A Day in the Life – Interview with Robert Newry, Co-Founder of Arctic Shores
This afternoon, we visited Robert Newry, Founder and CEO of Arctic Shores, an innovative game-based psychometric assessment startup based in Wework, Spitalfields.
1. What time does your day start?
6.30am – when my alarm goes off.. The first thing I do is put on my glasses, the next thing I do is open my phone and see what emails or messages have come through over night. And then I get up and make myself a cup of tea.
2. That brings us to our second question… Are you a tea or coffee person?
Very much a tea person – I always have a cup of tea but I do like coffee and Wework has done a good job at getting me back into drinking it… They have this great machine and you can make it exactly how you like with freshly ground beans and choose a latte or a capuccino and however much milk you want… However, if I were on a desert island, it would have to be tea – earl grey… I love the smell of it.
3. Tell us a bit about your job.
I am the CEO of a startup, Arctic Shores and work is as busy as I’ve ever known it. You’d think as my second time founding a startup it should be easier but it is non-stop… I spend a lot of time focused on fundraising – we’re on our second round of fundraising now. And also I spend a lot of time on growing sales – I am the chief sales person and of course I spend time on operations and things like personnel… We have a team of 10 people and I have a co-founder so there are always things to discuss.
4. What does your company do?
We make game based psychometric assessments. They’re best suited to the early careers space – for apprentices and graduates. They have grown up with gaming and are hungry for new ways to come into the workspace – they loathe the idea of traditional numerical tests plus our assessments provide better science.
5. What brought you to this area?
I am a generalist – in fact, I didn’t study science but I studied Politics, Economics and Philosophy at University and then although most of my friends went off and got jobs in the City, I went to Birmingham and worked for a manufacturing firm. I always had a strong interest in technology and how things are made… And then I discovered you could make things without using materials and that brought me to the coding space. My father had his own business and so did my brother so I suppose that entrepreneurial drive was in the family too. I’ve done a lot of different things and not trained as a psychologist or programmer but I’ve certainly learnt a lot in order to do this.
6. What does your typical work day schedule look like?
At the moment, like a lot of London commuters I’m governed by train times. I try to get into central London for 9:00am and typically my first appointment is around 9.30am. Normally I will have a couple of sales appointments in the morning then I will come back here to try and catch up over lunch with Lara, the head of Psychology. Next I’ll fire off a few emails and then either a phone call pitch with a client or sales meetings in the afternoon. At the end of the day I always try to catch up with my co-founder to chat about what has happened throughout the day. In the evening I’ll try to go to fundraising function or event. For example, tonight I’m heading over to Bremont (the watch company) with four other startups to pitch to twenty high networth individuals. I’ll be home by half nine or ten and spend at least another hour doing emails. And that’s what I do Monday to Friday, then it gets to the weekend and I just sleep!
7. What kind of projects do you work on?
Projects vary on all sorts of fronts but there are three main areas. One is product development. A big part of what we work on is the game based assessments that we’ve got coming out. So at the moment we’ve got two games in the production line and another in planning. Each one of these is a project and that’s all about defining the look and feel of the game, what we are going to measure, the user interface, and so on.
The second project, and something very important for us, focuses on getting validation from independent third parties. In this case it is the British Psychological Society who are looking at what we do, and they confirm that the games meet certain scientific foundations we would expect of a good psychometric assessment. So we are constantly looking at the studies and data coming in around that.
Third is marketing. I’m really keen on the marketing side. I’ve got a great marketing assistant based up in Manchester and he and I are working on what conferences we will attend, such as HR Tech, where I’ll be doing a presentation. So there is always marketing to do – either writing a blog post or preparing a presentation or talk. I do talks whenever I can – I think the nature of being a the CEO of a startup is getting your head over the parapet and getting your name out there.
8. When is your most productive time of the day?
Good question! For me there are two times. Between 6:00 – 8:00 pm when the day is coming to an end – it’s a little bit quieter in terms of new emails. Staff are starting to wind down and I have cleared the decks for a lot of what I wanted to get done in the day. Either that or between 10:00 -11.30pm when it’s really quiet. Kids are in bed, I’ve caught up with my wife over dinner, and I’ve got absolute quiet to get a few things done. I’m definitely not a morning person. The alarm goes off and I am not jumping out of bed!
