All Posts By

Abby Scarborough

Meet the #Future15: An interview with James Gill

By | Interview | No Comments

Eleven years ago he was just a kid that saw an opportunity.

Now he’s the CEO that you should know about.

Meet James Gill, co-founder of GoSquared and one of our entrepreneurs featured in the #Future15 this year!

We sat down with this ‘one to watch’ last month to find out what has kept him motivated over the years and why he’s sticking with GoSquared.

Abby: First off, congratulations on being named as part of this years #Future15! The YENA team first heard about you a few months ago, but obviously you’ve been growing GoSquared for much longer than that. What inspired you, Geoff and JT, to start something at just fifteen years old?

James: The main thing to bear in mind is that the Internet was quite a different place when we were younger. For anyone that was interested, there was opportunity everywhere. Facebook was just taking off, the iPhone had just launched and there still wasn’t such a thing as the mobile web. It was just this massively level playing field and even though we were a bunch of kids in a shed, we could compete with companies that had hundreds of people.

A: So what did GoSquared start out life as?

J: At first it was just us learning how to build a website. We’d seen the million dollar home page, which was pretty ugly and garish, but we figured that if this guy (Alex Tew) could make a million dollars then we may as well give it a go! From that we decided that instead of selling 1,000 pixels at a dollar each we’d sell squares and that’s where the name came from. You could click an email link and then we could put the ad up, but we soon realised that no one cared because no one knew we existed.

What it did teach us was the importance of knowing how to build a community, audience and customer base, and everything else has just snowballed from there.

A: Looking back, what’s been the biggest milestone that you’ve had since launching?

J: I guess one of the biggest highlights for me was raising money from Passion Capital. Not only was it the first round we raised, but we were also the youngest founders that they’d ever backed at just 19 and 20 years old at the time. More than that though, it forced us to make a decision as to whether to go to university or not.

Since then, another big turning point was when we had the opportunity to sell and we said no. For us it proved that we were doing something that people really valued and that it had huge potential.

A: You’ve been running for more than eleven years now, but has there ever been a time when you thought you’d had enough?

J: Every other day [*laughter*]. I think everyone who runs their own business knows that you go up and down all of the time, but the key moment was when we had the buyout offer. It forced us to genuinely consider selling and made us realise that we’d rather be founders than employees.

A: As CEO, there is a lot of pressure on you to deliver for your team and your investors. How do you deal with that?

J: I have in the past let the pressure get to me and that’s something that I’ve tried to work quite hard on. When you have a team you’re always trying to do the best job you can to ensure everybody loves what they’re doing –without a great team, you’re screwed. Whereas I used to bury my head in the sand, I now try and touch base with every person every other week and we can just talk about whatever. It allows you to build a connection.

A: How about more personally? How do you manage your own anxiety?

J: I used to have a terrible routine. We had a gap year without a schedule and, as teenage guys, that meant that we got up at 11 and went to bed at 2. I’ve really focused on trying to improve that because it sets you up for the rest of the day. I’ve tried meditation and, to be honest, I’m not great at it, but I think that if you can take five minutes out everyday to just breath it can really help to just chill yourself out.

A: Clearly you love design and GoSquared is a manifestation of that. Why is it such a passion of yours?

J: I’ve always been really into art. I remember drawing a picture of a fire engine that they put up in our local station and it made me so proud. My mum worked in a design agency so I was introduced to Photoshop and Illustrator from a young age. Then when my dad’s company was throwing out an old Mac, I convinced them to give it me and that was the first time that I had a proper tool for creative work – that’s what made me fall in love with computers as a medium for creativity

As I’ve grown up I’ve always wanted to surround myself with nicely designed stuff. When you think about it you can really look around and realise why things are a certain way and you start to question whether they’re designed well. It often astonishes me how little thought has gone into every day products and it really frustrates me.

A: If you could be designing anything, what would it be?

J: As much as I love designing and building software, I would also love to do something more in the physical world. I haven’t got a clue about how to actually produce hardware products, but when you think about the amount of obsessive work that has gone into making something like an iPhone, I find it really beautiful.

Other products have really only had a tiny fraction of that effort so I think there are so many other areas that are ripe for disruption. Even things like light-switches and toothbrushes could be so much smarter.

A: Obviously GoSquared has evolved over the years and will continue to into the future. Beyond that, where do you see yourself as well as your business in five years?

J: Five years is a really long time. I think with GoSquared we have this tremendous opportunity to improve the way that businesses communicate with their customers. It’s not just thousands of businesses we can help, it’s millions upon millions of consumers too There’s so much  potential to build great software that genuinely helps millions of people every day and that global impact gets us very excited.

My personal future is totally tied to where we take GoSquared. I’ve always wanted to run a company that I was proud of and I never really thought about a career ladder. Success to me isn’t really about the financial side, it’s more about building something great and earning respect from the industry.

At the end of the day, there’s way more to life than who drives the fastest car, and at the start of the journey I didn’t necessarily realise that. Now, to me, chucking away everything in your life just to make a financially successful business doesn’t make much sense. I just want us to be able to look back and say we were pleased and proud with what we achieved.


Check out GoSquared over at and to find out who else made it into this year’s #Future15 click here.

Meet the #Future15: An Interview with Naomi & Paul Kelsall

By | Interview | No Comments

When we launched the #Future15, we told everyone to expect the unexpected.

