20 QUESTIONS: Irfon Watkins, Coull

Is the 9-5 working week Victorian? Watkins, muso and the boss of the online ad company Coull, argues we should have a four-day working week.

by Courtney Greatrex
Last Updated: 30 May 2014

1. IF YOU HAD DONE SOMETHING ELSE WHAT WOULD IT HAVE BEEN?

I would love to have done something in the music industry and formed a record label. That’s my second love.

2. WHAT ELSE WOULD YOU NAME YOUR BUSINESS?

Elsie? Coull-er? No. I think the name of the company is like the name of the band or the name of anything else. It’s the most ridiculous thing to try to do. I wouldn’t care what it’s called, to be blunt. Coull [pronounced ‘cool’] was a family name of one of the developers and we thought we’d stick with it. It’s as good as any other name, isn’t it?

3. IF YOU COULD BE BASED IN ANOTHER CITY WHERE WOULD IT BE?

Cardiff, because I’m Welsh. But Bristol is the best place to build a company: it’s a fantastic city and I would advise anyone who hasn’t been here to come.

4. WHEN YOU STARTED, HOW DID YOU RAISE MONEY?

From myself, and then from friends and angel investors. We haven’t raised any money from institutional investors, all from private individuals. The first money I raised was £100,000 over a pint of beer.

5. WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST IMPORTANT DECISION SO FAR?

Hiring the right people: Aden Forshaw, our CTO. He was the most important decision I’ve ever made.

6. WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST MISTAKE?

Getting too excited by the technology we were building and not talking to enough people to find out whether they cared. We thought we were going to create something so brilliant people would just come flocking to us.

7. WHAT IDEA DO YOU WISH YOU HAD COME UP WITH?

Cats’ eyes. It’s so blinking obvious to have something that reflects your headlights. It’s the most stupid, ridiculous, scalable idea.

8. HOW DO YOU HANDLE STRESS?

Sense of humour. And context. I have a family of four children, so when you leave the cut and thrust of trying to get a business moving, you go home and face different challenges. Context is everything.

9. WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB?

Working in Our Price Records on Kings Road in Chelsea. That was the year Now That’s What I Call Music! number one came out. That’s how I can age myself, by how many Now compilation albums are out there. I think they’re up to 78 now. Good thing it’s not just one a year – it’s like three...

10. WHAT WAS YOUR WORST JOB?

Washing pots in a kitchen when I was 15. I would arrive in the morning to a commercial kitchen, slide across a greasy floor and scrub pots. It was horrible.

11. WHAT WAS YOUR BEST JOB?

Working in the record store. I did that for two years: it was the 1980s in London, and I spent my time listening to a whole range of music meeting some great people. My first day at work Phil Lynott, the lead singer of Thin Lizzy, came in and rugby-tackled me to the ground. That set the tone for the next two years.

12. IF YOU WERE ON THE APPRENTICE WHAT WOULD YOUR TEAM BE NAMED?

The Expendables. It would be some macho nonsense. Modern working is a team sport and The Apprentice is a blood sport.

13. WHAT COMPANY WOULD YOU INVEST IN RIGHT NOW?

Google. It hasn’t even started yet...

14. APART FROM PROPERTY, WHAT IS THE MOST EXPENSIVE THING YOU’VE BOUGHT?

My Rickenbacker maple neck guitar and vox amp.

15. SUIT OR JEANS?

Jeans.

16. FLEXIBLE WORKING OR OFFICE HOURS?

Flexible. Office hours are for Victorians…

17. WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE THING ABOUT THE OFFICE?

Cliché time: people. We’ve built a great team and culture. The people and the culture are my favourite things. And the fact that it’s in Bristol.

18. WHAT APP CAN’T YOU LIVE WITHOUT?

Twitter, probably.

19. WHO IS YOUR BUSINESS IDOL?

Right now it’s Tony Hsieh, the founder of [online fashion retailer] Zappos. He empowers people and puts a real sense of culture and ownership into his employees, and has built a multi billion-dollar business. He’s a modern-day role model.

20. IF YOU WERE PRIME MINSTER FOR THE DAY, WHAT WOULD YOU CHANGE?

I would change the working week to four days. Also, increase the minimum wage and have a standard living wage for everybody in the UK. The more money people have, the more they spend. Better for the economy.

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime

Subscribe

Get your essential reading delivered. Subscribe to Management Today