Neil Garner – Founder of Proxama

Take time out – I don’t do enough of it, but I do have a contrasting personal rural life with family and a small holding – nothing like getting away and getting back to nature.

Neil founded Proxama in 2005 (then called Glue4 Technologies). The business focused on creating services that link people and brands using consumer technologies. In 2008, the company was rebranded as Proxama with a focus on the applications of mobile, smart card and NFC technologies. Neil passionately believes in using emerging technologies to create valuable services for people.

Prior to founding Proxama, Neil ran a division of a niche consultancy, Consult Hyperion, where he led the systems implementation teams for a number of groundbreaking products including Vodafone’s m-Pesa, MasterCard’s PayPass, Sky and Barclaycard’s SkyCard and American Express Blue card.

Neil has a MEng and DPhil from York University and is a Chartered Engineer. Any precious time at home is split between renovating an old property and enjoying life with his wife and three young children.

Where did the idea for Proxama come from?

I’ve always been interested in services that bridge the gap between physical and digital and Proxama is all about enabling commerce (marketing, payments and loyalty) using proximity technologies (NFC & Bluetooth). The name Proxama is derived from PROXimity Aware Mobile Applications.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

A typical day in one of our offices is rare so I try to group activities around locations and try to travel by train at a table where it’s possible to get work done while traveling.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I’ve always loved trying to create a ‘one-page view’ of any new product, service or concept. Techniques like Business Model Generation are a great way to explore business concepts. Being trained as a software systems engineer, I’ve always taken a systems view of a new ecosystem or business concept.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

It’s been a long-term personal mission to drive mobile commerce. We are still in the early stages of creating exciting new ways to engage and transact with our mobiles with much greater context awareness so consumers can get what they want when they want it, and can disconnect when they want to also.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

External optimism. Business is tough and technology moves fast with lots of twists and turns, so you need to grab opportunities when they arise and good things always come out of bad.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad job, but I have decided to move on or change roles when the situation calls for it. I recently decided to step aside as Group CEO now that the company is entering a new phase of growth. Now, I can direct more of my time to be the creative innovator that drives strategy and vision for the business.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I actually had opportunity to ‘re-boot’ Proxama in 2010 after the recession and the main thing I did was to find other execs to work with to build a great senior team – in the first incarnation I was the exec trying to fulfill all roles. It’s much better to pick roles around strengths and pull in great financial and operational people.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Take time out – I don’t do enough of it, but I do have a contrasting personal rural life with family and a small holding – nothing like getting away and getting back to nature.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

I’ve always networked as much as possible. Opportunities, ideas, and new business relationships just don’t happen by sitting in the office or spending time on social media. You also need to be constantly looking for new funding and partners to help expand the reach of the business.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Just one? Technology businesses are all about trying things and taking a risk – one key thing is to not dwell on failure. We need to be able to recognize failure quickly, do something about it and move on. Also, no one, I mean no one, is perfect or knows everything – the worst kind of people to work with are those that think they know everything and have nothing to learn.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I love the possibilities of wearable tech – combining lo cost NFC/Bluetooth chip with all sort of different sensors will create some amazing new products. How about smart shoes to help you know where your kids are and encourage them to get out and have more healthy fun?

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I recently bought a ‘garden flamethrower’ for killing weeds – awesome fun and does the trick.
Also, a USB battery for recharging phones. I have a lot of phones and sometimes I need to prove they are real when going through airport security!

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

I still use a lot of standard office products – you can do a lot with Excel and PowerPoint. I’ve recently gotten back into using Twitter again. I do find many services can be great for a while, but it’s good to experiment with new services. That being said, sometimes old, familiar ones do work best.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I used to do a lot of work on security and cryptography and Simon Singh’s book ‘The Code Book’ is an amazing, accessible book explaining the history and concepts behind cryptography, which is part of all modern commerce services.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

Many, many people have influenced my thinking, both in and out of the industry – there are lots of great people to learn from and be inspired by, but I always seem to find out that everyone is just a normal human being. I think that is what inspires me the most, is that every great person has their flaws & personal issues, which means there is great potential in everyone.


Proxama website:
Neil Garner on LinkedIn:
Neil Garner on Twitter: @Nrgarner