Kevin Beales, CEO and founder of Refract.ai, chatted to BQ ahead of the Northern Powerhouse Business Summit to discuss starting a business in Newcastle and what he loves about being based in the North.
Tell us about your business, what does it do?
Refract analyses sales conversations to profile what leads to successful outcomes and aligns with top performers, highlighting the decisive moments where revenue is won or lost.
And what’s your USP? What makes you different; innovative?
We use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to surface insight from every call, demo and meeting, profiling what top performers do differently, often behind closed doors.
What’s your role in the business; how did you get to where you are now?
I founded Refract after experiencing the challenges of coaching sales teams, both as a manager and founder. I previously founded The Test Factory, an online assessment platform, that was acquired in 2015.
How would you describe your business to a novice?
We do the heavy lifting to help sales managers coach their teams, to be more successful.
Where do you get advice, support or help?
I personally feel very lucky to have a great support network across my team, investors, and friends. I know how lonely a place it can be for a CEO/founder. Many of the team here at Refract, worked together at The Test Factory too, so we are very open and supportive of each other.
What has been your biggest achievement so far?
Both as a founder and manager, I'm most proud of the teams I have worked with and what they have achieved. Many of the alumni at The Test Factory went on to start their own business, or become part of another scale-up business. I think that is my biggest achievement - although not 'my' achievement of course! Hopefully we provide the right environment and support to flourish and achieve our potential.
How do you differentiate your business from others?
We are in a pretty new and emerging marketplace. Our biggest competitors are based in silicon valley (with much deeper pockets) so we have to be innovative and creative to differentiate. Using AI to amplify coaching is more of a message for us, that AI driven automated coaching - a lovely thought but not an achievable nirvana in our opinion (at least yet). Every business is so unique and every conversation has billions of variables.
What do you like about being based in the North of England?
Such great talent and I think for exciting start-ups, standing out is a little easier than in London or other regions. As a southerner of birth, I love the people, the friendliness and the price of beer - probably in that order!
Where do you see your business in five years’ time?
Over half of our clients are based overseas, so I hope we will have started opening offices in the US, Europe and Asia - but who knows. It's hard to predict where we will be in five months’ time.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs or innovators?
Choose what advice you listen to very carefully. I find it hard to fathom the contradictory advice you get or read constantly. "Bootstrap your business to profitability", "Raise as much as you can and grow as fast as you can" - "Just go for it", "Trust the data". Choosing what advice to listen to can be hard, no one has walked in your exact shoes. I do struggle with some of the advice to follow your dreams, sometimes you need someone to tell you its just not a good idea as much as the encouragement.
What are you looking forward to about the Northern Powerhouse Business Summit?
It's great for Newcastle to host such an event and we're looking forward to mingling with other like-minded business and individuals.
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