David Levine, DigitalBridge

Meet the MD: David Levine, DigitalBridge

Ever decided against buying wallpaper because you didn’t know if it would look good in your living room? Meet DigitalBridge; MD David Levine explains about overcoming the ‘imagination gap’.

Describe your role in no more than 100 words

I am founder and CEO of virtual, augmented and mixed reality company DigitalBridge. I run the business, sell our solution, raise the money and make the tea!

We are focussed on helping consumers and retailers in the home décor market overcome the problem of the ‘imagination gap’, which occurs when customers delay or decide against making a purchase because they can’t visualise how products like wallpaper, carpets, or furniture will look in the own home.

What is it the company does?

We’ve created an online tool which solves the problem of the imagination gap using augmented, virtual and mixed reality to allow consumers to “try on” products from a retailer’s catalogue in their own rooms.

Retailers are our customers but the end users will be consumers who can take a picture of their room with a smartphone or tablet. The technology then automatically recognises the walls, floors and lighting conditions in the room. The user can then test out different products from a retailers’ catalogues before making a big design decision. The technology can recognise light and shade and other objects in the room to provide an accurate image. It’s essentially an ‘undo’ button for interior design.

One of the biggest developments for us this year has been working with John Lewis. We were announced as ‘Partners’ Choice’ at John Lewis’s recent JLAB accelerator programme, and received a six figure investment from the retailer in November to develop the product.

Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?

Before starting this company I worked in several senior corporate roles including Global Head of the Connected Car at Vodafone and as International BD Director at INRIX (IT IS Holdings Plc) where I was responsible for the sale and delivery of technology projects for BMW, Toyota, Audi, Nissan and Hyundia-Kia, among others. I also spent seven years at HP doing corporate innovation and running a joint-venture here in Europe with Nokia.

One day I came home from work and my wife asked if we could redecorate our lounge, she held up these two wallpaper swatches and asked what I thought but I couldn’t choose because I couldn’t imagine what they’d look like along the whole wall.

After doing some research I found the room visualisation tools on the market were very, very poor so I decided to go out on my own and solve the problem. I started the business in 2013.

What do you believe makes a great leader?

I believe a great leader (I’m not the one to judge if that’s me!) is only as good as the team they assemble. I am exceptionally obsessive about hiring the right people; with not only the right skillsets but also the passion, belief and ambition. There is a fantastic talent pool in Manchester and I’m very lucky to be working with people who are true visionaries in the fields of computer vision and machine learning.

What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?

We do see ourselves as disruptive technology, so one of the challenges has been to demonstrate the huge opportunities and the potential to really bolster retailers bottom lines. The use of virtual, augmented and mixed reality is not widely used in retail yet, so we’re among those businesses proving the real commercial, problem-solving capabilities of the technology.

I think every decision we’ve made as a business, whether right or wrong, has helped us get to where we are now. When I started DigitalBridge I knew exactly what the problem was that I was trying to solve so that helped me focus and stay on track.

How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?

Having the right people around you is crucial to reducing the stress. I’ve learnt the importance of taking a step back and delegating to those same people, learning to trust their judgement even when it’s different to my own. That’s been one of the most difficult things for me but I think I’m getting better at it.

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I don’t think I ever had a vision.  I was too busy being little.

Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about then?

People bringing in smelly food! People often forget that something that looks and smells tasty to you can be really off-putting for hours to other people.

Where do you see the company in five years time?

I have a very clear business plan for the next few years. We have made some real inroads with large UK and European retailers, so the plan will be to raise further funds and move into the US, which is obviously a much bigger market.  In five years’ time I forecast we’ll be a 50 million pound business.

What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?

Do it. Follow your passion and stop looking for reasons not to do it. Obsess hiring the right people and learn to trust them.