Chris Nurse was born in Bradford in the North of England during the mid-60’s. His father built a computer when he was just 12 years old and back in the 70s coding was a rare skill for a kid to have. Chris earned his first money building apps at the age of 15 and by 21 he was building IT systems in disability services. His 40 year career has been an exciting journey through forming and leading technology companies, working for NASA, government and international R&D companies and more recently, running complex IT projects for non-profit organisations.
In the past three years Chris has co-founded multiple startups. In 2015, NamSource was launched and has since become WA’s most trusted apps development partner for start-ups and social enterprise. He launched Mashean in early 2018, as an innovation platform to connect entrepreneurs with investors by guiding people through the process of validating their idea, generating revenue and demonstrating they have an investible business.
Chris is an incredibly thoughtful bloke, with a great sense of humour and a litany of great stories that come from years of experience. In this conversation we discussed the early days of at home computers, how to balance hard and soft skills (even in tech led industries), the democratisation of knowledge through the internet, major life lessons from former business failures and how to build a world class network.
To listen to this episode or any episode of The Network with Mike Drysdale simply hit play on the Soundcloud player or any one of the buttons below:
If you like this interview you might also like the chat I had with Business Coach and Social Impact Investor Tom Kooy. In that episode Tom speaks about how business coaching has evolved since 2004, overcoming imposter syndrome, self sabotage and the importance of feedback loops and celebrating your wins in early stage start ups.
The Show Notes:
1:51 – What motivated a twelve year old kid to get into software development on computers back in the 1970s?
“You weren’t any more constrained then than you are today, just that the problems we were trying to fix weren’t as complicated.”
“I can’t say why I suddenly became interested in it other than It was fun to sit there with Dad kind of poking in these weird numbers to make Space Invaders. But as I saw my first space invader die as a missile exploded into it, I was hooked.”
5:25 – What kind of skills facilitate being good at creating software and writing code?
“If you look at any kind of artistic pursuit, they’re not expensive things necessarily, they can become expensive to learn, but It’s not expensive if you apply yourself, but mistakes aren’t expensive, if you write crap code you just delete it and write some better code.”
“It’s just a very level playing field, almost any aspect of technology you can watch some YouTube videos, write some code, nobody judges you, it either works or it doesn’t work or you learn something exciting you didn’t already know.”
7:24 – Should school’s change the binary nature of ‘pass/ fail’ language in order to adopt more of an evolution over time approach that simply states “not yet”?
“Inevitably we’re always going to be crap until we’re good.” Mike Drysdale
“But also, if you keep getting told you’re not good enough, it kind of implies that you’ll never be good enough.” – Chris Nurse
“I tend to sense solutions and make leaps of faith like ‘I bet that problem might be solved by XYZ’ I tend to feel things, I’m not a very cold, logical person in that way.
10:16 – The power of having a high EQ in a largely technical industry and the importance of keeping an open mind.
“With technology we always say there’s different ways to skin a cat, so you can’t really sit in a room full of esteemed people going my solution’s the only way to fix this thing.”
15:52 – If you could have someone coach you in anything, what areas of life are you still really curious about growing in?
“I’m trying to make things simpler for other people, I’m trying to be an enabler.”
“I think I would get a little bit better at being concise when I’m coaching.”
Who would be the coach you would choose? Guy Kawasaki.
18:30 – What are some of the lessons Chris learned from his earlier business experiences.
(Referring to Innate Beats): “I learned very quickly that I’d needed to have a patent, but it’s a long process and that really stopped the development and release of the software, because it stopped becoming about building the app and it really became about protecting the future of the IP so I could sell it.”
21:47 – Of those companies how many would Chris consider to have been successes at the time?
“In the earlier days I would say there were a lot more successes, because I think people’s attention wasn’t as difficult to get. These days, there’s so much competition you’ve got to be in it for the long haul.”
23:15 – The advantages and disadvantages of the internet allowing us to to see the elite global standard of any given skill.
“The democratisation of knowledge means the creative process is much more enabled in 2018 and again, it doesn’t matter whether you have money or not, as long as you can get on the internet and watch some videos you can get skills.”
27:09 – What is the right balance between honing a very specific set of skills and branching out to learn other complimentary skill sets that might not come as naturally to you.
(This is a concept that Chris calls T-shaped people, referring to the breadth of depth of someone’s expertise.)
“After dropping out of school I actually got a job at a university as opposed to going to university to study. Given I’d already learned to code during the four or five years before, these guys said “oh you’re good with computers can your write some code and some programs for us, to help us use computers in education?
