Business Journey: John Doyle of Voicescape
Motivated by a passion for sales and a desire to run his own business, since 1998 John Doyle has worked tirelessly to build, evolve and improve his technology business, making it the success it is today. This is his story.
Tell us about your business, what does it do?
Voicescape uses software to facilitate meaningful engagement for social housing providers with individual tenants. The sector is realising that the needs and circumstances of customers are very different and subject to constant change. We use technology to help them understand those dynamics and their customers’ behaviour better, so they can tailor services for rental collections and tenant welfare to respond more quickly.
What did you do before you started this business?
I studied accounting and finance at university but quickly realised I had a passion for sales and a drive to run my own business.
In 1998, my business partner, Dan Harrison, and I founded Songplayer which licensed content from record labels to distribute play-along tracks on an artist or band’s CD album which consumers could download.
As the market evolved past the initial dot-com boom, Dan and I stayed in software but focused on developing products for B2B businesses. We were quick to adopt cloud-based services and found success building real-time survey products for the automotive industry. In 2004 we changed the company name to Voicescape.
Being able to offer solutions that delivered instant customer feedback was something our customers found very valuable. It was through working with a partner in 2010 that we recognised how this solution could be applied to the social housing sector, particularly in relation to repairs which was one of the main pressure points for customer satisfaction.
We tested the market and found that we could apply the software to develop similar solutions to help with rental collections, using automation to improve the whole process.
What inspired you to start up?
Everyone is motivated by different things. I believe mine was a combination of self-belief and impatience.
Fundamentally, I like to work under my own steam and get a buzz from seeing an opportunity or having an idea and working to win the buy-in of stakeholders, customers or investors.
Where do you get advice, support or help?
I look to my peers who also run their own businesses; when your team is looking to you for all the answers it can be quite a lonely place. I find great support talking to kindred spirits to discuss shared challenges. You often find we all need the same boost. Speaking to someone else to empathise with their situation, often leads you to find solutions to your own problems.
About three years ago I also started working with a professional mentor to realise where my value lies within our operation. The further out I can be pushed to give an elevated and strategic view, the better. The closer I am to the day-to-day, the more disruptive I am.
There’s no doubt he has added value in shaping my thought processes and building a more mature management structure. A professional mentor is something I would advocate to any business owner.
How did you access any finance you needed?
In 1998 when investment in dot-com businesses was as its peak, we were fortunate to have contact with high net worth individuals looking to invest at the time. We floated the company on the OFEX market and raised £1m. Operating as a listed business brought with it its own new challenges and invaluable experience.
In 2004, I bought out the major other shareholders to regain control of the business, which has been self-funded since 2004.
What has been your biggest achievement so far?
I’m most proud of the fact that we’ve survived and thrived by adapting to the market and looking towards new sectors. Recognising the challenges and pivoting our business model from commodity to value-add was the defining moment for us.
How do you differentiate your business from others?
The application of the technology is what sets us apart. Our customers in the social housing sector do a vital job which impacts the lives of millions.
The closer we work with our customers, we learn to speak their language, understand their challenges and help them fulfil their role as housing providers more effectively. We work with their teams to understand how to use the technology and encourage engagement.
We’ve purposefully allowed Voicescape to be led by the challenges of the market so that we can develop meaningful solutions that improve tenant-landlord engagement.
What’s it like to be your own boss?
I think it’s a very pertinent time to be a leader right now. You have a responsibility for other people’s livelihoods and wellbeing – it doesn’t get any more important than this.
Speaking from experience, you can’t just get caught up in the idea – you have to be prepared for the execution. You will have to work harder than anyone else even on the days you don’t feel motivated to do so.
Where do you see your business in five years’ time?
I’d like us to be established as the market leader in the social housing sector – recognised as the go-to supplier for customer engagement solutions.
I would also like Voicescape to be seen as a trusted partner. Our data can be used to develop benchmarking systems and best practice that could be used by the industry and support development of sector regulation to build more sustainable tenancies.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Self-awareness is the most important quality you can have. Don’t jump at a new idea too early – take time to work out whether it has longevity and how it can be enhanced. The things you don’t do are just as important as those that you do.
To those starting out, I would say there’s no such thing as overnight success. Most entrepreneurs have been working hard in the background for many years and it’s that determination that will get you through the tough times.