He’s created a Hive of HR activity and established a blueprint for employee wellbeing; now Teessider John Ryder is ready to take one of the North East’s most innovative technology providers to the next level. Simon Rushworth reports
Barry the Basset Hound is a sociable beast. And while it may be overstretching to describe him as the catalyst for an award-winning office culture, there is no doubt John Ryder is a staunch advocate for dogs in the workplace.
Barry was a regular visitor to Hive’s buzzing Newcastle HQ long before the HR technology provider was named Organisation of the Year at the 2019 Conscious Employer Awards.
However, the presence of John’s popular pet is now just one example of Hive’s instinctive approach to employee wellbeing.
“The most dogs we’ve had in at one time is four,” explained Hive’s founder and CEO. “Barry came along because he kept crying every time I left for work. My wife and I have three children under the age of seven – with another one on the way this summer – and Barry’s pining was just too much.
“So I said I’d take him into the office one day. He’s a very docile chap and lies around getting patted and stroked. One of my colleagues started reading up on dogs in the workplace and it turns out they’re great for helping employees manage stress.”
The Conscious Employer Awards celebrate the work organisations undertake to develop a productive and happy workforce. And Hive is proud to practice what it preaches as the provider of an employee feedback platform and People Science service that helps organisations improve employee engagement, experience and performance.
“We’re honoured to be recognised for the work we do to make Hive an amazing place to work,” added John. “Our whole business is geared towards helping organisations create positive employee experiences for their people, which we can only achieve when our own people are engaged, healthy and productive.
“There’s real team spirit at Hive which I love. Our people have a certain degree of autonomy and there’s a strong element of trust. I also believe it’s important to have fun at work – we try to have fun with our customers and fun with each other; Hive is a very informal place to work. We have created a welcoming environment that enables us to build strong working relationships with colleagues, clients and suppliers.”
That environment is set to change significantly this summer as Hive completes its move to a 4,400 sq. ft office in Newcastle – recognising the fact that the company plans to increase its workforce from 34 to 44 by the end of 2019. Twenty-six new employees have been recruited since July 2018, but John remains confident that a period of rapid expansion will not impact negatively on the positive culture that’s close to his heart.
“We’re like a snake that sheds skin,” added the Teesside University graduate. “Some of the things that worked when we were just six people back in 2015 don’t work now. Our culture is evolving but one of the things that we did really well in the early days was create that culture and explain it clearly. It wasn’t just words thrown together – it meant something, and it feels as authentic now as it did four years ago.
“The expansion of Hive and the move to the new office will undoubtedly put a strain on that culture and every time we recruit more people it will become a little more diluted. We’re aware of that and we’re working really hard to articulate to new staff exactly what we stand for. This time last year there were only 10 of us. Now there are 35 and by the end of the year, there will be 44. Things are bound to change but change can be good.”
In April 2019, Hive benefitted to the tune of £1.2m after SME finance provider Maven led a seven-figure investment into the company. “A significant chunk of that is being invested in product development,” explained John. “Around a third of our workforce now work within the product department. All of their efforts are focused on understanding our customers, recognising the challenges they face around engagement and building a platform that removes as many of those challenges as possible.”
It was during his time at Visualsoft, developing business ideas within the Innovation Lab at the Teesside-based eCommerce firm, that John recognised a demand for better feedback from employees and a desire to act upon that feedback more quickly and efficiently.
“I was in the right place at the right time,” he added. “In 2015 there was a real sense of zeitgeist within the HR space in relation to what employee engagement was all about. There was a huge appetite for getting higher quality employee feedback, more regularly.
“That’s what Hive is all about. We weren’t the first to market as there were a couple of small businesses making headway in America at the time. But I felt we could do things better – we managed to convince people that the business was worth investing in and on the back of that, using a crowdfunding platform called GrowthFunders, we raised the £300,000 required to get things started.
“Ever since my student days I’d always been focused on bringing new products to the market and it felt like I was finally in the right place at the right time.” John describes his time at Teesside University as like ‘being in a new episode of BBC reality show The Apprentice every week, but a demanding Design Marketing degree satiated a thirst for product development, marketing and eCommerce and laid the foundation for Hive’s conception.
“As a student, I would research a marketplace, identify a gap in that market and create a product or service,” he explained. “Then I would devise a market strategy and these projects would last for maybe four to six weeks. Each project would culminate in a presentation to a room full of people and I was really attracted to that whole process. At school my careers adviser had suggested I look at ‘something to do with computers and design’ but this was where I knew my future lay.
“As the CEO of a business with more than 100 clients nationwide, across a number of sectors, including businesses such as Hermes, Shop Direct, Travelodge, Tarmac, River Island, Northumbria Police and various public sector organisations, John aspires to be a better manager, maximise his leadership skills and still find time for his family – and Barry the Basset Hound – at their Morpeth home.
“It’s a bit of a balancing act,” he admitted. “I love my food but with a young family, it’s almost impossible to try all of the new places I walk past on a daily basis. I also appreciate quality television and a great book – I’ve just finished Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Start-up by John Carreyrou. It covers the rise and fall of a multi-billion biotech start-up and it’s a fantastic read.”
Perhaps the rise of John Ryder will become a better story still.