V3 Hot Seat: Huddle chief executive Alastair MitchellSeptember 10, 2013
by Dan Worth
Alastair Mitchell is the founder and chief executive of collaboration firm Huddle. He set the firm up in 2006 and it now has 200 employees based in London, San Francisco and New York.
The firm is Mitchell’s third startup. He sold loyalty shopping site Dunnhumby to Tesco after growth that saw sales of $60m within four years of founding. After the acquisition Mitchell set up Huddle.
Mitchell graduated from Southampton University with a Master of Engineering in Naval Architecture and also helped set up the DrinkTank socialising event in London’s East End.
Mitchell’s Hot Seat follows on from other tech luminaries such as Hotels.com chief technology officer Stuart Silberg, Steve Watt, St Andrews University chief information officer, and Ocado director of technology, Paul Clarke.
V3: What would be your dream job?
Alastair Mitchell: I would without doubt be working as a gamekeeper on a game reserve in Africa.
I love Africa, the wildlife and the whole safari experience. It all started around 12 years ago when I was working on my second startup, trying to revolutionise how commodities were bought and sold by building an online marketplace between suppliers in Africa and the Middle East with buyers in Europe and the US.
One of our first customers was in Uganda and I spent many trips in a suit, carrying a laptop around Kampala in 90-degree heat, trying to sell an internet trading platform in a place that had only just got telephone lines. What can I say other than it was ahead of its time.
Which key websites do you have bookmarked at work?
Given that it’s how the entire organisation works together, Huddle is obviously the main one. We are total believers in ‘dogfooding’ so naturally we have no servers, everything is in the cloud.
I’ve got a lot of the key tech and general news sites such as the BBC, Guardian – and yes, V3 is one of them – as well as a huge amount of car websites as I’m a bit of a gearhead and love building, driving and racing them.
Which mobile phone and tablet devices do you currently use?
Everything iOS: iPhone and, at last count, we have five iPads in the family!
Which person do you most admire in the IT industry?
There are lots of amazing people in the IT industry who really have done some incredible things and you can learn from so many different people. Google and Apple are of course on my – and everyone else’s – list. I also admire people like Larry Ellison, for having such laser focus and attention to detail in the pursuit of growing Oracle.
People I meet running Huddle and have the pleasure of working with are also inspiring, such as Josh Hannah at Matrix Partners. He’s an amazing partner and investor who has serious tech chops from starting Betfair.com. I’m also inspired by entrepreneurs that are just starting out and have the courage to pursue their dream like Alex Peretti, the founder of FolioShack (one of my investments).
Which technology has had the biggest impact on your working life?
Without doubt the cloud. It hasn’t just transformed my working life, but those of people all over the world. People can now work from anywhere, on any device at any time of day.
What’s been the highlight of your career so far?
I’m now on my third startup, but most of my career highlights are with Huddle. Launching on stage at Demo, securing investment, getting our first $1,000 deal, then $10,000 deal, then $100,000 deal and now onto $1m, meeting the Queen, the prime minister, the list goes on. It’s an amazing journey.
What was your first job in the industry?
In college I had a media and e-commerce startup, which I still believe was a great idea to this day, but I didn’t have the confidence to see it through the first dot-com boom and bust. Lesson number one: have faith in your idea and your ability, you’re never too young to start.
What’s your favourite thing about working in the IT industry?
Definitely the bright sparks you meet – some of the ideas and technologies people are coming up with now are inspiring. The talented people I see coming straight out of university and joining our graduate scheme never ceases to amaze me.
What will be the next big innovation?
There are a few I think. E-commerce was huge 10 years ago and now it’s huge again. Content collaboration continues to be a hot space, with the same huge businesses being built in the cloud that we saw in the previous generation of on-premise technology.
There are a lot of people hitting the mainstream with robotics, matrix printing and wearable technology, and there is still a huge way to go in intelligence. We’re now starting to see the intelligent analysis and machine-learning techniques used in the consumer world infiltrate the workplace.
Huddle’s intelligent recommendation technology, for example, uses a set of learning algorithms linked to workers’ actions and the teams they work with in Huddle to select files that will be of most relevance to users. It then pushes them to their mobile devices for review, approval and feedback.
Which technologies do you most rely on outside the office?
Definitely my iPad. It allows me to access all my work at home and on the move, but I also watch TV on it and stay in touch with my family when I’m in the US. My daughter learned to swipe before she was 18 months old, and play games and type before she was two years old.
Who is your favourite band or musician?
Music plays a big part in Huddle’s story. We have music playing in the office 24/7 on a collaborative playlist and I love early blues and rock; the early Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin stuff were transformative. So much so that we named the meeting rooms in our San Francisco office after British bands that broke America. We’ve got the Beatles (naturally), the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and, ahem, Wham. My office is Rick Astley – I’ll let you figure out why.
Twitter, Facebook or Google?
I like and use all three, but I’m a big fan of Facebook and LinkedIn in particular. For business, LinkedIn is a phenomenal tool for both building and maintaining a network as well as relevant news. They’ve done an amazing job.