This week we are spending a day in the life of Caroline McGuckian.
McGuckian is an agency stalwart turned tech entrepreneur, now working as CEO at Meshh, a spatial analytics startup. Find out why she compares her current role to being one of Peter Pan’s Lost Children…
(And remember, if you have itchy feet, you can view new opportunities at Econsultancy Jobs)
Please describe your job: What do you do?
I am the CEO at Meshh. We help brands such as Johnnie Walker and Formula 1 understand how people are experiencing their events and experiential marketing activities through spatial analytics. Our technology works by using Wi-Fi analytics sensors to anonymously track the ‘ping’ messages sent by an individual’s phone. By measuring signal strength and then applying time and distance parameters, our clients are able to build up a picture of footfall, dwell time, frequency of visits and conversion.
My title might be CEO, but the reality is that I’m part technologist, part strategist, part accountant, part social-worker, and part client services. Ultimately, I see my job as setting the tone for and leading the team that delivers on our products – whether that’s following through on a decisive outcome from a strategy meeting or wearing a branded t-shirt and putting up some scaffolding.
Whereabouts do you sit within the organisation? Who do you report to?
At a startup, there isn’t a complex organisational hierarchy to sit back on or hide behind. I report directly to Anthony Ganjou, the founder of Meshh, and it’s a close partnership – he’s 1% a boss, and 99% a partner-in-crime. His faith in me has been an integral part of our success so far, allowing us to get on with the job. Not only this, but he is and always has been in the background to act as a guide and sounding board.
I see us as a complementary pair – while he often provides a vision, I act as his foil, always asking the question “What’s the point?” and ensuring our energies are going in the right direction.
What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?
A CEO at a startup has to know 20% of everything.
At Meshh we’re dealing with a very technologically sophisticated product that has practical business applications. One of the most important factors for us is to ensure there is a balance between respecting the complexity of the technology while, in tandem, humanising it.
To do this, you need to build strong relationships and ensure everyone’s voice is heard – from pure technologists, to project managers and relationship-orientated client services people. I’ve found that nurturing a broad understanding is vital for communicating effectively with all these specialists, and for bridging these different skillsets to come together for the best result.
Tell us about a typical working day…
At Meshh, we’re doing stuff that simply hasn’t been done before, and there really isn’t a typical day. But expanding the time-frame to a week, I can see that the key decisions that make up my working life are “accelerate or brake” calls. Is this initiative going to help push forward the business, or would we be better off exerting our energy in other directions?
A good day is one where we’ve made progress in making these kind of decisions.
What do you love about your job? What sucks?
There’s something rather Peter Pan about working at a startup, and every so often I look at the manic activity going on around me and feel like one of the Lost Children – in the best possible way!
My working life has an excitement and variety that you simply don’t get in an agency environment. But this comes with a side-effect: that there’s always something more you can be doing to grow the business. There’s always something else you can tweak or finesse, and you could drive yourself insane optimising everything.
The key is acceptance and prioritisation – accept that there will never be enough time to do everything and prioritise the parts that will make the most impact.
What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?
We’re at the forefront of an industry that is not established; the possibilities are vast and exciting. My goal is to deliver on these possibilities; in essence, to not mess things up. In more positive terms, that means creating a successful business with a great team of people who are happy and are delivering.
In terms of metrics and KPIs, we keep it simple. Client retention is the key indicator that we’re doing well. Selling something once is relatively easy, but retaining a client indicates that you have delivered something of value, something that perhaps enabled them to make a positive change, learn something they would not have known otherwise or validate an important theory.
What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?
We collaborate with teams across the globe, and without timeanddate.com my diary simply wouldn’t make any sense. I like utilitarian tools, tools that simply fulfil a function. Not everything needs to be clever!
How did you become CEO, and where might you go from here?
Before Meshh, I always worked in digital agencies. I met Anthony around 18 months ago, at a time when I was questioning my future in agency environments, and he tapped into that restlessness and persuaded me to try something that would use my skills in a different way.
Which campaigns have you admired lately?
A campaign that still stands out for me even almost a decade later is the Volkswagen piano staircase campaign, when VW turned a tube staircase in Stockholm into a grand piano, with each step producing a different note. It’s a great example of tapping into the power of location, making an everyday act that we don’t pay attention to into something really fun. The campaign’s goal was to shift people’s personal habits, using fun to change behaviour.
More recently, there was a great campaign from Tesco where they created an edible exhibition to showcase their Finest range. These are both great examples of company’s really bringing to life their brand promise in a colourful and fun way.
Do you have any advice for people who want to climb the agency ladder
Regardless of what business you’re in, ultimately you are nothing without your clients and/or customers. For those looking to climb the agency ladder, the implication is clear – develop an understanding of how you can add value for the client in a way that benefits the agency, and you’ll progress fast.
Seeking win-win scenarios where both parties benefit is vital – and make sure you can show where you’ve demonstrated value. But lastly, just enjoy working in the industry – it’s still a lot more fun to work in than most.. No one gets paid for what’s easy, so to do well you’ve got to want to be there.