Engineering and Product
Ben Purcell, Co-Founder and CTO at Datch
Engineer to initially reluctant entrepreneur, Ben shares some deeper insight into the quickly expanding team at Datch. Having recently raised $5.2 million to help fuel their expansion, Ben shares some thoughts on his journey into entrepreneurship as well as the importance of candidates being able to challenge and add to the diversity of thought already within their group. Enjoy.
How would you explain to your Grandma what it is that you do?
When I try to do this, my instinct is to go really abstract and general but here goes. We give frontline workers the ability to use their voice to record their work as they go using conversations. We want people to be able to focus on the stuff they are good at and enjoy doing at work, not get caught up in the admin of meticulous documentation or information retrieval.
On a day-to-day level, my work varies from writing code to whiteboard brainstorming or just networking to share with people the excitement around what we’re building at Datch. It turns out this is super important, so that we can attract awesome people.
“I thought the word entrepreneur was pretty much a synonym for ‘wealth signalling douchebag’”
Was building a tech company something you dreamed about doing as a kid? If not, what was?
Not at all. To the point where I took an Engineering Management paper in my last year at University that had a focus on entrepreneurialism. It’s hard to say why exactly, but I remember really hating on that part of it. Maybe how it was positioned, but it all seemed to be geared around getting as rich as you could possibly get and without any real emphasis on impact to the world.
At that time, I thought the word entrepreneur was pretty much a synonym for ‘wealth signalling douchebag’. Funnily enough, I think there are better ways to make money, if that’s really the only goal haha.
Tell us a little bit more about your career journey and about why you ultimately ended up founding Datch?
I started out as a control systems / power electronics engineer and my background is in the energy sector. Before Datch I was working in Germany doing RnD on HVDC Converter applications. This is the technology which sets up the electrical network for offshore wind farms and brings the energy back to land.
Essentially we were writing the software/firmware for controlling the energy flow of these large scale converters. So I was in Germany and Aric was living in the UK at the time. Aric and I were mates from uni and kiteboarding, he taught me to kite! Over a couple of kite trips in Europe we’d been talking about the idea of starting something, Aric introduced me to his next door neighbour Mark, who I resonated with instantly.
Mark was super driven to get started solving problems in the industry which all three of us could relate to. In general we just had this question of why do we have such amazing tech available to us as consumers, but the tools we had access to at work seemed so archaic... and so away we went.
What do you think Datch will look like in five years from now?
Five years is a long time in the startup world. We want to be the best solution for the frontline workforce across industry and we’re going big or going home.
“And whatever it is that you pick, try to become awesome at it, because what else are you gonna do.”
What advice would you give to young people considering a career in tech?
Totally depends on your personality, but I think the best advice I ever got was that it kind of does not matter what you do in the first five years of your career, just do something. So if it doesn't matter, you may as well do something that you enjoy. If you don’t know what you enjoy, try something at random.
In saying that, care about that something. Nihilism doesn’t seem very enjoyable to me. Put yourself out there and become vulnerable to learn. Position yourself as the apprentice and not the master. And whatever it is that you pick, try to become awesome at it, because what else are you gonna do. If you don’t have enough interest in something to want to get awesome at it, then try something else.
What characteristics and attributes are required for people to thrive at Datch?
We are looking for people who are stoked to come into the office and scribble on whiteboards, talk about ideas and grow the company with us.
We are not a set of founders who want to sit in some Ivory tower and make all of the decisions. We want a team ownership model, where people are comfortable to put their hand up for responsibility and get the ownership and autonomy of that project. We’re building a culture where we all support and enable each other to succeed.
Lastly, people need to be comfortable with conflict. We don’t consider conflict to be a necessarily negative thing. Conflict is a mechanism through which we work together to find the best approach. Take the ego out of it, and when conflict arises, we do our best to talk through the issue and not make it personal.
Lastly, as Datch continues to grow and evolve, what kind of talent do you want to hear from over the coming year?
At this stage, in New Zealand we are looking to grow our product and engineering team. In my extremely biased opinion, the fun stuff! Specialists will emerge as our company grows, however it is very difficult for us to predict the specifics exactly at this stage and this is why we’re going with the generalist approach.
Character is often more important than someone's technical ability. Because of the early stage of our engineering team, we need people that can work and adapt in our highly variable environment.
We want diversity of thought. Our three founders are all pretty similar in terms of our backgrounds and interests, so what we do not want is another copy of us. We want people that are going to bring something that we don’t have. Diversity of thought is going to be an asset and it is going to shake our perceptions. Underlying that, they still need to share similar human values.