Inside The Mind of An Entrepreneur: Matt Morley

A series of articles that focuses on interviewing current and former University of Exeter students who have launched and ran successful start-ups. These articles will explore more than simply a student’s “success story” and will delve into the psyche of an entrepreneur to find what motivated them.

If entrepreneurialism is a mindset then university might well be an ideal support environment to develop these thought-processes, the right skills sets and network opportunities to launch start-ups that will profoundly change the world we live in.

“Certainty” has a Value, especially in an uncertain world.

My interview with Matt Morley of Tickbox, Explaain & Savvy 

The Entrepreneur & The Opportunity

Matt Morely studied a History BA at the University of Exeter. Inspired by a growing interested politics he canvased independently to find out what voters were really thinking.

Across the political spectrum voters and non-voters experienced similar feelings; either an uncertainty in who to vote for or (when certainty existed towards a candidate/party) apprehension as to whether that candidate/party really represented their views.

This was a problem. Especially as functioning democracy requires engagement from the popular with the political process. If the population felt uncertain and apprehensive about the democratic process this would, theoretically, increase disengagement and apathy towards elections.

Consequently, a logical question and one that Matt posed was “how could this uncertainty be reduced”. Keen to create something that could be used by the entire voting population Matt knew that the answer would combine technology with accurate information.

The Start-Up & Successes 

TickBox was developed as a possible solution, with a mission to “to make interacting with voting and democracy as easy as possible”. This would be achieved by “putting all the information you need online and in one place, allowing you to search for the information you need about the issues you care about”.

First deployment, with fairly limited resources, was for the 2014 University of Exeter Students’ Guild Sabbatical elections. This trial “required a lot of work to get right and taught us a lot about what we did and didn’t know”, more importantly it demonstrated that “a demand for such a service”. Clearly the solution had to be improved, streamlined and suitable for the masses – yet, even in its first stage it worked as a solution.

Refined and ready to go for the 2014 European Election was when TickBox really demonstrated it potential, as “strangers” in their thousands used the platform “to create the change they wanted to see in the world”. Over 40,000 users had visited before the election was over, with some amazing feedback from users: 

By 2017 General Election these ideas had been further refined to see the ge2017.com platform have over 2 million users and national press coverage (https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/jun/06/democracy-theres-an-app-for-that-the-tech-upstarts-trying-to-hack-british-politics).

Beyond Elections

The success of these platforms, combined with the realisation that drawing revenue from election platforms was fairly limited Matt pivoted his ideas. In recent months he has been working on a new project called Savvy. Significantly, it uses the same approach of helping people quickly gain information to provide more certainly. He highlights this as a fundamental human need, that we inherently desire a more certain and organised world to live in.

Savvy is a Chrome extension that enables users to rapidly search their Google Drive for information in a search sidebar. For companies this can mean a team of employees can rapidly request information from Google Sheets without having to open up the documents in question. It streamlines the process of information retrieval, essentially enabling you to “Google” your own documents

This project is currently in development and I will update you on its progress. Having used Savvy first hand I know the potential that this extension has for many millions of users around the world.

However, what Matt was keen to highlight was this was a different approach to the same ambition he has of increasing human certainty. With a different approach to the same aim a business model might be developed that is sustainable or more viable than another. Recognising when to pivot can define whether, in Matt’s case, his platform used by millions  of voters with relatively little income or his Chrome Extension which might be used by 500 top companies with significant income helps him achieve his own personal motivational aims.

These personal motivations are always interesting to explore when it comes to entrepreneurs. For Matt he visualises that one day in the future he will be able to spend time with his future children, not having to work as hard as his contemporaries will do. This underlying motivation is what pushes him to commit so much of his life in the present to achieve this aim.

Motivation and the Entrepreneurial Experience

Lets explore more of what drives Matt as an entrepreneur. As Matt saw it during university, the world we live in is dramatically changing. Whole industries that are traditional forms of employment will be gone in 5, 10, 15 years time. After all, training to be a typewritest in the 1960s seemed like a strong career decision, yet by the end of the 1970s the industry was in terminal decline.

Observing this macro-trend, against the university backdrop of producing ideal candidates for industries that tech will replace Matt was both “pulled and pushed out of uni”. There was no doubt in his mind that he got the best of both worlds, leaving with “half the student debt, having never done a dissertation” while having met some “amazing people”. University itself, as Matt highlighted was an ideal “safe harbour” to test and launch a business.

