Judith Clegg is the founder and CEO of Takeout, an innovation consultancy that works with some of the world’s best known organisations and some of the most exciting young startups to help companies learn from each other and create new revenue streams. She is a co-founder of Moonfruit.com which was acquired by Yell in 2012 and is also founder of The Glasshouse, an organisation providing support, inspiration and networking for entrepreneurs, investors and digital innovators.
Simpleweb first worked with Judith in 2014 when she appeared on the panel of judges for the #GetStarted2014 startup competition. We caught up with Judith to discuss startups, tech clusters, industry inequality and investments…
“I always had that entrepreneurial and technology interest.”
Entrepreneurship has never been far from Judith’s heart and she begins by talking of her Grandfather who was one of the pioneers of Radar in the Second World War.
“I grew up in an entrepreneurial family and also one where technology was considered to be a great thing” says Judith, who went on to discuss how her father had encouraged both Judith and her sister to learn to code at the tender age of just 7 or 8.
“I couldn’t find a company that was doing that, so I decided to start my own.”
After studying for a Management Science degree, Judith went on to work in Management Consultancy before founding The Glasshouse. It was through The Glasshouse that Judith met Moonfruit founders Wendy Tan White and Eirik Pettersen and became a Co-Founder of the company.
“In the first dot com boom we had been lucky enough to raise seed and series A funding as the market grew and series B funding from corporate investors like Macromedia. By the time we were raising series C funding the market was hitting a downturn so we decided to hunker down and keep going, but with a much smaller team. At that point, I felt that we shouldn’t necessarily have all the founders stay, and there was limited money, so I left to move on and do other things.”
From there Judith went on to work with Philip Gould, the strategy and political adviser most well known for working with Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, before starting work on her consultancy, Takeout.
“The reason I wanted to found Takeout was that I’d been working with big companies and small companies and I felt there was so much the two could learn from each other. I really wanted to create a business where large companies could learn from and work with startups and similarly startups can plug into a lot of the ideas and support that was available from corporates. I couldn’t find a company that was doing that, so I decided to start my own.”
“Even when we founded The Glasshouse back in 1998 there were some very clear clusters…”
While tech clusters are growing faster than ever before, Judith noticed some very prominent clusters back in the early days of The Glasshouse. She notes Bristol and Bath, Oxford and Cambridge, Manchester and Newcastle were blossoming as early as 1998 when she first started The Glasshouse.
“I think one of the interesting things that’s happening is, obviously its becoming easier to start a business and there’s a lot more interest in it, but also when we founded Moonfruit you needed to buy your own servers and the like and there was all this stuff that made it really, really costly to run your own business.
“With services like AWS, the costs have come right down now and I think that means, as well as the more fashionable effect of being an entrepreneur, it’s widely considered a great career choice. Even coming right from University, and even with the risk associated, it’s still seen as something that a lot of people want to go into.
“It seems to me that entrepreneurship is considered more generally attractive than it was back in 1998. The fact that the clusters are growing all over the country is a reflection that entrepreneurship is booming in the UK and the tech sector is enjoying a fantastic renaissance. Plus modern ways of working mean that you really can be a distributed team. It’s not just a pipe dream anymore, it’s a real life opportunity. Many companies are geographically distributed and have actually turned that into a strength. I think it’s important to be connected in a cluster with like minded people with support and ideas and access to money and services and all of those things but I think physical location is becoming less and less important, so long as you can get to some of the key centres for some of your important meetings.”
“Give to the community of which you wish to receive back”
To make the most of clusters, Judith believes that giving back is the most important thing.
“One of the reasons why The Glasshouse was successful was down to my insecurities in a way. I knew that I was bright and had a good degree but when I first started The Glasshouse I was still new to the entrepreneurial sector… and I thought I need to understand more about this, so I’ll just get a group of people together and we can all learn from each other. When I first started there seemed to be a lot of people who knew so much more than me. I was really conscious that I had a lot to learn and so, if I was going to learn a lot from the community, I should also contribute a lot to the community.”
