After working at a large company for four years, Kimberley Bottomley decided to pack it all in and have a career change. When one of the founders of Cocoon got in touch on LinkedIn, she decided it was the perfect new job for her. Here she explains why Leeds is such a brilliant place for Cocoon and the wider tech industry to be.
Tell us about your business.
Cocoon is a smart home security product, which connects to the internet and the smartphones in your house. This means it knows who is in and out of the house and it automatically alarms and disarms when you come home. It’ll even send you notifications while you’re away if something happens, so you can watch some video playback and either tell us it’s okay or raise the alarm to get things sorted.
I’ve been working for them since February 2015 and was one of the first to come on board apart from the five founders. I focus on customer experience so make sure the product makes sense to people, and also the app that comes alongside it.
Prior to that I was working at Aviva in a similar customer experience role but I got quite heavily involved in their digital transformation, which led to me working on their hackathon events and the Fintech scene down in London. So I was getting quite close with a lot of the startup community down there, which kind of turned my head a little bit. I got itchy feet, I wanted to see what else was outside of the very corporate company. I handed my notice in with nothing to go to. I just knew I wanted a change.
I was reading ‘The Escape Manifesto’ on holiday and I was just hankering after a change. I saw all these small companies forming and I just wanted to see what else was out there. By chance, Dan – one of Cocoon’s founders – messaged me on LinkedIn saying they were looking for someone to do UX.
We chatted through the details as I worked my notice and I finished in December and started work for Cocoon in February. The planets aligned and it was just meant to be. I’m sure that doesn’t happen for everyone, but it just happened by chance.
Why does tech interest you / How did you get into tech in general?
I’ve been working with UX design for around ten years and financial services was how I got into it. I was working at Halifax and in their UX design team and left to start studying design full-time at University.
My interest in tech has always been around how it’s an enabler, how people use technology and seeing how they take new technology. There’s a lot that can be said about how you can perceive behaviour as a designer, but until you’ve actually seen someone using it all bets are off.
One thing we do at Cocoon is do regular user tests and make sure that we’re not going to get any surprises when it comes to how they are using the technology. I find it quite exciting that we’re at this really interesting point in time where we’ve got got so much capability with tech and it’s probably superseding our own intelligence. Knowing how we’re going to use that is really fascinating, and seeing how tech is just so integrated into our lives now. Not that long ago people used to say they were ‘going online’ like it was a destination, but now we’re all just connected all the time.
It’s fascinating the opportunities that gives users and companies can then utilise that to try and do good and improve lives. You just have to look at the NHS and how they use tech in their everyday lives to see how far we’ve come. It’s just incredible and we’re only at the start.
However, it’s really important to remember your audience when you’re designing new tech – especially if it’s a completely new concept. If it’s more advanced than your user base are then it’s useless, no matter how fancy it is. There has to be some sort of mental model with tech, to make sure there isn’t a disconnect between the product and the people who are going to use it.
What does Leeds have to offer, as a city, to tech businesses?
I’ve grown up in and around Leeds and I just think there is so much going on here. It’s such a brilliant place to be to strike a good work-life balance. It’s such a cosmopolitan city but you can easily escape to the great outdoors if you want to. The wider Leeds area is so interconnected as well, so it’s really easy to get to other major cities from here.
I absolutely love living in Leeds. When I was at Aviva, which is based in Norwich, a lot of people asked why I didn’t just move as I was spending so much time there but I love living and working around here. Everything feels so close and connected. It feels like a really good hub to have everything on your doorstep but still have the rest of the UK within easy reach.
There’s also a lot of exciting things happening in Leeds for after work or meetups, which is a huge part of having a happy business.
What are you excited about for the tech and digital scene in Leeds?
It feels like there’s a lot of stuff happening at the minute to get us to a great place. There’s that analogy that if you want to climb Everest, firstly you’ll need to get to Base Camp. It feels like everything is aligning for us to get that real solid foundation from which we can really move forward from. It’s almost like we’re on the cusp of everything just happening. With everything the council is doing, like FutureLabs, things are just bubbling away and we’re just all waiting for it to explode.
It’s just a case of having something to act as a lynchpin to make sure people keep talking. I organise Northern UX meetups in Leeds and we’re one of a series of ‘chapters’ that also take place in Manchester, Newcastle and Liverpool. We’re the Northern Powerhouse in action if you like. We do the meetups all individually but then all come together to do a big one in Manchester and a workshop here in Leeds.
I think the way we all talk regularly and communicate, can help each other out with sharing speakers and anything else, is really replicable for the wider business community needs to do to push Leeds. Leeds is going to be a fantastic place for business but only if we keep talking and sharing what we’re doing and what we want to achieve.
One thing I’ve found from working at Cocoon is that your team is only as strong as the level of communication that you’ve got within it. I thought moving to a smaller organisation would make talking much easier, but it doesn’t. I think it’s human nature to assume a lot that people understand and know what’s going on but that isn’t always the case.
That’s why communication is so important. Without it, it’s just a vacuum and nothing goes anywhere.
What advice would you give for people looking to start up a business in this sector?
If people have got an itch and want to do something, look at what people have done before you. Learn from their mistakes and successes. It’s not just about the divide between big and small businesses but there is a lot in that. I was in a mindset where you just got on with what you were doing, but if you have a vision or an idea of what the right thing to do is, you should do it. Whether that’s starting your own company or joining someone else’s that you really care about, if there’s something in you, you need to do it.
There’s still a place for that attitude in big organisations. When I was working at Aviva I wasn’t afraid to go and voice my opinion or challenge something. I think if you’ve got that integrity, if you are doing it for the right reasons, people will listen and take what you are saying on board.
Don’t wait for someone else’s permission to do something you are really passionate about. If you want to do something, do it. Seek out the right opportunities and make it happen. This is much easier to do when you are your own boss or work as part of a small startup, and I think bigger companies could really learn something from them.
Favourite Yorkshire eatery/bar?
Pintura. I’m learning Spanish and it’s great to eat the food as well. I was planning on going to all the tapas places in Leeds, but I found Pintura and then never really want to go anywhere else. It’s also a gin bar downstairs, so what’s not to love?
What tech do you use?
I always have my smartphone – which I use for photos more than anything else – a tablet, Macbook, and a smartwatch but I always forget to charge it. We got rid of Sky and now just have internet-connected TVs and a really good broadband connection. The one hi-tech thing I have is probably Cocoon home security, which is fantastic and is probably the first towards a ‘smart home’.
Top 3 films?
The Dark Knight Trilogy. A bit of a cheat but I absolutely love it.
What do you drive?
Mercedes SL 500. I’m a bit of a petrol head on the sly and absolutely love it. It was a present from my husband for my 30th so I was very lucky. He’s been dining out on it ever since though!
Perfect Sunday Breakfast?
I’m a bit of an avocado fiend so I love it smashed on toast. But absolutely perfect would be eating it overlooking the sea. I don’t think it’s just what you’re eating but where you’re eating it.