors.

Add to this the ever-increasing set of regulations and compliance requirements, data residency and sovereignty concerns – and there is a huge gap between what the majority of cloud-based EFSS vendors can offer and what the enterprise market actually needs.

This is where FileCloud comes in.

What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?

Since its founding in 2016, FileCloud has had a singular mission – to provide an optimised, ready-to-deploy platform for any on-premises and private cloud infrastructure, while enabling a high degree of security and control over sensitive content.

As the demand for data governance and regulatory compliance is becoming increasingly strong – particularly within European enterprises, manufacturing, R&D and public sector communities – FileCloud is in a unique position to address and capitalise on this opportunity.

What set you on the road to where you are now?

In the early part of my career, I sought out roles where there was lots of growth potential. Not necessarily the best-paid jobs, but those companies that were looking to scale up rapidly.

As they did, I got opportunities to work across many parts of the supply chain right out to the customer-facing side of business, which I then applied to new work situations.

What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?

Without question, it was leaving a well-paid position in a large company to co-found a business with no salary until the company could turn a profit. There was very real pressure and little margin for error. Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart.

The learning was worth it once I figured out how to deal with the stresses of being a business owner, employer, employee and main source of funding all rolled into one.

What one work skill do you wish you had?

I have had the opportunity to work and reside in a lot of countries over my 30-year career, and I always regret that I don’t have local language skills. If I had to pick two new languages now it would be German and Czech. 

How do you get the best out of your team?

I want all my employees to be excited about the work we’re doing. I do that by setting out the business goals for a year or multiyear goals – crafted with input from key stakeholders. Then I make sure everyone understands the goals and how they align with their specific roles.

I’m never afraid to repeat my key messages and ensure that leaders at all levels break that message down into what it means for them and their team members. This helps everyone understand they are part of something bigger than themselves, which leads to an engaged team.

Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector?

There is a lot of good work being done on both sides of the Atlantic to encourage more diversity in the STEM sector. That needs to start much earlier in education with fun technology and engineering events that also teach about the excellent career prospects in tech.

At FileCloud, our engineering team alone is spread across 17 different countries and counting.

What’s the best piece of career advice you have ever received?

“Lead with outcomes, not features.” This excellent advice was given to me a decade ago, and I still have it written up in my office at home!

What books have you read that you would recommend?

The Cold Start Problem by Andrew Chen – a top-tier VC at Andreessen Horowitz – focuses on how to scale product companies through network effect.

It looks at why some take off and others don’t. An excellent read for product people.

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

I’ve always been a journal person. I take lots of meeting notes but found a laptop to be distracting, so I now use the ReMarkable 2 handwriting tablet. It’s given me the ability to handwrite notes that are fully searchable and accessible on any of my devices; I love it!

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