Core to Matt’s personal motivation is that he wants to “invent the future”. Approached not from a grandiose or arrogant mindset, but from a humble belief that humans have an infinity ability for improvement as long as they break free from traditional thought paths and accepted “truths”. Radical change takes place at an apex where great new ideas are met by a society that is willing to let go of the “baggage of the past”.

After leaving university Matt became the University of Exeter’s Entrepreneur in Residence. This gave him the “breathing space needed” to develop his start-up, with the help of Joe Pearce. Matt was influential in the development of the “Think, Try, Do” project, helping to triple the amount of money invested in student enterprise. With some of the businesses that received their first £5,000 investments under Matt’s watch now having gone onto receive multi-million dollar investments.

Crucially, as Matt points out the Think, Try, Do program was about developing student enterprise on a very individual basis. Not every business created will be a multi-million pound enterprise (or as Matt put it “not everyone needs a rocket to go to Mars, if all they want to do is go to Bristol) and that is absolutely fine. Instead, helping students gain the skills required to develop a start-up business to its full potential is the objective.

How Matt thinks about the world

By understanding his motivations we can now explore his approach to business. Matt explained that you must always look at what people are using everyday as bench-marker to your ideas. This means if you are a tech company then users expect the speed of Google and the usability of Uber.

Secondly, you should be obsessed with creating the solution to the problem or opportunity that you have identified. Explore what your prejudices are, as well as those of your users (they might think they know what they want, but actually they haven’t imaged a better solution).

Thirdly, selecting the right team will make or break your business. If your idea is good but you simply don’t have the personal or the correct investor to execute it as a project it will fail.

Finally, there is also no rulebook (as long as it is legal!). So create many ideas, focusing on those that are in your sphere of interest. For Matt he explained that he has idea generation times often during/directly after exercise and before sleep. Developing time to generate ideas and starting the thought processes of (a) what problems can I identify (b) how could I solve that problem using my skills (c) is that something that someone will pay me to solve, will go a long way in an entrepreneurs early stage development.

If you want to find out more about developing your thought process to become an entrepreneur then please contact thinktrydo@exeter.ac.uk.

Further Reading – The Resources Matt Recommends:

As part of this series of articles I asked each entrepreneur to submit the books, videos, podcasts and other materials that has influenced their journey. Below are the materials that Matt recommends:

Books

1. Sapiens – Yuval Harari – Everything we do in business has to serve the basic ‘homo sapien’ need. I always like to work back from first principles. In what I do that means looking at emotions like fear and delight – when you design and build something you’re always appealing to an emotion as well as reason

2. Life 3.0 – Max Tegmark – If you only read one book on AI it has to be this. Everything we do as a species going forward will be in partnership with AI

3. Hit Markers – Derek Thompson – A brilliant book on product and the human needs products solve.

Videos:

Sam Altman, 10 Rules for Success (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iRLyLQos6FQ)

Start with Why, Simon Sinek (https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action)

Podcasts:

Masters of Scale podcast with Reid Hoffman (https://mastersofscale.com/)

 

Business Update

Since my last business update I am pleased to announce that mgrmusic.com is continuing to grow its teaching locations with the addition of the Guitar Lessons Coventry webpage with professional teacher Arthur Stanley. Arthur has been teaching privately in the Coventry area for just over 3 years and works with students from age 5 and up. He is a fantastic addition to the MGR Music family and is a wonderfully versatile player who teachers all styles from his comfortable home studio and also at students homes via his mobile teaching service.

Arthur is currently in his third year of a BA Music Performance degree and juggling this with his busy teaching schedule shows how hard working he is. I have been looking for an experience, versatile teacher in the Coventry area for some time now and Arthur is the perfect addition. I am looking forward to hearing how many great things his new students will have to say about him.

As a teacher that thrives off seeing student growth I will be very interested to watch how Arthur grows as a teacher as we connect him with some great students. Coventry has a fantastic music community with a lot of educational options available via the local College and University as well as a community project called the Coventry Music Hub. In 10 years time, I hope Arthur’s students will be the leading musicians in this area. I am looking forward to seeing this growth. Over the course of 2019 I will be looking to grow MGR Music Tuition in many new key locations around the UK, working alongside the small team we have a mgrmusic.com to achieve that.

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This post was written by Matthew Rusk on February 27, 2019

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