“Create a community.” With Douglas Brown & Julia Kemp

Create a community. Allow customers to be a part of something, bring people together and tell a story. Knowledge Recycled allows people to join our virtual learning environment no matter where they are in the world. This sense of community is really powerful when acquiring and retaining customers. There are many examples of companies trying […]

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Create a community. Allow customers to be a part of something, bring people together and tell a story. Knowledge Recycled allows people to join our virtual learning environment no matter where they are in the world. This sense of community is really powerful when acquiring and retaining customers. There are many examples of companies trying to achieve this by implementing forums or social apps within their product.

Asa part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women Leaders in Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Julia Kemp, CEO and Founder of Knowledge Recycled, an e-learning platform that facilitates live learning experiences with some of the world’s leading experts. Julia decided to pursue her own company after several years of working as a growth marketing consultant advising startups on growth, go-to-market strategy and customer acquisition. Julia combined her passion for learning with her interest in technology to create a business that brings people together in an educational, fun and engaging way.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Itmight sound cliched but my earliest memory of entrepreneurship, although I didn’t realize it then, was around the age of twelve, when I asked for my teacher’s permission to sell my home-made cosmetic bags in school. Around that time, I also wrote to the local council to enquire about the cost of setting up an ice cream stand in the center of the city followed shortly after by completing application papers to hire a wooden hut at the local Christmas market! What I was intending to sell I can’t recall!

However, it was in my final year at university where I really started to become immersed in the startup world. I designed a mobile app and then convinced the Head of Computer Science to accept my project on to his program which allowed large tech companies (one such business was Google) to use third year engineering students as developers while they earned extra credit. As a result, three computer science students produced a working iOS prototype. Aside from a few years at a large technology firm, I’ve been working with startups ever since.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

Initially, the concept for Knowledge Recycled was to focus mainly around small businesses rather than individuals. However, literally within a few days of pitching, the original idea completely turned on its head. Due to the keen interest and enthusiasm shown by top experts, the idea just pivoted in that direction extremely quickly and organically. The moral of the story is — don’t be afraid to change direction but make sure you do it quickly!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

On reflection, working with the press was a learning curve for me in many aspects. Like any profession, journalistic styles all differ so much and what you read is not always exactly what you wish to portray. I remember one of my first press interviews when a journalist called me without warning. I was being so chatty that I naively hadn’t realized, until our chat ended, that everything I was saying was being noted down. Despite frantic phone calls to retract some of my irrelevant comments, the resulting article wasn’t exactly what I had envisaged. The lesson here? If you don’t want it published, don’t say it!

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

The nature of the beast dictates that in entrepreneurship there is always going to be highs and lows, especially because a lot of the initial time is spent with your own thoughts and doubts. For myself personally there has been no harder time than when I went from idea to initial prototype. It’s tough getting to that point as you are basing so much of what you are doing on initial research and there is so little to show for all these hours of work. However, as soon as you have an MVP, the cogs start turning and this then stimulates motivation. I found that if I could achieve one small thing towards my goal each day it really helped as there is then at least a sense of achievement, even if it is small.

On a higher level, what really kept me going was the continual positive feedback I was getting from the experts on the platform, and potential customers, and that gave me the drive to keep going. Their responses to Knowledge Recycled kept confirming my belief that what we were working on could truly make a difference to people, especially in these uncertain times. Of course, there are moments where you consider whether to give up or not but keeping this vision alive ensured that those moments faded as quickly as they arrived.

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 about that?

There are many people who I am very grateful for and who have influenced my life, especially my parents who have been 100% supportive in all that I have chosen to do without being intrusive or judgmental. However, I will always be eternally grateful for my maternal grandmother. She was such a kind, wise and wonderful person. She was known for finding just the right words at just the right time on any occasion and was there to help with a ready smile and terrific sense of humor. So inspiring were her words and quotes that I produced little booklets of them all to hand to everyone at her funeral so we could all dip into and remember her by.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

To follow on from my previous answer, my favorite quote is from my grandmother, which she shared to anyone who was about to face a challenging time.

