As ChannelSight plots growth in the US and at its new Dublin base, CEO John Beckett chats hiring plans and company culture.
Irish tech entrepreneur John Beckett has clear ideas about what he looks for when hiring employees for ChannelSight, the e-commerce software company he co-founded nearly a decade ago.
Beckett has been on the tech scene for some years, following an early start at the age of 17. While just a teenager, he built Ryanair’s website along with a schoolmate. That was in 2000.
Nowadays he is leading ChannelSight, which makes software for e-commerce companies to optimise their digital strategy. It employs around 150 people and is planning to grow its team further in the coming year.
Officially, Beckett said the company hires people who are “curious and talented”. Unofficially, ChannelSight has a “no asshole policy”.
“Curiosity is one of the key drivers of success for people in this organisation. If you’re curious and interested in learning, that that can make up for an awful lot of things like lack of experience, potentially.” It’s fitting that Beckett has this approach, since he learned on the job himself in the beginning.
But while he’s willing to take on people who may not fit the job spec to the letter, ChannelSight does not compromise on its employee culture. According to Beckett, the business has learned the hard way from mistakes it has made in the past when hiring staff.
No matter how talented a person is, if they are difficult to work with or seem like they will be, they more than likely won’t get hired at ChannelSight.
That’s not to say that Beckett and his colleagues are in it purely to make friends. Their attitude is more about building a great team that can work together to help the company grow. ChannelSight is now active in more than 70 markets worldwide and works with more than 2,000 retail partners.
US growth plans
The Dublin-based company is looking to crack the US market. Beckett said that up to 30pc of its revenue now comes from the US, and the company’s future plans to scale are majorly focused on North America.
No doubt the next few months will be pivotal for the company’s growth strategy, as it recently secured $7m in debt financing from Liquidity Capital. In an interview with the Business Post following the financing, Beckett said ChannelSight would be seeking an additional $20m from investors next year.
According to Beckett, ChannelSight is careful about how and when it goes about securing funding. Given that the company is scaling so rapidly, however, he said the debt financing would see the business “through an accelerated period of growth over the next couple of years.”
‘The road back to every airport in the US is littered with the bodies of Irish companies who have come over trying to enter the market and failed. We’re not intending to be one of those’
– JOHN BECKETT
“We’ve been extremely capital efficient since we were founded. We’ve never overspent; we’ve broken even. If we’ve burned cash, we’ve always had great capability about how we get back to breakeven,” he said.
“As a result, we’re really well positioned now going into more difficult times when money is harder to get. And we’re expecting to be able to take advantage of that in terms of some other companies that may or may not have been so fiscally conservative in terms of the management of cash.”
How does he plan to take advantage? Beckett said the company is looking at M&As in the e-commerce sector, as well as investing in product building and growing its team.
In terms of hiring, ChannelSight is well on its way to achieving the target it set in 2021 when it told The Irish Times it was creating 60 new jobs. Several months on, it is still hoping to have 350 staff on its books by the end of 2023.
New Dublin office
While ChannelSight is hoping to expand its team on the ground in the US, Ireland remains a major focus of its hiring plans. The company used to have an office on Dublin’s O’Connell Street, but the lease on the building expired in 2020.
As it was the middle of the pandemic, the company opted not to renew the lease and its staff in all markets went fully remote for a period. However, within the past few months it has taken a new office in Clontarf, just outside the city centre.
This office is not just “rows of desks and computers that people can work at”, Beckett explained.
“There’s loads of collaboration spaces – there’s a whole floor with a canteen and meeting rooms and games. Then we have a hot-desking area and areas for people to sit, and whiteboard walls so that people can map out ideas and collaborate. There’s an outdoor area where people can chat and have barbecues and parties.”
He added that the location is also near the coast and outside the bottleneck of the city. Crucially, there is also “great coffee and restaurants nearby”.
Having an office is not the be-all-and-end-all for good company culture, Beckett reckons. However, having a well-designed, functional and fun space that people want to work in is important for boosting employee morale.
“That’s what we feel the office is now … It’s a place that people want to come to. And because it’s fun, it’s a really nice space to be in. It’s about collaboration rather than just workstations.”
As for hybrid and remote working, Beckett said ChannelSight doesn’t mandate office attendance and staff aren’t obliged to come into the office, although he believes it is good to use the space when the company has it.
And in terms of building its presence in the US, he is not overly concerned about opening a “shiny office with a big logo on it”. Instead, he plans to focus on transitioning ChannelSight’s culture to the US operation and establish a network of reliable salespeople on the ground.
“We’re not just going to get off the plane and hope for the best. We’re building a very, very detailed strategy,” said Beckett. In his years of business, he has heard enough cautionary tales about Irish companies failing to launch in the US.
“The road back to every airport in the US is littered with the bodies of Irish companies and European companies who have come over trying to enter the market and failed. We’re not intending to be one of those.”
Beckett has also learned lessons from US companies. He mentioned the infamous example of Enron, whose management was found to have committed large-scale fraud in one of the biggest business scandals in history. Enron had its values listed in the lobby of its Texas headquarters – all “buzzwords” according to Beckett.
“The culture and the values are only as strong as what you’re actually living, so we try to genuinely live our values and live by what we what we say we’re going to do,” he said.
This involves feedback meetings with employees, performance tracking and “really strong communication” overall. The upside? “We have a really, really strong culture,” said Beckett. The downside? You won’t get hired if you’re an asshole.
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