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Dan Cunliffe of Pangea Connected: “Tech is never infallible”

IoT has the power to change the world in countless ways, because it applies to every industry. Tracking emissions and energy usage with smart meters helps businesses cut costs and go green. Proximity sensors and low-latency connectivity allow self-driving cars to make split-second decisions and avoid accidents. Sound monitors in pipes that send out alerts […]

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IoT has the power to change the world in countless ways, because it applies to every industry. Tracking emissions and energy usage with smart meters helps businesses cut costs and go green. Proximity sensors and low-latency connectivity allow self-driving cars to make split-second decisions and avoid accidents. Sound monitors in pipes that send out alerts if they detect a leak are being used to reduce the 3 billion liters of water lost to leaks every day in the UK.

Or take our 5G project for example: once launched, it’ll help save both money and lives. Every second counts when triaging a critical patient; and speeding up response times by as little as 5 minutes would save ambulance trusts up to £90m.


The telephone totally revolutionized the way we could communicate with people all over the world. But then came email and took it to the next level. And then came text messaging. And then came video calls. And so on…What’s next? What’s just around the corner?

In this interview series, called ‘The Future Of Communication Technology’ we are interviewing leaders of tech or telecom companies who are helping to develop emerging communication technologies and the next generation of how we communicate and connect with each other.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dan Cunliffe, Managing Director and co-founder of Pangea, a provider of global IoT (Internet of Things) connectivity and award-winning IoT solutions.

He was previously the Head of Partners and Strategy at O2 UK, where he led a revenue increase of 1000% in just over 3 years. Dan’s been recognized for his team-first approach to leadership, resilience in the face of challenge, and commitment to helping partners optimize their profits, see revenue sooner, and secure more deals. His recent projects have included connecting pop-up hospitals for the UK National Health Service, as well as keeping over 80,000 students connected to their educations through the COVID-19 lockdown.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I haven’t had a straightforward journey (but who has?). I was raised in a single-parent household in South Africa, and times were pretty tough — we needed help with my school fees and other amenities. My mother worked hard to make ends meet, but she also made sure we had a good time. That’s where I picked up my work ethic, and my focus on having fun while doing things well.

I studied Mathematics and Computer Science at Stellenbosch University, but ran out of funds after just one year; and I think navigating that challenge at a young age put me in an entrepreneurial mindset. I landed a job as a teacher, which won me a bursary to continue studying; on the condition that I got a teaching diploma as well. All this while trying to climb the professional rugby ladder!

Eventually I took my degrees and moved to the UK, where I worked as both a programmer and Math teacher before getting into telecoms. In 2010 I got a job with a UK telecoms giant, and worked my way up to Head of Strategy.

It was there I met my co-founder, Chris Romeika. Having watched him rise from Network Engineer to Head of Operations, he had the sharpest skills and most knowledge of anyone I’d met in the industry. Around the same time, IoT (the Internet of Things) was just arriving on the tech stage, and it was gaining traction fast.

But pushing for experimentation and innovation is hard when you’re at a large corporation; there’s a lot of red tape — lack of interest from seniors, lack of resources in departments, lack of time with all the standard services to deliver.

I could see that Chris was more than capable of building IoT solutions. And I could see the need for IoT in every business that we dealt with; they just had nobody to provide it.

So we took a risk. In 2014 Chris and I struck out on our own to found Pangea, combining my network and business acumen with his sharp tech skills and knowledge.

And it paid off! We started with a couple of laptops and a vision, and now we’re looking at opening a third office, with a 16-strong team and 300-strong partner base.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

That’d be when we nearly went out of business in 2016.

We’ve got a brilliant ongoing relationship with a particular customer today — but there’s a story behind the partnership.

At the time, they used to be a customer with one of the UK’s big mobile operators. Our custom IoT solutions were a far better fit for their connectivity needs, and we’d been in conversation with them for quite some time; but they hadn’t decided to make the leap to us yet.

Which made for a tense situation, because we were on a time limit. In each deal we make, it’s always a case of weighing up the spend on innovation versus the return on investment. But in this case our suppliers needed paying, loans were being called in, and startup costs meant we had about a month’s worth of salaries left — we couldn’t afford to wait.

I made the decision to shift all of our focus and resources to winning this client. First, I had to brainstorm and build a rollout strategy that would work for the client, then use it to convince them to make the switch.

