Darren Lester, founder and CEO SpecifiedBy tells us how COVID-19 has acted to accelerate digital transformation in many ways.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Darren Lester: We’re doing well, thank you. Doing everything we can to stay healthy, active, and positive during these challenging times, and looking forward to better days ahead.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded SpecifiedBy.
Darren Lester: I started out in architectural technology and quickly became frustrated with just how difficult it was to research building products online. The manufacturing industry had been slow to digitize its sales process, and there wasn’t a central, user-friendly port of call where architects and specifiers could easily find and compare products and engage with the manufacturers.
I felt that there had to be a better option for the industry than Google, so I founded SpecifiedBy to provide just that. We’re providing a service that the Google generation intuitively knows how to use, but one that is very much focused on the things that are important to the architecture and building product industry. We’ve since grown SpecifiedBy to be the largest network of architects, specifiers, and product manufacturers in the UK.
How does SpecifiedBy innovate?
Darren Lester: Our approach has always been to challenge the status quo to remove unnecessary barriers. You’d be surprised at how many organizations continue doing things ‘the way they’ve always been done when often there’s a much more straightforward approach.
Architects and specifiers, for example, mostly just want honest information and helpful details on a product that is easy to find, so we work with manufacturers to help them cut through to their customers in this way.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Darren Lester: It’s been well documented that COVID-19 has acted to accelerate digital transformation in many ways, and that’s certainly been true of this industry. Building product manufacturers have used the time to enhance their online presence, while architects have really embraced more online learning.
The pandemic arrived at a time when there was a real gap in this industry for digital leaders, so we were in the perfect place to embrace that role. I’m proud of the step change that we’ve helped to enable, and our platform has grown significantly as a result.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Darren Lester: Our approach to challenging the status quo has sometimes put our ideas in conflict with some of the long-established ways of doing things in the industry. We’ve felt the need to call it out when we see something that doesn’t look like it’s really serving the needs of individuals and companies, and people don’t always like to hear this. It’s not always easy to stand up and be the one to legitimately question antiquated approaches, but as a disrupter, this is what you need to do.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are helping you navigate the crisis?
Darren Lester: Early on in lockdown, we decided that one of the best ways to help our customers was to support them promote their online CPD opportunities through our network. We did this by setting up a free, weekly e-newsletter with a roundup of all the latest webinars and remote sessions that our manufacturing clients were running.
It was a simple idea, but it worked so well because we used some free software tools that made the delivery really slick. These included an Airtable form for submissions, using Zapier for reformatting content and triggering confirmations, our existing email marketing software for delivering the e-newsletter, and of course, lots of sharing on social channels. It attracted hundreds of sign-ups. It felt good to offer something helpful to our customers for free, but that also demonstrated our digital-first approach.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Darren Lester: We’ve already grown the biggest network of architects, specifiers, and building product manufacturers for this type of service in the UK, so down the line, there’s an opportunity to replicate this success in other markets. For the time being, there is still a lot of work in continuing to drive digital transformation in the UK. We’ll do that by ensuring that our platform continues to deliver the best value for architects and manufacturers alike.
Your final thoughts?
Darren Lester: There’s a lot of opportunity in being honest and straightforward. We’ve adopted this approach from day one, and our customers always appreciate it.
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