Shaper: Sara Murray

Show aired on 22nd November 2014

Transcript

Elliot Moss
Changing All Those Changes from Madeleine Peyroux, what a lovely way to start the programme this morning. Good morning this is of course Jazz Shapers with me, Elliott Moss, here on Jazz FM. What is Jazz Shapers I hear you ask? It is the place where you can hear the very best of the people shaping the world of jazz, soul and blues alongside their equivalents in the world of business; what I call a business shaper. My business shaper this morning is the extraordinary serial entrepreneur though she has settled recently – we shall see how long that lasts – called Sarah Murray. She is the founder and chief executive of Buddy, the technology business that helps you find out where you are and how you are. She has also founded lots of other very well-known businesses. You will be hearing some fantastic words from her very shortly. In addition to hearing from Sarah, you will also be hearing from our programme partners at Mischon De Reya some words of advice for your business and on top of all of that of course some fabulous music from the shapers of jazz, blues and soul, including Donald Byrd, one of my favourites, Gregory Porter and this from the iconic Stevie Wonder, here on Jazz FM.

A thoughtful track from the brilliant Stevie Wonder, that was the Lonesome Road. Sarah Murray is my business shaper here on Jazz Shapers; she is the founder and chief executive as I said of Buddy, the technology business that lets you find out where and how people are and she was also I am going to tell you, the founder of a fair few other businesses but that is not where it began Sarah, thank you very much for joining me. It began in Lancashire, it began when you were six years old, or almost six years old apparently and people do say that entrepreneurs start young. Tell me a little bit about your first foray into the working world?

Sarah Murray
So I was very young and my brother came home and told me that he had seen in the village shop that a paper round was up and so he was going to go and try and get the paper round so he could earn some money. So I thought ‘ooh this is an opportunity for me to earn some money, I’ll go and see if I can get the paper round’. So the next morning, very early, it was still pitch black, he went down to the shop and I followed him down there and we went in to see the shop keeper and the shop keeper gave my brother the paper round and off he went on his bike and I said that that really wasn’t fair, that I ought to have had an equal chance to get the paper round. I think the shop keeper looked at me and thought there is no way I would turn up even the following day so he said to me ‘Well if you want to stay and work in the shop while your brother gores off and does that you are welcome to do that’. So I stayed and worked in the shop and I stayed working in the shop every morning until I was about ten or eleven years old.

Elliott Moss
Now I have young children and I am not sure my seven year old would have quite the same, she has gumption but it is a different kind. Obviously very very young, early on you realised you liked what we would call work but it strikes me that maybe it wasn’t work to you it was just stuff that kept you interested and was fun? Is that fair?

Sarah Murray
Yeah I never thought about it as work and it certainly never occurred to me that I was going off to do something that other people might not want to do that morning. I often look back on it and think it is amazing my parents let me go and do it but again they never even mentioned it. Of course this was as though it was completely normal.

Elliot Moss
Now jumping right the way forward into now and then I am going to go back in time again. Just give me a little explanation about what Buddy is because some people will have heard of it but many wouldn’t even though it’s in all sorts of places now.

Sarah Murray
Yeah so we do technology in two areas. In criminal justice and in health. So in criminal justice we do tags for offenders to see where they are and in the health market we do wearable technologies to enable you to see you’re your elderly mother or elderly grandmother or grandfather is okay when you are not there. So it keeps them company.

Elliot Moss
So this is now employing around twenty five people?

Sarah Murray
About forty.

Elliot Moss
Forty, it’s going up fast. It’s growing a hundred percent year on year?

Sarah Murray
Yeah yeah.

Elliot Moss
My sources tell me?

Sarah Murray
Our revenue is growing more than a hundred percent pretty much every year since we started.

Elliot Moss
And the technology now is not just in the UK with many projects but is abroad as well?

Sarah Murray
Yeah we have got Government customers from here to New Zealand, Australia, America, Sweden, Ireland. We really are tackling the world.

