Earlier this year, we interviewed CEO of Tapmydata, Gilbert Hill for our #LightbulbMoments series. For us, lightbulb moments are the output of a mix of experience, knowledge, creativity, individual and collaborative application. That stuff takes time, so this series of interviews is about accelerating your inspiration by sharing what made some amazing brains stop and think. In this instalment, find out what being an agent of change means to Gilbert Hill and why he is lobbying for responsible marketing in our post GDPR times.

Q Please tell me your name and title

A Gilbert Hill

Q Please tell me a bit about your job/role and the organisation you work for

A I’m CEO at Tapmydata. We build tools to help people take back control of their personal information.

Q What motivates you to do the work you do?

A The chance to be a pioneer in a new market, working with the best people, being open to opportunities and not having all the answers

Q What is the mission or purpose of your role / your work / your business?

A To be an agent of positive change – not disruption for its own sake, to add something positive to the DNA of tech and marketing best practice, and to be ‘those guys’ who keep popping up!

Q What are the big questions or challenges that you are dealing with/have dealt with in your working life/business

A To balance the things you need to do, with the time you must take to learn your craft or expertise, and understand the overall direction of travel. If you get this right, the mistakes you make short term are tactical and recoverable. Most importantly, you need to take time to invest in the most important things like your health and family – if something happens in these areas, it puts all your work challenges into perspective

Q When did you recognise this as a challenge?

A I think when I’d been working for a few years in banking, and got comfortable – I realised that it could be very easy to ‘settle down’ intellectually and in terms of self-development. Also, as part of a large organisation you didn’t feel close to where the decisions were being made, decisions which can shape your future career and life choices. I previously studied and worked as an archaeologist, and it reminded me of being a soldier on Hadrian’s wall – you had security, but all the business was taking place back in Rome!

Q When you look back at your working life, is there a cohesive path or narrative that you have followed – what has driven the choices you’ve made?

A I think really it’s the people – there is a myth of the lone star entrepreneur who has the vision and drive to go it alone. I’ve been lucky to have a number of really close relationships with business partners, team members, partners and trusted advisors which have helped navigate a path through the current forest, as well as providing inspiration for the next stage of the trek!

Q Have you experienced a lightbulb moment that you can share? It could be a distinct ‘penny drop’ occasion or it could be a more gradual turning point. We’re interested to hear about those ‘aha’ moments that made a material change to your approach or thinking

A I think leaving a recognised path with banking at quite an early stage in my career (mid 20’s) was pretty scary – I realised it was down to me to make the ‘phone ring and the opportunities happen. When I did this work, I soon learned the relationships I had made in the course of my day job were still helpful to me in so many ways, and that I could be more useful to those people outside the confines of an organisation than within.

The lightbulb moment came when I had a regular job – we needed a relatively small project done to a high standard, and I wasn’t convinced I was going to get that from our retained (high price) agency. I reached out to a friend from uni who I knew worked in this area, and he was able to do it quickly, to a high standard and at reasonable price. He made me look good, and shortly afterwards we went into business together with that bank as one of our first clients!

Q What do you see when you look at businesses today?

A The pace of tech and time-to-market has become dizzying, and the risk is you can chase your tail trying to keep up to speed. Automation has wiped certain services and industries off the map, and the new ones (internet, search, social) currently have a lot of power focused in the hands of a handful of organisations and individuals

Q What excites you?

A With the advent of the web, social and wearables there has been an explosion of data, most of which was only created in the last 2 years! With AI now mining all of this, one of the biggest challenges we face is doing the right thing by it all. GDPR was the genie which escaped the bottle, and the challenge of privacy and data ethics is probably the biggest one faced in our mature digital age. This will also shape the outcome of who dominates the next few decades. It’s incredibly exciting to be part of this.

Q What mistakes or missed opportunities do you see?

A As a technologist and entrepreneur, the temptation is always to build something yourself in the hope that then, they will come. Of course, this is to a certain extent true and necessary for creating value, but I like many others have repeatedly underestimated the time, money and energy needed to create and scale your own space, market, platform.

In my last business we built a cookie banner widget people could install on their websites – we had a free version you could download, and our marketing advisor told us to make it available as a WordPress plugin. I decided we should go it alone as demand was high, but we missed out on the huge existing market of WordPress owners – a pre-made opportunity.

Q Who is doing a good/interesting job of tackling the big questions

A As an example of a mature company, I think Microsoft is doing a pretty good job. They’ve sorted out their regulatory problems, moved on from mistakes and now have a strong position in a corporate, cloud space while keeping their tech stack position. They also cottoned on to the value of privacy and data ethics as a brand value, and are now reaping the benefits, particularly in the public sector. Finally, their advertising finally works – I can see an ad for Teams on the tubes with a particular feature, then jump on a call and that feature is working – joined up marketing!

Q If you had the power to pass on some wisdom to others, or to point them in a particular direction, what would it be?

A Like most of us, I found reasons to avoid networking gigs and opportunities to share my experiences  and learnings with strangers – that’s because this is scary! Now, it’s the most rewarding part of my professional life, both to identify and test new opportunities, and to meet people you’d like to collaborate with in future. Find a space which feels safe and interesting and just do it – it doesn’t have to be relevant to your day job, in fact the less so the better.

Q When you look at the future what worries you?

A There’s still a tendency, especially in the public sector to embrace the latest technology like AI, facial recognition or DNA screening as a good thing without thinking of the law of unintended consequences. We need to take a hard look at who is behind these technologies and how they can be misused, as well as abused by third parties. As we’ve seen with recent votes, breaches and scandals, the weaponisation of data is growing and has real, and lasting consequences…

Q When you look at the future what makes you feel optimistic?

A When I first got into the privacy space, a lot of people told me young people don’t care about their data or what happens to them online. When I see what’s happening now, or talk with my children I know that’s total nonsense – the younger generation have an inherent grasp of the technologies, the value exchange and the necessary emotional intelligence to fix a lot of the current messes we’re in.