Adam Hildreth

When you have the right people around you, you can achieve anything. So only hire the best people – don’t rush in and compromise, wait until you find the expert you need.


Adam Hildreth is one of the foremost global experts on how to keep brands safe from the dangers of user-generated content posted online.

He has worked with global brands, governments and law enforcement agencies for the past 12 years on issues around activist and brand attacks, child grooming, suicide threats, bomb threats, adverse events, legal risk and reputational issues.

Since starting his first company, Dubit Ltd, Adam has been an advocate for the protection of children online from serious issues such as cyberbullying, child abuse, harassment and grooming, and is involved in several children’s charities.

Adam’s current company, Crisp, uses cutting-edge technology to deliver the world’s leading risk detection capabilities. Using advanced AI and a global team of digital risk experts, Crisp provides complete online safety for some of the biggest brands, digital platforms, advertisers and young users to ensure they’re fully protected on social media.

Adam’s pioneering thinking not only drives Crisp’s insatiable innovation, it has also won him prestigious awards over the years including: Achievement in Information Technology at the Yorkshire Young Achievers Awards 2003, the CBI’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year at the 2006 Growing Business Awards, and Regional Winner for the 2010 Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year UK. More recently he featured in the 2017 Maserati 100 list of game-changing entrepreneurs.

Where did the idea for Crisp come from?

It all started with a project business as part of the UK’s Young Enterprise charity when I was 14. Seven school friends and I set up a virtual world and chat room for kids called Dubit Limited. Trying to make it into a real business that worked took over my spare time and my school time – I was pretty much expelled from my Business Studies class for continually walking out to take business calls.

At 16, I left school to build Dubit into a successful youth market consultancy firm. We had massive advertisers on the virtual world, but keeping young users safe through content moderation was costing a fortune – we had more people moderating than doing anything else. I had the same problem then that most businesses have now!

In the early 2000s there were no laws to protect children online from sexual predators. So still aged 16, I worked with the UK Home Secretary and the child protection taskforce to establish laws to protect young users from online grooming.

By 2005 the amount of user-generated content that posed a risk to young people and brands was increasing and I had even bigger ideas on how companies could protect kids online, so aged 20 I left Dubit to set up Crisp, so we could create tech that solves the problem of toxic user-generated content.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I’m running a fast-paced business that’s headquartered in the UK with clients across the globe, so I’m in demand almost 24 hours a day!

Crisp’s monitoring and moderation runs 24/7 and is serviced by our global teams, so my day starts at 7am by checking there haven’t been any major issues overnight and catching up on world events that could affect our customers or our business.

Once I’m happy everything is running smoothly, it’s then down to business – wherever I am in the world. I split my day between meeting customers or with various parts of the business and I spend the other half working on business strategy, developing opportunities and writing pitches.

We’re a fast-moving high-growth company so productivity comes from trying to only focus on things that are critically important – which can be annoying for some people!

How do you bring ideas to life?

Strategic and service ideas often come out of a hot opportunity, a client meeting or seeing a solution to topical events.

For these ideas to be effective they have to be implemented quickly, otherwise they can become irrelevant. I use pitch decks to tell a story about the idea – they’re the fastest way I’ve found to get across the need and how it could work. I then share the pitch deck internally to various teams at all levels. I ask them to challenge every part of the story to focus on why it won’t work to solve problems early. Once the idea is proven, I get to work on detail. It’s the quickest way I’ve found to iron out problems and get insights from everyone who will have to execute my idea.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Trends are always shifting and evolving in social media, but the change that I’m most interested in at the moment is end users taking back control of their personal data. Users and advertisers are back in the driving seat, rather than social platforms, and users have more say over how their data is used, what content they see and who they engage with.

Only last month Facebook brought forwards planned changes to Instagram’s API to protect their customers from being marketed to via their likes, demographic and comments. Data has meant power for a long time, but now control of it has come full circle on social media and it’s a very exciting time for end users.

Other trends that we’re helping our clients tackle are the brand safety crisis and also protecting young users from a wide range of toxic content on games and apps by further developing our digital kids’ service.

Next week – who knows which trend we’ll be preparing for?

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I’ve always worked incredibly dynamically and moved quickly with opportunities. If something isn’t right – whether it’s an internal process, a service or a pitch, I change it fast – there’s no point sacrificing success for sentiment.

I trust my team to run with an idea or new system and expect my team to keep up and take ownership, so I can focus on the next challenge.

What advice would you give your younger self?

When you have the right people around you, you can achieve anything. So only hire the best people – don’t rush in and compromise, wait until you find the expert you need.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Leeds is the capital of the UK!

Over the last decade, Leeds has become the number one place for digital innovation. We are able to attract the very best technical minds here and because of this, we have selected Leeds as our global hub to lead our AI development in understanding user generated content risks.

For a long time entrepreneurs worked quietly in Leeds and went to London to sell. Now global tech businesses have flocked to Leeds and innovators are enjoying this vibrant city once again.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Ask ‘why’, don’t just accept things as they are. By constantly challenging what you’re doing and questioning if it’s still the right way to do things you keep thinking fresh and can solve old problems in a new solution.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

We only do something that we are the best at.

When we’re developing new services or responding to client requests, we won’t take it forwards if we don’t think we can guarantee that we will provide the best quality service.

Our team of developers are recruited for their problem solving skills and creative thinking, rather than their coding qualifications. They build solutions in whatever is the most appropriate tech, even if that means learning a completely new coding language to ensure the service or request is the best.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

In the early years of Crisp when we were a small team with some of the most famous brands on our roster, we were short on hands but big on tasks. I used to keep tight control of everything and I thought I had to do everything myself – the pressure was on and I had big ideas.

As I grew the business and our senior team, I learnt that my role is not to do the job myself but to empower others to do their job. It was hard to let go of that control, but it benefits everyone that I have.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

A complete home moving service. A team pack up everything, deliver it to your new place, arrange utility transfers, manage the legal paperwork – all you have to do is pick the right house.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Five sky-diving tickets.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?

That has to be Slack messenger service. Everyone in the business uses it so it keeps our growing global team in touch with each other in short bursts of chat. It’s quicker and shorter than email and we use it for every communication – from ordering breakfast to raising business-critical issues problems and even contacting clients no matter where in the world they are.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I Am Pilgrim” by Terry Hayes. It’s an incredibly thought-provoking thriller about deception and it’s not work-related!

What is your favorite quote?

Never, never, never give up” – Winston Churchill

Key learnings:

• Don’t ask why a business or service idea will work. Ask why it won’t
• If something isn’t right, change it
• Productivity comes from focusing on what’s important
• You need to empower others, not try to do everything yourself
• With the right people around you, you can achieve anything

Twitter: @crispthinking