Working on the business is more important than in the business — I find it far more enjoyable to work with our clients, I really enjoy this experience. However, there is a point at which that is not what the company needs. Instead, it may need strategic guidance and direction. Working in the business if you have built the right team, becomes an extravagance versus necessity, and that can be a good thing.
As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Colin Anson. He is a digital entrepreneur, and the CEO and co-founder of a child image protection and photo storage solution, pixevety.
In 2012, Colin saw an opportunity to create a unique business within his area of passion, photography. He witnessed first-hand the potential risks and harm the mismanagement of photos can have on children. He became an advocate for protecting every parent’s right to determine how their child’s photo is used and protecting every child’s right to safety and digital privacy. After learning of the minefield of privacy laws and the daily stress for schools in managing and sharing the photos of every single student, Colin decided to do something about it. And pixevety was born.
Colin Anson is an experienced Chief Executive Officer with a demonstrated history of working in the online media industry. A digital entrepreneur, Colin started his own business at the age of 19 and his experience includes over 10 years at News Corp where he was at the forefront of digital disruption and consulting to major institutions to embed innovative digital platforms.
Skilled in digital strategy and execution, business development, e-commerce, advertising, management and marketing, Colin is passionate about driving technological advancement to make life safer and easier online for everyone, but especially for children.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
As a child, I always sought different ways of doing almost anything. Often this personality, viewed at times as a very frustrating trait, led to a realization that there is a reason why things are done a certain way in the first place, however, at times it clicks… The understanding of yourself as you mature is that this characteristic often lays at the heart of what drives you forward — for me it is to find problems and create solutions, for others it could be painting or balancing the books. In any case, finding what that is is essential.
When I was young, I often took apart perfectly good electrical items to see how they worked. From a slide projector when I was very young to a video recorder in my adolescent years. It is fair to point out that the slide projector did not make it, but the VCR did, and it performed far better as I replaced worn components with ones salvaged from another.
The path I have chosen is less identified as a specific choice but rather a path formed instinctively by placing one foot after the other. The commonality is that often I seem to be one of the first through the door, meaning a great idea with great potential, yet a tad too early resulting in struggles from all sides. When the internet was in its early stages I was extremely fortunate enough to secure a position in one of the world’s leading media companies at a time when online was what we all called “new media”. This new media was completely free to the user (if you could find them) however, with costs that were tangible and not sustainable unless business models could be found to secure their future.
The landscape was not secure and there were many reminders of that each day, from doing presentations to a wide group and being told that they didn’t have PCs, let alone access to the interweb — to the commercial world not recognizing the value that one-to-one adverting in realtime could muster. It was an exciting time and one that if I had my time again, I wouldn’t change. It was exciting, experimental and enabled people to recognize a need and find solutions that satisfied the problem at hand.
I believe that everything culminates to a specific point whereby your personality and experiences enable awareness of a particular need. Combine this with the required initial due diligence and things either take shape or they do not. You know in yourself if something feels right and as a result a sense of purpose grows. You will need this sense of purpose backed by your experiences and due diligence to carry you through the inevitable tough times ahead.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
One of the most significant challenges I had when taking over my first business was people-related and the importance of delegation and trust.
In my old corporate positions, I was tasked with a problem, finding a solution and the successful implementation of that solution — essentially leading from the front. To then change direction and take on a business in its entirety was daunting and, if you’re truly honest with yourself, self-doubt starts to creep in to destabilize you, let alone others who kindly share their feedback with mixed intentions. Moving, for the lack of better terms, from the front line to the back office proved difficult for me. However, taking that step gave me the understanding and recognition of the ability of others and the importance of delegation and trust. You cannot be everywhere all the time. Seeking others whom you can trust to perform critical tasks — most times better than you in multiple areas — is essential for any small business to succeed. Do not underestimate the importance of creating and carefully harvesting your team. It is the one task I spend more and more time on as the business grows and matures. A big lesson learnt on a personal and professional front.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
I can tell you 5 factors that supported me on my journey
- Passion & Persistence — If you don’t have these two ‘P’s it is virtually impossible to create success as you are constantly hitting roadblocks along the way that destiny has in store for you.
- Finding the right business partners — No one can make it alone, over time you will meet great people, some of those people will share your passion and vision and, if you’re lucky they will get in the boat and row with you. These rare people are the backbone… always be aware of these people and their commitment to the project and you.
- Have a plan — Tasks small to large identified, prioritized and tick them off.
- Take time out to celebrate the wins — Not only celebrate what you’ve achieved but the wins of others as well.
