Patience — I’m naturally an impatient person so realizing that “Rome wasn’t built in a day” is a good lesson to learn.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Ben Drury, founder and CEO of Yoto, a screen-free audio platform for children. He began his career in 1996 as the founder of dotmusic.com, an internal venture at United News and Media which attracted over 1.8m unique users per month. His passion for audio and music continued as he progressed in his career to the Head of Music at BT and a Non-Executive Director at companies including Marmalade, Intercede, and Pimoroni.
As a father, Ben was aware of the challenges of modern parenting including excessive screen-time for young children. He wanted to give kids autonomy when it comes to their device-use and encourage creativity and imagination beyond the use of a screen. After many sleepless nights and prototypes, Yoto was born, allowing kids to be fully immersed and in control of a screen-free audio device by using physical smartcards.
Thank you so much for joining us Ben! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve always worked in technology and digital content. Straight out of college I worked at a music website called dotmusic that was eventually acquired by Yahoo! and then I co-founded a digital music platform business called 7digital and ran that until it went public in 2014. I also had kids around the same time as my exit from 7digital and that was the life-changing moment that helped inspire Yoto!
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
My background was in software and digital content so working on a hardware product that needs a long gestation period and plenty of capital was a real challenge. Lesson learned: hardware takes longer than you might expect.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
Building an amazing team. We have been lucky at Yoto in being able to build a team very quickly with a lot of people we have worked with before but also some amazing new talent that we’ve found along the journey.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.
- Raising investment isn’t fun — The whole process is terribly inefficient and mentally exhausting
- Get mentors — Being able to speak to peers that have had the startup CEO experience before is very important
- Patience — I’m naturally an impatient person so realizing that “Rome wasn’t built in a day” is a good lesson to learn
- Develop healthy techniques for dealing with stress — It’s hugely important to be able to switch-off
- Firing — Letting someone go is never pleasant, but don’t dwell on it. If they are not the right fit, it’s better for them and you to move on. Don’t procrastinate.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Have healthy interests outside of work otherwise you find yourself thinking about work all the time and that can lead to burn out. For me it’s spending time with my wife and kids, playing golf, hiking/mountaineering, playing guitar, running and cooking that keep me sane!
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?
It has to be my co-founder Filip Denker. We worked together at 7digital and we both had kids at the same time. It’s his technical wizardry and product insight that has got Yoto to where it is today.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
Well obviously, working hard to make Yoto a success. As my kids are bilingual in English and Spanish, I’d love to see Yoto working for bilingual+ families and for great content to be available in many languages. And a personal goal is to complete the Camino de Santiago hike in Spain.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
It would be incredible for Yoto to help children in their learning and love of stories. If we could demonstrate in the longer-term that our products helped kids develop greater creativity and imagination, that would be an incredible legacy.
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!
I think it would have to be a greater appreciation of the inherent beauty of math and science. Usually, the arts monopolize the idea of beauty but I think that people’s lives could be enhanced with a greater understanding of the science that powers the world!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
@bendrury on Twitter
https://www.linkedin.com/in/bedrury/ on LinkedIn