Interview: Jackson Hull, CTO and COO of GoCompare
There’s no denying that, since being founded in 2006 by Hayley Parsons, GoCompare has become a Welsh success story and household name in its own right.
After all, you’ve no doubt seen the comedic maestro played by Wyn Jones plastered over your telly for the past decade or accessed the price comparison website for quotes on insurance.
Currently, the fintech giant is undergoing a major digital transformation drive headed up by chief technology and operating officer Jackson Hull. We recently caught up with him.
TD: Can you tell us a little more about yourself and your career in the tech industry?
JH: I’ve always been in technology, and have started and/or scaled technology-enabled businesses in a wide variety of industries. Web, social, eCommerce, B2B, mobile, desktop software, IoT, AI – you name it, I’ve done it.
I was born in San Francisco, and have always been in and around technology. As a child, I was programming in Basic on my 8086 and my school’s Apple IIe. I started a web business in my final years at university, only to see it fizzle in the dotcom bust. Suffice it to say, this was an early learning of what the life of an entrepreneur would be.
Later in my career, I was a software developer at Sitoa, where I later became VP Product Development and eventually CTO. I co-founded Chatterfly during graduate school, and sold it six months after launch – a quintessential Silicon Valley right-place-right-time story.
After the acquisition, I then held Engineering Director and CTO positions at Plum District, before I moved to London with my family. In London, I was CTO at onefinestay, an upscale Airbnb. I was CTO at Student.com, a global marketplace for student accommodation, where myself and the team re-built the product and experience.
I joined GoCompare a couple of years ago, drawn to the opportunity to re-imagine the customer experience, innovate and be surrounded by a world-class management team.
As well as my role at GoCompare, I also mentor and advise start-up companies in London and San Francisco, as well as invest and advise through Kindred Capital Partners, a Venture Capital firm in London.
TD: What does your current role at GoCompae entail?
JH: As CTO and COO, it’s my responsibility to make sure we’re harnessing the latest in tech and data science, and as a team have the correct structures in place to be able to achieve our company strategy.
Our goal is to save people everywhere time and money. We want to do this through continually driving innovation in our industry and investing in the best talent to create the best services.
We’re a consumer champion, so everything we do needs to be about putting the consumer first, while providing lower-hassle solutions for our customers – so it’s my job to oversee that.
TD: How did you start your journey at the company?
JH: When I joined the company, it was clear that it had a huge amount of potential as both a consumer-driven business and a leader in the fintech space. But like with any company, there were challenges.
GoCompare had grown rapidly as a business, from a small start-up to a major national brand, but in that growth had fallen into a process-first way of working, at least in the tech team. In the tech space, that translated into a waterfall development model, which can kill innovation and leave people feeling unempowered.
One of the first aims was to take a step back and revaluate how we were working and not only make this more efficient, but also shift the focus onto the talented people we had working at the business to allow them to free themselves from process and help drive innovation for our customers.
This teamed with strategic talent growth – like the introduction of a dedicated data science and machine learning team – shifted the dynamic of GoCompare into a more agile, proactive business.
TD: What exciting things are you working on at the moment?
JH: It’s all data, all the time. We are really into big data, machine learning and bringing those to bear on our customer experience. It’s just a start, but the progress here has been quite exciting.
We developed our own version of a tried and tested agile model, a variant of the Spotify model of tribes, squads and chapters. This involved the reorganisation of the entire office – stripping out half our conference rooms and individual offices, including that of the CEO.
Setting up small teams of people with cross-functional capabilities (a product manager, a designer, some engineers, a test engineer, maybe someone in infrastructure) also gave the team the ability and accountability to ship software at the highest output they can in terms of value, and then get out of their way.
We have gone from shipping software once, maybe twice a quarter, to daily, and that will be many times daily by year end. Wearing my COO hat for a moment, we have also had record profits for each of the last 8 quarters, which is a testament to the team embracing change and focusing on working together to achieve success.
TD: You list machine learning, big data and IoT as technologies you’re interested in. How do you see them impacting our lives, and how is GoCompare incorporating them?
JH: AI and machine learning are certainly the future right now and will raise the benchmark of customer expectation in a number of industries. At GoCompare, we’ve undergone a radical organisational transformation to become AI-first.
As I see it, the future of price comparison will be proactive – ‘push, not pull’ – with AI being fundamental to this vision. As customer preferences change and they become more trusting of companies who don’t betray their data, machine learning will be able to identify patterns or clusters of behaviour and be able to push out savings to our customers. You can see an early glimpse of our vision coming alive through AI with our community API project.
TD: What’s your opinion on the Welsh tech sector?
JH: There’s a real untapped pool of talent in the local and surrounding areas when it comes to tech capabilities, and this represents a real opportunity for the sector. That said, like the rest of the UK, Wales has a shortage of talent in critical technology positions, namely data science and product management.
My goal is to make GoCompare the employer of choice when it comes to tech careers in South Wales, so I do believe there’s a strong chance we’ll see Wales’ tech scene flourishing in the next few years with all the opportunities that are arising. But we have to do more, and we are working with the Welsh government and on our own to foster homegrown talent.
This year, we launched the GoFurther Academy, which among other outcomes, will see a group of computer science students through a funded, four-year degree at Aston university, while learning on the job with us in Newport.