People are the most important thing and the hardest to find, gauge, or plan around. People you trust can let you down at the last minute, and people you might have dismissed can surprise you. And the right people are very, very rare: if a good one comes along, make sure you can accommodate them.
I had the pleasure to interview Tobias Showan, Founder of Exertia. After designing and creating his first game at 9 years old, Tobias self-taught himself to code at 17 and has continued learning and exceeding expectations ever since. Since graduating from Durham University with a degree in Electrical Engineering, Tobias has worked in manufacturing and automation for seven years, balancing his professional career with keen interests in gaming, technology, psychology, and futurism. His skills extend beyond technology, with his passions including creative writing, music, and art.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Having worked for several years at a desk job, I knew I wasn’t the world’s most physically active person. But the real degree to which it mattered was made apparent after a year-long stint of actual physical work, and I realised that physical movement and interaction is just so much better for a productive lifestyle. On returning to my desk job in software, I knew that something had to change. But going to the gym is the exact opposite of what I was looking for.
I had realized that ‘exercise’ as we’re doing it now is something entirely false — it’s an unnatural thing to do, and it’s never been done in this form throughout history. Both play and satisfying work require mental and physical effort, body and mind working together, all to achieve a goal. Exercise is decoupled, goal-less and mindless body-maintenance. It’s not what we’re for. Everyone feels they don’t get enough exercise, but disliking exercise is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s a more natural, human reaction than liking it.
I felt strongly that our lifestyles have become mis-aligned by the modern world, and they need to be realigned urgently.
Lots of people have said this, and their solutions usually involve blaming technology and turning back the clock. I’m going in the other direction. Our issue is that our lives no longer require both mental and physical activity — so let’s use technology to bring that back.
With this approach you can make the onerousness, guilt, and monotony of exercise disappear — in fact the concept of needing to exercise at all just fades away. What replaces it is a world where people are fit and healthy by default, and all they have to do is work and play.
The more I started looking into it, the more I realized this was something that needed to happen. So I decided to take it on.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
Getting the right people is incredibly important. You need people around you who share your vision and whom you can trust to carry out the work that needs doing.
We found that sometimes it’s easy to want somebody to be right for the job because it is convenient, but later on you realize they weren’t a good decision — usually through no fault of their own — and they aren’t the person you need. That results in time wasted and low morale, and it could all have been avoided with a bit more time and attention applied at the recruitment stage.
We’ve been through this process, and now we spend a lot more time making sure people are a good fit for the job and our team in general.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
Resilience and belief in our product. We knew what we were doing was a good idea, which was proved when we started demonstrating our prototype. It was amazing to see people’s responses, and that’s what pushed us to succeed.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.
1) People are the most important thing and the hardest to find, gauge, or plan around. People you trust can let you down at the last minute, and people you might have dismissed can surprise you. And the right people are very, very rare: if a good one comes along, make sure you can accommodate them.
2) There are times when you think you are going mad. We had one day when literally everything went wrong; and as CEO, this is of course all your fault. At the very end of a long day, I put a widget together and it just sat there inert. My colleague came and did the exact same thing and it worked perfectly. Sometimes when your focus is gone, it’s gone. You just have to battle on through. Don’t give up, and trust that things will look better in the morning.
3) Never assume other people can understand your idea just because you are excited about it and have the passion. You can’t explain things carefully enough, and there is no such thing as too simple. It’s easy to go around in circles for ages over a misunderstanding, because you took for granted that something was obvious so you didn’t stop to point it out.
4) There are many born pessimists in the world, and the natural reaction of that type of person is to tear something down rather than build it up. Anything is fragile when in its infancy, and a business or idea is no exception. Decide carefully who you talk to about nascent projects, and know what kind of advice you should just shrug off.
5) You have to work out how to make good decisions. Everyone involved knows more than you about their own specific fields, yet you are the decision maker. You have to see the constraints and behavior of everything in the system, without trying to understand all the internal details, and you have to understand what your experts are seeing even though you don’t know as much as them.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Monitor and log your activities and progress. There’s nothing more dispiriting than feeling the weeks fly by and not being able to point to anything you’ve accomplished in that time. If you’re doing a lot of research and development work, you’re in the situation where three months of work can lead to a dead end. The thing to realize is that proving something doesn’t work still counts as an accomplishment. You have done work to make a discovery which you could not have known beforehand, and this has immense value.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Without my partner Rachel, none of this would have happened at all.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
Professionally — building Exertia and making the Joyride a household name that can help millions of people be active. My goal is to make the Joyride financially self-sufficient so we can return to research and development on totally new concepts and designs to continue our vision.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
A revolution in the way we live our modern lives. Increased national fitness and happiness, reduced rates of obesity, depression and anxiety. The potential for computer-aided physical engagement being explored not just in entertainment, but for work and education too. The negative associations of the word ‘exercise’ to disappear from our vernacular, and people to be that bit more carefree and relaxed about their lives.
I don’t ask for much.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
How can our readers follow you on social media?