- Seek to learn: you will never know it all — Learn from others who have walked a similar path, not those that preach the path. People who have taken those steps truly understand the importance of the 2 ‘P’s and can share their life experiences with you so you can avoid their mistakes. When I have time, I like to read autobiographies of people from all kinds of backgrounds and professions. Their stories are different but typically the key lessons are the same.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.
- The more successful you get the larger the business becomes and the “opportunity” you wanted to do in the first place lessens — When the business is new, as a founder you wear many hats, and it is something that I really enjoyed. This ability to wear many hats stops as the bigger the business becomes.
- The importance of the team around you — in any business, especially early-stage businesses the team around you is essential to making things grow. Covering for a poorer performer, someone who is toxic or someone who simply doesn’t fit the culture is just not possible in a small start-up environment and it is something that must be dealt with swiftly and with respect. This in turn reflects on your ability to delegate and make decisive decisions. If not, you will lose respect and good people won’t stay. Embrace your areas of weakness, know them well and fill the void with others who have greater specific expertise or skillsets in an area than you do.
- Working on the business is more important than in the business — I find it far more enjoyable to work with our clients, I really enjoy this experience. However, there is a point at which that is not what the company needs. Instead, it may need strategic guidance and direction. Working in the business if you have built the right team, becomes an extravagance versus necessity, and that can be a good thing
- Seek the counsel of others not attached to the business — They can be from anywhere but be discerning as to what you are seeking, for what purpose.
- Be bold — Companies need entrepreneurship and leadership to grow as the status quo rarely ends up being a success. Be considerate but bold and trust your inner voice — it is often right.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
On this one I preach more than I practice as I find this the most difficult thing to do. However, there is always great advice and self-help information out there from others that can help each unique situation. I find you need to identify an activity that calms you and make it your own. If it is an all-encompassing hobby, go ahead and embrace it. It will make you a better person all round. For me I try to put myself in the moment as much as I can (I think they call it “being mindful”), whether it’s at my daughter’s soccer game or at 4am when I seem to wake up these days — I keep reminding myself about an autobiography I read which poses this question, “what can I possibly do about this thought right now?” If nothing, I resolve that my job at hand in this moment is to relax and unwind so I can deal with that thought/problem later on when I can actually do something — or at a more appropriate time with a clearer head.
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?
During my career there have been a handful of precious moments where those special people have helped and guided me in my career. In my corporate years there was a couple who stood out for their great integrity, and they helped me the most.
This story might sound too simplistic to some, but there is one person who I continue to admire who came from a successful military background and his ability to put trust in his line managers and treat us all equally made all the difference. When I made it into senior leadership with the support of this new MD, he assisted in levelling the playing field so I had a part in setting strategic objectives and a clear reign on how to make it work. Over time this partnership flourished, as his career advanced so did mine. We recognized and trusted each other’s ability, and as a result, our focus was on strategic objectives and getting the job done.
That said, I cannot overstate how grateful I am to my current business partner whom I met whilst working in big corporate, who has acted as my coach and mentor and supported my business every step of the way to make us who we are today. I will be forever grateful for this person’s encouragement, friendship, and support. It is what makes our partnership so unique and without such a partnership, businesses like pixevety that go above and beyond the status quo to try and make a real difference to people’s lives will struggle.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
I aim to take the business international and, in doing so, develop a lasting sustainable business that grows but maintains its unique local integrity. I am passionate about child image protection and it is a global issue.
On a personal note, and I hope it does not sound too cliché, but to have more time at home. Business takes you all over the world but often you are alone. Perhaps, even better would be to have the opportunity to take the family with me to the wonderful places I have visited over the years.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
Being remembered as someone who built a successful business that protected children and who was kind and generous. Over the last 20 years I have focused on the online world which I can’t see changing, but the focus on protecting children is something I wish to be a lasting legacy — something that can be carried and transferred onto others anywhere in the world.
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!
To assist entrepreneurs in getting out of their own way and to seek anything but the status quo. This movement should come in the form of sharing ideas and knowledge, putting the right people together and without the risk of ridicule.
Today when pitching ideas to family, friends and ultimately investors there will always be a never-ending line of people wanting to pull you down or give you multiple reasons as to why and how you will fail. Their motivation for doing this could be anything from valid own-life experience to being risk-averse or simple jealousy. This movement would allow people who have the entrepreneurial flare and spirit to become innovative and take risks in a non-risky environment where others fear to tread.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
pixevety’s LinkedIn company page or my personal LinkedIn account