Meet the CEO: Sean Taylor, Content Guru

Date Published

Key facts:

  • Sean Taylor, a UK-born and educated Silicon Valley veteran, is CEO and co-founder of Content Guru
  • The company, founded in the UK in 2005, is a leader in providing cloud-enabled ‘contact centre as a service’ (CCaaS) solutions to large organisations across the world
  • Its cloud platform storm® utilises Artificial Intelligence (AI) and enables clients to rapidly scale up contact centre operations, integrate contact channels and improve customer experience
  • It earned a place in the Deloitte Fast 500 list of fastest-growing companies in EMEA after recording 172% revenue growth over four years
  • SEP invested £25 million in 2018 to accelerate international growth
  • SEP Partner Andrew Davison sits on the board

Describe your journey to becoming Content Guru CEO

I co-founded Content Guru in 2005 with my brother Martin because we spotted an opportunity in cloud computing and we believed it would be the next big thing.

It wasn’t our first venture together. I’ve got a background in computer science and electronics and my brother has a business management degree. We set up our first company (Redwood) together 27 years ago.

I was a programmer in Silicon Valley at the time. I’d listen to captains of industry debate the future of the internet – it was called the information superhighway back then. It was clear it was going to become increasingly important and I had an instinct it was a way to leverage a business. I called Martin and said ‘let’s get something going’.

We agreed that if we couldn’t turn a profit in the first year, we’d give up, accept we’d lived the dream and it was over. We did well, we invested in the business and then15 years ago we wanted to step up a gear. That’s when we set up Content Guru to capitalise on cloud opportunities. We set it up as a separate business to give it oxygen to breathe on its own.

How has Content Guru grown and evolved?

Originally, we planned to use our expertise to leverage cloud-hosted content – but the market didn’t really get it – so for the first 10 years we were rowing against the tide. We shifted focus to the communications experience and then cloud contact centre solutions began to take off. The tide began to turn and since then we’ve been rowing with it. For the last five years we’ve been very successful. SEP came on board as the tide started to turn.

We’re in Europe, the US and Asia-Pacific. Around 1,000 enterprises use us, predominantly large enterprises across many sectors including financial services, utilities, retail, travel and leisure and public sector organisations.

Winning business is about more than integrating contact channels in the cloud. We improve the customer experience. Contact centres are the front line of communication so you have to develop insight into companies, really understand their values and missions and the sectors they operate in.

How did SEP come on board as an investor?

About two and a half years ago we decided to seek funding. We were already well-funded and profitable but we wanted to put additional capital into the business so we could grow faster.
At that point we had contacts with around 200 funding organisations across the world. Some were cursory conversations and others in-depth. We had engaged with SEP around 3 years earlier when a call from a deal-finder led to an initial meeting with Andrew Davison.

We whittled potential funders down to six organisations and SEP were not on the list. We were keen to expand in the US and so we were looking at US organisations. Andrew kept in touch and we took soundings on SEP. We had to decide who we wanted to work with – who will turn out to be sharks if this gets hard?

The common theme was that SEP have a very good moral compass. People told us they try to help when things are tough, not put the heat on you. SEP made a strong offer, but we had to balance it against rival stronger offers. It wasn’t just about the money for us.

SEP were very capable, technically at the top of their game so we would get a best in class partner. We also wanted to partner with decent human beings who shared our values. We try to be a nice company doing the right thing and we wanted people who could be part of our team.

Two and a half years on, we’re not disappointed. If I could turn the clock back, I wouldn’t change the decision.

What has SEP helped you to achieve?

Financial systems are very important when you’re scaling up and SEP has been very helpful on advising on management information as we grow.

And although Andrew is on our board and brings all the rigour that goes with that, he also takes part in offsite brainstorming and we absolutely see him as a valuable member of our team. We benefit from his experience in dealing with other companies with similar challenges and growth opportunities to ours.

Having an external investor also puts a tangible value on the business. That helps if other organisations are running the rule over us and see that we have a sizeable growth equity firm on board.

We’ve been accelerating international growth. Over the past couple of years our operations in Japan have been highly successful and our current focus is on the US, which is the biggest single marketplace for CCaaS.

What impact has Covid-19 had on your business?

It has been challenging for us and our customers. Contact centres have had to adapt very rapidly to decentralise operations and work out how to keep staff safe and maintain a service.

Necessity is the mother of invention. We’ve had to adapt on a daily basis. The standard lead time to set up a cloud contact centre is four weeks. We’ve had to cut it to a four-hour set-up, providing 90% of what’s needed for functionality and fine-tuning the rest.

Some clients are in sectors like airlines and property sales where business has fallen off a cliff while in the public sector calls to NHS 111 (the non-emergency medical helpline) and the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) have rocketed.

Calls to NHS 111 in London rose to many times usual levels and DWP had a huge surge in calls from people seeking Universal Credit assistance. At one point there were thousands of people queuing, waiting for help. We are suggesting ways to change that experience, using services such as ‘machine agents’, where intelligent automated services provide people with the information they need immediately.

Will Covid 19 prove a watershed moment for cloud-based contact centre operations?

It’s a mixed picture. In the short-term it’s not positive as there will be layoffs in some contact centre workforces and reduced budgets for many businesses.

But it is also a catalyst for change. People are tearing up the old rule books. Many will look at existing contact centre infrastructure and conclude they can no longer do things the same way. They need systems that can use a distributed workforce and are scaleable and adaptable to rapidly changing circumstances.

In the short term to medium term I absolutely think we’ll see an acceleration in companies moving contact centres into the cloud and using Artificial Intelligence and multiple channels of communication, with video increasing in popularity. They’ll reassess how their business is distributed too which is likely to lead to more home-working.

What frustrates you about building a business?

I tend to be quite impatient. One of our cultural values is ‘speed’ and it is important as you scale a business. If you can do it today – do it today. Of course, you have to focus on quality at the same time, so it’s about quality delivered at speed.

What is the best advice you’ve received?

The first holiday I took on my own, my father recommended taking half as many clothes and twice as much money as I thought I’d need. I translate this in business terms as ‘allow twice as much money as you think you’ll need and expect to take twice as long to achieve your goals.’

 

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