20 QUESTIONS: Simon Hill, Wazoku

The London tech scene veteran says he came up with the best idea in the world years ago...

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Simon Hill started Wazoku - which helps businesses keep track of their employees' good ideas - in 2011, and now has a client list that includes the BBC, Hackney Borough Council, Diageo and The Institution of Engineering and Technology.

MT caught up with him to talk his passion for Scandinavia and why he came up with the best idea in the world.

1. If you had done something else, what would it have been?

I have a theory that I would have made a brilliant conductor. Admittedly that is based on one drunken incident rather than a long history of actual conducting, but I’m sticking to it.

2. What else would you name your business?

Wazoku means great idea in Swahili so fits what we do perfectly. And EVERYONE asks ‘waz-what-ku?’ so its a good talking point. But given my love of all things Swedish I’d go for ‘bra idé’.

3. If you could be based in another city, where would it be?

Stockholm - purely because it is the most gorgeous city in the world. The people are cool, nightlife amazing and the scenery breathtaking. I’m getting married in Sweden next year so can’t get enough of it really. Purely coincidentally there is a major idea management publication based there too, so I can justify my personal choice with some work stuff.

4. When you started, how did you raise money?

It was a mixture of me putting in my own cash and angel funding, which was the best way to get the business off the ground. Our angels included Find Invest Grow UK Ltd (FIG) and Huddle co-founder Andy McLoughlin.

5. What has been your most important decision so far?

Getting the team right. To start with I had a team made up of people on their second and third start-up. That was fine but people naturally fall into working habits and techniques that have worked well in the past – the tried and tested -  and I felt we were lacking a certain freshness of approach.  In the next recruitment round I wanted an injection of enthusiasm, energy, creativity to complement the seasoned hands that we already had within the team. This mix plays well with investors, but most importantly it has driven the business forward.

6. What has been your biggest mistake?

We invested a lot of time and resource initially in some large early adopters. It took a lot of our time, but it is not our core market and it almost took us completely the wrong way strategically. Luckily it wasn't fatal but it is easy to get sucked into thinking a certain way of doing things is right before realising it definitely isn’t.

7. What idea do you wish you had come up with?

I did once come up with one of the world’s best ideas – Royal Mail should have become an internet service provider in the 90s. Just as they deliver snail mail, why on earth could they not deliver email too?  If they had got in early enough they could have charged people, say 5p per email, and it would have seemed a bargain versus sending a letter. The prestige of a simon.hill@royalmail.com type-email address would still work now and I believe it is one of the biggest missed opportunities in business.

8. How do you handle stress?

I’m pretty good at separating work from my personal life, so when I’m at home I tend to leave the stresses at the office. When I’m at work I play basketball. We have a full size hoop in the office and I love the concentration involved in our three-pointer competitions. It has been known to get competitive...

9. What was your first job?

Not an official job, but I spent some time in Chicago as a teenager and discovered at high school that a British accents and British music had a lot of cachet. The good British music at the time – Pulp, The Charlatans, Chemical Brothers – wasn’t widely available in the US, so during trips back home I used to take requests and stock up on other similar stuff they might like. I made good money and have never been cooler, so I loved it.

10. What was your job before you started your business?

I was one of the early employees at British collaboration software business Huddle, where I ran the business development team, signing partners like HP, Intercall and LinkedIn.

11. What was your best job?

Apart from what I’m doing now of course, it would have to be Huddle. Everyone was passionate about the company and that is infectious. I’m still in touch with lots of people there now, that’s always the sign of a good job I think.

12. If you were on the Apprentice, what would your team name be?

Pure innovation.

13. Which company would you invest in right now?

Without doubt it would be Meals From Scratch. It makes fresh meal kits containing all the ingredients you need to cook a complete meal from scratch in under 10 minutes. I love food but running a company is undeniably busy and one can get into the habit of eating seriously crap food. These guys make it easy to eat well and I think they will be huge.

14. Apart from property, what’s the most expensive thing you’ve bought?

I did once buy a Breitling dive watch. It was lovely but I had major guilt over spending so much on a watch and got rid of it not long after.

15. Suits or jeans?

Day-to-day in the office its jeans all the way and I only dig the suits out if I’m meeting a client or prospect that would expect it. Not even the suits wear suits these days.

16. Flexible working or office hours?

I’m fine with people working from home and starting late / finishing early on occasion. You hear a lot about flexible working but the reality is most people still work pretty standard office hours and I’m no different.

17. What is your favourite thing about your office?

Our office is properly amazing. We are based in FIG Village, a start-up hub in West London and there is a great community feel about the place. There is a game zone too, with table football, a basketball hoop and other toys so you can’t help but love it.

18. What app can’t you live without?

Spotify. I was sceptical at first and didn’t quite get it but having virtually all the music there is with you all the time is quite something. Great in the office too: we take turns with our playlists which makes for an eclectic soundtrack.

19. Who is your business idol?

Paul Allen. He helped create one of the world’s great companies in Microsoft, a name familiar to everyone and a true success story. He then sold up and spent his time hanging out on his luxury yacht. Not as altruistic as Bill Gates, maybe, but I can’t help but have a sneaking admiration for that approach. 

20. If you were Prime Minister for a day, what would you change?

I’d need more than a day, but for starters I would: introduce resident-only lanes on the pavements of Central London, I know tourists are important but why so slow? I’d move the congestion charge zone about a mile to the east (mostly as I’d then avoid paying it), place an immediate ban on hashtags (#notverylol), make the wearing of red trousers (men) a prison-offence and forbid the playing of tinny music via mobiles on tubes.

In business terms, more can definitely be done to help start-ups. The government talks a good game but tangible support has been thin on the ground. Removing income tax for entrepreneurs has been very successful in some countries and is worth investigating here.

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