Tom Guy joins BT Digital’s unit as MD Incubation

Today we announced the appointment of Tom Guy to BT Digital’s leadership team. Previously the Chief Product Officer for Vodafone Smart Tech, Tom joins us as our MD Incubation.

As a founding member of one of Europe’s leading Smart Home providers Hive, and more recently one of the creators of Vodafone SmartTech, Tom is joining BT Digital with four of his founding team; Jess Kyte, John Gutch, Zoe Dyer and Michael O’Connell. With vast experience in product leadership, design and building an agile start-up culture, Tom and his team will form an integral part of our incubation unit. They’ll focus on creating and incubating start-ups to see real tech innovation and explore categories and ideas.

We sat down with Tom to discuss his background, his experience working with start-ups, and what excites him about his new role at BT Digital.

Can you tell us a potted history about yourself?

I’m a product designer at heart and I love creating things. Whether that’s hardware, digital experiences or services, the end goal is the same: to create solutions that solve customer problems and create magical moments in their lives.

During my career I’ve worked for a mix of corporates like Virgin, Best Buy, Dixons, and in the latter parts, a lot of start-ups. I was lucky at the start of my career to be working in the early stages of the software and games industry, launching PlayStation, Xbox and Microsoft Windows products. I then got involved with start-ups at Virgin Games, where I worked on a project in the Casual Games arena. That work ignited my passion for working in the start-up culture, I then moved to Catch Media, a hi-tech start-up focused on the B2B and B2B2C space in music and video, working through the complexities of rights management and clearing house.

Ultimately, those experiences culminated in me becoming one of the founding members of Hive, I helped build that business from the ground up within British Gas to not only become one of the largest smart home providers in Europe, but the best-selling smart thermostat in the UK, and working alongside the legendary industrial designer Yves Behar.

I and part of the team behind Hive’s success then moved to Vodafone, helping create the new smart tech area which looked at consumer IoT and wearables. Our work at Vodafone included developing a children’s smart watch in collaboration with Disney, as well as Curve, a multi-award-winning tracking product.

What was it that attracted you to BT? And what are you most looking forward to in your new role?

I love the idea of changing the world through product design, and from my conversations with Harmeen and the BT Digital team, I get a genuine sense that we are looking at categories that will make a significant difference to customers’ lives in the UK. Harmeen’s energy is infectious, and I share her enthusiasm and vision for transforming the BT brand through collaboration with start-ups and digital skills development to make BT a leader in digital services underpinned with being customer obsessed in our approach. I’m looking forward to taking BT’s heritage, rich history and extensive network and using it to create the services that solve real customer challenges. The brand is evolving, and the past two years have shown just how critical BT has been in meeting the connectivity demands of the UK. Now it’s about taking bold steps into new areas, working in a lean and agile way, developing amazing products and services driven by customer insight. 

What is it about the start-up, agile culture that has kept you engaged throughout your career?

I don’t care for stiff, cumbersome corporate processes that slow down the discovery and creation of an idea. The focus when designing and building a product or service should be one hundred percent on the customer. If you’re becoming customer obsessed in your design process, and adapting quickly to meet demand, then you are doing the right thing. Start-ups have these attitudes in abundance. Every element of the product or service is ground in customer feedback and what they want. The customer is your North Star. If that agile, customer-centric mentality is applied in a large corporation then you have the perfect blend for success.

Equally, I love being able to start something from scratch—there’s nothing like creating and building something from an idea and taking it to market. Throughout my career, I’ve surrounded myself with like-minded people which has helped maintain those values in my teams wherever I’ve worked.

Any advice for people out there who are thinking of moving into a career in product development or working with start-ups?

If you can talk about products with complete passion to the point where you sound obsessed, then you are a product person. Be bold enough to hold yourself to your ideas but learn to evolve them when you receive feedback from a customer, listen to their thoughts, problems and use cases, apply them to your design process; and you will be a powerful product person. The start-up world moves quickly, and you’ll need to live with uncertainty, but be confident of the path you need to create and be happy taking a leap of faith. I truly believe that everyone should get some start-up experience during their career, whether full time, as an advisor, or even simply helping a friend.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career?

Prioritise working with brilliant, like-minded people and don’t let mediocrity creep into a team. It’s also critical that you create a culture that allows a team to feel protected and appreciated, as that will foster an environment that allows them to do their best work. I’ve always worked hard to create good relationships with my teams. It can be hard to find people that you really click with, but when you do, take them with you—that’s why so many of us have worked together in numerous places. Ultimately for me, it’s about nurturing the best talent and then building the stage to let the stars perform.

If you had the chance to go back and redo something, a decision or an action you took, what would it be?

When I worked at Virgin, we were particularly focused on the casual gaming sector and there were a couple of start-ups that we should have invested in. Those companies went on to become major players in that world, particularly following the explosion of mobile gaming and the emergence of app stores. I don’t have any regrets, but it taught me the importance of trusting my instincts and following through with great ideas.

Equally, I realise the importance of taking breaks and spending time with my family. Certainly in the early days of my career, I was immersed in my work, and while we work hard because we are passionate about what we do, it’s just as important to spend that time with those closest to you.