John Thompson is CEO at UserReplay, which empowers companies with an ecommerce presence to increase revenue by optimising the customer experience.
I’ve been working with early-stage tech companies for 20 years. Before that I was a nerdy graduate in computer science. I worked in research for the MOD for a bit and I happened to meet the people who made the software I used there and they offered me a job. So at the age of 24 I joined this rocket ship startup, called QSS.
At QSS I went from being a technical guy in pre-sales and sales to running sales in northern Europe within four years. After we sold the company for £115 million, I co-founded my first SaaS business which was called Commerce Decisions. We enabled big ticket items like a battleship or a stadium to be purchased on the internet. But as crazy as it sounds, it was successful and the software is still used today by the Government for big procurements. We eventually sold it to QinetiQ in 2008, and I stayed as Managing Director of Commerce Decisions for two years, making bigger decisions. After that I decided I wanted to go back to creatively building a business.
I spent a couple of years helping VCs portfolios in interim jobs. But then I needed to work on something that was mine again. So I jumped into one of the companies I was involved in which was UserReplay. This was when it was a handful of people, a couple of customers, a little bit of cash in the bank. I worked with the CTO and extremely talented founder, Phil Smith. I came in to work with him and turned it into a big successful company three years later.
For me it’s my rapid career growth and helping add value at QSS. My biggest success today has been taking Commerce Decisions from a bold idea to changing the way the Government buys big ticket items.
Something my first founder said to me was: ‘It’s all about people, it’s not about processes or technology – it’s all about people.’ I made some mistakes because I didn’t appreciate how true that is. It’s getting the right people in the right roles at the right time. You need to be willing to make quick decisions if changes need to be made. You need to invest time in getting the best out of people as well.
As a CEO you have to care about the product and the market, and deliver your vision by putting your words into action. I also think if you have a technical background you can naturally be more product focused. I came from a technical background and management didn’t really come naturally but I had to learn to delegate.
Well, who you hire is really important. You need people with complementary skills; people who are energetic. You don’t need to get on with them socially but interactions within your team need to create energy. You need to also get people who can bring everyone back to reality – that balance is needed. You need people who can listen to you, accept feedback and make changes when you need to make them.
I met Michelle at one of my interim gigs. She was introduced to me by one of the investors of that company. I like the fact that Kommol are B2B SaaS specialists. I also liked Michelle, she was different from other head hunters I’d met. She knows how I like to work and how I like to hire, and has delivered really good people as a result.