Shaper: Chris McCullough

Show aired on 5th August 2017

Transcript

Elliot Moss
C Jam Blues from Oscar Peterson, a lovely way to start the programme. Good morning, this is Jazz Shapers, I am Elliot Moss thank you very much for joining me. Jazz Shapers is the place where you can hear the very best of the people who are shaping the world of jazz, blues and soul and right alongside them we put someone who is shaping the world of business and we call them Business Shapers. My Business Shaper today I am very pleased to say is Chris McCullough, he is the CEO and Co-Founder of Rotageek – not only do they schedule time accordingly in your business for your people but they also help you predict and manage demand, how clever is that? You’re going to be hearing all about this very natty business from my friend here Chris, a Doctor to boot as well. In addition to hearing from Chris you’ll be hearing from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya some words of advice for your business and then we’ve got the music and I promise you it’s going to be fantastic today. Sarah McKenzie is in there, Madeleine Peyroux is in there too and so is this from The Three Sounds.

That was The Three Sounds with their take on Making Whoopee. Chris McCullough is my Business Shaper today as I said earlier and he is the CEO and Co-Founder of Rotageek and it’s a clever business because not only does it help you schedule the people that work for you but it also apparently Chris according to my sources, you basically, it also helps you predict and manage demand as and when it comes and goes.

Chris McCullough
Yes that’s right.

Elliot Moss
Hello as well, thank you for coming, thank you for joining me.

Chris McCullough
Not at all, thanks for having me on the programme, its lovely to be out. So you’re right what we do for businesses is principally allow businesses to create better schedules and that’s great for business because we get the right staff in the right place to serve customers but it is also great for staff because we empower staff to better manage their work life balance. But the kind of preamble to that is making sure that we’ve accurately predicted demand so for many businesses they’re not really clear what their future demand is likely to be so we can as a result of our talented team take historic data from the business so for example for retailers that would be footfall or transactions and we can run that through our machine learning algorithms to predict our future demand and then from that we use that demand to then build the most optimum schedule that deliver for customers or clients but also empower staff to manage their work life balance.

Elliot Moss
And I imagine because this is the world we are in now with machine learning that it learns so if things change and you are continuing managing flows of people moving into I think one of your clients is The Perfume Shop and I think you’ve got some other retailers in there as well you mentioned it’s a retail business focus thing too, William Hill is in there. It learns and it changes so it will adapt won’t it. I imagine it doesn’t just spit out the same schedule the next month?

Chris McCullough
Exactly that and so I suppose if we look at the life that we live now you know apps like City Map if I want to solve a simple problem which is how is the quickest way I’m going to get back to the office once we’ve finished this programme. I’m going to open my app and it’s going to tell me the answer. The kind of the smarts and the AI behind that is hugely complex but actually I don’t care I just want my problem solved and its exactly the same with the algorithms that we have from a business perspective you don’t really care necessarily how clever it is as long as it always give you the answer but the algorithms do learn and we can also do really clever things so for example we can pull out factors that influence demand so you can imagine if you’re running a theme park whether it’s a big driver of demand and actually restaurants and retail have inverse effects of weather so when it’s really sunny, when it’s raining sorry, High Street stores are quieter, shopping mall stores are busier, when its sunny restaurants get quieter. So we can pull out all of those factors and create the most optimum prediction of demand to then build great schedules on top of that.

Elliot Moss
When you were studying molecular pathology Chris did you think that we’d be having a conversation twenty years later or so about this? I mean how did that happen? Briefly and we’re going to come back a bit more to that but you’ve also got a doctorate in genetic control of liver cell death, get that out without spilling the beans. How did this leap happen into the world of business, what was the pivotal moment for you?

Chris McCullough
You’re amazing, your Researchers have done very well.

Elliot Moss
Scary.