“Try your best and more than that you cannot do”.

When I’m disappointed with the outcome of something, I always reflect if I did actually try my best. If you’ve put your absolute best foot forward, you can never be disappointed with where you are and what you’ve achieved.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?

Knowledge Recycled is an e-learning platform that provides live and interactive online classes run by some of the world’s leading experts. We want to facilitate the uniqueness of live experiences where consumers can spend time with experts and ask questions there and then rather than learning from recorded videos or still images. We believe that we learn best when equally engaging with others and having fun at the same time.

Our platform aims to address this current global atmosphere of uncertainty and despondency by providing inspiration, knowledge and social opportunities. With worldwide interaction, it also brings communities together and helps to eliminate anxiousness and isolation.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I believe Knowledge Recycled stands out due to our unique business model. The business enables customers the opportunity of interacting live, at home, with usually such unattainable professionals and accessing their accumulated knowledge. Just relaxing, watching and learning or cooking alongside and asking questions along the way, all contribute to the flexibility of the classes.

After one of our early classes, a customer emailed me some feedback stating that they were so grateful for the opportunity to spend time chatting with someone that they admire in the hospitality industry whom they had only previously ever watched in the media from afar. They were amazed to be able to learn first-hand from them. I think that sums up how we stand out and highlights the uniqueness of the brand.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We do have many ideas for the next stage of the company and are considering our options regarding which verticals we will expand into next. The ultimate aim is to help individuals as much as possible in different industries by providing platform opportunities similar to our hospitality vertical and we are using customer feedback to drive that decision.

Let’s zoom out a bit and talk in more broad terms. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in Tech? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

Although there is definitely still lots of work to be done it’s encouraging to see the issue at least being addressed and highlighted more regularly by both men and women. Redressing the imbalance will take time but if we can encourage young girls to study STEM and tech subjects in school, get them to challenge the status quo and look up to other female role models in senior roles I think we can work towards changing the status quo.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?

Following on from my last answer, the less women that we have in tech is the challenge in itself, as the situation doesn’t normalize. Being in the minority means younger women will have less confidence to enter the industry as they will have very few role models to aspire to and therefore the problem will continue to perpetuate. To try to address the situation women should encourage and help one another, senior women should become more visible to inspire the younger generation, serve as mentors and sponsors and continue to recruit more women.

Unfortunately, challenges faced by women are steeped in this stereotypical culture which tends to favor men as it’s predominately a male dominated industry. Women comment on being judged by a different criteria which leads to lower progression and often a gender pay gap. Sadly, on the whole, there are still relatively few women in senior roles in the industry and although it’s slowly shifting, it will take time and a joint effort to achieve true equality.

What would you advise to another tech leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill? From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth or sales and “restart their engines”?

Go out and talk to customers. It can be so easy to get stuck looking through your own lens but it’s only when you start talking to your customers, or prospective customers, you start to see things differently, with issues generally arising around product-market fit. Try to view your product or service from the customer’s eyes and understand what benefits they can gain from your service.

Do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?

My advice would be to make sure that the sales team are integrated into other areas of the business and understand the different functions like marketing or product. In so many companies, functions work so separately from each other when in reality they should help and influence each other. A great example of this is looking at a very small successful startup. An employee generally wears many hats, maybe even working on both sales and marketing together, and it usually (hopefully) results in hyper-growth.

In your specific industry what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?

To echo what I said before, go out and talk to existing and potential customers! This will shape so many things and let you really understand your product market fit. Equipped with this information, you can build your marketing or sales strategy to target new customers. When we first launched, I would email customers directly asking for their feedback. This was so valuable to me (and still is!).

Another effective method we use to attract the right customers is by testing out different marketing channels with a small percentage of our marketing budget, tracking the results and analytics and then re-investing the remainder of the budget into the channel we see the highest interaction and conversions from. It’s basic but effective. It’s really important to keep an eye on cash flow from day one and make every dollar count.