Elliot Moss
And just very quickly, the foundation for this idea was based on a personal experience? You lost your daughter apparently?

Sarah Murray
It was, it was slightly different, I was in a supermarket in Kent and I turned round and my daughter wasn’t there so that heart stopping moment that so many parents have experienced but the odd thing about it was that a security guard stepped forward and he said ‘don’t worry madam, we’ll sweep the shop, you go and stand at the exit of the car park and look in the back of the cars as they leave’. I was utterly horrified by that obviously and I ignored him totally and ran screaming round the shop. I found her in a few minutes but it really got me thinking why with modern technology couldn’t I give her something that would allow me to find her whenever I needed to.

Elliot Moss
And a few years later suddenly there is a business called Buddy and it is turning over a fair amount of money too. Stay with me for lots more from my business shaper Sarah Murray today. Time for some music, this is new, it’s from Lack of Afro and it is called Clean Living Under Difficult Circumstances.

That was the rather funky Clean Living Under Difficult Circumstances from Lack of Afro. I am sure we will be hearing lots from them in the future. Sarah Murray is my business shaper; she is as I said the CEO and founder of Buddy, the business that is now ensuring that you can track miscreant children that disappear in supermarkets and a lot of other things as well. Now going back into as I promised the annals of history. You went to Oxford University, you did an interesting Degree, kind of one way and t’other of psychology, philosophy and physiology, why not let’s just throw them all in for fun. You then went into management consultancy. At what point after graduating and working, I believe it was in the States, what point did you think I am not going to be doing this forever; I am going to be running my own show? And why? When did it happen?

Sarah Murray
So I had done management consulting for about a year and I had gone into consulting thinking I would learn about businesses but actually all I learnt was how to do a spreadsheet. So I went to my boss and I said I think you could write some software that would save me three months’ work of spreadsheets, I could literally press go and it would do the work for me. Anyway he didn’t think it was a good idea to write that software so I went off out on my own.

Elliot Moss
And what was the name of that first business that you set up?

Sarah Murray
That was called Nosis and it developed into Ninah so it was a marketing optimisation company.

Elliot Moss
Which is and bearing in mind the timing of this, this is in the ‘90’s I am guessing.

Sarah Murray
Yeah before Internet.

Elliot Moss
Pretty early – before the Internet, I was going to say – pretty early on when the notion of automation would have scared the hell out of everybody because they thought well I won’t have a job whereas you obviously saw things very differently?

Sarah Murray
Yeah I still thought I’d have a job I just thought I would be able to do much more work so it’s about efficiency.

Elliot Moss
And you sold to the Publicis Group?

Sarah Murray
Yep.

Elliot Moss
How did that come about because again, I am saying it in a nice relaxed ‘oh yes you sold it to the Publicis Group’ these things don’t happen. You build a company; you go out on your own. How did that whole thing occur so conveniently for you?

Sarah Murray
Well, yeah it wasn’t convenient, it was developed over about ten years and it really needed to go global so I had been talking to Martin Sorrell at WPP Group about becoming part of a big group and I met some people who said they would introduce me to the other groups. So I talked to the other large communications groups and it was the best fit for Publicis.

Elliot Moss
And then the big thing kind of happened, I mean that was a relatively big thing, let’s not undermine that for a moment but you, you created a brand that people – most people will be familiar with – now called Confused.com, then I believe it was called Inspop.

Sarah Murray
Yeah Inspop was a limited company, the holding company.

Elliot Moss
And Confused.com was the brand name. The first price comparison site for car insurance on the market.

Sarah Murray
Yeah I did that while I was still doing Ninah. So at Ninah I was working with companies to optimise marketing investment and one of the companies I was working for was what was then called Norwich Union, an insurance company and I basically worked with them and said that in the general insurance market it was commoditising so they need to be able to reduce their costs to compete in the market and the way to reduce their costs was instead of going out, was to get on line but instead of going out and spending all the money themselves, they could work with other insurance companies and divide that money between them, create a market which was a benefit for consumers.

Elliot Moss
Now right from the beginning of what you talked about in terms of you know the piece underneath it, the back end software which obviously you had to understand what you wanted and how to create it through to the idea that you could convince people the world was going this way. These are relatively big things at that time in the, in the evolution of on line retail technology and in the on line retail business. How did you do it? How did you convince people that that was the right story to be telling?

Sarah Murray
That – its spot on pretty much every business I have built has been very much against the grain in an industry and going round trying to convince people to do things very differently. So I marched into an insurance industry that was very stuck in its ways and very committed to doing what it had always done and people didn’t welcome it shall we say. So I just had to partly scare them with missing out on the future and partly encourage them to be brave.

Elliot Moss
And you obviously did it and we will talk a lot more about how you have encouraged people to be brave going forward. Latest travel in a couple of minutes but before that some words of wisdom as I promised from our program partners at Mishcon De Reya for your business.

You are listening to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss every Saturday morning you get to hopefully hear me talking to a wonderful shaper in the world of business, someone who has really done extraordinary things, dared to be different and convince people to be brave. My business shaper today was talking just about doing that very thing earlier. She is Sarah Murray – she was the founder of Confused.com, she’s the founder of Buddy which is her current business. You are also I should mention just to embarrass you, an OBE of course; a couple of years ago. For services to entrepreneurship and innovation. You are also apparently according to Fortunes magazine one of the ten most promising female entrepreneurs this year. Not bad, amazing.

Sarah Murray
The only one outside the US.

Elliot Moss
Wow there you go, I didn’t know that bit. That’s even better. I mean just extraordinary. And you have been described actually as a female Internet hero and I am just going to throw in because why not, you’re a qualified helicopter pilot. Yeah anyone that’s jealous, you should be. This is wonder woman sitting here. Let’s go back to the time when we were talking about the Confused.com stuff and you said you know I always convince people to do brave stuff. What do you think makes you want to do that? What do you think drives that desire to just be a bit different?

Sarah Murray
Generally if somebody says something can’t be done I really want to solve it. I have no idea why. I’ve always had that feeling but I think my mother probably brought us up – she always used to say ‘aim for the moon, if you miss you get a handful of stars. Aim for the stars, if you miss, you get a handful of air’. So I have always sort of aimed for the moon.

Elliot Moss
And you have obviously been surrounded or have surrounded yourself with people that have also said the same thing. I mean I imagine you have some people, mentors that you’ve gone to.

Sarah Murray
Yeah I know I have got some great mentors, I’ve got a fantastic team at Buddy. I have got a very competitive little sister who pushes me quite hard as well, who is the Junior Barrister of the Year for family law this year.

Elliot Moss
So quite a low achievement family we’re talking about here. But in all seriousness that competition obviously that intellectual rigor that you have, coupled with energy and the desire to really solve stuff, that’s obviously a big part of your success?

Sarah Murray
Yeah I never think about the energy, it’s just the way I am. I like to keep busy. Always thinking about the next thing.

Elliot Moss
And what about family? Do you get time? I mean you’ve got – you said – we talked about your daughter, do you have other children as well?

Sarah Murray
No I have just got one daughter, she is amazing. She is studying in New York, wants to be a fashion designer and she has just recently said to me ‘Mummy I’ve been thinking about it and when I leave college I’d like to start my business straight away. Do you think that’s a bad idea?’. I just said ‘I wonder where you got that from?’.

Elliot Moss
Yeah no idea. The apple has not fallen very far from this particular tree. Going back to when you sold Confused – how did you convince this pretty big company Admiral and how did you on your terms, to do what you need them to do? I mean why did that come about. Were you actively looking to sell the business at that point?

