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Alumna of the month

Lindsay Willott (BA English and American Literature 1995-98) graduated from Warwick in July 1998. After a few years she founded The Marketing Practice which she developed into a top 20 marketing agency with £5m turnover and 80 members of staff in only eight years. But she had one problem: she didn't really know how her customers felt. This led to her next challenge: Customer Thermometer.

Lindsay WillottHow did you go from Warwick to Customer Thermometer?
After graduating I got a graduate marketing position at a local software company. After four years I was running global marcoms for them, but the dotcom bubble burst and in 2002 the company made most of the staff redundant. I took redundancy and started and tech marketing agency at just 24 years old, which was a steep learning curve! After eight years, I sold that and started Customer Thermometer. I really wanted to try my hand at a product rather than a services business.

You studied English and American Literature at Warwick, how does this help you in your career?
Studying English and American Literature has helped me enormously. First off, it helped me get the first marketing job I had, because they wanted someone who could research, write and proofread. The nature of an English degree is such that, by the end, you can assimilate and interpret information really quickly. This has been invaluable for me. And I was fortunate that the internet has grown in size alongside my career. When I graduated, marketing was all about getting a brochure produced so a salesman could get in to see a customer. Now content marketing and social media has made the written word incredibly important.

What are the most challenging parts of your work?
Learning to run a software company rather than an agency has been the biggest challenge. Things like, understanding that just because you can add a feature to the software, doesn’t necessarily mean you should! And learning about how to take a completely unknown product, in a sea of other unknown products, to prominence. Huge challenges but incredibly rewarding because you’re constantly reading and learning.

You’ve taken an unusual career path, what inspired you? What lessons have you learned?
I love the energy, excitement and camaraderie of starting a new business and getting over the first hurdles into growth and profitability. I am lucky to have incredible parents who taught me that I could do anything I wanted if I was prepared to work for it, and so as each new opportunity has presented itself, I’ve given it a go. I’m a firm believer that the only regrets you have in life are the opportunities you didn’t take, not the ones you did.

What have you done that you are most proud of?
Starting Customer Thermometer, by a country mile. It was the depths of a recession, everyone thought it was a bonkers idea. We had no external investment or debt and we’d never run a software company before. It didn’t look promising! And now we’re growing revenues in excess of 10% month on month and changing our customers’ businesses, it’s incredible.

What drives you?
Three things really. My family, and providing a fascinating and rich life for them whilst setting an example of a balanced work ethic. Creating something that really works, and that people love to use. And novelty… I absolutely love learning new things, and this career path helps me achieve that as part of my work.

What single thing would most improve the quality of your life?
Great question! Probably the addition of a couple of bright and sparky Warwick graduates in the business to be honest. We’re growing fast and we’re always on the lookout for great people to join us. Up until now we’ve looked for experienced hires but we’ll soon be in a position to start a graduate scheme, which I’m excited about.

What was your favourite aspect of the English and American Literature course?
North American Women Writers, and specifically the Native American writing I studied. I find the concept of writing created by a culture that, up until only incredibly recently, was solely an oral culture, really fascinating. There’s an ethereal and beautiful quality to the work of writers such as Louise Erdrich and Leslie Marmon Silko.

What would you tell someone thinking of studying at Warwick?
Do it! I loved my time at Warwick. It will bring out aspects of your character and abilities you didn’t know were there, alongside links and connections you’ll value for life.

Is there anything you wish you had done differently during your time as a student?
I wish I’d made more of the resources on campus like the Arts Centre and the library. I suspect I somewhat underutilized the non ‘social’ aspects of the university’s resources!

How do you balance work and life?
Everyone in the business works from home, so that helps me enormously. It means you only have meetings you absolutely need, and we use Slack for team communication so email is kept to a minimum. Other than that, it’s about making sure that a set group of things I love doing happen every week without fail and making those non-negotiable – school runs, yoga, running, pub…

If you could choose another profession, what would it be?
I’d love to be a venture capitalist – at least for a year or so – to see what it’s like. I don’t have the financial background but assessing and investing in companies and people would be fascinating!

Where do you hope to be in 10 years’ time?
I’d like to have grown Customer Thermometer to the point where it’s a major force in the customer and staff satisfaction market. I’d find it incredibly rewarding to be one of the go-to tools that global businesses use.

What three objects would you take with you to a desert island?
My iPhone – I might not have signal but I could download a ton of stuff to read and have access to games and MapMyRun to make sure I keep the exercise up! A bottle of tequila so I can make margaritas and my duvet. I love my bed.

What are your favourite memories of your years at Warwick?
I have so many – but Top Banana is right up there. Great nights with great friends. And a ton of random things that still make me smile the day someone built an entirely new wall in Rootes Halls out of a tin of Tesco value baked beans because they were on offer for 9p each.

Do you have any advice for new graduates?
I would urge them not to fret too much about getting the “perfect” first graduate job. I remember feeling a lot of pressure around that. I originally thought I wanted to be in advertising, but a software company local to my family had a marketing grad job going that paid more and so I took that. Despite it being a world away from what I thought I wanted, it set me off on a very entrepreneurial path because the founder was a real inspiration to me and it was small enough for me to get to know him. Whereas I suspect I would have been cannon fodder at one of the largest London agencies in that era.

FACT FILE

Age: 38

Lives: Cotswolds

Education: International Baccalaureate, BA English & American Literature, Chartered Institute of Marketing, Cert Marketing Practice

Career: Head of Marcomms for a software company, founder of a tech marketing agency then founder of Customer Thermometer

Interests: Yoga, running, reading, diving.