Purple founder: Know when to step down as CEO as your startup grows – Fi5

Purple founder

Gavin Wheeldon is the founder and CEO of Purple, a cloud-based technology company providing software to transform venues into intelligent-tech hubs.

Wheeldon founded Purple in 2012 out of frustration with poor guest WiFi. Now, Purple works with thousands of businesses across the globe to get the most out of their public space WiFi. Its WiFi-based solutions include loyalty programmes in airports and smart city analytics showing high footfall areas.

Wheeldon sold his previous business, Applied Language Solutions (ALS), to Capita in a deal worth up to £67.5m in 2011. The entrepreneur has since appeared on BBC’s Dragon’s Den and an episode of Channel 4’s Secret Millionaire, but his focus is currently on growing Purple.

In this week’s Founder in Five Q&A, Wheeldon explains why you should “never stop fundraising”, when a founder CEO should pass on the baton, and shares his advice for organising his day.

1. What funding advice would you give to a first-time founder?

Gavin Wheeldon: Never stop fundraising. Even during periods where you’re sitting comfortably, you should still be courting potential future investors. Update calls and quarterly emails to anyone you have been speaking with will always be worth the effort.

It’s also important to be aware that any numbers or expectations you set will be checked, so always make sure you are being realistic.

2. When should a founder CEO pass the baton on to a new chief executive?

GW: As a CEO, it’s important to determine what stages of a company’s evolution you are best suited to. In my opinion, it’s rare that one person can take an idea from a back bedroom all the way through to a billion-dollar listed business. Play to your strengths and know where you’re able to offer maximum value and expertise.

For me personally, I enjoy the early and scale stages of a business, where you are constantly pushing growth and innovation. As a business matures, it becomes more about the small tweaks and this is an area I believe someone else could add more value.

3. What’s a fact about yourself that people might find surprising?

GW: Believe it or not, I’m not the most comfortable when it comes to public speaking. From the minute I agree to an engagement right through to the moment it’s done, the thought of it is constantly at the back of my mind.

When I was much younger, I failed to do enough preparation for a big event and didn’t perform my best. Since then, I have over-prepared myself. I would like to think you probably wouldn’t notice as I’m apparently half decent at it now – so I’m told!

4. How do you prevent burnout?

GW: I think it’s critical to be able to switch off and be present in your personal life. The flexibility we offer our employees at Purple means they’re able to shape their working day around their other responsibilities. For me, this means I might jump online late at night to speak to the US, but I can be there to make family dinner, help with the kids’ activities and get them ready for bed.

Taking breaks is important. If I’m working from home, I try to get out at lunchtime with the dog and if I’m in the office I tend to use this time to meet with my colleagues in-person.

When it comes to my work, effective time management is absolutely essential for me. Each morning I will structure and plan out the day ahead and will always block out time to deal with urgent tasks or ones that require greater thought. This helps ensure I don’t overstretch myself.

5. Is there a technology that the world would be better without?

GW: As with most things, tech can be a force for both good and bad. From a business perspective, we’ve seen the benefits of social media. It’s opened a whole new channel of global communication and the possibilities are continuing to evolve.

However, as the father of a teenage daughter and one not too far behind, I think social media has a dark side. If I had it my way, I would prefer my children not to have it at all. This is probably unrealistic, but I agree that there is more to be done to further safeguard our young people online.

Founder in Five – a UKTN Q&A series with the entrepreneurs behind the UK’s innovative tech startups, scaleups and unicorns – is published every Friday.