Strategy & Leadership

The journey of an entrepreneur

December 01, 2014


December 01, 2014

Zoe Tabary


Zoe is an Editor with Amnesty International whose role entails researching and producing reports on human rights issues. Before this Zoe was an Editor with The Economist Intelligence Unit's Thought Leadership team for almost four years. In that time she managed research projects for a number of clients across the energy, healthcare and sustainability sectors. Prior to joining The Economist Intelligence Unit she worked as a journalist in France and the UK. She holds a Master of Science in Marketing and a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Sciences Po Paris, and is fluent in French, Spanish and German.


Interview with Anthony Rose, co-founder of Beamly and former chief technology officer for BBC iPlayer

Could you give us an overview of your background?

Anthony Rose, Beamly: I started as an electronics entrepreneur, before entrepreneur was a fashionable word. When I was 17 I had a robot arm ‘pick ‘n place’ machine at home for manufacturing circuit boards. I was then hired by Sega Australia to put together a software team to create interactive movies that could be streamed over the internet as real-time 3D graphics.

Then in 2007 I was hired by the BBC to take on iPlayer. At the BBC my team eventually grew to 250 people, covering both iPlayer and many other parts of the BBC website. When my salary made it to page 3 of The Times newspaper, I decided it was time to move on.

I decided to move back into the field of dot-com startup, and with my business partner Ernesto Schmitt founded zeebox (which later became Beamly), an app that you use while you watch TV. It brings you information on what’s playing and allows you to join in the chat with others watching the show. Just a few weeks ago Ernesto and I created a new venture, UTD, an entirely new app that connects you with people who have similar tastes and interests. So there’s definitely a serial entrepreneur in me.

What were your main motivations for starting your businesses?

What I love is moving from a cloud of ideas to an actual delivered product, and working with smart people. That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning and doing email till 2 am.

What do you think makes a good business leader?

Leadership is undergoing significant change. The world has moved on from a command-and-control approach where the executive would come up with a vision, and the people around him/her would implement that vision. The problem with that approach is twofold. First, software developers in the tech world are not motivated by being given a prescriptive brief and told to build it. As it becomes harder to hire talent in a competitive landscape, it is important to create a culture where developers are as much a part of the decision making as the executive.

Second, the traditional way of building a product consists of a company investing large sums of money in an idea, before consumers get to see it. Only after the product launches might the company discover that while their product or service may work perfectly from a technical perspective, nobody wants it. And so that process is being turned on its head by the “lean startup” method, whereby you do not build anything until you have validated it.

The consumer’s voice is now just as important, if not more so, than the executive’s, and this demands adaptation from leaders – it’s not easy having to cede your decision-making to a bunch of people recruited off the street to evaluate your product proposition.

Where do you draw inspiration from in business?

As information becomes more universally available, everyone has a chance to write and be read. That means lots of great articles, but also lots of misguided or untested ideas sitting alongside real insight. So I read as much as I can, albeit with a high degree of skepticism.

What advice would you give to people who want to become entrepreneurs?

Every venture has a failure rate and a gestation period associated with it. Any budding entrepreneur needs to make an assessment of how long they can afford to live without a steady income. Ideas are cheap, but implementation is expensive. There are endless things you could do, and the question is which one should you do? In order to create a business you need to identify a consumer base, create capital and put together a team. The hardest thing is to create something that will have a large user base.

As you test your idea on people, some will love it, some won’t get it, many will tell you that someone else is already doing it. So the great dilemma for an entrepreneur is how doggedly should you stick to your vision in the face of technical adversity and possibly even consumer indifference? In the online world that’s where data becomes useful, allowing you to quickly – at least in theory – see how people are using your application and rapidly updating it to maximise usage.

Ultimately though, if you’re contemplating a new startup venture, you just have to take a leap of faith. The most wonderful aspect of entrepreneurship is that you need to work it out for yourself, there is nobody to call for advice. That’s a magic mix of exhilarating and scary.

This interview is part of a series managed by The Economist Intelligence Unit for the new Audi A7.

Enjoy in-depth insights and expert analysis - subscribe to our Perspectives newsletter, delivered every week