Hi Gavin, let’s start with your background before Signol.
I graduated from Oxford University with a degree in Geography, and couldn’t decide between a career in consulting, banking or oil and gas. Eventually, after much soul searching, I decided on oil and gas. With my training in climatology and ecology, I understood very well the challenge of global warming, but decided (somewhat ambitiously), that I would try to reform the industry from within! I started my career at Esso, and worked in Aviation and Retail. My last job was designing ‘On the Run’ service stations across Europe. I then had the opportunity to move to Shell, and try my hand at Management Consultancy, in their internal consultancy ‘DMC’.
I spent three wild years traveling the globe, working ridiculous hours and consulting on some very challenging and varied projects across Shell’s downstream. I worked on Retail Alliances, Technology Strategy, Chemical Business turnarounds, China Market Entry, Downstream Africa Divestments… It was fascinating. I then headed East, and spent the best part of a decade in Singapore and China, leading Sales and Marketing teams, selling Lubricants to B2B customers. For almost five years I led the Shell Global Key Accounts team looking after Asian Automotive & Truck OEMs globally, the likes of Hyundai, KIA, Toyota, Geely, and so forth.
In just four years I doubled the size of the business. The highlight for me was signing the World Rally Championship sponsorship deal between Shell and Hyundai, which is still going strong today. The other was winning back the Toyota account, after a ten year hiatus. All good things must come to an end, however, and I had to move back to the UK for my children’s education. So, I moved into a role in Shell Aviation, as GM of Business Development, which is where I first came across Signol (see below).
Finally, after sixteen years, I left Shell to take a Country GM role in Myanmar, for Puma Energy. I was greatly looking forward to developing the business there. I looked after a team of 300 staff, working in two JVs, and running a huge oil importation terminal, as well as 11 airport operations. However, a few months after I emigrated to Myanmar, the coup happened, and things changed drastically. It was the most challenging situation I have ever been involved in, with many dilemmas and challenges. As Yangon was no longer safe for myself or my family, reluctantly, I decided I had no choice other than to leave the role. I spent much time considering what Career Version 2.0 would look like. After all I had witnessed, especially in Myanmar, I decided that I would like to work in a smaller company, and on something much more purpose driven; and that’s when I reached out to Signol.
So, how did you get involved in Signol?
I was introduced to Signol by Amory Poulden, then at Shell Ventures, about three or four years ago, when we were screening for investment opportunities in the Aviation sector. I was the GM for Business Development for Shell Aviation, and part of my role was M&A, and investment appraisals for promising startups. In Signol, I saw the opportunity for a fuel economy CVP for Shell Aviation’s airline customers, and the more I learned about the company, and behavioural science, the more convinced I became that this was an important concept, with the ability to move the needle on climate change, by reducing GHG emissions. In short, I was hooked!
It was interesting to be ‘pitched to’ by Signol, and whilst I saw much I liked in the product and concept, I recognised that there is quite a gulf between startups and blue chip companies like Shell, in terms of how they are likely to positively respond to a proposal. I saw an opportunity for an experienced sales and marketing executive like myself in helping start-ups like Signol better tailor their pitches and messages to complex companies, and thus increase their chances of success. Big companies are complex, difficult beasts, and their processes, politics and prerequisites are all highly important, as they are nuanced. Therefore you need to tailor and adapt your message to maximise your chances of commercial success. That’s what I can help bring to the table.
How has your role at Signol evolved over the past year?
I’ve only been working at Signol for eight months. However, it has been an exciting journey, with many unexpected challenges and pleasures. I think the one thing that has surprised me the most since joining is just how much time you have to devote to fund raising. Don’t get me wrong - I greatly enjoy meeting with VCs, and trying to convince them that Signol is a good home for their investment money! However, it does detract from the time I am able to commit to business development and sales - which ultimately is what I am paid for, and what will lead to commercial success for Signol. I’m looking forward to us closing our Series A funding round in the coming months, so I can get back to doing what I love most - winning new accounts.
Speaking of which, how is it working in a startup, given you have always worked in huge companies before?
It certainly is different! In fact, I was so inspired by those differences that I wrote an article and posted it on LinkedIn early in the year, which you can read here.
Having had some further months of experience now, I think that the main positive differences are that you have more freedom, fewer frustrating processes, a smaller set of stakeholders to convince, greater self reliance and everyone in the organisation is devoted to the mission, and clear on their role. Some of the things I miss in a larger organisation are the resources and expertise on tap, the financial and resources clout to implement your wishes, and from a sales perspective, the credibility of a famous brand name behind you.
What are your hopes and aspirations for the future of Signol?
Signol has a great deal going for it, but just because it’s a great idea it doesn’t automatically follow that the business will thrive. We need to earn that right.
In Aviation and Marine, Signol has the potential to reduce global emissions by 50 million metric tons per annum. We know that the business case for deploying our solution is a ‘no brainer’... but we must attract serious investors, who are going to back us for the long haul.
Many people chasing the dream in a start-up would perhaps answer this question quite differently, by quoting an exit strategy, or alluding to a unicorn status… I would prefer to state simply that I would hope that we fulfil our potential - which is immense.
Finally, here's a little trivia card with Gavin:
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Signol is a software platform that draws on insights from behavioral economics to encourage employees to make more efficient decisions. Signol provides personalized feedback through multiple communication channels, as well as data analysis for managers. In aviation, Signol aims to use behavioral "nudges" and incentives to reduce pollution and fuel waste and cut operating costs.