Sarah Murray
Actually it was the other way round. They came in to me. I went to convince them to come on the website and they and Direct Line didn’t really want to go direct to consumers because they didn’t like the rest of the industry originally – they didn’t believe in transparent pricing – they didn’t want everyone to be able to see the prices and to be able to compare them easily so they said they would come on the website if they could take a share in it and I said obviously we can’t do that because we wouldn’t be independent and so they made an offer for the whole business.

Elliot Moss
Which after toing and froing was acceptable?

Sarah Murray
Yep.

Elliot Moss
What’s that feeling like? That first time you do it and you go ‘ooh I have just sold something for quite a lot of money’. It wasn’t the first time you had obviously sold a business but I imagine the quantum was rather bigger?

Sarah Murray
Well you don’t think about it. As an entrepreneur you never feel you have quite achieved…

Elliot Moss
Do you really not though? I mean sometimes people say that and I think how can you not think about it?

Sarah Murray
You really don’t, you never feel as though you have quite got there as an entrepreneur – you are always thinking about the next thing, the next big ambition you know and like now I am really thinking about where I am going to take Buddy and how big it is going to be. People are always asking me what is your exit strategy and how much are you aiming for but you just never think like that, you are always just thinking about the next gate.

Elliot Moss
Find out what the next gate might be with me and my business shaper, Sarah Murray. Time for some music, this is the brilliant and big tune from Donald Byrd, one of my favourites as I said earlier, it’s (Fallin’ Like) Dominoes.

That was Donald Byrd and (Fallin’ Like) Dominoes. I hope it got you dancing, it did for me. Sarah Murray is my business shaper today and so many things you have done and yet there is more, as you have said, there’s gates still to go through. That restlessness now that you, you talk about. Obviously you have got plans for Buddy and you are some way on that journey. When will you know that the Buddy bit has come to an end in the same way that you might have known that the Confused bit had come to a natural stop? How does one know?

Sarah Murray
I am not sure you ever really know, I think something – maybe some changes come along that make you make a different decision. So with Buddy I feel as though I have done start-up – it’s actually really really exhausting – starting a business from scratch and I have done it so many times now that I really want to do grow-up and I am very ambitious long-term for Buddy. But I will know whether this product that we are releasing now is successful I guess next year dependent on who buys it and how many they buy.

Elliot Moss
And you talk about, you know, the longer term play. Could it be that actually is it feasible that if this product works and then there is another two or three that come down the line that actually this is a much longer term proposition for you?

Sarah Murray
Yeah we were just described recently by a US Private Equity House who rang me out of the blue as they had been told that we were the Apple of this space and that’s a great ambition I think.

Elliot Moss
And how – and then of course one looks at Apple and other big companies and the constant question is how they continue to grow fast, to be explosive in how they are moving things forward. Past performance is no indication of future performance. How do you ensure that you are injecting that you know, the OBE accolade that you got of innovation and entrepreneurship into a business that is growing? How do you make sure that happens every single day?

Sarah Murray
Well the challenge is in the growth phase is very easy but in the challenges as you get, as you get real scale and a customer market to keep innovating and Buddy I have built in a slightly different way from any previous company. I have got my own other R&D Department which is in an incubator lab in Scotland and they are doing really smart stuff which we will bring it over the next one or two years. That both keeps me excited and keeps us at the forefront of innovation.

Elliot Moss
And who are they and how have you – because this is an interesting model – you’ve basically got a group of people playing?

Sarah Murray
Yes exactly yeah. It’s just really really great engineers that I stalked through Linkedin and found them.

Elliot Moss
And then you just trusted them.

Sarah Murray
Put them together. We talk about ideas, we talk about the market, we talk about where we want to go and we come up with ideas together, we file patents and then we start making stuff.

Elliot Moss
What, what would they say about you these guys as well as your own team? How would they describe Sarah Murray as a leader?

Sarah Murray
Gosh I have no idea. You’d have to ask them.

Elliot Moss
What do you reckon as a hunch?

