Irish e-commerce supremo John Beckett, CEO and founder of ChannelSight, talks to ThinkBusiness about helping brands to sell more by knowing more.
ChannelSight works with global brands to optimise their digital path to purchase to increase sales. Think Business talks to its co-founder John Beckett about the future of e-commerce.
Why did you set up ChannelSight?
We set it up in 2013 as a spinoff from another software company I own because we identified a market need. I had worked with my co-founder Niall O’Gorman previously.
“The approach that I always take when setting up any business is to find a customer, to sell it. That’s the ultimate market validation”
He approached me saying there was a compelling opportunity and we did a little exploration.
The approach that I always take when setting up any business is to find a customer, to sell it. That’s the ultimate market validation. We sold it to Philips, who is still one of our biggest clients and ramped up the business after that.
“We realised that a lot of big brands didn’t know how consumers were engaging with their advertising, particularly when buying products from third-party retailers”
What makes your company stand out?
ChannelSight works with brands to give them insight on how their customers are navigating their consumer journey.
We realised that a lot of big brands didn’t know how consumers were engaging with their advertising, particularly when buying products from third-party retailers. As a result, they couldn’t modify their marketing and branding strategy in order to optimise it to get more customers to buy from third party retailers.
We build relationships with retailers and brands, then we collect data from the retailers and send leads for customers who want to buy their products. We remove friction from the buying process for brands and give them insight as to how they can optimise their marketing strategy.
E-commerce is a huge growth area. We identified the problem brands were having and came up with software to fix it and tested it out by selling it to Philips. After we sold to Mondelez and Bosch we knew we were definitely onto something. We started to raise Venture Capital money to scale it up.
“One of the biggest and most difficult things to do is to build an appropriate company culture. Culture is what a company lives or dies on”
How has the pandemic affected business and how did you deal with it?
The pandemic was a real challenge for us. Initially most of our customers panicked in March when they realised what was happening. As a result, we cut costs and made sure we were going to survive.
Then the opposite happened; brands rushing to go online and ramping up their online activity. We’ve had a very solid year on the back of the increased demand for our service and the need brands have for the data we provide.
It was a rollercoaster. We’re hiring again and growing quite steadily. We have partnerships with other countries to increase our footprint.
“Cash management is always important when there’s a crisis. The first thing to do is to establish what your position is and how safe you are”
What challenges did you meet and how did you overcome them?
One of the biggest and most difficult things to do is to build an appropriate company culture. Culture is what a company lives or dies on. We’ve invested very heavily and always have in making sure we bring the right people into the company.
The challenges around hiring, managing a team and building that culture via Zoom during lockdown is probably the biggest challenge that we had right from the start, but particularly over the last year. Culture building and maintaining the company culture really came into its own. I would credit it primarily with our success last year because people knew how to act and what was expected of them. Our transition to a fully remote environment has been very successful.
Cash management is always important when there’s a crisis. The first thing to do is to establish what your position is and how safe you are. You can make losses all the time, but you can only run out of cash once. When there’s uncertainty, we always have a clear route to break even so that we’re not beholden to raising our next round of funding. You are in a very precarious position if you are reliant on third-party funding for your business.
“You are in a very precarious position if you are reliant on third-party funding for your business”
What supports did you receive and what could be improved on?
Enterprise Ireland has been a great support and not just in the in terms of cash. They’re a great partner to have on the team, in terms of introductions and R&D support. We’ve used the R&D tax credits, which are widely used by tech companies and that was beneficial.
The main thing Irish companies bring to the table is our attitude; our young, highly educated and very personable, committed and energetic people and that’s unrivalled in my experience. There’s a huge talented workforce here. Talent is everything to be able to grow and be successful. if you can’t put the right people in the right roles, you’ll never get anywhere.
Ireland is a brilliant place to set up a business, although it is extremely difficult to find that talent as a start-up. You need an edge to encourage people to back you. Why should they leave their well-paid, secure job with say Google to work for a start-up? It has to be really interesting, to have meaning, a mission that people can buy into that’s compelling.
“Investing in the recruitment process and having patience in that process is key”
There are things that aren’t great for setting up a business here too; like the operation of share options, which are a key competitive differentiator for earlier stage companies in particular to be able to attract and retain staff. The complexity around tax and how it’s awarded compared to the likes of the UK or the US is ridiculous.
Scale Ireland has done a great job at highlighting what is missing from an encouraging environment for start-ups. Share option schemes are not fit for purpose frankly, it’s just not good enough. You can attract someone to come from Google and work with you, then you’re hobbled by the government failing to make it easy by not providing appropriate supports to make it attractive for them.
“Companies who aren’t taking sustainability seriously won’t be successful in the long term, it’s that simple”
What is most important thing you’ve learnt and what would you pass on to other businesses?
I’ve learnt a hundred things, mostly by making mistakes. You rarely learn anything by having a success. Investing in the recruitment process and having patience in that process is key. Work on the basis that it will take up to nine months to hire the right person for a senior position or a key strategic position.
You have to plan how to get in front of the right people, mine your network, go out and talk about what you’re doing. Being impatient to fill the role is a very expensive way to go wrong. You’re not going to get what you need from them. A very strict hiring process puts you way ahead of the game, even though it’s difficult and time-consuming to get there initially.
What are your plans for the future?
We recently set up a not for profit, GoCarbonNeutral.ie. What we’ve really seen for the last couple of years is a notable transition by bigger companies to demanding very high compliance with sustainability objectives and putting together comprehensive sustainability policies.
We’re leading in that space to a certain extent in our industry because we’ve created this scheme where others are encouraged to offset carbon and to leverage our learning. We’re launching a product with Bank of Ireland next month, which is for large corporates and we’ll soon be announcing a partnership with a state agency, which will massively increase our ambition; to plant 175,000 acres of woodland over the next 15 years.
Companies who aren’t taking sustainability seriously won’t be successful in the long term, it’s that simple. We’re hiring a new head of talent at the moment and we’ve added sustainability to that role.
Sustainable technology and climate technology over the next decade is going to be the space to watch and we are not really doing anything to mark ourselves out to attract that kind of talent and that kind of company. We absolutely see it as a clear competitive advantage to make sustainability a priority.
Interview by Olivia McGill
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Published: 28 January 2021