Stimulating innovation and growth as a startup - An interview with Camplify CTO Jonathan Milgate

Peter Tylee 11 Apr 2021


What’s Camplify?

The easiest way to describe Camplify is: it’s the Airbnb for caravans, campervans and motorhomes. We join the people who own them and don’t use them very often with the people who want to use them without owning them.
The depreciation of a caravan is not significant. We get lots of anecdotal evidence about someone buying a new Jayco Expander for $60,000, renting it on the side for two years with us, and then selling it for $5,000 or $10,000 less than they paid. So, they’ve actually made money on it, which is a really interesting value proposition for ownership.
At the end of the day, we send people on holidays. I’m enabling people to enjoy their life. And they’re creating memories. Our key demographic is people in their early 40s, and usually a family – they’re taking the kids away camping. It’s nice because you’re, like, warm inside.



Do you have any tips for people on how they can be more innovative themselves?


I think it depends on the culture of the business and what you’re trying to achieve. Innovation in and of itself is aimless. It can mean anything. In terms of what I’ve tried to get my team to do, I prefer continual improvement, coming out of the Japanese concept of continual improvement, Kaizen- “Is this the best way we can be doing this? Yes, no? Okay, let’s look at how we can improve that and experiment on those improvements.”
I think all levels in the business can do that. There’s no reason an individual can’t look at themselves and ask how they can improve, how every team can improve, and how the business can improve. I feel that’s a form of innovation, which can start with baby steps. “This process isn’t working perfectly for us. Okay, how can we improve it? Well, let’s try this thing. Does this work? No, it doesn’t work. Okay, let’s try something else. Oh, that worked. Let’s keep doing that.” Continually looking at how we can change and grow is the easiest, quickest and best way to start innovation.



What would you say is an area often overlooked for improvement?


I think retention of staff is a big miss for a lot of companies. They don’t think about that. They think about, “How do I get the best people in? I’ll just throw money at them and they’ll stay.” I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. You have to challenge them and give them the autonomy to really build themselves and feel like they have a purpose within the organisation. A great motivational speaker, Dan Pink, has written a book about the truth of motivation. He said they’ve done studies in the US where once you get to a certain point, which is about $80,000 a year in terms of salary, throwing more money at people doesn’t work. It’s not going to encourage them to do better work. You have to give them the three things:

  1. You have to give them autonomy, to be able to control their own destiny, control of how and when and what they work on;
  2. You have to give them mastery, so they can master their skills as software engineers, as tech people; and
  3. Purpose – why are we doing this?



[Within Camplify] is there a structured framework you use or is it just ideas flowing?


Well, it’s a bit of both. Within Camplify especially, we’re very flat-structured – we really don’t have hierarchy at all. Ideas can come from anybody. If anybody has an idea, we’ll test it.

In terms of a framework for innovation, we do have hackathons internally, and innovation day. We get people from different parts of the organisation together, but split everybody up. And we say, “Let’s think of something; you can do anything you want. You have 24 hours to come up with a pitch or a particular piece of working software or a new process.” But we have fun with it. It’s not designed to be a win-or-lose thing. We try to have a lot of fun with it.

I think real innovation, real impact-to-business innovation, comes from that continual improvement and continual looking back and saying, “Is this the best way we can do things? Let’s continue to improve.” We ran an internal hackathon at the end of last year. Two or three things came out of it that we’ve already implemented, which is really exciting, and there are one or two that are still in the pipeline. I also feel like you get better results in collaboration.



You get a better outcome if you’ve got a mix of diverse people in the team.


Definitely. And that’s not just background, it’s introvert, extrovert and personality types as well. Some of the introverts might be quiet, but then they’ve got great ideas, and some of the extroverts are loud, they might have great ideas as well. Getting them into a room together and challenging each other, that’s how you come up with great ideas. An individual thinking about how to solve a particular problem can come up with a great solution, but if you’re challenging each other you get a more innovative solution. I love a good whiteboarding session, just drawing and putting things up and getting different people, with different backgrounds, all thinking about it in different ways. More left-of-field, “Oh, I never thought about that. This person’s got a different experience and they’ve done this before.” Colocation really helps that.

I’ve heard that a few Silicon Valley companies, like Slack, recently allowed everyone to work from home indefinitely. They’re going to repurpose their office for regular colocation. If they need a new feature, everyone comes in and they smash out the design. Then they go and build it and come back again. I feel like that’s probably one way some organisations, specifically tech organisations, will work in the future. You work remotely, but at a regular cadence you come back and collaborate, drop ideas.



I like it. Now, if you knew someone in their early 20s and they were interested in becoming a technology leader, is there any advice you’d give them?


When I was in that position I wanted to learn as much as I could, so I had a broad understanding. One of the reasons I did an MBA was because I heard a study about T-shaped people, and that organisations in Silicon Valley liked to hire T-shaped people. Essentially, if you think of the letter T, you have a broad range of skills as the top of the T, and a very deep understanding of a particular part, which is the vertical stroke. I have a deep understanding of tech, but I needed the full range of skills to be able to understand and have a conversation with everybody.

And that’s probably what I would say to someone in their 20s who is looking to become a leader. Leadership is not about being bossy, not being a manager. I think there’s a big difference between a leader and a manager. In my early 20s, having just come out of university, I would focus on being the best that I can be at what I’m doing right now, and get as much experience as I can in many areas.



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This article is part of a larger interview with Johnathan. To read the full article, where we dive deeper into how Camplify is applying innovation and Jonathan's advice for future tech leaders, Subscribe to the GistLens Technology Review at <u></u>



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Peter Tylee

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