Trend Spotting….. Adam Stone
Written by Tracey Duke, Photography by Pip Andersen
Adam Stone, the man behind Rokk Media; one of Exeter’s most successful software development companies, has built his award winning business on a foundation of honesty, transparency and vision. From humble beginnings Adam has, over 30 years, established himself as a respected visionary within the field of digital technology, founding the South West’s first web design company back in 1996. Listing some of the city’s most established businesses as clients, he’s a man who believes in constant evolution and who is always one step ahead of the game, working with companies across the globe.
We caught up with him at his Exeter office to talk vision, Generation Z and digital trends for 2018.
Adam, thank you so much for your time this morning. As always we’ll jump straight into the conversation starting with a little background about yourself.
Ok. So I have a very working-class background; education simply didn’t come into it. My Dad was a bricklayer from the lowest council estate in the area and my mum worked at Woolworths.
None of my peers went to University; College was not even something you could spell! So it was interesting that I would end up in a tech business.
My great, great grandfather on my father’s side was a Jewish immigrant who came across from Eastern Europe with his family. Their journey was most definitely not easy, but there’s something about that immigrant drive that stays with you; I’ve seen it in my father and in his brothers who, despite their early struggles, have all gone off and done stuff on their own.
There’s a definite genetic drive that says keep going forward; go for what you want and try to achieve that. I always think that if you’ve been prepared to uplift your family and go to a country that doesn’t even speak your language, then you have to have some kind of ambition in you. Maybe it’s learned, maybe it’s innate, I’m not sure, but I’ve always felt that that’s been a driving force in my life and it’s probably where I get my entrepreneurial spirit from.
When I was a boy of around 6 or 7, we emigrated to Australia as £10 Poms; we literally paid £10 and jumped on a ship for six weeks, to Sydney. We had some amazing adventures. Even though we’re talking 44 years ago, I still remember it vividly. So there’s a definite ‘you know what, if it isn’t working here, let’s move on and try somewhere else’, rather than ‘woe is me I’ll stick with what I’ve got’ attitude.
I definitely have the mindset that it really doesn’t matter where you’ve come from; if you’ve got faith in yourself and a goal, you can achieve what you want. It was never said explicitly, but the message was around me all the time.
I never saw a great deal of failure. If Dad ever came home and said I’ve done a bit of work and I haven’t been paid, he’d always have a solution for it and I grew up feeling almost invincible. My parents were fantastic and still are; they gave so much to us.
So given your childhood circumstances and the struggles that your parents fought through, how do you feel about failure, or perceived failure, as an adult?
I think that when you’re younger, in your early twenties, you’re much more inclined to take a risk; you do have that feeling of having an ‘invincibility cloak’. You just have to look around you at people in my field to see that. Take Zuckerberg & Larry Page for example; these guys all started out at a young age, because they had the ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’ attitude.
I think of challenges more as opportunities for growth. In fact, I think that one of the greatest skills, that I learned from my father, is the ability to be able to solve things quickly. I see solutions all the time. Whenever anyone says something can’t be done, it frustrates me because within two minutes I’ll have come up with a plan. There’s always a solution for everything; you just need to think pragmatically.
I completely agree; I truly believe that there is no challenge that cannot be overcome. Ok Adam, let’s move on and talk about Rokk and where you are as a company right now.
We’ve seen some big changes at Rokk recently and in fact we’re moving towards a rebrand later this year. This will reflect our move from the focus being on media and website design, towards the software development itself.
To survive as a business in this industry, it’s vital that you constantly evolve and stay ahead of the game.
Our biggest client is based in Greece; they have a multi-billion pound turnover and are owned by a self-made Lebanese guy, who’s not even 40 yet. He made his money in the telecoms industry providing infrastructure in Africa. What they’re doing now is looking to corner what they call the Fin Tech (Financial Technology) sector by offering micro-payments in the third world. So if you’re a Nigerian or a Bangladeshi, your access to money is fairly limited; nobody gives you a bank account if you’ve got no collateral. The chances of paying it back are fairly risky, so banks don’t venture there. You can’t get a credit card because you’ve got no credit history, indeed you can’t even get on the internet because you don’t have access to broadband. So their model is that they will provide you with a phone; a Samsung android phone which has a wallet built in, that the customer can load with credit via the pay as you go system. So you’re paying for the data usage of the phone & if you need to borrow $15 it’s added to your pay as you go account and you pay it back.