Chris McCullough
Yeah so it’s really interesting I left medical school back in 1998 and my sole focus was on being an amazing Doctor and that sort of drove I guess how I was at medical school so if you speak to any of my medical school colleagues I worked very hard but getting into the NHS it was clear that we could do lots of things better and globally I love the NHS and globally it’s very efficient but actually when you work in it there’s lots of things that we can do better and so I kind of developed a slightly annoying habit of trying to change things within the NHS which is never a great place to be but we did a number of things and interventions. So we set up a not for profit training course for Doctors to train them how to do very invasive procedures and when I graduated the mantra in medicine was for technical skills was see one, do one, teach one which is clearly not great for patients and I am glad to say that is very different now but back in 2005 in the days of easy credit I had five credit cards and we shipped in a whole load of technical kit from Japan and started running courses. We trained three thousand Doctors in London and Melbourne over a period of four or five years and that was great and I suppose what that taught me was that you can merely have an influence on a large number of people that they can go on to treat thousands of patients and that’s great and so that was I guess where I got the bug for trying to change things in the NHS.

Elliot Moss
And we’re going to hold it right there because that is an important thing to just stay with I think changing things full stop is probably something you quite like doing. Stay with me for more from my Business Shaper that’s Chris McCullough, CEO and Co-Founder of Rotageek. Time for some more music this is Madeleine Peyroux with Hello Babe.

That was Madeleine Peyroux with another gentle piece of music today, that’s Hello Babe. It’s all going rather calmly here on Jazz Shapers today and Chris McCullough is my calm Business Shaper and Chris, I stopped you at the point where we talked about change and where the Doctor was still doctoring you were still in the world of medicine and obviously you were spotting things and there were a couple of things I wanted to just pick up; one is that you saw immediately as you said that small interventions can impact a lot of people and if you get it right and then the mushroom effect happens that’s good there. But the second thing is that you had a nose for fixing stuff and I imagine there are at least two types of people in the NHS and any other big organisation one you just go I’m going to put my head down and get on with it and the other one is look up like meerkats and say this is not right in the sense of we could do this better. You’re obviously in the latter camp just tell me how you got to the point where you said I’m now going to stop being a Doctor which I imagine is quite a big deal for someone who has wanted to help people in that way and when you thought this is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life.

Chris McCullough
Yeah it’s a good question so it was a series of in my head quite small and sensible steps that have kind of taken me out of medicine and I always loved medicine, I still do and it was quite a difficult decision to leave but back in 2009 the three Co-Founders of Rotageek, Roy Pounder who’s a retired Professor in medicine, Nick Mann who’s our CTO we got together to solve this particular problem for scheduling in the NHS. Broadly we ran it for four years as a project and we kind of got some traction but we got a lot of inbound enquiries from industry and in 2013 we recoded the entire thing, focused on business and at this time I was still working full-time as a Doctor and Nick our CTO was a full-time Developer and so I guess as we started to get increasing interest I sort of made moves and sort of I suppose aligned my thinking that at some point I might leave and this was again an ongoing conversation that I had to have with my wife because it’s really important to have family support and backing when you’re doing this sort of thing and I suppose the really big moment was in 2014 when we were lucky enough to get a place on the Wayra Acceleration Programme which is a telephonic backed accelerator and that was really the decision point at which I had to decide are we going to go full-time into Rotageek or do I continue in medicine and that was really the critical point. A slightly difficult conversation with my very tolerant wife who kind of agreed that she would support me in giving up my career of medicine for sixteen years but really it was just a small step because in my mind we would step out of medicine, there was always the option to go back but actually if we could get to a certain point of growth then it would probably make sense to leave for good and fortunately for us that’s where we got to but it’s kind of sad for me in medicine.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me to find out more about how Chris McCullough and his Co-Founders have taken the Rotageek business on and it has grown significantly in the last twenty-four months or so. Latest travel in a couple of minutes and before that some words of wisdom from our programme partners at Mischon de Reya for your business.

You are listening to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss. Every Saturday I’m very lucky because I get to meet someone who’s doing something interesting, who is changing the world in their own way and is shaping the world of business itself. If you’ve missed any of the previous and there is over two hundred and fifty of them now iTunes is a good destination for you, British Airways if you happen to be travelling in the near future or CityAM.com. All of those places will provide you ample entertainment and insight I hope. Chris McCulloch is providing me the ample entertainment insight right now, right here on Jazz Shapers and we’ve been talking about how you transitioned and I like what you said its step-by-step how you transition from being a Doctor into the world of business via an accelerator which of course if we were having this conversation ten years ago people would say so what’s an accelerator and I think that in the business world now it’s a thing and people understand it. Once you made the leap or the step and you were doing it were there in the early day’s moments when you thought I think I’ve done the wrong thing?

Chris McCullough
A good question too. No, I never had, never had doubts about doing the wrong thing and I think always in my mind we’re always trying and iterating and testing things and having stepped out of medicine I think there was definitely a period where I felt like an imposter so moving from a world where finance is not a thing so if you come into A&E and you need something you will get it and if you don’t need it you won’t get it and its lovely to work and operate in an environment where finance doesn’t drive your decisions. I think moving into a world where we were having to pitch and write business cases and business models it was a really interesting challenge and there was differently a twelve month period where sort of have this self-doubt and still have it to some extent I think that’s a very, a sort of healthy, keeps you grounded and I quite like that so I suppose that was the predominant I suppose feeling in twelve months but never that we shouldn’t have done it and I think always this idea that if you’re not sure go and try it and then if it doesn’t work you know that it never worked. What I didn’t want to do was look back on that opportunity that we had with telephonic and Wayra and think that could have been something.

Elliot Moss
And in terms of when you did get a bit stuck and you had a capability gap did you always find the right people whether it was writing the business plan or whether it was running the numbers or whatever or were there moments when you went we’ll just boot strap it ourselves?

Chris McCullough
A little bit of both I think there’s lots of skills, I think lots of people have skills and they don’t, I guess they don’t look at themselves and know that they’ve got it within them. I think that’s true of lots of people but particularly lucky to be trained in medicine because you’re challenged in all sorts of different ways and particularly in emergency medicine where you’re having to make very fast critical decisions with incomplete information and that’s not dissimilar to running a business. Google is amazing for finding lots of basic facts so that you can go into any type of meeting being vaguely prepared but we’re also lucky to have lots of advisors and people close to the business who know lots of people and that was really part of the value of the Wayra programme which is valuable in many ways but one of those ways is the network of people they had so even to this day we’ve been lucky not to struggle to find team members or advisors.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for more from Chris McCullough my Business Shaper. Time for some more music this is Sarah McKenzie with One Jealous Moon.

That was One Jealous Moon from Sarah McKenzie. I’ve been talking to Chris McCullough and I have some more time to talk to you which is good because there’s lots I want to ask you. You obviously weren’t motivated by money when you went into the medical profession people generally don’t do it for that they do it for you know the people I’ve spoken to that have become Doctors have pretty clear reasons once you get under the flannel of why they say they’ve done it. There’s often a really good deep seated and well-meaning reason. Are you motivated by money now? Do you think about it in a different way to when you just happened to be taking a salary as a Doctor?

Chris McCullough
I am totally not motivated by money to the extent that it drives my wife crazy that she will send me shopping and I won’t know how much it costs. So I think it’s not at all a motivator for me I think the big motivator on what I really value about our team is that the team are motivated by the impact that we can have on lots of people’s lives and so whilst our scheduling seems inherently dull and in many ways it is it’s really important because if we can improve people’s work life balance that’s amazing and we impact on their lives and that truly is what motivates me and the team. I think we sort of have a healthy respect for finance and you need to when you run a business so finance in my mind and profit is the essential element that we need to keep our business healthy but what drives us is the effect that we can have on people and businesses.