And then I got an opportunity about the age of 19 to present at a conference and straight away I had to learn how to communicate pretty quickly, how to present and to engage people. Hopefully for me, the blessing was to learn that quickly, not realise I don’t have those skills later in life because, I guess then it’s harder to acquire and to integrate that into your personality.”
“But you’ve got to make a bet at some point, of what are you going to be famous for?”
31:43 – What are the skills and behaviours that have led Chris to having the formidable and trusted business network that he has today?
It comes down to three words: authentic connection and transparency.
“Try to understand what are the frustrations of this person and how can I participate in moving them as quickly as possible, from where they are to where they want to be.”
“I think it’s probably because I’m one of the few remaining people in the world that will just say hello to people, just because you can and then it begins, you get to know people and there’s another connection.”
37:23 – The story of Digital Clone, a company that received $1.5m in funding pre revenue, gave Chris some of his hardest life lessons, tested his resilience and became the reason he always tells people: “It’s possible to get up and dust off.”
“I was driving back through Spain, back to Marbella and I was watching TV as this plane flew into the first tower and that first tower came down and I don’t think any of us understood what was going on, but within two weeks our project died. Because the investor was Arabic and the inventor of the concept was Iranian. Literally every conversation stopped.”
46:00 – The chapter I was reminded of from “Braving the Wilderness” by Brene Brown was called ‘It’s hard to hate people close up’.
“I think, when people are anonymous it’s so easy to judge, because you’ve got no fear of them having a right of reply. But of course you’re not going to go up and make a racial slur to someone inches away from you, so it’s that anonymity that gives a lot of people the license to behave that way, but if your neighbours, it’s a very different situation. That’s why we’re so fortunate to have such a multi-cultural mix here in Perth, but so did we in Bradford.”
48:54 – 50 Ways To Be More Creative And Live Better In 2018. The challenge from the personal development section is to: Join a group or club that is predominantly made up of people that don’t look like you and get to know these people first hand.
“Our differences enrich each other.”
50:57 – Which book or books has Chris gifted to people most often in his life and why?
Simon Sinek’s: ‘Start With Why’ and ‘Leaders Eat Last.’
“You’ve got to learn to look after others, because they will look after you. But don’t look after yourself first and then hope others will also look after you.”
52:24 – What’s the most valuable purchase Chris has made in the last 12 months?
Patrick Eijkenboom, His recently hired CEO for Namsource and Mashean
“Rather than say to the guy: There’s a contract, there’s KPI’s, you have to perform, blah, blah, blah, we wanted this person to come in and immediately feel like a trusted partner, part of the family, so we immediately vested his stock in the company. So that cost me a lot more than a hundred dollars.
Then secondly rather than have Mashean as our project that was about to be spun out, we actually left it in the business. So not only did we give him a good wedge of Namsource to demonstrate trust and buy in to each other, but we also loaded Mashean into Namsource as well. So he gets a significant asset share if you like, but the return is that we’ve got these awesome skills for commercialisation, international experience and a really great, trusted friend.”
54:43 – What pieces of software do you live by or use to make your life more efficient?
Office 365 and Lean Business Canvas which inspired Chris to start their side business Mashean, a software product that also helps people define business models but incorporates a human element that was missing from other offerings they’d seen.
58:03 – What have you found to be the best measurements for success in your companies?
“Customers will tell you how to be successful. So, before you run off and build something, talk to people and figure out what would actually fit them, their needs, their lifestyle, choices and so on.”
1:00:35 – What are the most effective strategies you’ve used to find customers for new businesses?
“A lot of blog posts, a lot of LinkedIn articles, a lot of looking for the right Facebook groups with people crying out “I have a problem.” It’s not hard to find start-up groups and meet ups for founders and so on. But in my opinion the people who do this the best are the social entrepreneurs and it’s because they fall in love with fixing the problem, not their solution.”
“If you’re closer to the problem, it means you’re closer to the solution.”
1:03:41 – What is a brand that you are irrationally loyal to?
Fender Guitars: Chris shares his story of meeting his guitar soul mate via a true salesman.
“Who does my customer trust?”
“Whose opinion does my customer truly respect?”
“And how can I get involved with those people?”
“What are your purchases telling the world about who you are?”
1:08:33 – If you could put a message on a billboard that would be seen by millions of people every single day what would it be and why?
“Democratise your expertise and watch it scale.” Outside of Silicon Valley.
“How are you levelling the playing field?” My own rewording of Chris’s quote.
Get in touch with Chris:
Via the website: www.Mashean.io
Or via email: email@example.com
We’re always on the lookout for inspiring leaders, change makers and entrepreneurs having an impact on our communities here in Perth and beyond, so if that sounds like you or someone you know: Introduce yourself! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll reply on how we can best collaborate. Thanks so much for reading and have a great day.