What I've Learnt: Mat Hunter, Co-CEO at Plus X

Charlie Spargo's picture
by Charlie Spargo

Plus X is the newest venture from the Central Research Laboratory (CRL), comprising a series of  commercial hubs incorporating innovative work spaces with access to growth services and a curated culture of collaboration.

Plus X will launch across the UK in December, evolving from their existing tech and hardware co-working space at the CRL.

We spoke to Mat Hunter, who works at its head, about the life lessons from his career.

Which single daily habit or practice could you not do without?

Getting out of bed within one minute of my alarm clock going off. No snoozing!

What's been your luckiest break?

Studying for a Masters Degree in Interaction Design at Royal College of Art in the early nineties when few people knew that digital was a going to be transformational for almost every aspect of society, and very few designers were training to get involved.

Back then, digital things were only made by software engineers. Graduating from that programme allowed me to start my career in Silicon Valley and work for what some people consider to be the most innovative consultancy in the world, IDEO. Innovation has been at the heart of my entire working life.

What's your best failure?

My ongoing failure to stay interested in things when they become repetitive. It always spurs me on to try something new and learn something new. I stay interested when I have only a partial idea of how I will succeed. The positive aspects of fear, perhaps...

What is the best investment you've ever made, either financial or time?

I think my current activities will add up to the best investment. We're building a series of commercial hubs across the UK that will enable diverse businesses to innovate and grow.

We also ensure that the local community is included - for instance ensuring local schools get to visit and see what entrepreneurship is all about. Our vision is that these hubs will have a deeply positive effect on thousands of lives over the next five, 10, 15 years. That's a big potential return. 

How would you describe your work/life balance?

Could be worse. I seem to work quite long weeks but the weekends are for me and my family.

Recently I've been pleased to hear venerable Silicon Valley entrepreneurs such as Reid Hoffman (founder of LinkedIn) recognise that an exhausted person is not very productive. Apparently it takes a scientific study to counter the belief that only 24/7/365 is enough.

We're very much looking to better understand and enable employee wellbeing in our buildings.

Which book would you recommend others to read and why?

'Thank You For Being Late' by Thomas L Friedman. An engagingly written explanation by the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and commentator, on why the world is moving so fast. Even though I am very familiar with Moore's Law - that's predicted the rate of improvement of microchips for decades - Friedman does a good job of explaining that compound improvement, over a long period of time, is particularly hard for the human brain to comprehend.

What one piece of advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

Nothing - I was very well advised by friends, family and then my employers in my early career.

In fact, my general advice to anyone is to surround themselves with great people - whether you're in your twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, sixties or later - and to listen to their advice. It's why I think building innovation communities is so important. It's a great way to surround yourself with wise minds even if you're a sole trader or in a small business.

Who or what has had the single biggest influence on your working life?

IDEO's leadership culture was hugely empowering. The idea was that just because you were senior, didn't mean you alone had the best ideas. The role of experienced leaders was taking on responsibility, encouraging and supporting the less experienced people to grow as fast as they could.

That and the general concept of user-centred design - learning how to empathise and understand others' needs.

Tell us something about you that would surprise people.

Some people might see me as a creative, urban type, so the fact that I live in a very rural area and love mountain biking might be surprising.

What does success look like to you?

Try new things, stick at them even when the going is tough, work with great people and cross your fingers (because success always requires some luck).

It's the heart of an innovative, entrepreneurial approach.