Once they were on board, we needed to make the solution a reality, and fast. So we pulled together to deliver the deal six months ahead of schedule; we ruthlessly prioritised, pouring everything we had into designing and launching an entirely new network specifically for this partner, then running their solution over it.

It was a risk from both sides… and it paid off massively. The partner was blown away by our dedication to the project, the potency of the network, and how quickly we’d done it all. It was exactly what they needed, and the cash flow that followed gave us the time and space to stabilize. We soon landed a contract renewal for another year; and we’re still crafting custom solutions for them today.

If there’s one thing I learnt from this chapter, it’s that fear, in the right amounts, is healthy. Harness it, and it’ll give you laser-focus and amp up your decision-making in your darkest hour.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I’ve got a few! But one that comes to mind now is: ‘Knowing is goal-setting, doing is goal-achieving.’ I heard it on the Goal Billionaire podcast.

It hits home for me, because I think waiting for motivation to arrive is dangerous. It’s something best generated through action, a lot like being energized through exercise; you feel motivated by jogging, not waiting to jog.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My mother, who held the household together and gave me a great childhood despite having very little. The values I learned from her are still the ones I carry today. She pushed me to get as much as possible out of my education, and always made sure I understood why that was important.

And my uncle. Once he finished his six years of service in the military, he moved in with us for a while to help support us both. Definitely a solid father figure in my life who helped keep me on track.

Being a father myself now, what I learned from them is helping me raise my own children to be kind and gracious.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

For me, success is still a long way off.

But from a personal standpoint, the progress we’ve made so far has let me help my friends and family in need; which is important, since they’re the ones who raised me to the point that I’m at.

And I do my best to look after the team at Pangea with an inclusive, constructive work environment. We’re very hands on, with buddy systems and an in-depth review process, so we were well-suited to the work-from-home shift.

From a business standpoint, we’ve had the privilege of working on some great projects with the UK government. We set up one of their pop-up hospitals with connectivity at the onset of COVID-19, and went on to help thousands of digitally-excluded children access their education with our mobile connectivity.

Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about the cutting edge communication tech that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

We build custom IoT and connectivity solutions for businesses in every sector.

IoT is fairly new, having really taken shape a decade ago. While the concept is simple — take a regular object or device and connect it to share data over a wireless network — the implications are massive, from simple applications like smart lighting or self-watering crops, to futuristic tech like automated factories, robotic surgeons.

Connectivity is especially important in the remote-everything world of the pandemic. And IoT solutions help businesses go green, boost efficiencies, and open up new revenue streams.

We’re also working on a 5G project to keep ambulances connected while on the move, with high quality video streams that let on-site doctors triage patients before they arrive at hospital.

How do you think this might change the world?

IoT has the power to change the world in countless ways, because it applies to every industry.

Tracking emissions and energy usage with smart meters helps businesses cut costs and go green. Proximity sensors and low-latency connectivity allow self-driving cars to make split-second decisions and avoid accidents. Sound monitors in pipes that send out alerts if they detect a leak are being used to reduce the 3 billion litres of water lost to leaks every day in the UK.

Or take our 5G project for example: once launched, it’ll help save both money and lives. Every second counts when triaging a critical patient; and speeding up response times by as little as 5 minutes would save ambulance trusts up to £90m.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

Black Mirror. Great show!

Tech is never infallible. It will always have its challenges. I think the key thing for anyone in tech is to keep the human element in what you do, above all.

Again, take our 5G project for instance. One element of the solution is to enable AI to make decisions on a patient’s treatment based on sonography imaging; massively efficient, but also massively important to get right. This will have a tangible impact on people’s health — so it’s important not to get lost in the math and remember that everything you’re doing is for human benefit.

And when it comes to IoT, security needs to be solid as a rock. Security can seem daunting if you’re just starting out, but it doesn’t have to be. Just make sure to build solutions to be safe from the outset, with the best devices rather than what’s easiest on the budget; and cover your bases with your network security.

Lastly, make sure to educate your end-users. It’s important for users to understand that if tech like IoT plays a key role in their business, it’s critical that they take steps to secure it, like running software updates and changing credentials regularly.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

The launch of 4G mobile networks. This wasn’t a tipping point for me personally, but rather for IoT and mobile connectivity as a whole.

