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Within days of starting his first graduate job at Sky TV Will Read was spotting opportunities to make improvements to the company. The trouble was he had nowhere to share his ideas and he became increasingly frustrated.
The solution was simple. He left the job and went on to develop Sideways 6, an ideas management startup that makes sharing ideas simple for employees and effective for businesses, and three years on, counts a number of major international brands among its clients.
In truth Read had always had an interest in entrepreneurship. As a youngster he sold sweets to the other kids at school, ran a small eBay business in his teens, and set up a sound system rental business at university. But it was only through working in a more corporate environment that his idea for what would eventually be Sideways 6 became a reality.
“At Sky TV I had ideas for how to improve things, but no way of getting them heard,” he says. “Line managers weren’t interested and I couldn’t get ideas to the real decision makers in senior management.”
Realising how far he had drifted from his entrepreneurial ambitions Read left to join the New Entrepreneurs Foundation. It was here, based on his underwhelming corporate experience, that he had the idea for a ‘suggestion box 2.0’, only to discover that there were already hundreds of companies offering apps and websites for employees to submit their ideas.
“Two of these companies actually listed Sky TV as a client, but I hadn’t been able to find the system during my time there, so something was clearly wrong,” he says.
This became the starting point for Sideways 6. While most other suggestion box systems require employees to download an app, or register and log in to a new platform, often with poor engagement rates, Sideways 6 connects to the communication platforms already used by its customers, for example, Slack, Workplace by Facebook and Microsoft Yammer.
“This means that employees can share and discuss ideas using software they are already familiar with, with no new app downloads, training or tutorials,” says Read. “It gives us around ten times the level of engagement of our competitors.”
The system has all the features needed to find and track the best ideas and analyse trends in the data. With the best ideas put into practice, companies typically see a range of benefits, from increased efficiency and productivity, to reduced costs and better customer satisfaction.
Remarkably, Read funded his startup on advance customer orders, with his first deal, a £50,000 advance order and three-year contract with British Airways, galvanising his belief that he was on to something.
He says: “A big part of our success at startup was having the tenacity and conviction that our product had genuine value, because what we’re really selling is change. As a SaaS company, the temptation to offer free trials or demonstrations is always there, but I was determined to resist as I felt it would immediately de-value our offering.”
Today Sideways 6 clients include Diageo, British Airways, Walmart and Balfour Beatty that are reaching over 3 million employees with their idea campaigns. Some have made a huge impact, Centrica’s being a case in point.
Using an active Yammer network, the team created a group called ‘Make A Good Idea Count’ where employees were encouraged to post and discuss any ideas they had. Out of 6,700 ideas shared and posted, three call centre employees shared an identical idea independently of one another in the group.
“Centrica had texted customers to advise them when the company had tried to phone them,” explains Read. “The three call centre employees proposed a small change with a potentially big impact: why not give the customer the option to text back?”
After trialling the idea Centrica decided to roll it out. It saved the company an estimated £5 million and improved customer satisfaction levels.
Another example was Sideway 6’s work with Avios to improve three key areas: customer experience, speed and agility, and use of big data, via another Yammer group, Avios Ideas, which was central to an employee ideas campaign that Avios called ‘Light the Bulb’.
The team placed large light bulbs around the workplace, linked directly to the Yammer group and the Sideways 6 idea management platform, which picked up ideas as they were submitted and triggered the light bulbs to flash in different colors according to the type of idea.
“Over 500 employees took part in the campaign and those with successful ideas remained involved throughout the implementation process,” says Read.
Today Sideways 6 employs 35 people, mainly in the London-based head office, but also in Minsk. The company is expanding into new territories, recruiting more staff, and on track for a projected turnover of over £8 million ($10.5 million) by 2020.
Read secured £500,000 in investment to underpin a senior recruitment strategy that has strengthened their offering, increased the number of software platforms they can work with and expanded the customer base to include companies in Australia and the U.S.
“The best thing about our growth is that we’ve helped over 3.5 million employees have their ideas heard, which is our real driving force,” says Read. ”We’re on a mission to give 50 million employees across the globe a voice and prove that great ideas can come from anywhere, and have nothing to do with your pay scale or job title.”
March 5, 2019 at 07:19AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs