Searching for answers: 5 minutes with Google’s ex-MD

During his time at Google, Dan Cobley was responsible for five-billion dollar’s worth of revenue. These days, the search giant’s former UK MD is a partner in the UK venture capital firm, Blenheim Chalcot.

His role is to oversee the large FinTech portfolio and his experience as a serial investor has made him one of the world’s most requested and influential technology speakers.

Here, he takes time out to answer three wide-ranging questions

What about attracted you to the company?

“I was attracted to Google by their sense of ambition. The organisation had a willingness to try new things, possibly failing on the way but there was always a clear sense that the organisation was having fun trying.

“There was a real sense of energy and optimism. A clear part of the brand guidelines was that you can be serious without a suit, and that you can have fun while being at work. I think that created an atmosphere and an environment in which people could bring their best selves to work, to innovate and to help the organisation move forward.”

What advice would you give to companies wanting to build a culture of innovation?

“I would say you need to get the right team in place, which means hiring creative problem solvers, people who are enthusiastic about attacking a problem, because they see it as a fun thing to do.

You need to give them some freedom, so perhaps 20 per cent time or free Friday afternoons where they can get away from the day-to-day task list

“The people with that mindset are going to help you solve the problems of your business and your customers, and that will take you forward.

“I think you need to define the goal, not the path for that team. People with that kind of mindset enjoy figuring out how to solve the problem, so just make very clear what the goal is, and they’ll find a way to get there.

“You need to give them some freedom, so perhaps 20 per cent time or free Friday afternoons where they can get away from the day-to-day task list and think more expansively about some of the problems that they want to solve.

“You need to be forgiving of smart failure. So people who take sensible, calculated risks on things that might be game changing for your organisation, you need to recognise that by definition, some of those risks are going to fail.

“If you know what the answer is going to be already then it’s not a test, it’s not an experiment, and you’ll learn nothing from it. But if you give people the freedom to conduct those experiments and do those tests, then in some cases they’ll be surprisingly positive in the outcome, and that will move your business forward.

“Lastly, you need to give them the tools to allow them to do these things efficiently. So, invest in the digital platforms for data analysis, A/B testing and things like that. This will give your employees an accelerated ability to learn, innovate and bring new things to market.”

What are your Fintech projections for 2021?

“2021 will see huge growth in the importance of financial wellbeing. The pandemic has left a lot of people feeling more vulnerable in their financial lives, and in their general health and wellbeing.

“And so, the recognition that financial wellbeing is a critical part of looking after the whole person, whether that’s as an employee through workplace mental wellbeing schemes or as a customer of a financial institution, I think that is going to be increasingly important.

Everybody is realising the increasing importance of a great user experience and great data and analytics

“And then more broadly, I think there’ll be increased use of machine learning and data science to enhance the data that the financial organisations have at their fingertips by increased adoption of things like open banking.

“This will enable businesses to make decisions more quickly and move forward on smarter paths more often.

“Something else I expect to see in 2021 in the fintech space is a consolidation of some of the new challenger and digital-only banks.

“There may be consolidation between each other or consolidation into the bigger incumbent organisations. Everybody is realising the increasing importance of a great user experience and great data and analytics.

“In many cases, the best of those are in the hands of the new startups that don’t have the challenges of incumbent legacy technology stacks. But they struggle to get scale and to get their economics working.

“So, a combination of the scale and the economics of the established businesses with some of those new skills from the new starters, I think consolidating in that way may will make some much stronger organisations for the future.”

If you could give yourself one piece of advice at the start of your career, what would it be?

“If I were to give my younger self advice about the career ahead, it would be, whenever you have a choice, move towards companies or industries or technologies that are going to be more important in the future than they are today.

“Through doing that your experience will be more important to people that might want to hire you in the future, and it will put you on a path to a very successful career.”

Dan Cobley and other technology experts are available to book via The Champions Speakers Agency