Chat with Sir Charles Dunstone (Pt. 3)
Next up, I started to explore where Charles’ career is now, how he sits within TalkTalk and the kind of work he’s involved in today.
I asked about the transition from being very hands on and entrepreneurial in the early life of his startups, and how that might have changed to today, and whether he now prefers to be more hands-off and leave the day to day running of his businesses to others. Charles responded to say it has changed with time. When you’re young and you’re business is new and just starting, you might typically want to turn your hand to everything and do it all. However for Charles nowadays, TalkTalk has reached a size where he finds he can take a step back from the day to day operations, and instead focus on the thinking side of things, developing and building external relationships and making new products. He views this as a very privileged position to be in, one that has only been made possible over time and with the success of the team he has built around him and put in place to run TalkTalk. Charles needed a brilliant CEO and team around him to run TalkTalk first and foremost, and then by knock-on effect that has freed up some of his time and allowed him to go out and pursue new entrepreneurial ventures.
Charles is immensely proud of this TalkTalk business he has helped create and build and that comes across very strongly in everything he says. Go back 7 years ago and TalkTalk didn’t exist, come forward to today and its huge, has a market capitalisation in the region of £2.5B, and finds itself sat at the same table as much bigger and more mature players, the likes of BT, Sky and Virgin Media. I’d say that’s some good going!
Innovator and Disruptor and two words I’ve often heard in the same sentence when people describe Charles. I put this to him and asked if they’re two words he’s happy to be associated with, and what this means to him. Charles has a strong prerogative in business, and he tries to teach it across all his businesses. In essence – don’t follow the crowd; if the world zigs, you zag. If everyone else is doing one thing, you should be looking to do the opposite. If you can identify the one most shocking thing you can do, then that’s where you should be playing, and that’s where things change and you can offer your customers something different and choice.
Charles is still innovating and disrupting today. Two recent TalkTalk products which have found serious success for the business have come directly from his invention. One is ‘HomeSafe’, the online safety service developed by TalkTalk and made free to all their customers, the second is a crowd-sourced call blocking service which blocks nuisance calls. Both of these are prominent moves in the customer service and value proposition arena, and TalkTalk have been first to draw in both instances.
When he invented them, Charles says he didn’t know how exactly these two products would benefit the bottom line of the company and make money, but they were both the right thing to do, and that was the driver in both cases. Here, Charles has demonstrated that if you just do the right thing, even if you don’t know at the time how you might possibly be rewarded for it, then more often than not it just works and becomes a real success and source of value for your customers. If something feels like the right thing to be doing, Charles’ advice is to get on with doing it, think about how you can do it, not how you can’t do it. Sit around waiting for a business case telling you why you should do it, or where the benefit to your business comes in, and you could well miss the boat or never get anything done that’s of benefit at all!