John Ramsay helped found Shift 8* after ten years living with dementia in his close family. He explains what a Tovertafel is, and how they’re growing this business to positively impact more lives.
What is it the company does?
My good friend, Mehdi and I set up social good company Shift 8* to bring innovative products that achieve social improvement to the UK and Ireland, helping those that need it most. Our first venture is the Tovertafel, which means Magic Table in Dutch. The Tovertafel is a small box that projects a series of award-winning interactive games onto a table for people with mid-to-late stage dementia, to stimulate physical, social and cognitive activity. The games are the product of six years of PhD research by Hester Le Riche in the Netherlands, a country renowned for its dementia care. The Tovertafel has been installed in 250 care services in the UK, with 3,000 people in the UK now experiencing the ‘moments of happiness’ that the games bring every day.
Describe your role in no more than 100 words
A lot of traveling! I travel up and down the country to meet with care homes, libraries and hospitals to tell them about the wondrous benefits that the Tovertafel can bring for people on their dementia journey. We also pride ourselves on the aftercare once a Tovertafel has been installed, making sure that it’s being used to its full potential.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
After my father was diagnosed with dementia at the young age of 52, it was a very difficult time. He was an incredibly intelligent man and seeing his journey unfold over 10 years was hard. It made me realise that you need to make the most of every minute.
This inspired me to work hard, so I studied French & Linguistics at Oxford University and secured a job in a Magic Circle law firm where I worked for 6 years. Yet, something was missing; I was incredibly lucky and loved my job, but something didn’t feel quite right. When I met Hester Le Riche at a friend’s wedding, it all clicked. She was undertaking this mammoth research project to help people on their dementia journey with technology, and she wanted to launch it in the UK and I knew that this was something I was really passionate about. It was a big jump but with the support of my great friend Mehdi, we haven’t looked back!
What do you believe makes a great leader?
I believe a great leader is one that can effectively balance emotional intelligence and logic. Many leaders can be guilty of not taking enough time to consider the emotions of the team, the client and themselves. Bringing this together will ensure that you can develop your company and your processes to generate an effective business model and still relate to the causes and goals you stand for. Fundamentally, if everyone has the same passion to change the world then it is relatively easy to help everyone move in the right direction.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
The biggest challenge so far has to be perfecting the skill of separating my personal life with my career as a business owner. It’s an incredibly moving, emotional process being in all of the care homes and seeing the residents light up whenever they play a Tovertafel game. There are a million things that I want to achieve for everyone at a care home, hospital or library but sometimes you need to think what will benefit the business in the long-term, rather than getting too caught up emotionally with any one decision.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
I’d love for every care home, hospital and library to have a Tovertafel installed! We are now up and running in over 250 care services in the UK in just over a year, and we have big plans to grow and expand. As a team, we have an ambitious goal of creating 10 million moments of happiness; we’re currently on 50,000 so we’re well on our way.
As well at brightening up the days of people with dementia, the Tovertafel is launching the Tovertafel Up for adults with learning disabilities and the Tovertafel Unique, for children with autism. We want to bring the power of technology and games to create happy moments across the country.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Find something that you’re passionate about and pursue it. Use your personal experience to encourage you to discover something new, to inspire you to help others. Many people hide away from their personal experiences, but if used in the right way, they can help you become a great business leader.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
Don’t try and do everything! It took me a long time to realise that I can’t be in 10 places at once, as much as I’d love to. Mehdi and I now have a fantastic and passionate Shift 8* team, nearly all of whom have a personal connection with dementia; they inspire me every day.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
When starting a business, it is inevitable that it becomes all-consuming. You live and breathe every up and down which can make it very hard to switch off. I find catching up with friends, going for a run or a long walk and playing the piano as the best ways to take a break.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Other than some more general veterinary ambitions, having seen my dad living with dementia, I was inspired at a young age to do something good for society. I wanted to do something that helped isolated people integrate into society and create a happy community. Shift8* is pretty much perfect!
Any pet hates in the workplace?
Running a social good business, I don’t tolerate a lack of honesty and transparency, whether from Mehdi and myself, or the rest of the team. We’re lucky to have such an inspiring team working towards one single goal: creating moments of happiness.
Our BQ Bulletin emails will land in your inbox at 7.30am, Monday to Friday, with a mix of the latest local business news, national news, and features to inspire you. Sign up here!
Click here to read our privacy statement