Last time we learnt about Joe’s past and what he looks for in an entry, now it’s time to pick his brains about advice for startups to survive in the current economic climate. Plus find out which superhero he would be.
Do you have any advice in general for startup companies, trying to survive in the current economic climate?[Laughs] I’m non-exec for a couple of companies, and its interesting to watch them go through these phases. I think what’s really important is to keep an eye on the customer, I think if you look at the technology and not the customer, that’s where you can fail. I think just having a CTO, a really bright techie is not necessarily everything you need. What you need is someone who maps technology onto people, and the customers. So, I think probably the most important thing if you’re a tech start-up at the moment, is to get involved early with some decent quality product management, someone who’s going to help you shape and drive that product, and learn some lessons as well, because building platforms and universal technology is far better than building a series of snowflakes per customer.
Did you have a mentor who helped you in your early days?
Not particularly to be honest, I’ve tried strongly to be a mentor myself as I’ve got older, and I have mentored several people, but I don’t really think I had a particular mentor per se. I had people that I looked up to in organisations, and one thing that surprised me was how surprisingly approachable people are. So, those very-very senior people that people look up to and feel scared of, actually sometimes if you just ask for a chat they’re more than happy to talk. I encourage people to do that with me all the time. So, no, I don’t think I had anyone particularly who stood out, I had various people in various roles that I had, that I learnt things from. I’ve had various motes of wisdom from various people in my time.
There’s no such thing as being grown-up. Everyone, no matter how old they are have been that age for the first time, working out how to deal with it and what to do next.
And has there been any advice that you got from any of them that you could share?
‘There’s no such thing as being grown-up. Everyone, no matter how old they are have been that age for the first time, working out how to deal with it and what to do next’. So if you look at that CEO of that big company, that’s the first time they’ve ever been CEO of that big company. They’re learning on the day every day as much as you’re learning about your job. So, everyone’s learning, no matter how senior they are, they don’t know everything.
‘Don’t try to fit yourself into other people’s moulds’, and that’s very important, especially if you’re building a startup, ‘Don’t try to fit yourself into an existing meme or an existing way of doing things’.
Then the other thing I would really top-tip, and as I get older this becomes more important I think, is, ‘Don’t be afraid to take some time out’. There will be times at some point in your life when you can’t take time out, so make sure you seize the opportunity when you can to do so. Sometimes time out, whether it’s just half a day, or a day walking through fields with your family or whatever, can suddenly make a massive difference in your outlook, and bring you back. Maybe even with some new ideas and slightly more refreshed.
With diversity in the world of IT, could you think of one thing that the world could change to make a difference and improve matters?
you can hire as many diverse people as you like, but unless you make them feel included you’re never going to feel the benefit.
The key piece for me that I learnt about diversity and inclusion is, you can hire as many diverse people as you like, but unless you make them feel included you’re never going to feel the benefit. The way it was described to me is that it’s like inviting people to a party, that’s the diversity bit; but actually making them feel like they can get on the dance floor, be themselves and dance, that’s the inclusion bit. They need to become included; they need to be valued; they need to feel they can be themselves.
And now a couple of light-hearted questions. Which superhero would you be, and why?
Good question! I’m not sure actually, somehow there’s an attraction from the Marvel side of things, like Dr Strange, and I don’t know why. There’s something in the vision that he has, the ability to see possibilities that would enable you to have some kind of real insight.
What fantastic invention will the future bring?
Wow! The fantastic invention the future will bring will be the functioning Star Trek medical tricorder, that’s what I want. For those non-Star Trek fans, that’s the thing that Dr McCoy waves over someone who’s sick, and it tells him exactly what’s wrong with them. We getting nearer and nearer to that every day with AI, some of the work we’re doing in medical science etc.