There are plenty of wireless connectivity technologies — Bluetooth, LORA, satellite. The list goes on. But cellular is the most prevalent, and 4G was probably the biggest single game changer for IoT. Part of why IoT really hit its stride around 2010 is because 4G networks began launching in 2009.

More recently, 5G’s arrival on the tech scene was another big moment for us in the industry, enabling the 5G project itself. And network slicing — the ability to partition off sections of a network with specific latency, bandwidth, and more — is opening up plenty of business cases; like a smart factory that needs low latency for its robots to communicate with each other, or a hospital with huge data requirements for transferring patient records and running video calls.

And as 5G networks continue to improve, they’ll enable us to provide even more incredible solutions.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

Proven case studies, that show tangible reductions in costs for businesses and quality-of-life improvements for users. The ideas are big and the tech is fascinating; but it’s the figures and happy testimonials from users that will give both businesses and government bodies the awareness and confidence to take on these new forms of communication.

So it’s on us and others in our industry to continue highlighting these wins and show exactly what benefits they bring to their adopters, in terms of revenue gained, emissions cut, time reduced, lives saved, and so on.

The pandemic has changed so many things about the way we behave. One of them of course, is how we work and how we communicate in our work. How do you think your innovation might be able to address the new needs that have arisen as a result of the pandemic?

We’ve shifted into an era of remote-everything. IoT and connectivity are a cornerstone of that shift.

Wireless connectivity allows folks to set up more remote sites as the need quickly arises, like popup hospitals and workspaces, or connecting homes for children studying online.

And consumer-facing industries like E-commerce, logistics and delivery services, are adapting to deliver at-home experiences; all of which rely on connectivity. Everything that is enabling life to continue in some form during the pandemic, is in turn enabled by connectivity.

That won’t change, even after the pandemic is behind us. People have been worried about the fate of brick-and-mortar stores for years now; but perhaps one of the answers is to simply increase the number of ways consumers can customize their experience.

For instance, home delivery has helped keep many restaurants in business over the last year, and it’s unlikely to disappear once the pandemic is behind us. These services are already being taken a step further, with meal prep providers sending ingredients direct to homes to provide a cooking experience.

IoT and connectivity will enable this change in mindset, connecting people and things in ways that’ll promote more trade and repair the damage caused by the pandemic.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

Don’t be afraid to strike out on your own. If it’s something you’ve been wanting and waiting to do, do it. You can do things by yourself, and if you feel you need help, there are options that won’t dilute your ownership of your idea.

Keep pushing above what you think you can do. It’s easy to fall into the trap of limiting your own thinking, and falling into a cycle; we’re lazy creatures by nature! But that’s how brilliance becomes mediocrity.

Get more sleep! What the 5am Club doesn’t say on the cover is ‘go to bed at 9pm’, and that’s a pretty key point. It’s great to own your morning and elevate your life, but you’ve got to get to bed early to do it. Otherwise, you’ll fall into an energy and sleep deficit. Our brains love to mess with these plans: ‘just one more episode of Black Mirror!’ But it’s important to have a cut-off point.

Know the hard work will pay off. Be confident that your efforts will be rewarded. You’ll hear a lot of people tell you ‘it’s going to be fine!’; but to truly believe that, even through self-doubt, is a different beast. You’ve succeeded in smaller endeavors before, and maybe even bigger ones — so just know that you’re a horse to back. Keep going.

Lastly, enjoy yourself. Be bold in your ideas, and put a little less stock in pleasing other people (which is fine to do occasionally, but not as a habit). Because all the success in the world won’t matter one bit if you aren’t having a good time doing what you’re doing. Make sure that you’re ticking your own boxes!

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’d like to inspire people to help combat the digital divide that the world’s facing. Countries and communities who lack the infrastructure for internet access (and IT in general) are severely disadvantaged when it comes to business, research, recreation, political participation, and more. It’s especially a problem for schools that need to equip their students to navigate a digital world, but lack the tools.

That’s why the UN believes internet access to be a human right. Global charities like ComputerAid are doing great work for this cause, with popup IT labs and device donations.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

If you want to learn more about IoT, connectivity, or 5G — what they are, how they work, what the coolest solutions in each industry look like — check out the Pangea blog and podcast! You’ll find articles and podcasts by the whole team (so it’s not just me rambling).

Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.

Thank you for the opportunity! 😊


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