12 May 2021|Latest Posts, Meet the Successful Founder
As the latest in our hugely popular Meet the Successful Founder series, we caught up with the inspirational Alasdair Field of Reveal to learn about his entrepreneurship journey, company birth and growth and advice he’d like to share with other founders.
I am the co-founder and CEO of Reveal, an award-winning technology company that designs and manufactures body worn camera and video systems to support and protect frontline workers. I launched the business in 2002 after working for many years in audio production.
My career started out rather unconventionally – I decided to turn down a place at university in favour of pursuing work in the music industry, and at the age of 18, I took my first job as a tea boy at a well-known recording studio. I was really passionate about music and was soon promoted to sound engineer where I was lucky enough to work with musical icons including Tina Turner, Paul McCartney and Take That.
After spending five years as the chief audio manager for Formula One, I co-founded Reveal. Our pioneering tech is now used by police forces, prison employees, local government organisations, private security firms, healthcare facilities and retail outlets globally.
How did the idea come to you for the company?
Because I have always been so interested in audio and computing, I’ve often turned my hand to inventing various devices – one of which was a highly successful software system that allowed users to digitally store videos on the web and search through it at speed to identify specific sections of footage. A first-of-its-kind, the software was incredibly popular with TV and video editors and was used heavily by the Channel 4 Big Brother production team.
I then spotted an opportunity to build on this software platform and address the lack of real-time digital evidence management within the police force. Together with three other co-founders, we started approaching various police constabularies to educate them on why such systems could totally transform their approach to evidence management.
However, my true lightbulb moment came when I saw the first body-worn camera used by police – a rudimentary design that I knew could be improved. Despite having no idea how to physically build a better version, I refused to let that put me off so I jumped on a flight to Hong Kong where I started working with manufacturers to build my first batch of 200 cameras. The rest is history!
How did you achieve awareness?
One of the biggest challenges we faced in the early days was trying to explain to police forces that we were the solution to the problem they didn’t even know existed. For years, they had been used to handling evidence management in a certain way – so we had to really work hard to get our software in front of them and really educate them on why it was needed and how it could significantly enhance their processes.
After selling evidence management software only for several years. Things really began to take off after 2009 when we introduced our first proper body camera. Today, we’re Europe’s market leader for body-worn security technology – so all that leg work and networking at the start has really paid off.
How have you been able to gain funding and grow?
We are an independently owned business and have never had any significant external investment – something which I am really proud of and think is important. I always say to other entrepreneurs that avoiding external investment, if possible, is the best way to go. The second you take on investment, your freedom of choice erodes and you find yourself having to answer to other people rather than focusing on what’s important, which is ultimately your team and your customers.
When we launched Reveal, we self-funded everything. I remortgaged my house and borrowed from family and friends. There were definitely a few lean years and as a business leader, you have to be prepared to go through those challenges and focus on the end goal.
What are the key successes?
We changed from a software only company to wanting our own body worn cameras, with absolutely no knowledge of how to actually build one. And I was doing this at a time when I was making less money than I made as a tea boy! I had to learn fast and develop new skills on a daily basis. I also had to believe in my own abilities and focus on the vision that I had for the business.
Today, we sell to more than 40 countries worldwide, and even during the pandemic, we experienced 30% growth in net revenues year-on-year. Becoming the market leader in this space is certainly our biggest success. Knowing that we make a really positive impact on our customers’ and the public’s lives is immensely rewarding too.
What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?
One of the biggest challenges I have found over the years – and I expect it is the same for many entrepreneurs – is building a really good team that you can trust, and they trust you in return.
I’ve hired some great people, and some not so great people – it has taken me a long time to crack it. Going with your gut instinct is important and I have always strived to create a company culture that is supportive and kind. We’re dealing with high stakes every single day and that can take its toll on people, so being there for each other and creating an environment in which people can talk openly is crucial. You won’t find any prima donnas at Reveal, that’s for sure!
What are your plans now/for the future?
Continuing to grow at the rate we have been growing recently is key, and we also want to build our presence in new industries. Retail is a space where we see a lot of opportunities for Reveal – aggression towards retail staff has risen dramatically over recent years so our body worn cameras have huge scope to address this and protect those key workers. Similarly, healthcare workers experience an unacceptable level of aggression and we’re seeing strong growth in this sector too.
International expansion is also very much a part of our plan. We currently have clients in more than 40 countries worldwide, as well as offices in the USA, Germany, China and Hong Kong – and there’s definitely opportunities for us to grow this.
What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?
Being a business leader and being your own boss is one of the most rewarding jobs in the world. I always had that entrepreneurial itch and knew from an early age that it was only a matter of time before I would strike out on my own. So I would say to anyone else who has that same feeling – go for it. I can’t promise you it will be easy, but the rewards and the satisfaction is one hundred percent worth it.
Can you share you top 5-10 tips for entrepreneurial success?
- You have to be prepared to make a lot of decisions without clear information or a certain outcome. Make your decision, move on and adjust later if necessary.
- Don’t start it unless you’re pretty sure you’ll be able to work very hard for a very long time with very limited financial success. You’ll have to be around people who can accept that from you too.
- Figure out who’s boss at the outset. A business has to have someone who’s ultimately and clearly responsible.
- Find a mentor who’s done it before and is willing to guide and prod you.
- Try really really really hard to make your product as good as you can then make an even better product to replace it. If you don’t, someone else will.
- Be good to the people you work with and the customers you serve. The culture of the business will be defined by you. Do not get seduced by stories of successful tyrants. They’re fun to read about but not to be around.
- As you grow, try to find the best people you can afford and put trust in them.
- When you’ve realised you’ve hired the wrong person, act swiftly and with compassion.
- Beware of anyone calling themselves a “Guru” at anything!
- Buckle up, get your head down and most importantly have fun!
What are your favourite inspirational /motivational quotes?
“Keep Buggering On” Churchill. That’s all you need through the tough times.
“Every problem is an opportunity in disguise” John Adams
“He can who thinks he can, and he can’t who thinks he can’t. This is an inexorable, indisputable law.” Picasso
What are your social handles and website links so our readers can connect with you?