So Rokk is building the application software for that. We’re even building the marketing system that sends out 4 million texts a day, across the third world, to get people involved in it; it’s a massive business.
What a fantastic contract Adam! Tell me a little more about how that came about.
So this piece of business came purely through a conversation with John Wood, who was Head of Corporate at Exeter Chiefs, a few years back. He was instrumental in securing the deal and in fact we’ve been working with him, on the project, ever since.
It didn’t happen overnight though; it took time, investing in the relationship with the client, to get to this point. We eventually landed the deal last August and now they’re talking about significantly more work. So it’s season by season. Game by game. Have the vision but don’t try to overstretch or rush. Most importantly don’t panic if it’s taking a little longer to get to where you want.
It was a real exercise in relationship building and in keeping your eyes open for opportunities. If you knock enough times on a door, somebody will open it.
I couldn’t agree with you more. Patience is one of the most important qualities we can have; whether that’s in business or life.
So very true. Building relationships are vitally important in both business and personal life. I have a mutual support network of about five friends; which I think is really important in business. You have to have it; people whom you trust with your life.
And you have to be able to show vulnerability too. When you show vulnerability, it opens you up to people feeling more endearing towards you; it’s important to show it at all levels. I just don’t see that there’s any point in trying to be something you’re not. You’re either the real deal or you’re not; it’s exhausting to be anything else. Be yourself. Be open. Be honest.
If you don’t like the person you are or you don’t feel that other people will like the person you are, then that’s a whole other question to be had. Sometimes though you don’t even need to change yourself, you just need to change your perception of yourself.
So what are your thoughts on Generation Z? They’re a game-changing generation who are now attracting more attention as digital consumers than the Millennials and who appear to know exactly who they are and what they’re looking for.
Generation Z is the most educated and the most switched on generation for decades; there is no doubt in that.
They know all the tricks. They know how to get their entertainment. They know want they want and when they want it. They don’t mind paying for products, but they don’t want to be ripped off. In fact, there’s a mass hatred of forced information. They have the attitude that if I want that information, I’ll look for it and I’ll get it but I don’t want it put in my face. They most definitely do not want to be sold to.
Do you feel that that’s an attitude that is filtering through to older generations?
People don’t want to be sold to, but they don’t mind subscriptions if it’s all upfront and transparent; as an example, we’re seeing that very much in the games industry with the pay to play systems.
I think that the last big lesson for us, as consumers, was realising that all you read on social media may not be true. It’s been a hard lesson and we’ve had some pain out of that lesson for sure, but it means that now we’re looking at everything and questioning it, in the way young millennial and yes Generation Z, will do; which is absolutely the right thing to do.
Ok, Adam; let’s move on to Digital Trends for 2018. How do you see things going?
Augmented Reality is definitely one to watch this year. We recently built an A.R app for The Cauldron in Gandy Street. I was chatting with Ben, who is one of the owners and he mentioned that he was setting up a pub on Gandy Street. When he explained that it would be a Harry Potter themed bar, it was a no-brainer to know that an A.R app would be perfect for it. So we did a mates deal, created the app and now, if you go into the bar and hold the app against any of the pictures or menus, they will come to life with dragons flying around and all sorts of cool stuff happening.
It’s a game changer for all businesses; bringing pages and photos to life. Yes, it’s early days but we’ll be seeing a lot more development in that area.
Big Data is still massive and will become much bigger. Everything now is becoming connected with products like Alexa, Echo & Siri playing their parts in everyday life.
Mobile Payments are another area posed for big growth, with emerging markets set to increase interaction. The smartphone penetration of the market has played a huge part in this.
Fantastic! I’m a little late to the party, but Alexa has most definitely found a place in our Generation Z dominant home. So to wrap things up, how do you feel about the year ahead?
I’m really optimistic about the future; not just for me and the business or my family, but for the world in general. I think we’ve got some challenges right now and we’re dealing with them, but it’s a great exciting time.
For Rokk, all the signs are there for an amazing year. We’ll continue to evolve with the digital world and I’m keen for us to become more international. At this point, there is also a possibility that we may open a European office.
The key to growth is positivity and the understanding that anything that is negative in the world, has to come back to the centre; it’s just the way of the world. Balance always wins in the ends.
Thank you so much for your time, Adam! It’s been great to talk. I and all the team at Grow wish you every success for the coming year and look forward to seeing your continued growth.
Follow Adam @Rokkster or jump online at www.rokkmedia.co.uk