"I don’t think the words 'career' and 'entrepreneur' really fit together," says the founder and CEO of PeoplePerHour. His vision is to drive change and challenge the status quo - as entrepreneurs were meant to do.
Role and company:
Founder and CEO of PeoplePerHour
Company turnover (and most recent ebitda/most relevant profitability metric):
Estimate for 2012: £10m
Growth forecast for the next three years:
We intend to continue our current trajectory. For three years, we’ve doubled turnover each year – and we expect to continue doing so. By 2015 we will have grown eight-fold.
In under 50 words, what makes your business distinctive in its marketplace:
We allow businesses of any size to find and hire talent reliably online, for projects as short as one hour. Whilst there are many jobs sites, PPH is unique in that it addresses the micro-jobs sector. It allows work to be distributed to a virtual workforce, which is radically different to traditional hiring.
What's the big vision for your business?
Our model is highly disruptive and drives change in a space that’s in dire need of it: the jobs market. There are clear benefits to outsourcing online, cost being an obvious one; but also flexibility and the chance to tap into some of the best talent that would otherwise be inaccessible to you. Our vision is that in the future everyone will be working this way; and our goal is to carry on leading the way there.
Current level of international business, and future aspirations:
Our focus remains on the UK market, but around 40 per cent of our business is now international, and we will carry on making inroads abroad, without defocusing from the UK. We recently opened a US office from which to launch "across the pond".
Biggest career setback and what you learned from it:
I don’t think the words "career" and "entrepreneur" really fit together. I don’t think of myself as a career person; I’m not grooming a CV. In fact, I don’t really have one! I see my job and my mission to be one of driving change, challenging the status quo and finding new and better ways to do things. That’s what entrepreneurs excel at.
I’ve had my fair share of setbacks, but none that couldn’t be overcome with perseverance and determination. They range from having to cannibalise my first business when I realised it was not scalable, to losing investors during the credit crunch. Even in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, we still managed to find alternative finance within 60 days – and we survived it all and emerged much stronger as a result.
What makes you mad in business today?
When things that should get done don’t, and when people don’t pull their weight and expect others to carry them. Or when people find petty excuses for why things don’t get done. It infuriates me.
Startups are all about execution. When one member of the team doesn’t deliver, it has a domino effect on all the rest and the impact is amplified. If it keeps happening it sets the company back much more than the particular item that wasn’t delivered. And if as a leader you don’t act fast and show that you won’t tolerate this, it almost becomes accepted and part of your culture. It’s a disease that you then can’t cure.
What will be the biggest change in your market in the next three years?
I think the biggest change will be a mass realisation by companies that they need to drastically change the way they work and hire. Our market is a bit like social networking before Facebook; or ecommerce before Amazon; or search before Google. It hasn’t yet hit the masses but it is happening. At some point it will tip and become the new standard.
Can businesses in your sector/industry access the finance they need to grow? If not, what can be done to improve things?
Yes, I think they can access the right finance. One thing that’s not in short supply in this sector is capital. Smart investors the world over see this as a disruptive space and realise its potential, so there is a constant inflow of capital from some of the biggest names in the VC world. It’s really an execution play from here on: the winning players (and there will be more than one) will be those that execute the best and innovate the most.
How would others describe your leadership style?
That depends on who you ask. I am very black and white in my style, very honest, and I set people high goals and push them to achieve them. So A-Players get along with me and thrive on the intensity. B-players on the other hand drown fast and will probably say I’m impossible to work with.
But I prefer it this way. I don’t believe in leaders who are middle of the road and try to get along with everyone – to my mind they aren’t setting high enough standards. There is no room for compromise in entrepreneurship – I prefer to lead by example and those who share my drive and passion will succeed.
Your biggest personal extravagance?
A personal assistant. While I believe startups should be lean, I find when you are operating on multiple agendas someone who organises your time can be invaluable. Especially if admin is not your forte, as in my case.
You've got two minutes with the prime minister. Tell him how best to set the UK's independent, entrepreneurial businesses free to prosper:
The talent of our workforce is the UK’s single biggest competitive advantage. Yet for too long we have been over-reliant on industries such as manufacturing and more recently banking, that, due to global macroeconomic factors and policy, have suffered. The future of the UK lies in allowing people to export their talent. That’s what this burgeoning new market is doing: allowing British professionals to sell their skills to the world, one hour at a time. In the last year alone we’ve seen a doubling of the volume of skills exported - so that’s UK freelancers selling their skills through PeoplePerHour to employers in other countries.