Career Path: Entrepreneur has high hopes for the cloud and Raleigh

Raleigh, North Carolina-based NeoCloud, which spun out of NeoNova in 2016, recently celebrated its one-year anniversary as a standalone company. Just last month, the young company, which provides management services for companies looking to transition business processes to the cloud, announced the acquisition of California-based cloud service business Bi101.

Crain’s Raleigh-Durham recently chatted with NeoCloud CEO Van Murray about Activate Good, an organization that works to connect volunteers to charitable causes in the local community, why Murray chose the Triangle for his business and what’s the next big thing in the cloud.

Q: How did your entrepreneurial path lead you to the Triangle area?

A: I grew up here in Raleigh. I love the area and my family is here. I actually only applied to one college and that was N.C. State. I was interested in computers and computer engineering, so N.C. State was the perfect fit for me. N.C. State has a great co-op program, and I got a full-time co-op at Glaxo, which was my first job in IT. I chose IT because it was something that I have always been passionate about.

My first real job out of school was with a startup, which was a small group that did big projects. I was in a space that was very new – mobile data collection. In 2004 it was very exciting technology. Then, I shifted back toward more traditional IT and ran IT for a private equity firm. I realized it’s too expensive for any traditional business to operate that way, which is what led me to the cloud business. I started Accent Plus, which was my first real business, where I helped businesses get rid of the legacy model and switch to the cloud.

Q: What was the biggest challenge when stepping out on your own?

A: The biggest fear of all is leaving secure employment, which not only did I have, but I had the opportunity to continue with those guys and continue being successful. At that time, I had recently bought a home and my wife was pregnant. The fear of leaving can be overwhelming, but it also drove me to succeed and grow the business. I sold the company, which was a success, in 2012. I closed on the deal a week after my son was born. From 2012 to 2016, we built a national sales channel. Ultimately, I saw the opportunity to buy the business back and spin it out with new investors. We closed on that deal in February 2016, so for the last year and a half or so, we’ve branded that company as NeoCloud.

Q: Why did you select Raleigh to grow your business?

A: That’s pretty easy. I had several previous roles traveling quite a bit, yet I would always want to come back home. It’s a great place to start a business because of the surrounding universities and talent pipeline. There’s a huge talent pool here and a relatively reasonable cost of living. And it’s not just the universities that are bringing talent here. Other companies – the big tech companies, pharmaceutical headquarters – are bringing talented people to the area. When folks move here, they want to stay. I think it’s a great place to be, and it’s great to see all the incubators and the entrepreneurial activity in Raleigh and in Durham.

Q: What’s next for you and NeoCloud in the short- and long-term?

A: We have grown exponentially and we’ve done more deals and grown more than I ever expected to see or do. I think I’ve accomplished a lot. From leading a great company to hiring great people – if my career ended today, I’d be happy. I just want to continue what we’re doing in this transformation to the cloud, helping businesses compete and win and, basically, do better. I just like to help people. I want to do that and continue to grow and employ a lot of people in Raleigh. I’d love to grow a big business and to have a building in the Raleigh skyline with my name on top, and I think that would be a huge success.

Q: When we talk about the cloud, where are we in its lifespan?

A: It’s very early. When I started in 2010, the foundations were there as was the ability to start a business focused on cloud. But I was out talking about it and nobody knew what it was. Now, you don’t have to explain it like you used to. Seven years is still very young for this sort of market. The numbers that are published predict the cloud will be a $300 billion-plus industry by 2020. Today, it’s obviously a fraction of that. I think, in general, it’s very young and I would say it’s in its infancy. We’re at a point now that by 2020, I don’t think any business should not be in the cloud.

Q: What motivated you to include a charitable component via Activate Good?

A: I’m interested in giving back to the community in Raleigh and around the Triangle. I was looking for ways to get involved and ended up finding Activate Good. The founder started about the same time I did, and I think what they’re doing is great. They’re making the Triangle and Raleigh the leader in volunteerism and corporate volunteerism. It’s really awesome to be able to give back and spend your time participating and volunteering with a nonprofit, especially when it’s supported and encouraged by your employer. We’re still only at 15 employees, so the best way I can think about helping the community is to provide our services to the nonprofits like Activate Good at no cost.

By: Caroline Curran, Published by Crain's Raleigh-Durham
August 24, 2017 - 10:23am