Aged twelve years old, John Ramsay watched his father suffer from a dementia diagnosis in his early fifties. Later, when Ramsay was working as a corporate lawyer, his father passed away from the disease. This made Ramsay leave his magic circle job and start Shift8*, a business that uses Dutch made light-based technology product, Tovertafel, to help dementia sufferers lead more fulfilling lives.
Real Business, (RB): Dementia is a disease we cannot cure yet, so what’s your company mission?
John Ramsay, (JR): For dementia sufferers, while their memories might not be recent, their emotions are. The Alzheimer’s Society created a great analogy to explain this: a bookshelf is filled with books that contain memories collected over a lifetime. The short-term memory books are at the top and the long-term memories at the bottom.
Then imagine this bookshelf then gets hit with dementia, it shakes, and the top books start to topple off.
This is how the confusion begins, as a dementia sufferer mixes all the books together. A loved one may get upset about something that happened in the past or react to something that happened earlier in the day, but not remember where the feeling originated from. Therefore, creating happy moments of happiness in the here and now is really important, and that’s our mission.
RB: Do the best business ideas come from personal experience?
JR: The best entrepreneurs are the ones that can still remember their roots and relate to their customer. This often comes from personal experience and passion. Regardless of the sector, creating a company linked to passion will ensure its longevity and success, as you will always be looking to do more.
RB: How does your technology work to increase the life quality of dementia sufferers?
JR: Research conducted by Hester Le Riche has shown that stimulating environments contribute to positive engagement for those living with dementia. Whether that involves music, interactive lights or stimulating reminiscence. Our product, The Magic Table, is a little box that can be mounted onto the ceiling or above the dining table of a care centre. Inside the box, the colourful objects respond to hand and arm movements, meaning residents get to play with the light itself.
RB: How do you balance the dual roles of Founder and CEO at Shift8*?
JR: As many entrepreneurial CEOs will experience when the passion for a business comes from you, the CEO, you’re often involved in the story around the product and the large sales pitches. This is in addition to driving the team forwards, recruitment and a host of constantly spinning plates that come from running a business. Either you’re going to enjoy that challenge, and love being a CEO of your own business, or you won’t. As a CEO, being able to take a step back and become process driven is a key part of growth for a small entrepreneurial business.
RB: Were you concerned about making your social enterprise company commercially sustainable?
JR: Although money was a secondary consideration for me, I knew that I needed a good sustainable business model otherwise the business wouldn’t be around long enough to achieve anything. Having a clear, simplified view of the commercials early on is vital. You’ve got to set a high bar for taking on overheads and get up and running with as low a cost base as you can. If you don’t have a financial background, getting some help to oversee the company accounts is a critical step too.
RB: What was the biggest hurdle you’ve had to overcome in your Shift8* journey so far?
JR: The biggest challenge has been separating my personal life with my career as a business owner. It’s an incredibly emotional process going into care homes and seeing the residents light up whenever they play a Magic Table game. There are a million things I want to achieve but sometimes you need to think what will benefit the business in the long-term, rather than getting too caught up emotionally with any one decision.
RB: What does business ‘innovation’ mean to you?
JR: Innovation is an attitude. It starts with an idea like, “How can X or Y be improved?”. At Shift8* we have lots of small improvements which are constantly re-shaping and improving the way we work. I call it continuous change. Over a period of time, those changes add up until what you’re doing looks totally different and works far better than where you started out from. That’s innovation.