Andy McCartney, Co-Founder of Whitespace tells us about building innovative technology, facilitating innovation programmes, and creating innovation communities.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Andy McCartney: These have been mentally challenging times for everyone, and we have all had to adapt to a new work/home life with additional family commitments and other external pressures. My family has to come together as a team during the past year, not just in terms of emotional support and flexibility in sharing a workspace, but also providing a bit of accountability to make sure we get that work/life balance right. As restrictions start to ease, I’m enjoying being able to rise early and play a bit of golf – I forgot how mentally awesome it is to be back out with sport, away from phones, emails, screens!
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Whitespace.
Andy McCartney: Long before I became Whitespace CEO and co-founder, I made the long journey from being a true bedroom coder to working for one of the largest tech firms in the world, eventually becoming a keystone of the booming British tech ecosystem’s community. As a devoted entrepreneur, I’ve founded and served as CTO for a number of tech startups, including JamPot Technologies, SpeechBubble, and many more.
From tech startup to visionary innovation lab and venture studio, Whitespace was founded in 2014 by myself and tech investor Paul Jenkinson. Both Paul and I have spent most of our careers helping companies grow and scale, and together at Whitespace, we have built a team of 28 experts in the field of engineering, user research, design, and ventures who work with some of the largest organizations in the world. The company is seen as a respected leader in the field of innovation and, as a result, curated one of the largest Innovation Communities within the EU, featuring a cross-section of C-Suite through to practitioners.
I remain devotedly hands-on when it comes to building innovative technologies, and I’m still very much a creative technologist at heart. In fact, while entrepreneurialism drives me, little delights me more than getting stuck into some coding.
How does Whitespace innovate?
Andy McCartney: We help businesses innovate, from the small things that can make a big difference to more-involved ‘Eureka!’ projects. We do this by building innovative technology, facilitating innovation programmes, and creating innovation communities.
2021 is going to be a big year for Whitespace as it launches two of its own products. The first will see the team take their existing innovation community to the next level and launch Shift: an exclusive, online experience, empowering members to cross-industry boundaries and learn from their peers to solve problems and accelerate innovation. The second is eamli: a data-driven decision engine that augments human decision-making. Currently being deployed as a first trial with the UK Government, eamli will be launched in the early Summer of 2021.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Andy McCartney: We have gone from startup to scale up over the last year as we have acquired a number of clients. The pandemic has actually had an upturn in clients looking for radical digital solutions.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Andy McCartney: We have been very fortunate during this time and have not faced the need to make any difficult decisions in terms of human resources. In fact, our team has grown during the pandemic!
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Andy McCartney: We are privileged to live in a time when the likes of Zoom, Slack, Skype, Whatsapp, Hangouts, and many more options exist and are so widely available and commonly understood. So many of us are already well-versed in joining meetings through such tools. Now we just have to do a few more – including several with friends or family, be that a blessing or a curse.
Maintaining a sense of community and cohort has become a central focus for us as we continued to run Innovation Challenge programmes in the new remote world. That can be done in part by providing access to a range of communication and efficiency tools, being responsive and proactive within those communication channels.
Simply being human is an increasingly important ‘tool.’ Be understanding of not only staff’ but also client’s struggles balancing work and home life, or that some people may need to keep different hours from others. Formality and outward professionalism may currently not always be possible.
We also explored less traditional tools, such as the collaborative virtual wipe board solution Miro. These online tools serve as great alternatives or complement to conventional meeting and communication practice.
Finding means to allow for ordinary socializing and interaction that isn’t solely focused on work, efficiency, innovation, and COVID-19 planning is also more important than ever.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Andy McCartney: We have been very fortunate during this time and have not faced the need to apply for government grants.
Your final thoughts?
Andy McCartney: The Covid-19 pandemic has been an education for almost every citizen of Earth old enough to comprehend what is happening to some degree. As such, corporates and startups alike have gathered considerable experience in working in a severely disrupted business landscape.
The response to COVID-19 may not be a choice, but that response can be seen to a degree as an immense scale innovation project.
Remote working, remote managing, remote pitching, remote networking, condensed work-life balance, and more have presented towering challenges. And yet, there has been an abundance of opportunities to explore and experience new approaches, learn fresh lessons and hone the craft of innovating.
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