Sarah Murray
Well my old CTO always used to say I was extraordinary in that he would come and present me with a load of stuff and he said I would just put my finger on the one thing that he was a bit unsure about. He said ‘I don’t know how you have got this ability to just spot that little, that little thing’ and I don’t know how I do that but they would probably say that that was true.

Elliot Moss
And I imagine the converse is true as well, you spot a winner very fast? You know what is going to work?

Sarah Murray
I have got a whole load of winners, I mean I have really got an extraordinary team with this one.

Elliot Moss
But in terms of also going back and identifying the thing that is going to land in the market well – where do you think that comes from?

Sarah Murray
Yeah I just – I don’t understand how everyone doesn’t have it. For me I can just – I have got a really clear view of a market and I can see what is missing. You know I think when I am old, I always joke to people when I am old the last thing I want is a stranger undressing me so I want robots to be there so I can have a robot to undress me so I think it is really important that we invest in the right technologies for when I am old and it is the same thing with Buddy, you know, when I am out there and I am on my own, I want to make sure that someone is with me but I don’t want someone walking around with me or checking up on me, so I want technology to do that for me.

Elliot Moss
Stay with for some more fascinating words and my final chat unfortunately with Sarah Murray, my business shaper plus there will be a track from Gregory Porter. That’s coming up after the latest traffic and travel here on Jazz FM.

That was Gregory Porter, a modern classic with Lonesome Lover. Sarah Murray has been my business shaper, we have been talking about so many things I can hardly recall but innovation and your search for innovation, your ability to pinpoint what is missing, your ability to pinpoint what the market needs – those are fantastic skills which I imagine you would love the whole next generation of entrepreneurs to have. Can you help someone develop those skills? Can the Government help or is it something far more intrinsic to the human being themselves?

Sarah Murray
I don’t think Government can create an entrepreneur but I think Government can give an entrepreneur the skills to have a better chance of running a successful business. I mean we in Britain we are in the forefront of leading entrepreneurship globally, we have so many start-outs. What we need is the grow-ups so we need people to be able to run those businesses well once they have got them started.

Elliot Moss
You obviously believe though that there is some help for Government to create the conditions within which as you said, the right entrepreneurs can flourish or a member of Vince Cable’s Entrepreneur’s Forum where you mentioned earlier part of the British Government’s technology strategy board – what do you talk about in these meetings and what actually happens because it strikes me that I think they are really well intentioned names of committees within Government that frankly talk to each other and then nothing happens. Is that an unfair accusation?

Sarah Murray
I can certainly understand why people might think that but actually what we do is or what I certainly try to do is come up with actionable ideas so very simple things that Ministers can get hold of and push through and there are some very small and simple things that Government can do that make a real difference.

Elliot Moss
Like what?

Sarah Murray
Well for example the CDIS Scheme which exists now which allows investors to invest in a small company and basically very low risk of losing any money. Well that’s a fantastic scheme because when you start-up, I don’t care what anybody says, the key thing you need is capital. You need enough money to be able to live and to develop the products that you are developing. So encouraging Angel Investment in that is a fantastic scheme and this Government have done that.

Elliot Moss
Now you have talked about kind of personal wealth is really not touching you in terms of the feeling that it gave you. Does it though on the one side, even if you are not thinking of the amount of money that is sitting somewhere or that’s invested, does it give you a sense of confidence or of security that you don’t need to worry about that bit? And does that in itself then perpetuate more openness from you to innovate and to experiment?

Sarah Murray
For me actually it hasn’t made such a big difference, I still always worry.

Elliot Moss
You were crazy anyway. You are still trying stuff.

Sarah Murray
Yeah I am still always a big worrier and I know that generally when people sell their businesses they lose forty percent of the money in the first twelve months so I am always telling people to be very careful about that and there have been a few investments that I have made in which I have lost my shirt. I have learnt the hard way that the best person to invest in is me. Does it make you take less or more risks? I don’t think so. I think the other thing about British companies is that we take a load of risks at start-up and as soon as we have built a company that is actually real and is making money, that’s the point at which we stop taking the risk and that’s the point at which we need to take the risk and that’s what the Americans do at that point where they have got a good business, instead of saying let’s protect it and let’s be careful with it, they say right we’ve proven it now let’s get out and push it harder.

