Huge congratulations to our chairman, Mark Mason, who was made an MBE in the 2017 Queen’s Birthday honours. The title is in recognition of Mark’s services to the digital economy, in which he has been involved throughout his career.
Mark pioneered business-to-business mobile phone apps with his company Mubaloo, which he founded in 2009 and successfully sold in 2016. During that time Mubaloo built over 240 apps for organisations around the world and was ranked third in the Deloitte Fast Tech 2014 and 25th in EMEA.
We caught up with Mark and asked him for his thoughts on innovation in the digital economy in the past, present and future, as well as some tips for budding entrepreneurs.
First up, congratulations Mark – has the MBE had time to sink in?
It’s an interesting process. You receive a letter through the post informing you that you’ve been put forward for this award, but that you can’t tell anyone until it’s announced. So I’ve been sitting on it for a while. It may be being awarded to me, but I see it as recognition for all the brilliant people I have worked with – I just happen to be the lucky guy at the top.
In the context of the MBE, Mubaloo obviously stands out in my career. But I founded that based on the knowledge of business-to-business processes that I learned at Mason Zimbler. I’ve also mentored a lot of people in the digital economy – my own staff and through The Prince’s Trust which plays into it.
Mobile appears integral to everything in 2017, but when did you realise its importance?
When the iPhone was released there was a flurry of entertainment apps, games and the like. I met a chap called Ben Trewhella who was then working on an app which provided real-time fuel prices based on actual fore court data. By polling stations around the vicinity it would enable the user to choose the cheapest petrol station and thus save them money. The app did well but it was soon clear to me that the people who were going to make the real money in the world of app development wasn’t the people who went looking for the gold, it was the people who were selling the spades.
Where have you seen mobile make the biggest splash, and is there any app in particular that has surprised you with the impact it has made?
We are at a stage now where it would be impossible to imagine life before mobile. It has had a huge impact on almost every sector including retail, transport and finance. The uptake of apps like Uber and Deliveroo has been astounding. The added information that they include – like tracking your car or bike – is transformative.
What are your tech predictions for the next ten years?
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is going to be huge. We are already starting to see new internet interfaces with the likes of Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa and these will just keep getting better. And of course, we’ll all be driven around in driverless cars sooner than we think. As Mark Zuckerberg famously said, “We overestimate what we can achieve in one year, but underestimate what we can achieve in ten.”
Virtual Reality will be a success in certain spheres, and not just the obvious gaming. 5G will further shift our consumption of media from pictures to video. And when I look at wearables, I think they will continue to have a place. Apple’s iWatch is a great product, but I think niche wearables to assist people with specific activities like cycling have a bright future.
What are your thoughts on how mobile technology has changed social interaction?
If FaceTime’s reliability can be improved, that is a far more natural way to communicate than traditional voice calling. You see a small child use FaceTime and they get it instantly, unlike with a disembodied voice that generations before have lived with.
On the flipside, we need to learn to live healthily with mobile. There are issues around mental health with the ‘Always On’ younger generation. I am confident that, in time, we will learn how to switch off occasionally.
Finally, you’ve been described as a serial entrepreneur. Are there parallels between the businesses you have founded, and do you have a secret to success?
I have been very lucky to catch some significant technology waves. First the development of the Internet (and the dot.com boom) with Mason Zimbler and then the birth of apps with Mubaloo. Starting up in an expanding market enables you to enjoy the growth which comes naturally as the market develops. The same could be said of ForrestBrown.
I’m not sure I would describe these as secrets to success, but I do have some tips. The first is “Get on with it!”. If you know your calling, don’t wait for the big idea. Get in the market and opportunities will appear.
And following on from that, it’s fine to start something without knowing exactly where it is going to end up – just as long as you can be nimble enough to adapt on your business journey. This is something that bigger companies really struggle with, so if you are the person starting out you have a fantastic advantage.
And lastly persevere; in my view, it is the single most important attribute in running a successful business.