‘Make a decision, even if it turns out to be the wrong one’

12 Oct 2023

Stuart Houghton

Stuart Houghton shares his top tips for founders, the importance of taking risks and discusses his current focus on bringing AI to recruitment.

Stuart Houghton is no stranger to the challenges that come with setting up a new business, having founded a batch of companies throughout his career.

He is the founder and executive director of RedNevada Technology, which launched earlier this year and is using AI technology to boost recruitment and resourcing for businesses. He is also the founder and CEO of BrightBox Group, which provides technology and consulting services.

Prior to this, Houghton founded or co-founded three other companies over the years. In 2007, he founded operational support company NWC. This was followed by Houghton co-founding Planixs in 2011 and RVC Consulting in 2012.

Various challenges exist when founding and leading a business, but Houghton said that these challenges have gotten easier to handle.

“When you go through something for the first time it is an unknown, you don’t know what to do and how to handle the emotions, but every time you go through that tough situation again you begin to understand how to do it better the next time and you refine it and know how to cope with it,” Houghton said.

“13 years into running my own companies and different situations arise every day, but they get easier to manage because you have the know-how to handle them.”

Taking the right risks

Various skills are required when founding a new business, such as people skills, communication, business knowledge and more. Houghton said it is important for any upcoming founder to understand business finances – such as revenue, costs and profit – and understand what sort of funds will be required for each growth stage.

Houghton also said its important not to procrastinate when leading a business and that sometimes, any decision is better than no decision at all.

“Don’t procrastinate too long, make a decision, even if that decision turns out to be the wrong one, you can learn and evolve, which is better than not making the decision in the first place,” Houghton said.

An element of risk-taking is also important, and Houghton said that, looking back, he failed to take advantage of certain opportunities that were “right in front of me”.

“Ultimately it boils down to your appetite for risk and being confident that you will be able to deal with that risk however it manifests itself,” Houghton said. “At NWC I had some opportunities right in front of me that I didn’t take a risk on but knowing what I do now those risks would have paid off.”

In Houghton’s view, having good people around not only helps a business grow, but it also helps to make the journey “a fun one”.

“It’s crucial to enjoy the journey for your own and the team’s wellbeing,” Houghton said.

Building a network

Before founding multiple businesses, Houghton worked with the professional services company Accenture for nearly 10 years, during a period of “unbelievable growth”.

“Ground-breaking deals were being sold and it’s name went from strength to strength,” Houghton said. “Being a part of that journey was exhilarating and challenging, [and] it formed a lot of the ways I work.”

While Houghton used the experience from this role to benefit his future endeavours, he said one of the biggest assets that comes from a corporate environment is the network that you develop.

“Building your network for the future is an ongoing task that you should keep on top of because opportunities can arise from relationships at any point,” he said. “A lot of that is based on the time you invest in making people aware of who you are and what you do.

“There were a number of people at Accenture that I looked up to as mentors, and a lot of their traits are now found in the way that I operate.”

AI and the future

The two companies Houghton is currently active in are Brightbox and RedNevada, where he holds top management positions. He said Brightbox came about from an opportunity at Planixs, where customers were interested in resourcing services.

“We were able to service that as a way to fund our fintech at the time,” he said. “Wind forward six years and BrightBox now provides UK and pan-European resourcing to FTSE 100 companies all the way through to scale-ups and start-ups.”

RedNevada, meanwhile, is fully focused on AI, like many companies in the tech sector this year. Houghton said that there is a pivot in technology of a size and scale, “and at a pace that hasn’t been seen in a long time.

“Having built a software business and a resourcing business it felt like a great opportunity to apply all of those skills to AI and its use in the resourcing and recruitment industry,” he said.

Houghton said it can be difficult to think more than six month out due to the “pace of change that we are seeing in the AI and staffing landscape”.

For now, he said the focus of RedNevada is to build a product that is available to many people and can drive efficiency and value into recruitment and resourcing.

“For the resourcing and recruitment sector, adopting change will build sustainable business processes that can tackle the challenging talent landscape,” Houghton said. “Hiring top talent is increasingly harder year on year whilst the manual effort that goes into attracting and securing top talent is getting more time-consuming.

“We will find that those adopting transformative recruitment technologies will excel in leaps and bounds due to the efficiency improvements and added value that we can already see.”

But while Houghton appears almost addicted to the journey of “creating something from nothing”, he also said spending time with his family is becoming more important as he gets older.

“For me, my personal goal is to find a balance that works, and gives me increasingly more choices as time goes on.”

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic