Julian is a seasoned entrepreneur who started his first (mini) enterprise at the tender age of 8. Fast forward almost half a century, and he is now the founder and CEO of jisp, a lifestyle app that digitises products and experiences to bring the best of online into physical spaces.
Enjoying a varied background in technology, payments and new media Julian launched the UK’s first internet exhibition in 1994. The expo, which showcased companies providing internet-connecting services, was covered live by BBC Breakfast. Their first question was: “So Julian, what is this thing called the world wide web?”
Since then his work has remained inexorably linked to technology, improving sales and payments and tackling compliance issues for a wide group of blue-chip companies. The passion to provide innovative solutions fuels Julian and his team to constantly push the boundaries in unifying on and offline platforms, bringing the best customer experience across retail, hospitality and entertainment industries.
Where did the idea for jisp come from?
The idea was born five years ago out of the ashes of our previous solution, Bubbles, that provided a personal-shopper engine, linking disparate data sources, offline to online and vice versa. Referred to as ‘omnichannel’, we struggled with unimaginable complexities with legacy databases. Debating the challenges which could not be resolved, and after having various discussions with industry leaders, we took up the challenge and devised the solution, jisp. This started a long journey successfully raising private funds, building our solution with real-time retail and restaurant placements at many of the UK’s biggest and well-known stores such as JD Sports, H&M, Topman, Whittard of Chelsea, Crew Clothing and Yankee Candle.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Most days I’m up by 4:30am working at home by around. The few hours I have before leaving for the office afford me little disturbance, besides demands for affection from my cat and dog, to focus entirely on a project. Once at the office, if not travelling or in meetings I will typically spend my time on calls, answering emails or bothering others with mine!
How do you bring ideas to life?
I always talk about the need to have a project ‘champion’, someone who is dedicated to develop, share and move an idea forward. That used to be me for everything, but I now have a team who crave the opportunities to own projects. Once we have an idea formed and the concept explained, whether visually or textually, we move to validation. From here the idea is tweaked and cultivated until it is released in a form required by our business clients or consumers.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The retail market is moving inexorably towards a seamless, frictionless shopping experience where innovation is delivering new and exciting solutions. This is where we at jisp reside, and it’s a trend that has much more to give – a journey with endless possibilities.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I once heard that making to-do lists is a sign of a disorganised mind. As a private pilot I was trained to follow checklists not only as part of a good flight management but also, and crucially, for safety. As an entrepreneur juggling many tasks, I see the habit of writing lists as an essential part of my daily routine and something that makes me more productive, not least for the benefit of my colleagues who may depend on me fulfilling a requirement, or two, or ten!
What advice would you give your younger self?
Never pass the ultimate responsibility and position of authority to someone else. I did that in my previous enterprise and really regretted my decision, which was meant with good intention at the time, as it later led to the collapse of my business and wasted many years of hard work and sacrifice. As a Founder I would have told my younger self to have fought harder to steer the business back to my original vision.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
There is a way to build a billion-dollar business without going to VCs.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Believe in yourself!
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Since the birth of the business I have raised a sufficient amount of investment and based our responsibility and achievements using OPM (other people’s money) on the success of the previous round, setting a new set of objectives which then the ‘current’ investment round will fund. Whilst it involves more work it has allowed our business to grow privately and gain a much higher valuation.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I allowed poorly placed sentiment and a failure to ignore my own lack of experience to cloud my judgement. This led to me stepping down as a CEO to focus on my other skills, leaving a non-Founder to manage the company before it had time to become properly established. I have overcome this lack of insight by learning from this mistake and vowing to never do it again.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
As a regular traveller I spend a considerable amount of time waiting for my luggage on carousels at an airport. Suitcases generally look the same, and, like anyone else, I sometimes struggle to find my bag. If my wife is travelling with me, our suitcases are adorned with a tassel or some other identifying item, but this too is often lost or covered up. Whilst there are some unique suitcases, I think this is an area where personalisation is lacking, and an opportunity exists. I’d like to think that somewhere there is a business that can make luggage a little more ‘me’ and, as a consequence, a bag I will instantly locate out of hundreds.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I bought a second-hand but unused pair of AirPods. They are my most used piece of tech after my Mac, specifically utilised as a business tool to support making and receiving calls rather than listening to music. With many people preferring to call my mobile, I typically receive 80% of all calls this way, and holding my iPhone to my head is tiring and unpleasant. With AirPods I am able to function just that little bit better wherever I am.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Given my predilection to writing lists I have tried almost every list-making software and app known to mankind. With their need to make their solutions fancier the inherent complexity which is subsequently built-in simply makes their versions harder to use. Therefore, I stick with Notes (or Notepad depending on your operating system) which allows me to create a simple list. If complexity and task management is your thing there are hundreds of apps to suit every need.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
At this point, if I had a publicist, I would have been advised to use this opportunity to plug my own – a children’s book I published a few months ago. To answer truthfully, I have never been a big business book reader even whilst my entrepreneurial sister seems to consume dozens each year. That said, I have benefitted from understanding more about the mind and how we make decisions thanks to ‘Thinking, fast and slow’ by Daniel Kahneman. Knowing what the triggers are and how we come to ‘make up our minds’ has helped me shape some of our business solutions.
What is your favorite quote?
My favourite quote may seem a bit cliched, certainly today, but given the experience and lessons I’ve learned from my failures, as described earlier, it has been the most relevant in my life as an entrepreneur. And, although it has been attributed to Winston Churchill, there is no proof it was him other than it must have seemed like it would have been spoken by the great man:
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue that counts.”
• Self-belief is as important a tool for succeeding in business as well as being a good listener;
• The most complex thing you will ever achieve as an entrepreneur is to deliver something that is simple to understand;
• Setting realistic goals and managing expectations whilst over-delivering on your successes is the key to survival;
• Be honest about your shortcomings not short-sighted and unrealistic.