Based on your experience, can you share 3 or 4 strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?

  1. Ask for feedback and listen to it. Feedback, positive or negative, not only allows you to give the customer a voice but also provides you with valuable information which can be utilized for improving your product and user experience.
  2. Authenticity and transparency. Always be honest and authentic with customers. When something goes wrong (and it will), own up to it. Customers are human and sometimes behind an e-mail it can be easy to forget that.
  3. Personalization. Try to personalize customer experience as much as possible. This helps customers feel valued (which they are) and enables you to build up a stronger relationship with them.

As you likely know, this HBR article demonstrates that studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?

Treat every customer like they are your first. When scaling, it’s easy to forget that a stranger found your company, took a bet on it and bought your product. I’ll always remember the name of my first ever customer on the day we launched. I thought to myself ‘this person loves what we’re offering and is prepared to pay for it’ which proved to me we were on the right track. Be transparent, reply to e-mails as soon as possible, be fair and treat every customer like they are a VIP.

Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful tech company? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Act quickly

From idea to launch, I brought Knowledge Recycled to market in six weeks. I’m trying to keep that mentality in everything we do. Build quickly, get feedback and keep iterating. You probably won’t end up with what you first envisaged but that’s okay because back then you didn’t have the information that you have now.

2. Create a community

Allow customers to be a part of something, bring people together and tell a story. Knowledge Recycled allows people to join our virtual learning environment no matter where they are in the world. This sense of community is really powerful when acquiring and retaining customers. There are many examples of companies trying to achieve this by implementing forums or social apps within their product.

3. Don’t get fixated on your product

Similar to number one, it’s important to build something great but don’t fixate too much on it being perfect. Your product is an ongoing project, continually changing and growing depending on your customers and the market. Carry out market research and ensure that you have product-market fit. This should influence your product and how it develops. During the early stage of Knowledge Recycled I spent way too much time crafting a few pages of our website. A week before launch we decided to get rid of them completely. It was painful to see it happen, but it has taught me to always apply the 80/20 rule!

4. Act small, think big

We’ve all seen how some startups that turn into larger companies lose their quick innovation and become embroiled in internal politics. I always try and think back to those first six weeks getting Knowledge Recycled to market when working on a new project — have a big vision but act like you did when you were small.

5. Be authentic

It’s so easy to copy other companies but what will really make you stand out is by being yourself. Use your uniqueness to your advantage and make other companies want to copy you, not the other way around. In our early days I e-mailed a customer directly about a small issue we were having with one of our classes. She replied, ‘thank you for your genuine and sincere response — it made a difference’. She went on to be a repeat customer and recommended us to others.

Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Knowledge Recycled, which already has a worldwide audience currently in the hospitality industry, has the potential long term to seriously influence and help in many areas of life. By reaching out across the globe we are bringing people together in a fun and engaging way. Hopefully this is providing an outlet for the eradication of loneliness, anxiousness and mental health issues. Bringing people together in an educational, fun and supportive environment also provides hope to the business world and economy and will be a be a catalyst for many other movements in the future. Another area forefront in our minds is to help disadvantaged people by giving them a mentor to really add value to their lives and coach them in a way that can bring about real change.

There are so many people who spend their lives accumulating so much knowledge and experience that it seems unfathomable to not be able to pass it on for the betterment of society as a whole and it is particularly important that we don’t lose areas of culture and skill acquired by elderly and retired people which, if not captured, could be lost forever.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I think it would have to be Payal Kadakia the Founder & CEO of ClassPass, which was named as the first unicorn of the decade — with a very small number of women achieving that feat. Aside from being a very happy customer of her product, I admire her family-orientated character and her dedication to build something truly great. I heard that she spent a year building ClassPass and when it wasn’t well received on launch, she then spent another year rebuilding it. Since then ClassPass have continued to listen to feedback, experiment and iterate their product which is something I truly believe makes a company or product successful.

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!

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