What I've Learnt: Paul Moorby, Founder and CEO at Chipside

Charlie Spargo's picture
by Charlie Spargo
Paul Moorby, Chipside

Grimsby-born Paul Moorby is the Founder of Chipside, a software company that provides smart city services to more than a quarter of local authorities in the UK.

After leaving school with no qualifications, Paul moved away from the North with just £10. Since then, the company he founded has grown rapidly - earning a Queen's Award in 2019 and now employing more than 50. Paul himself has been awarded an OBE for "services to UK innovation abroad."

An expert in smart cities, Paul has spoken on the subject in India, Malaysia and the US. He is also passionate about offering opportunities to young people from all backgrounds so they have the chance of a career like his.

We sat down with Paul to learn more about what moves him.

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

I start and finish every day reading the news; not just the UK business news that might directly affect me, but also what is happening in completely different areas across the globe.

I find myself reading about innovation helping to take us into space, before finding the latest NASA newsletter online and making my way through that. Falling into the black hole of the internet when you're reading is easy to do - but it is a habit that enables me to have a rounded view of people, industry and culture on a global scale.  

What's been your luckiest break?
Not many young people growing up in the 70s in Grimsby had the opportunity to learn about computer programming - but I did. It was all thanks to a wonderful maths teacher who spotted my potential when I was seemingly falling behind.

At school I was rubbish at football, so my teacher taught me how to code in school breaks. He sparked a lifelong passion within me to work in technology and have my own company, but he also introduced me to complex board games that helped me develop the strategic gameplay skills I needed to be a business leader. We would often play games like Diplomacy, and they still influence how I address business situations today. 
What's your best failure?

Chipside once formed a joint venture with a multinational corporation in the States. It did not work out.

While some could view this as a failure, making it work would have been at the expense of my morals and the values that underpin Chipside. I was not willing to sell out for sales or profit and the experience confirmed I should trust my instinct.

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

The best investment I have ever made is the time spent with my godsons. I do not have children of my own, but I have five godsons who have turned to me in times of need. My godson Daniel works with me and it is brilliant to have the opportunity to seem him flourish in a business I founded. 

How would you describe your work/life balance?

Finding that work/life balance is really important to me. I have always had strong ambitions to grow Chipside and expand, but my career will never impede on family time. I always made time for my godsons when they were younger, playing football, spending time at the park and allowing them to just be kids. 

There is a proverb coined by the twentieth-century British scholar C. Northcote Parkinson that says, “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” I have worked 30 days in a row with no break, but I have also taken six weeks off work for a charity sailing trip.

Work can wait when it needs to and I pass this message on to Chipside’s employees. Should someone need extra time off, I will do my best to accommodate. 

Which book would you recommend others to read and why?

There are a few I would really recommend!

'How to win friends and influence people' by Dale Carnegie - I read this book straight out of school and it has influenced my business decisions and actions ever since. One standout piece of advice is to never to back someone into a corner - be it in an emotional confrontation or sales conversation. Sales should be win-win for the seller and buyer. Make your point, sell your product and give the other person an option to move forward or back out. 

'Making it Happen' by Sir John Harvey Jones - I read this in my mid-20s and it was incredibly insightful. It tells the story of how Jones saved ICI from near-bankruptcy and restored it to its former success. A great business lesson!

'Childhood’s End' by Arthur C. Clarke - though a fictional read, 'Childhood’s End' is a masterful piece of writing from Arthur C. Clarke that uses science to tell a story, that then extends into a lesson about what future science might look like. This particular story taught me to think out of the box about the possibilities of science and technology and I strongly recommend it to innovative thinkers.   

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

Continue being stubborn and making mistakes - but be sure to learn from them.

I knew I wanted to run my own company from the age of eight. I had a newspaper round at 11, a photography business at 17, and set up Chipside in my 20s with just £10 in my pocket. My stubbornness and determination to keep learning and evolving has certainly helped drive Chipside’s success, but it was not always easy. 

At 21 I was going through a time of real despair where I could easily have given up and taken a different career path. I was able to push forward and everything has fallen into place. I would encourage myself and anyone at a similar fork in the road, to keep picking themselves up. 

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

I have to once again credit my maths teacher for spotting my potential when I was seemingly failing in school. He not only introduced me to programming and a future career, but helped initiate my ambition to help build an inclusive society.

I do not want to ever write someone off because of their past history or performance. A true leader will bring out the potential in everyone. 

On a more personal level, my beloved Nana remains a huge influence. She grew up across two World Wars and raised a large family of 11 children with very limited money. Life was tough for her, but she was the ultimate trader and could barter with anyone!
Tell us something about you that would surprise people.

As the CEO of a technology company I am often perceived as someone who is technical and mathematically minded - an engineer who can build and understand complex algorithms and software and chooses to lead a company with strategy at its forefront.

While this may be true, I am also quite a spiritual person. I am fascinated by Native American culture and its grasp of the relationship between nature and life. I have an affinity with anyone or anything that questions our very reason for being.

Some may say it is unusual to express an affinity for science and numbers, as well as spirituality and creativity. However, I think an understanding of opposite sides of this spectrum helps me be a better leader. 

What does success look like to you?

It looks like a team of successful people. 

Though it may sound clichéd, I know I could not have achieved my vision for Chipside without its 50-strong team of employees. It is a privilege to work with people who share in our company ethos and want to help build our success.