Claire Houston

Co-Founder of Houston & Ko

Paula (left) began her career in one of the big consulting houses, and she has spent most of her professional life focusing on the area of Mergers & Acquisitions. When it comes to detail, Sherlock Holmes doesn’t have a look in. Paula leaves no stone unturned, no question unasked and no business plan unscrutinised. Outside of work Paula can be found with her face as close to the snow as possible as she carves up the Swiss alps with her hardboard.
Claire (right) has had an international career that has taken her far from the green fields of Ireland, where she started with one of the Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) giants, Coca-Cola. Her guiding light when it comes to project management has always been the collection, measurement and (she says ‘most importantly) use of data to drive value. When Claire isn’t measuring, analysing or managing something she can be found stretching her legs on the triathlon circuit.

Where did the idea for Houston & Ko come from?

Both of us grew up (professionally speaking) in large corporations such as Coca-Cola, KPMG, PWC, Hilti, and The Adecco Group, where we saw and experienced the benefits and challenges to both employers and employees of the traditional hiring model.

We have been imagining a different approach to talent acquisition, where organizations don’t purchase time, but outcomes. Of course, the freelance market was already in existence, but in its current state, is so complex that it doesn’t allow for effective collaboration with the fast-paced start-up world – and so the dream of a simpler, more effective, and more premium marketplace was born (and simply named Houston & Ko).

Today, Houston & Ko has more than 120 years of collective experience in providing freelancer services to various types of organizations all over the world. Our highly-skilled team is working from 17 different countries and speaks 12 different languages. Their experience allows us to deliver (almost) any type of freelancer support you might need, from administration support to marketing experts and finance professionals.

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

Uninterrupted working hours are gold – so we try to structure our day around this.

Paula and I track the time we spend on each topic throughout the day and split they key tasks on our business on a monthly basis, e.g one month Paula takes care of clients and I the team, the next month we change over.
This means (1) we don’t waste time and energy jumping from topic to topic and (2) as a bonus – we spend enough time focusing on one process that we get to know its good/bad/ugly sides and make the necessary changes.

How do you bring ideas to life?

We are doers.

It might not be the sexiest of responses, but so many brilliant ideas just never make it further than thoughts or conversations. It’s sometimes disheartening to talk to talented individuals about the amazing idea they have, only to catch-up two years later and find out that they never started.

In comparison Paula and I have a variety of ideas, some are truly awful, some mediocre and some pretty good, and we bring them to life (rightly or wrongly) by putting them into action. We aren’t afraid to try, fail and learn.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Would it be too predictable to say the freelance revolution?

Ok, we are going to say it anyway, because we are so genuinely stoked about this topic.

When done correctly, with reasonable policies and practices we believe that freelancing has the potential to provide numerous benefits to individuals, organizations and communities.

1. It has the potential to lift millions of people out of poverty
In developing countries like Kenya, Nigeria and India, full-time freelancers are making up to 14 times more than the current minimum wage.

2. It creates opportunities for truly inclusive employment practices
The flexibility and remote nature of the freelance economy means it welcomes skilled individuals regardless of gender, ethnicity, physical ability or personal circumstance.

3. It revives our small towns and villages.
Opportunities for increased proximity to nature and reduced cost of living encourage freelancers to move to, or remain in more rural locations. This moves income away from bigger cities to smaller towns and villages, distributing wealth more efficiently and driving investments in the local communities.

If you can’t get excited about contributing to a movement that could actually make a positive impact in the world – what can you get excited about?

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

We track our time.

Some people will be squirming in their seats reading this – we get it, it sounds a bit micro-managy, but bear with me.

Tracking our time makes us more productive for a number of reasons. The first being that we tend to work on one topic for a prolonged block of time, rather than switching every few minutes.

The second is that this blocking of time discourages us from procrastinating. If we have one hour to do operations, we tend to work through all of these open tasks methodically, rather than picking and choosing.

The last is that at the end of each day we see a detailed breakdown of where we are spending our time. This is important when it comes to assessing if we are spending time on the topics that matter most to our business.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Trying and failing is better than never having tried at all.

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

Being naive is a good thing.

As first time founders, we approach many of our challenges creatively and without the limitations that come with experience – which allows us to think in ideals, rather than marginal improvements.

If we had a firm understanding of the challenge we were undertaking, we would likely never have started.

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

Build a resilient business because despite having passed what seems to be the heat of the most recent crisis, the business world will remain turbulent and volatile and only those with a robust, adaptable, and antifragile business model will be able to thrive.

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

Being a customer-led business.

Our entire business strategy for growth centers around building a business that solves real-world challenges for our customers. This sole belief drives the conversations we have, the content we create, the people we hire, the services we provide and much much more.

It means asking not assuming, listening not talking and speaking with, rather than at our customers.

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

In our first year of business, our biggest failure was the inability to discern between business and profitable business.

We took on nearly every project that crossed our paths, a practice that drained our time and energy and while it brought us revenue, it didn’t bring us profit.

At the end of the year, we recognised our mistakes and implemented a yearly business review.

Now we sit down and look carefully at all the projects we undertake in terms of profitability and success. We decide consciously what services we will offer next year and what services we will discontinue or find a different model for.

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

Oh you are going to make us shy now. In another life Paula and I were experienced apres-ski instructors and had the idea to create a real-time GPS tracking system to show you where the best parties were on the ski slopes.

We talk about this quite often with a healthy mix of absolute embarrassment and fondness because it was our first baby steps into the wild world of entrepreneurship.

We still have the domain – so if anyone reading this fancies it, the idea, website and first two customers are up for grabs!

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

Starlink. For Paula and I freedom is everything, but wifi connection comes in a very close second. Starlink is helping us balance our personal and professional life by giving us the freedom to travel and the security to know we will be able to run our business from (nearly) anywhere in the world.

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

We are obsessed with Loom at the minute. Essentially it’s a video messaging tool that helps you get your message across by recording your camera, microphone, and desktop simultaneously.
We use it to explain what we mean when an email just doesn’t cut it, as a lead generation tool and to document standard operating procedures and processes.

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

If you want to build a business that doesn’t stop when you take time off, we recommend reading Clockwork: Design Your Business to Run Itself by Mike Michalowicz

What is your favorite quote?

Unsurprisingly, one of our favorite quotes is about freedom by Danielle Colding.

“Quality of life is having the freedom to make choices that are not fear based. Whether it’s the ability to choose the kinds of projects I want to take on and can learn from, or the ability to take a month off to travel. Freedom to choose is the ultimate luxury.”

Key Learnings:

  • There are few misunderstandings that can’t be solved by a phone call, but many that can be exacerbated via WhatsApp.
  • Every single day is a school day – teammates and clients, the best teachers.
  • Learning how to exclude ego from conversations exponentially improves nearly every relationship in life.
  • The grass is not greener on the other side, it’s just different grass and your experience of it will depend on what you value in life.