Idealog: You were tasked with introducing advertising to the bbc.com site, when virtually everyone at the BBC was vehemently against commercialisation. How did you do it?
It was a real challenge. The logistics of such a large scale project alone were difficult but dealing with a group of anti-commercial proponents, many of whom were BBC journalists, was harder. It all came down to education and the ability to demonstrate how brand and editorial can sit alongside smart commercialisation to create a slick, exciting, globally contextual and relevant product – without damaging the brand.
Kym Niblock: Most people like to forget incidents like having to close down a business and make all staff redundant yet you refer to it is a great life lesson. Why?
Absolutely. This goes back to the dotcom boom of the late ‘90s when online businesses were flourishing. I was in charge of a new online shopping portal and just launched six e-commerce websites and secured venture capitalist funding from the US. We came up with the idea of teaching people to shop online with trusted brands and recommending products to them. All was going well and then 9/11 happened and within no time at all our funding was pulled. My only option was to shut up shop and send all staff home.
The thing I learnt from this is that sometimes ideas fail because they’re bad ideas; and sometimes it’s all just about timing.
I: The thought of new technology and consumption models can be a scary thought for many businesses. How do you go about pushing people to become early adopters and buy into an unfamiliar technology?
KN: Early adopters are a great portent for what might work for the majority. Recognising what user problem the new technology is solving and thinking about how to influence behaviour is the trick to getting people to try unfamiliar things. If it solves a problem then early adopters will grab it and quickly move it from the ‘new thing’ to ‘something to try’. But keeping it simple is also crucial. The minute you make it hard, you lose them. I learnt to think big, innovate fast, keep moving forward quickly and drag everyone else with me. Getting the backing of the most senior stakeholder you can is critical. Also making it clear from the outset that the disruption I’m proposing will probably have impact on every function and process in the business.
I: Did you ever feel being a woman in the predominantly male-oriented world of technology held you back? How did you get around it?
KN: At Lightbox I’m in great company. The majority of my leadership team comprises smart, committed women and many of the Spark senior management team are female. In a technology world, you can either walk the walk or you can’t. You quickly learn to deal with people who are all puff. I’m really interested in people who can accelerate and magnify my plans. I don’t care what gender they are, background they come from or race. I care that they can think. I get my energy from those around me and having really smart people around me means we are constantly moving forward to our goals.
I: Your CV reads like a digital honours board. What is it about the digital world that you love so much and what’s your advice to people who want a career in online television?
KN: I specialise in businesses wanting to harness disruption to deliver their own changes. At Lightbox we are creating TV of the future by delivering TV to audiences on their own terms. By putting the customer at the centre of what you do and understanding what you can solve for them you can revolutionise most businesses.
I love that I get to work on businesses that are busy reinventing themselves. I love that consumers are harnessing their power and demanding new services, pricing strategies and technologies. The best advice I can give anyone is to choose an industry to work in rather than a career, because technology is changing the job sphere. A job that was here today might have morphed into several different jobs tomorrow.
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