The My Ambition series, developed in partnership with leading mid-market private equity firm LDC, shares the personal stories behind successful businesses, uncovering how business leaders realised their ambitions and what these exceptional leaders have learned on their journey to success.
What do you do if you are in college and you’re struggling to keep up with your workload, either because of dyslexia or because English is your second language? Who can you turn to in the workplace when documents look like gobbledegook and you’re being pulled up on spelling mistakes in emails? Texthelp, a company co-founded by Martin McKay, is helping millions of people across the globe with technology that allows them to understand and be understood.
McKay’s ambition is to reach one billion people around the world: “Dyslexia doesn’t care what language you speak,” he says. “Around 6% of the global workforce can use our tools.” He has been fascinated with helping people communicate ever since his dad had a stroke.
“I was 12 and experienced first-hand what it’s like to struggle to be understood,” he says. In the beginning, McKay was focused on helping stroke survivors, multiple sclerosis sufferers and those with cerebral palsy but in the late nineties he realised dyslexia was a major issue for millions of people.
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing, however. “In 2014, the market changed,” he reveals. “Apple had released the iPad and the price of educational software dropped significantly. That was really disruptive but we decided to drop our prices, change our model to software-as-a-service and ultimately help more people.”
In 2019, McKay took a giant leap towards reaching his ambition by taking on investment from a private equity investor. The investment allowed the business to ramp up product development and extend its geographical reach.
“Our existing investors wanted to exit the business but I didn’t,” says McKay. “LDC helped come up with a structure that would allow me to roll my investment forward, while also reinvigorating the business for the next stage of growth.”
“Initially I was a little concerned that a new investor might come in and try to take over but LDC made it clear they weren’t about to break something that was working well. They weren’t buying stocks and shares; they were backing the management team and our plans. They were there to help us make the boat go faster,” adds McKay.
Since then the business has invested heavily in product development and expanded internationally. “When your software company is 30 years old, you have to keep reinventing yourself. If you don’t innovate, you become a dinosaur,” says McKay.
Today, Texthelp provides a wide range of products, including a spell-checker designed specifically for dyslexic people, who often make phonetic mistakes that existing software can’t catch. The company employs 250 staff across offices in Northern Ireland, US, Canada and Australia.
“I’m on a mission to change the world and show employers that dyslexic people can be vital members of the workforce,” says McKay. “Just like someone may wear glasses to see, those with dyslexia can use our tools to be more effective.”
“I’m confident we can get to 100m users in three years; we’ve doubled our user base every 18 months for the last five years,” he continues. “But my ambition is to reach one billion people and a valuation of £1bn. That’s my personal goal.”
Leading mid-market private equity firm LDC is sharing inspirational stories from across its network to mark 40 years of backing ambitious business leaders across the UK. Read more about McKay’s story here.
Image courtesy of Texthelp