Interview with Tamlin Roberts, CEO of Bolt Learning, for Paisley Daily Express Business Page
What does your business do?
We have a cloud platform that enables us to build and deliver online training for companies. The platform is also able to track the results of training in fine detail which allows us to help businesses solve all sorts of problems ranging from compliance with rules and regulations to scaling a business or change management. In the wider business group, we have a content company that allows us to build highly engaging and interactive online training courses that deliver results quickly as well as a bespoke software company that allows us to integrate with clients existing systems.
In most cases our clients are large blue-chip companies for whom delivering training is complicated by the fact that they operate in multiple locations and possibly multiple languages, or it is just very difficult to get their employees into the same place at the same time and do things like face-to-face company training.
What are you most proud of when it comes to your company?
I'm probably most proud of the fact that I've had a talented team of people around me who are hugely committed to changing how training has been delivered. Corporate training is perceived as something that we call “next-next-next-training”, where the user just clicks the ‘next’ button over and over again and the only thing they get is some information-heavy and easily forgettable training. We're turning it into something of higher quality that allows people to enjoy the process and come out with long-term retention of the knowledge and deep skills development.
What do you find most enjoyable in day-to-day business life?
It is the challenge of the different problems businesses are facing. You go into one business and they have safety concerns and they want to train people to protect their employees. In another business, it might be that they want to serve their customers in a more scale-efficient way. In another business, it might be about collecting information from their employees in terms of how they are feeling and being able to have a barometer on their culture. We use our platform to create different solutions for different problems.
What are your ambitions for the future?
We plan to grow a global learning technology company. Our ambition is to join together many companies that already have a huge ability in their specific disciplines, to create a worldwide force for the learning technology market.
How has the business changed over the years?
We set off to build the technology. That took a couple of years – to build a minimal viable business product to take to market. We were also building up our ability to solve different problems and at the same time gain the market share. The recent acquisition of Sponge into the group allows us to scale up quicker. They've been trading for 14 years and have worked with some of the best and biggest companies in the world.
What are your top three priorities?
I run the tech aspect of the business and for me, it is growing and developing this aspect of the business more than anything else. For me, one of the big priorities is about the personalisation of training. Too long have we been all given the same training, we all read the same text and completed the same activities. The fact is that we're all individuals and we all learn in a very own personalised way. We all have strengths and weaknesses and for a training platform to be able to adjust to match that individuality and deliver a personalised experience is something we’re going to be working hard on over the coming few years.
The second priority will be the speed at which we can bring solutions to the market. We are already incredibly quick because of the technology we developed, but there is always room for improvement. It's about leveraging that technology to get there even faster. In fast-moving global businesses, things like translations become really important. We can turn around translations in a fraction of a time compared to the majority of the market.
The third priority is the quality of the individual training experiences. You've got a lot of training out there that Is lacking in what we call the ’pedagogical value’. It is left up to the trainee to be able to understand and remember the training rather than assisting them to do it. Our technology and approach tackle this problem.
Can you offer three tips to new-start businesses?
The first one is to read the book called “Disciplined Entrepreneurship – 24 Steps to a Successful Start-up”, by Bill Aulet from MIT. It’s a guide to how to plan to set up your business. The second would be - learn how to survive with no sleep. Starting a business is hard work and no matter what you hear elsewhere you will not be successful without the hard graft. So: long sleepless nights, lots of hard effort, working weekends – and surround yourself with people who do the same. It’s the amount of effort that generates the luck to be successful.
I suppose another tip is to learn how to recover from that. If you spend a lot of time working really hard, you'll get exhausted. What you have to do is to find the balance between work and be able to switch off and carve out downtime. Recognise how far you've gone and what you've done and recharge the batteries from time to time.
Why is Renfrewshire a great place to run a business?
The ability to travel to other places around the world with Glasgow airport being so close by. Another prime thing is the aspiration of the people in these areas – the business owners who want to be successful, who want to work hard, and they inspire me to do the same things. Being surrounded by like-minded people is a huge inspiration for me.
Has anything weird or wonderful happened in your working life?
Lots. Several things that knock you sideways – at one point I ended up with viral meningitis. I was really pleased that my team stepped up to the plate to handle things while I was bedridden for quite a long period. I got myself run over in London and that wasn't terribly good. You have those things that sideswipe you and make you have to pick yourself back up. But you also have the other wonderful things: we’ve had couples working together – husbands and wives working within the business which is unusual but very pleasing and rewarding.
What is the main thing you have learned since being involved in the business?
I think the biggest thing I've learned is that untapping the potential of individuals is hugely powerful for a business. If you get an individual who has that little spark and you let them do what they're capable of, the business gets a huge reward from it. What a lot of businesses do is hire independent people and then pigeonhole them into roles and don't let them develop and explore, don't let them show the potential that they originally had. I think for me it's been about learning how to work with individuals that join the company to get the best out them, and likewise let them get the best out of me.