C-suite career advice: Matt Poll, Neos

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? "Good people skills, willingness to learn and drive."

Name: Matt Poll

Company: Neos

Job Title: CEO and Co-Founder

Location: London, UK

Having nearly 20 years' experience in the insurance industry, Matt Poll has worked in senior management positions across global companies such as RSA and AXA. Poll began his career as Head of Business Development at French multinational firm AXA, before leaving to become Sales Director at RSA. From there he became Commercial Director and Managing Director at MORE TH>N. In 2016 Poll set up Neos, an insurtech focused on giving consumers more value by providing them with smart home technology to actively protect their home, the first of its kind in the UK.

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? If you can't do your day job within working hours - then you're doing it wrong. It is tempting when things feel overwhelming at work to allow business to leak into your personal life, but there is nothing more important than having a good work life balance - the earlier you learn this, the better. 

To make this possible, you need to learn to work smart - this can mean different things for everybody and depends on how you work best. For example, I always set aside time in the morning to do 30 minutes of gentle yoga or 10 to 15 minutes of mindfulness practice, as I find that it really clears my mind, relaxes me and sets me up well for the busy day ahead.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? The worst piece of advice that I have received is that you have to act differently at work in order to fit into a certain 'corporate box'. The idea that you need to conform to a particular set of ideals to be successful at work is harmful to individuality and, in turn, innovation. Instead you should stay true to your values. Diversity is something that makes a team more successful - your unique ways of working and thinking should be celebrated and encouraged. So, don't doubt yourself.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT? Find what you're good at and focus on becoming the best. It is all about hard work and a willingness to learn new things.

Did you always want to work in IT? No, I actually graduated from university with a degree in Sports Science and then had a long stint in the corporate world before starting Neos. However, this shows that you don't necessarily need a technical background in order to be successful in IT. Hard work, business experience and drive is as equally important as education. 

What was your first job in IT? My first job in this industry was at an IT recruitment consultancy - it was short lived but I learnt a lot during my time there. I got my first taste of just how exciting and innovative the IT industry is as well as an appreciation for the extent that IT underpins the entire infrastructure of modern day business operations.

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT? There is a common misconception that IT is boring, but I have found that it is anything but. Smart devices, contactless payments, mobile apps, online shopping - all of these exciting inventions would not have been possible without IT. IT is fast changing and can reshape the world as we know it. Perhaps we should refer to it as technology instead - this word has positive connotations of innovation and excitement and could help to change this misconception. 

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? Work smart and find a routine that works for you. Make sure your focus is getting the best out of your team and encourage them to be the best they can be.

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? My ambition was to always build my own company from the ground up. I have always had a passion for innovation, and I think that this is something that has been lacking in the insurance sector. Setting up Neos was a chance for me to change that.

I think when I first set out, I was a bit naive. Being from such a corporate background, I didn't realise just how challenging setting up a business from scratch would be - I had to get involved in every aspect of the business. However, we are growing quickly and Neos now has around 50 employees, based across offices in London and Brighton. We've doubled in size in just five months, which is very exciting. 

I'm part way there but we still have some way to go.

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? Yes, I think that a good work life balance is really important. As I mentioned earlier, I always set aside time for yoga and mindfulness in the morning to start my day right. I also eat breakfast with my kids at least three times a week as a family and, whenever possible, make sure that I am home to put them to bed. Staying fit and healthy is also essential to my routine - I tend to workout in the evening rather than the morning as I have more motivation at this time of day. 

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? I would have left the corporate world earlier than I did and followed my ambition to start my own business. When I left my job as Commercial Director at MoreThan at the end of 2015 to start Neos, it just felt right and long overdue.

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? Both have their value - as I mentioned earlier, I didn't do a technical degree but learnt on the job. But it truly depends on what route is right for you, both financially and academically.

How important are specific certifications? It depends on the role that you hold or aspire to hold in the future - some technical positions do require particular certifications in order to be able to competently do the role. Candidates need to do their due diligence and research what is required. These specific certifications are important to a certain degree as they give customers an additional level of assurance and comfort. But people shouldn't be too hung up on getting certifications to tick it off a list. In my experience, having good people skills and a willingness to learn is more important. 

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? Good people skills, willingness to learn and drive.   

What would put you off a candidate? A bad attitude. To build a successful organisation you need to surround yourself with a hardworking and talented team to ensure the working environment is as positive as possible.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? Trying to tell the interviewer exactly what they think they want to hear, rather than listening to the questions and answering honestly. This does no one any favours - it often makes the candidate sound generic and stops the interviewer from getting true feel for your character and strengths that you can bring to the workforce.

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills - or a mix of both? The ability to understand the importance of business strategy, as well as having an in depth understanding of the technology is a winning combination. You don't want to ever lose sight of the importance of both aspects but you also need to have the ability to balance the two in order to create and develop a successful organisation.