Named in the top 100 companies in the Northern Tech Awards in 2017, Leeds-based behavioural research company SimpleUsability works with a number of high-profile customers including McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Asda, Jet2, Holland & Barrett and many more.
How long have you been at SimpleUsability and what does SimpleUsability do?
I founded the business in 2001 after returning from my honeymoon in the Seychelles. During the break away, I felt inspired to take my future into my own hands. Much to my wife’s dismay, I do struggle to totally switch off from work and so armed with a notepad and pen,I began to plan the launch of SimpleUsability.
The idea started small, primarily freelancing for connections I had made throughout my career, but it soon grew into something much bigger than I could have imagined.
We help organisations to build better customer experiences, supporting clients to improve websites, apps and services, by providing an in-depth understanding of natural customer behaviour. In a world dominated by opinion, we deliver professional recommendations based on evidence and facts.
After a flippant comment from a friend about how I should create opportunities for other people, I decided to transform my little idea into an agency.
What or who was the inspiration for the current path you are on?
There are two things that motivated me to start up my own business.
Firstly, I used to take lunch breaks in cyber cafes around Leeds and London. Whilst watching the world go by, I was fascinated by how people that weren’t in the technology industry used the internet. I realised that if websites wereeasy for the end user to navigate, then organisations could benefit hugely.
I also read a book in 1998 about how innovative companies use digital fax machines to send highly personalised faxes to customers, based on data collected, and getting a high level of sales success.
The book discussed how this same approach may one day be used with the internet, to personalise the experience of people browsing the world wide web. This really excited me and ignited a passion in me to be at the forefront of a growing industry.
What is the one bit of advice you wish you’d been given before you started your career?
To trust my instincts and run with a gut feeling. I’ve often let logic over-rule my instinct on many occasions and unfortunately missed out on opportunities.
I have also considered how SimpleUsability’s future would have differed, had we set-up in London more than 20 years ago. Our business could have grown exponentially, but I love how the digital sector is now flourishing in the north, and we can play an integral role in that.
What is the one most important thing you’ve learned during your career?
To be amazing and remarkable above all else and also to continuously challenge yourself. Putting ourselves in difficult positions is the only way we learn, improve and develop.
What do you see as your future challenges?
Currently, we’re challenging the belief that the best research insights need time to collate, analyse and report. We have a plan to radically change this perception through new processes and products that we have developed to help customers uncover new opportunities at an unprecedented rate.
Getting our target audiences to understand and see the value of this will be one of the biggest challenges for us, but one that we’re confident we can achieve.
What would you like to leave as your legacy?
I would love to think that SimpleUsability’ssoon to be released software will be adopted far and wide,and then referred to in the same way that we talk about Dyson, Photoshop, Nespresso etc.
I enjoy sharing knowledge and supporting other disruptive businesses to realise their full potential; through SimpleUsability’s services, I hope to be able to continue do this for the foreseeable future.
What is your biggest business achievement/success so far?
I’ve always been a huge advocate of mobile technology – even from the early Sony flip phones, which provided the first taste of mobile web access.
At its release in 2007, we realised that the iPhone was going to be a huge success and change the way we use the internet. Due to this, we created services specifically for mobile innovators and invested in a £30,000 pair of eye tracking glasses to monitor people using smart phones naturally. The service was a huge success and we helped some incredible brands to build very profitable apps and mobile websites over the last 12 years.
When you are not working, what do you do to relax?
I love visiting remote places on the west coast of Scotland or the Hebridean Islands.
Camping by a beach with our Siberian huskies, exploring the coastline in a sea kayak or wading up a remote river, fly fishing for wild trout. When we’re not travelling, I can be found at the bottom of our garden, sat in our Scandinavian indoor BBQ Hut (Grillkota) cooking food over an open fire, in all weathers.
I also enjoy racing car driving and spending time with my huskies.
Your biggest achievement outside of work?
Attending The DO Lectures in Wales this year. 1,500 people filled out the two-page application form, which included drawing a doodle of yourself, and I was one of the lucky 100 that were invited to attend. The event was amazing and is recognised as one of the best gatherings of creative thinkers in the world. I met some familiar heroes and discovered many more.
I was honoured to get the invite and hugely enjoyed my four days. I even wrote a letter to myself, from my future me, after a sequence of meditations, telling myself what I needed to do to be fully fulfilled in life.
What would you be doing if you weren’t the managing director of SimpleUsability?
I’d be building adventure focused 4X4 motorhomes. I’ve built a few motorhomes for us to use in my spare time and would love to do it as a business. We take our huskies away on some amazing adventures in our motorhome and I’m constantly dreaming about what I could build with a workshop full of advanced tools and a lot more time.
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