Matt Collins is the owner of Hillclear Ventures. Hillclear is not only a member of the Indigo& marketplace, but has also been helping Indigo& build our tech capability and supporting our strategy over this past year. We caught up with him to get his thoughts on trends in the tech industry and the challenges it faces such as how to find great tech talent, and the opportunities of AI.
Q. Describe your company in 140 characters. Hillclear Ventures helps companies make the most of technology. Q. What are the best clients that you are worked with and why? I like working on projects where I feel that I am making the world better in some way. Indigo& has been a really interesting thing to have been involved with, as I see the pain points that they are addressing and how they’re making the world more efficient. Q. Who’s advice do you listen do? In the world of software development, a couple of people whose advice I listen to are Kent Beck and Martin Fowler. I subscribe to Martin Fowler’s blog and while I have never met Kent, I have read some of the influential books he has written about topics such as Extreme Programming. He has been heavily involved with the Agile movement. Q. What makes Kent & Martin stand out? Software development is a fast-moving field and there are always trendy new technologies & approaches. These guys have been around long enough and are in touch enough with everything that is going on now to help distinguish between what is a passing trend, and what is genuinely new and valuable. They’re good at boiling their views down to the essentials. Q. What are your company values? I want to leave the world a better place than how I found it. When working with clients, I try to help not only with their challenges today but also to help them to understand things not yet on their radar. And simple is good. Not overcomplicating things. Q. So when was your company founded, and what has changed in that time? I founded the company 2 years ago. Initially I focussed much more on the product side, now much more on the consulting. What is the reason for the change. I have set up a number of companies in the past. I am able to provide clients with that same support by acting as an interim CTO. I help them in the early days of their company and help them get going. Q. So why do you blog? I think, sometimes I blog as a way to structure my own thoughts, and it is also nice to put something out there that others can respond to and interact with. By putting ideas out there, it attracts others who are interested in your ideas, which in turn has helped grow the business. Q. Which has been (or is) your biggest, or most exciting project? My biggest project was when I was at Cisco systems, working on the software that, in a way, runs the internet – Cisco’s networking gear. It was exciting in terms of the impact you could have; less exciting in the day to day work. The most exciting project has been at other end of the spectrum, with an organisation that I only worked with for one weekend called the The Good Gym. (https://www.goodgym.org). I was part of a hackathon working with the founder when they were just getting started, and it is great to see how far they have come. Q. What does it take to build a successful company in your industry today? I think if you know your stuff, and are honest about what you know and what you don’t know, then it’s quite straightforward. There is a lot of demand for technology and people who understand technology. Q. With so many people working in Tech – is it hard to find the best talent? When looking to recruit a developer, I would always advise to start with recommendations, speaking to people who are in a position to know how good they are. Then when interviewing or speaking to a potential developer, you can get a good feel for their level of expertise in whether they can explains things clearly. Someone who deeply understands tech – can often explain it clearly. But where do you go to start? Where do you go to for recommendations? There are meetup groups for different technologies. So if you have an idea of the technology you are looking for, then these meetups tend to be an ideal place to meet experts who are enthusiastic about that technology. They will have a good view of who the good people are in the space. But it is also important, if you are non-technical, to find a technical person to do a technical assessment. Q. When you are not developing your company what do you do? Run. I am taking part in my first marathon in 10 days’ time. What are you most excited about right now in what you are doing? The great thing about working in technology is that there are always new things to learn about. As an example, at the moment there is a lot of excitement around technologies such as machine learning and blockchain; things that have the potential to rapidly change the world. We are right at the start of the journey with these technologies and it’s great to be working in a field that’s close to that. It has also become a lot easier & cheaper to experiment with new technologies. So with things like Amazon Web Services, you can get lots of tech infrastructure on tap. You can experiment with these amazing technologies much more easily; in ways that previously would have taken millions of dollars. This makes it easier for smaller companies to develop their technology. Q. What do you see as the likely trends in the industry over the next 5 years? For me, the biggest trend is machine learning. There will be more and more visible applications and it is coming to the time when it is becoming easy to embed in existing projects and services. Can you give an example of where this is used at the moment? I can talk to my phone, and ask what the weather is like. “hey siri” Q. Who are the leaders in machine learning. I think that the big tech companies have been sucking up lots of smart people who know about AI, such as Google buying Deep Mind. What is your favourite app. Hmmmmmmmmmm. Looks at phone, long pause… Gmail. What do you see as the benefits that smaller firms can deliver to clients. I think that in some cases they can get stuff done much more quickly than larger suppliers. There is less to get in the way and often they are more focused on the actual doing than the talking about doing. Also, it is easier for smaller firms to adopt new technologies so they can be more efficient in how they work. Sometimes they can bring these ideas to the bigger clients too. Q. What are the challenges from the other SMEs you work with? A common frustration is the time spent on everything before you win a project – the current procurement process can be a big pain. Q. What is the big barrier that Indigo& should address? Getting rid of the unnecessary administrative barriers between large clients and small specialist providers.