Elliot Moss
You are not going to retire are you?

Sarah Murray
No.

Elliot Moss
I mean that is pretty obvious. In terms of as you move on and you, you know, twenty years from now, thirty years from now, one can never predict the future. What would the ideal life post, the hurley burley of running your own businesses look like?

Sarah Murray
Well that’s the trouble, I pretty much have my ideal life that’s why I fly a helicopter. I absolutely love it. It means I can visit people very very quickly and easily. I have great friends. I have a fantastic social life but I am totally engaged in the business and the things that I do around it so I wouldn’t really want to change my life.

Elliot Moss
And it sounds like you are absolutely able to live in the moment which is rare as well. It sounds like you are quite grounded in that sense.

Sarah Murray
Yeah. I was in Majorca a couple of weeks this summer and I had one day where I actually just lazed around and just sat by the pool and stuff and I had a moment lying on a lilo in the pool and I thought ‘oh this is what people mean about just doing nothing, actually this is lovely’ but having done it for a day I was totally refreshed and ready for the next year.

Elliot Moss
Well I hope you enjoy another day next year at some point. It has been brilliant having you as my guest today, thank you. Just before I let you go though, what is your song choice and why, Sarah Murray, have you chosen it?

Sarah Murray
I have chosen Someone To Watch Over Me from Chet Baker, partly because I love Chet Baker and a lot of the work around that smooth jazz, that era and Someone To Watch Over Me because I am hoping that as Buddy is introduced to more and more people, they will feel they have got someone to watch over them and that will give them comfort.

Elliot Moss
Brilliant. This is your choice, thank you so much for joining me. It is Chet Baker with Someone To Watch Over Me.

That was Someone To Watch Over Me from Chet Baker, the song choice of my business shaper today, Sarah Murray. Brave, unbelievably brave, someone who really took people on and said ‘no, no, view it my way’, inventive – someone who is still investing in innovation and making things happen, and instinctive – someone who just knows what the market needs. Do join me again, same time, same place for another edition of Jazz Shapers; that’s next Saturday morning at 9.00am. In the meantime though Nigel Williams is coming up next here on Jazz FM.

Sara Murray

Sara is a serial technology entrepreneur. She founded a number of companies including Ninah Consulting and Inspop, which owns the brand Confused.com. Sara then founded and now runs Buddi, which provides technology for remote health and location monitoring of people.  Sara is a previous Entrepreneur of the Year winner and also sits on the Government’s Technology Strategy Board and Vince Cable’s Entrepreneurs’ Forum. She was awarded an OBE for services to Entrepreneurship and Innovation in 2012, is a qualified helicopter pilot and a member of the development council of the National Portrait Gallery.

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

…we have got government customers from here to New Zealand, Australia, America, Sweden, Ireland…we are really tackling the world.

I was in a supermarket in Kent and I turned around and my daughter wasn’t there… that heart-stopping moment that so many parents have experienced.

I had gone into consulting thinking I would learn about businesses but actually all I learnt was how to do spreadsheets.

…pretty much every business I have built has been very much against the grain…

…my mother always used to say ‘aim for the moon, if miss you get a handful of stars. Aim for the stars, if you miss, you get a handful of air.’ So I have always sort of aimed for the moon.

As an entrepreneur you never feel you have quite achieved.

I have got a really clear view of a market and I can see what is missing.

I don’t think government can create an entrepreneur but I think government can give an entrepreneur the skills to have a better chance of running a successful business.

…when you start-up, I don’t care what anybody says, the key thing you need is capital.

I have learnt the hard way that the best person to invest in is me.