Elliot Moss
Recently the Taylor report came out on the Gig economy and I think some of those findings are very interesting not just the findings but the recommendations. How does that play into the kind of thing you’re doing because I imagine there’s a pretty close connection between people that are part-time working in a shop but choose to just work the hours they want to work and has it made you alter the way you think about what you’re doing in any way, shape or form?

Chris McCullough
So the Taylor report really hasn’t altered what we’re thinking but it’s nice to see sort of Government and legislation trying to catch up and I think what we’re seeing across industry and really where our thinking was seven/eight years ago was that actually the way people work doesn’t kind of fit with the needs of customers or clients in whatever industry you’re in and often there’s a desire for people to work much more flexibly and if you look at the people that work in emergency medicine they’re invariably ridiculously talented, love working hard but also like working in a slightly erratic way and therefore they are very interesting people and there are lots of those individuals throughout the economy so I love speaking to Uber drivers because they’re invariably driving Uber and doing something else and that might be caring for family members, it might just be having a better work life balance or studying or running a business on the side and I think more and more that’s the sort of life people want to lead and this you know our grandparents generation, who my grandfather worked in a shipyard for all of his life and never lived anywhere else but the town in which he was born and that just isn’t reflective of the way that people want to live and work today so I think what we’re seeing is that across industries staff want to work in different ways and now employers are embracing that and I think what the Taylor report shows is that Government and legislation is trying to catch up.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for my final chat with Chris McCullough plus we’ll be playing a track from the one and only Herbie Hancock and that’s after the latest traffic and travel here on Jazz FM.

That was Herbie Hancock with Cantaloupe Island. I’ve got Chris McCullough here just for a few more minutes and he is the CEO and Co-Founder if you hadn’t heard earlier of Rotageek it’s a really interesting and clever business which I think really is changing or helping people that want to manage their life in a different way to the way as you said your grandfather or my grandfather would have done in terms of their relationship with work. It strikes me Chris just listening to you that you are a combination of precision when you talk it’s like watching a Doctor saying okay let me just explain, you’ve got the map, you start drawing so there’s precision juxtaposed with experimentation and I find that fascinating. Do you think about the way you go about your business like that? Are you, in your team do they go watch out he’s going deep and then watch out he’s going to have a crazy idea I mean which of the two forces do you think you live by most?

Chris McCullough
That’s really interesting maybe you should or shouldn’t speak to the team. I suppose being detailed focused is really important for us so we are a small business currently twenty six people and we work with organisations with fourteen thousand staff and more and so a part of building that credibility is we have to be ridiculously detail focused and if we say we are going to deliver something we will deliver it but we’re also really honest about where we can’t but I do like the high level view and a sort of in some ways because we’ve built such a good team who are very detailed focused sort of frees me up to be a bit more high level and experimental but also very happy to be told to get back in line and the team do that to me which is good.

Elliot Moss
And if it is true that as your wife said of you when you go shopping you don’t know how much it costs do they keep you away from the money your team? Do they keep you away from margins and revenue growth because it sounds like you’re driven by actually the call of the product?

Chris McCullough
Yeah that’s true and I think so (a) I’ve got a very good Financial Director.

Elliot Moss
That’s lucky for all of you.

Chris McCullough
Which is critical. Like having a, yeah someone very good at home to keep me in line. But that sort of correlates with being very detailed focused so yes we have to be all over the numbers and whether those numbers are revenue and expenditure and financial forecasts and projections so being detailed focused at work is important.

Elliot Moss
Where is this going to go? I mean for you it doesn’t sound like as you said you’re not motivated by the money so you’re not looking for the rainy or the rosy day in a few years or maybe you are and you won’t tell me and that’s fine but is this a play to be bought? Is this a we are just going to see where we go and we’ll keep on going? Have you got that clarity yet or is it not important?