Giving something back doesn’t have to come in the form of free or discounted services. Judith advises contributing to your community by:
“connecting others who might enjoy each other’s company or find useful support from each other. One of the great things about being in a cluster is being able to find other people who are going through the same as you. There’s no doubt that being an entrepreneur is lonely and stressful and until you’ve run a business, the emotional pressures, they kind of come as a shock when you do it for the first time… I thought the way to succeed in business was to be super smart and work hard and when I became an entrepreneur I thought, oh goodness, there’s this whole other side about being emotionally smart and emotionally strong that just hadn’t even occurred to me before. I think having that kind of emotional and practical support in fellow entrepreneurs is hugely important.”
“I see kindness as a strength and not a weakness”
Judith is a big advocate of kindness in business and believes that being kind will help people to get the support they need to survive the entrepreneurial journey…
“The first thing as an entrepreneur is to just find other entrepreneurs you can buddy up with so you can share your highs and your lows, or help connect people who might be able to help each other in the community… I think it takes an enormous amount of effort to go the extra mile and help other people when you don’t need to… and if we all did that in a cluster, and we all went the extra mile, each cluster that we’re in would benefit enormously. I’m definitely a networker. Find other people that you could help and become your supportive network. There’s certainly no doubt that I wouldn’t be where I am today, and so smiley, if it wasn’t for all my amazing friends and business contacts who helped me.”
Being kind isn’t always easy though and Judith is the first to admit this…
“It looks easy to be the person that always tries to be positive and help others or the one who turns the other cheek when others are unkind. It isn’t easy in the slightest. But when you take the time to do it the benefits not to mention the upside to your conscience are beyond what you would expect.
“It’s much, much harder when you’ve had a really busy day and you’ve been up until 1 in the morning and you got up at 6 and you’ve got people all around you being difficult to still, even when they’re being difficult, to always be positive.”
While being kind isn’t always easy, it’s not impossible, and Judith has developed methods to help her deal with difficult situations…
“Manage your mind and manage your emotions”
Judith speaks often about the stress of being an entrepreneur, and shared some of her methods for dealing with the demanding lifestyle..
“I meditate at least twice a day. I think if you are able to manage your mind and manage your emotions, which I think meditation helps me do, then it helps to give you a big strength. The emotional buffering that you have when you’re an entrepreneur can knock you off track unless you build some strategies to be very clear and very clear in managing your emotions.”
Judith admits she had to work very hard to learn to manage her thoughts and emotions and does what she can to help those she works with to do the same. At Takeout, Judith recommends everyone read You Can’t Afford the Luxury of a Negative Thought, a 1988 book by John-Roger and Peter McWilliams about overcoming negative thinking.
“Once you learn that we can all manage our thoughts, and we can all manage our emotional responses to situations, once you learn that and you can actually master your mind, there’s an enormous benefit in life. It means you’re able to manage your responses to difficult situations as opposed to having no control.
“That’s why I meditate twice a day, there’s a reason for doing that practice. If I don’t do it, my thoughts do run away, and I do worry too much or get overtired. I think part of that is having some kind of mental or emotional discipline in your life. For some people that’s running every day or exercising every day, for some people that’s meditating. It requires practice to be that cheery!
“Somebody once said to me it’s like a river bed. When you sometimes see the river that’s dried up in the summer and you can see where the rivulets of water have created channels in the mud, I think that happens in our brain. If we’re used to going down a certain pattern we just naturally think it. If you reprogram your brain to think in a different way, then thinking positively, once you’ve put the hard work in (I think it took me about 2 years hard work!), eventually it starts to come more naturally.”
“Boards that have more diverse people have better financial results”
Judith often speaks out about inequality in the tech sector and while she personally favours kindness in business, she believes that equality makes sense economically…
“If you just want to look at it from a cold, hard, business point of view, without any compassion, it is proven that boards that have more diverse people have better financial results. Most of my work is around innovation and the teams that we have, the ones that create the best innovations, have all sorts of diverse thinking and diverse backgrounds. So from a pure, cold hearted, profitability point of view, to get better results, you need more diversity of people and thinking. Therefore, when there’s groups of people who are more marginalised in particular industries, that’s an economic problem.”
Join us next week for Part 2 of the interview where Judith explains how she chooses startups to invest in and discusses using technology to make the world a better place. You can follow Judith on Twitter @JudithClegg.