9. How does technology support your work?
In every way – I am a big user of all sorts of different apps. Buffer for organising social media, I like Zero for accounting things like expenses and keeping track of cash balance. I do everything I can online! I want to have a digital life wherever I can because it means squeezing things in between. I find I am doing less and less on the phone – I prefer emailing, texting or IM to having phone calls. And I’m finally ready to swap my watch for an Android watch – hoping to get one for my birthday!
10. What is the one app you could not live without?
For me, it would be email more than any app. I do use many apps but email is my main connection to the world and it’s how I hear what’s going on. There are lots of apps I love though. I came across a cool wine one called Vivino, it means I can go into a restaurant or supermarket, take a picture of the bottle and the app tells me the quality of the wine. It’s like a TripAdvisor for wine… so I really like that and have used it a lot recently
11. What’s the best thing about working at Arctic Shores?
For me, it is the creativity of the people I work with. I’ve always enjoyed working with the people I’ve worked with, but the creativity of the team we’ve put together this time is incredible. We’ve put together graphic artists, gaming designers and psychologists, and we’re trying to solve something nobody else has done. The way the team comes up with ideas is what I really love. Every startup is different but I never imagined I’d see so many disciplines all looking at things in very different ways, so that has been a huge amount of fun for me. I also like the thought that we are making a little bit of a difference. I think we are helping candidates find the roles that are right for them; and helping companies find the candidates that suit them, in a way that they haven’t been able to do before now.
12. Where’s the after office hang out?
So that is a bad question, in the sense that it is usually only two of us onsite at Wework here! For me, it’s either the bar here to get a quick drink or straight home. I like locally brewed ales so I will head to any bar with a good selection of pale ales. That’s my particular poison.
13. Who is your professional role model?
Lots. I like Richard Branson because he’s very good on customer service and he is challenging the way that customer service can be done. I like Metrobank in the way that they have taken a completely different approach to banking. In terms of innovation, I like Dyson. He is a good example of somebody who had a great idea, really had to push it through to make it happen and wasn’t frightened of charging for the innovation it delivers. And then a different one – a friend of mine set up a charity around the same time as I set up my business. It’s called Excellent Development and they build sand dams for communities in Africa. He is an example of someone who started out with £10,000 of funding but now raises a million pounds a year and has built thousands of dams across Africa. I have so much respect for people who have that same energy and drive as an entrepreneur but they do it purely for social good, I take my hat off to him! The last person who is my icon of all innovation is Thomas Heatherwick who I have known for a long time. He designed the Olympic Cauldron and is currently working on the Garden Bridge project.
14. How do you balance your personal and professional life?
It is very hard, but how I try to balance it is by doing all the hours I need to do between Monday and Friday, then the weekend is dedicated to family time. That is the only way I have found to be able to manage it. Of course you do sometimes do a little bit of work on the weekends but generally I keep the weekends for family time or personal time, for example if I want to go running or go to the theatre.
15. What are the top 3 qualities you look for in an employee?
Firstly enthusiasm for whatever area of interest they happen to have. We’ve got some really enthusiastic people here and you want that energy and passion. Integrity is very important to me and something I always recruit for. I’ve always operated on the basis that you do the right thing and life will treat you in the right way. And then a curiosity. It’s like the Matrix – “do you want to take the red pill?” I always think there is a different way of doing things and I want to find out new ways. There’s a quote that I always go by from Larry Ellison of Oracle; “only the paranoid survive”. I always believe that there is something better or different or new to go and look at. And I’m never satisfied that we reach 100% – there’s always something we can go back and look to improve and that’s driven by this curiosity.
16. What is the one piece of advice you would give to an entrepreneur starting out?
My one piece of advice would be to maintain the activity levels. There are a lot of people running in the race, and there are a lot of people out there looking at your clients. Clients will be contacted by a million and one people. You never know where something will provide a lead so I will talk to somebody, meet somebody, respond to an email or text just because I’m never sure where it might go. I am a great believer that somebody always has something to offer you, and it’s up to you to try and find out what that nugget is. It is very easy to be a busy fool, but as long as you are active in a focused way, then ultimately the opportunities will come along. A lot of entrepreneurs have a great idea, and they think that the world will see this idea and come rushing to it, the reality is you are a tiny minnow in a vast ocean!