Chris McCullough
No the clarity and the vision is really important and I think there’s a lot of bravado in start-up worlds so you’ll get a lot of young founders together with an idea and say they’re going to change the world and very few of those make it and I think we’re very keen to be data driven and evidence based and judged on what we do so we’re always quite pragmatic when we forecast the future. In terms of where we’re going and valuations that’s really important to investors and we have investors and therefore at the point we take investment what we’re saying to our investors who often are investing their children’s inheritance so we have to hand on heart say we can deliver a return for you and that’s an important part of running a business so we’re clear about where we’re going and what those forecasts are. The short-term is really dominating that work force space that we play and we’re really doing some quite exciting work there, getting some good traction and taking business off very big competitors in that work force space and that’s kind of interesting that we’re getting to that stage already. But the future really is about how we look slightly broader in the work force space and we look at how we can impact people’s lives for the better across industries.

Elliot Moss
Good luck with all of that it’s been really a pleasure talking to you. Fascinating watch a Doctor who has transitioned into the world of business but as I said that precision and that clarity about what you need to do and the analysis of the problem doesn’t seem to have left you which is a good thing. Just before I let you go what’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Chris McCullough
So my song choice is Experiment by Kevin Kline and really it’s a song that resonates a lot and I love listening to it when I have those moments of doubt. So when I think is this the right thing I listen to this song and it just reminds me to take those kind of, those chances in life and experiment and if it doesn’t work out you’ve learnt something.

Elliot Moss
Brilliant, here it is just for you.

Chris McCullough
Thank you.

Elliot Moss
That was Kevin Kline with Experiment the song choice of my Business Shaper today, Chris McCullough. The precision of the Doctor now brought to life in a business and boy did we feel just how detail orientated he is. But at the same time that juxposition with the experimental side of Chris and the ability to see what might be in the future and the harnessing of data is at the centre of what is making him and the business succeed. Do join me again same time, same place that’s next Saturday, 9.00am sharp for another addition of Jazz Shapers. Meanwhile stay with us coming up next here on Jazz FM its Nigel Williams.

Chris McCullough

Chris McCullough is CEO and co-founder at smart scheduling company, RotaGeek. Prior to founding RotaGeek, Chris worked in the NHS as an A&E doctor. He initially created RotaGeek in 2009 to help overcome the staffing issues faced by his A&E department, but soon left his job in healthcare to fully commit himself to the company following a wave of interest from a range of industries. Today, RotaGeek works with leading clients in the retail, leisure, hospitality and healthcare sectors – including O2 Stores, Dune, and Lola’s cupcakes. In 2017 Q1, RotaGeek saw a 530% growth in the number of end-users.

Chris is passionate about empowering the rostered workforce with more flexibility and ownership of their hours. This, in turn, benefits the employer by making employees more satisfied and motivated. Throughout RotaGeek’s growth, the core motivation of employee satisfaction and flexibility has remained central to the product they offer and the culture of RotaGeek itself.

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

From a business perspective, you don’t really care how clever it is as long as it always gives you the answer.

When it’s raining, High Street stores are quieter, shopping mall stores are busier. So we can pull out all of those factors and create the optimum prediction of demand, then build schedules on top of that.

I kind of developed a slightly annoying habit of trying to change things within the NHS.

If you come into A&E and you need something you will get it and if you don’t need it you won’t get it and its lovely to work and operate in an environment where finance doesn’t drive your decisions.

I think lots of people have skills and they don’t look at themselves and know that they’ve got it within them.

Whilst our scheduling seems inherently dull, and in many ways it is, it’s really important because if we can improve people’s work life balance that’s amazing and that truly is what motivates me and the team.

My grandfather worked in a shipyard for all of his life and never lived anywhere but the town in which he was born and that just isn’t reflective of the way that people want to live and work today.

If we say we are going to deliver something we will deliver it but we’re also really honest about where we can’t.

I think there’s a lot of bravado in start-up worlds, so you’ll get a lot of young founders with an idea say they’re going to change the world and very few of those make it.