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AMA: Chris Watts, co-founder of NumberEight

AMA: Chris Watts, co-founder of NumberEight

It's hard to imagine a time before smartphones. Today, we wouldn't be without them. Co-founder of NumberEight Chris Watts and his team are finding new ways to attune smartphones to our lifestyles.

chris watts

Hi Chris! Tell us a bit about your company.

At NumberEight, we do cool things with the sensors in smartphones to make your phone work for you, our customer, rather you for it.

That means that we empower app publishers, ad partners, and advertisers to engage with their users effectively while safeguarding their privacy. This is made possible by the power of Mobex (mobile context), a previously untapped first-party data.

How did the idea for NumberEight come about?

During his thesis at TU Delft, my co-founder Abhishek asked the simple question "my phone already knows what I'm doing, so why is it so hard to find music for the moment?"

The response was software that can join the dots from raw sensor data to produce a smart, actionable context prediction, such as "working out".

Chris and co-founder Abhishek

Did you ever experience a business disappointment that led to something better?

Oh yes, we've dodged a couple of bullets over the years. One example is at the time we were trying to validate the rail and mobility industry for our product (e.g. gateless ticket barriers for trains).

After months of engaging with potential customers, it became apparent that collaboration with any UK train operator would take 7 years to formalise! At that point, we pivoted to media and entertainment and discovered a much, much larger ecosystem to contribute to.

How do you keep your team aligned?

Two things:

  1. Be customer-obsessed: if the full team has visibility of the end product in the customers' hands, everyone gets a sense of ownership which helps to make good decisions from the bottom up.
  2. Go out of your way to notice the things your team members have done right. This brings an innate sense of trust and alignment which spreads throughout the company.

Can you share any practical tips or processes to help people work remotely?

  • Turn on the video in your catch-up meetings: face-to-face makes a difference.
  • Allocate 20 minutes or so per day for teams to have a "water-cooler" chat: anything except work!
  • Allocate time for people to share things they've learned with the rest of the team.
  • Use task management: anything from Trello to JIRA, but most importantly, put people before process. We use GitLab Issues in our tech team because being alongside our codebase is most natural for the team.

Give us an interesting fact that the business community doesn’t know.

Every member of the team has ended up with a derp name, used whenever someone says or does something ridiculous. For example, mine is "crins" or "cring". The funniest quotes each week make it to the memo field on the next payslip.


Do you have a share or option scheme in place for your team? 

Yes, we've had quite a generous scheme in place since the very first employees. It helped contribute to a strong core team with zero attrition; everyone has a feeling of ownership and responsibility, and to some extent has installed a co-founder-like drive in each member.

That's great to hear! What is the biggest mistake you've made as an entrepreneur?

I've always been a "if you want it done right, do it yourself" kinda guy, which works great for lots of things, but not for running an efficient team. I've had to learn to foster the skills in the team such that I can hand off work with complete confidence.

Who would play you in a film of your life?

Tricky one that, I'd perhaps go with James Franco.

And finally Chris, what does company culture mean to you?

We spend an enormous chunk of our adult life at work - we should enjoy doing it!

Couldn't agree more! Thanks for your time Chris.

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