In our network there is such a diversity of businesses that we weren’t going to shy away from celebrating some of our more unorthodox startups.

Meet Kelsall Architects: the Manchester-based architectural duo of Naomi & Paul Kelsall, aiming to build a more sustainable future for our planet.

Over the past year, they’ve left employment and come face-to-face with the realities of running their own business. It may have been a learning curve, but with a new website and new connections, they’ve got big ideas on the horizon.

I sat down with architecture’s newest power couple in Manchester last month to find out more about their journey so far.

Abby: First of all congratulations on being named in the YENA #Future15! We’re really excited to be featuring you both on our list, especially as you don’t see a lot of startups like yours getting recognised for the work that they do.

Paul: Thanks! It’s not really a startup in a typical sense. I think because of the nature of the industry, it’s something that has to be grown organically rather than scaled quickly. A lot of startups have a small product or service that they sell to a wide audience, but we have a very big service product that we sell to a small audience.

Naomi: The architectural industry is quite insular in a lot of ways, but we think it’s a good thing to learn from other people who are running their own businesses.

Paul: We started an architectural firm because we wanted to do architecture, whereas we meet people who start businesses because they want to do business. It’s good to be around those people because you can learn so much from them.

A: Both of you have worked for some pretty big architectural firms in the past, what made you decide to start your own business?

P: I think we both always wanted to start our own practices independently before we even met. Both of our parents ran their own businesses so we were exposed to the idea from a young age.

N: I think a lot of people in the creative professions want to do their own thing so that you’re not always designing to please your boss! I suppose it’s really about autonomy and having control over how we do it as well. This way we can design directly for our clients and our values as a practice can be prioritised.

A: How did you find that transition from being employed to running your own business?

N: We’ve found it a huge learning curve. I mean, we knew that it wouldn’t be easy, but it was the stuff that you take for granted when you’re working for someone else that was hardest at first. The business side of things, like the administration and the finance, that’s normally taken care of and then suddenly you’re managing it all whilst also trying to do architecture at the same time.

P: I suppose the biggest thing now is getting the work in. Before you could just sit there and work would be presented to you, but now we’ve had to learn how to make those strategic relationships to get the work ourselves.

A: What you have you done to build those relationships?

P: It’s taken quite a bit of trial and error, and we’re still trialling it a lot of the time, but we’ve found that you can intentionally make a purposeful connection with someone or, opportunities can just drop out of the sky. I mean sometimes you’ll meet someone, who’s met someone else who knows someone who needs a building built. It’s about building your own network.

N: Also, I think that a lot of it is about trust so you have to build relationships with people. Word of mouth is good in this sense because it’s someone who knows you already recommending you.

P: With architecture there’s often quite a long build-up period so you might make a connection today and then in a couple of years time it will turn into a project.

A: Are you finding that word of mouth is something that is helping you build those relationships locally?

P: Yes, definitely. We went to meet a property developer the other day and we came into contact with them through quite a convoluted route. Someone from YENA put us in touch with their director who then put us in touch with the developers. I think because it came from someone internally it had quite a bit of weight to it.

N: And I think we learnt quite a lot from that experience because you realise that even if directly it doesn’t look like there’s any useful link, if you manage to build a friendship from that, it could lead to something in the future.

A: Where does your passion for architectural design come from?

N: For me architecture has such a significant impact on people, more than most people realise. A badly designed space can really affect people’s daily lives as much as a good one. I suppose that’s part of the reason I got into it. Architecture has this powerful ability to transform a place so sometimes it feels like a huge responsibility.

P: I like how architecture straddles both science and art whilst also having a massive social impact. My grandfather taught me how to draw and I knew I wanted to do something creative like that, but I actually found architecture by accident. I got given a career book that had different professions in alphabetical order and… you can work out the rest. It’s been a happy learning curve!

A: Why is sustainable design one of your core values and how has it impacted the work that you do?

N: It’s out of necessity really. Construction and maintenance of buildings accounts for about 50% of the UK’s carbon output and we feel we have a responsibility to future generations to reduce that. We’re trying to make sustainability measurable, but it’s expensive in comparison to building regulation standards. Essentially, sustainability has to stack up financially. That’s the challenge.

P: We’re currently working on a new build house in a seventies housing estate in Lancashire for a small developer. The client is keen to see how low energy it can be made whilst still returning a good profit. It’s great when you meet like-minded clients! The main thing for us is thinking long-term in our designs.

A: What’s been your favourite project so far?

N: We did an extension on a 300 year old cottage in the lake district. We always design contemporary architecture and the contrast of this sleek structural glass extension with the wobbly walls of the cottage looks great!

P: I think, for me, the house we’re doing in Lancashire at the moment is really interesting because there are so many challenges to balance, but the vision for it is very much inline with our values.

A: And last, but not least, what does the future look like for Kelsall Architects?

P: In the long run we’d love to move onto our own developments. We are always looking for sites with potential where we can add value to communities through our architecture

N: We’d love to design our own co-working space in Manchester. Maybe a mixed use development with a cafe and a residential area. For the time being though, we just want to make sure that we’re having a positive impact through the spaces that we build and hopefully that will guide us to the right kind of work in the future.


Check out Kelsall Architects over at and to find out who else made it into this year’s #Future15 click here.