Cutting his teeth in leadership with the international exchange organisation, AIESEC UK, Tom Weaver has progressed through a consultancy startup, to now growing his first tech startup as CEO of Flyt. He talks to BQ about keeping balanced and good leadership.
What is it the company does?
Flyt connects hospitality with technology through its universal integration platform, making it quick and easy for merchants to connect game-changing solutions to their in-house POS systems.
Flyt enables hospitality operators to integrate new and existing technologies within one innovative streamlined platform, increasing efficiency through ordering and payment, and boosting customer satisfaction.
Through its APIs, Flyt can power and integrate a variety of experiences: pay at table, delivery, bar tabs, order at table, order ahead, table management, digital voucher redemption, food ratings, and many other solutions built by best of breed service providers.
Flyt powers technology in over 3,000 locations across the UK and clients include technology providers like Just Eat, and major merchants like Mitchells & Butlers, PizzaExpress, Wahaca, Nando’s and KFC.
Describe your role in no more than 100 words
I see the role of the CEO as relatively simple: keeping the business well-funded, acting as the key external evangelist for what we do, acting as the key internal evangelist for our vision and strategy, the guardian of the culture. It's also my job to help my global exec team work smoothly together and as a true team.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
My first role was actually most similar to that of being CEO of a startup. I was the UK President of a youth non-governmental organisation called AIESEC in 2002, managing a board and exec team dealing with 700 student volunteers in the UK in 23 universities. A job that brought my first grey hair.
Following that, I spent a number of years building consultancy expertise in designing the future of bricks and mortar environments, initially with schools, leading the UK’s largest UK school redesign R&D project, and later, when I built my own consultancy - Flywheel, across retail, theatres, councils and many other environments.
Tired of consultancy life and being paid to create strategies for innovation but never getting to implement them, I teamed up with my co-founder, Chris Evans, and created Flypay in 2013 – our first tech startup. We wanted to see something through. It was a success, we began to raise capital, and five years later we're still here, though we are now known as Flyt.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
Someone who is prepared to do themselves what they demand of others. Someone who can keep a clear view of the possible future and steer everyone towards it. And therefore, someone with persistence, determination and stubbornness to steer everyone towards that future, even if there are twists and turns along the way.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
The hardest stage was about 18-24 months ago when my co-founder and I were getting pressure from the board to move faster and pressure from the team to slow down. That was one of those times where we needed to just grit our teeth and pull everything through to our goal, despite a lot of barriers in our way.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
Well, fortunately, I've moved past the intense stress stage that probably accompanied the first two years of running a startup! I realised that physical health is key to mental health, so now I visit the gym three times a week and eat with discipline. I also make sure I maximise time with my young kids and wife, ideally always getting home to see them before they go to bed and reading to them, even if I have to open the laptop again later.
I'm also the chief cook of my household, which I love. Finally, I think it's important to have a mental distraction to enable your business brain to turn off and get some rest, so I've got very into audiobooks. They take me to other places and times and give me some escape from whatever dramas are playing out at work. I listen to them all the time, whether I’m doing my shopping, on my commute, or walking out to get lunch.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wasn't one of those kids with a firm ambition to be a fireman or astronaut and don't have a memory of fixating on anything in particular, although my mother often tells me how, when I was five, I told her that one day I was going to own a supermarket and she could work on the tills if she wanted.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
My only real pet hate is getting the feeling people are just clocking in and out and aren't passionate about the work. I don't expect people to come in early or work late, and we actively encourage them to not burn out, but when I see people go the extra mile, hit their goals and get lost in their work, I feel a lot of pride in their accomplishments. So I always try to make sure I show my appreciation for those going above and beyond.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
We want our product - an integration platform - to become essential and critical to global bricks and mortar commerce, and to have connected a million locations in five years’ time.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
You don't need to be one of those famous, hero leaders like Jobs and Musk who are famed for their achievements but are a nightmare to work for. There are other routes to success. Good parents learn that if they raise their voices too much that becomes the new baseline, easily ignored. Being calm as your default means discipline, sparingly used, has more effect.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
You are often made to feel like if you are not working 80% of your working hours you are not pulling your weight. But there is a bottomless pit of work to do. Ensuring you've invested in your own health and mental wellbeing are hours that will pay back dividends to your work itself, making it 10 times more effective. After all, if you burn out, so will your business.
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