Interview with Sean Nolan, CEO and Founder of Blink
Editor’s Note: The Total Entrepreneurs had a one-on-one interview session with Sean Nolan, the co-founder and CEO of Blink. In this startup interview, Sean bore his mind on how his quest to provide an easy solution for frontline workers and businesses alike led him to start Blink. Blink is on a mission to revolutionize the frontline experience by empowering workers with a simple tool that connects them in a very simple way. Sean believes so much in collaborations and partnerships.
Hello Sean, I am glad to have you on our platform. Please tell us a little about yourself.
I’m the Founder and CEO of Blink, a platform that gives frontline workers access to the people, processes, communications, and applications they need to do their jobs. We’re on a mission to revolutionize the frontline experience by empowering every worker with a tool that connects them in a way they’ve never encountered before.
Before I started Blink, I co-founded Tomorrow Communications, the UK’s leading provider of network and security services, and was sold to CACI in 2012.
Please, can you tell me more about Blink?
We work with industries that form the backbone of the economy: transport, logistics, manufacturing, construction, retail, and healthcare, to name a few. For workers in these industries, Blink gives instant, one-place access to everything they need to do (and enjoy) their jobs. They can get their payslips instantly, swap shifts, access information, give feedback, chat to colleagues, and receive recognition for good work, making their daily lives a little better.
What led you to start Blink?
I founded Blink in 2014 after I saw an opportunity in the market for a sophisticated system that supports non-office workers. Like the old one-click tool, but bigger, better, brighter. Sitting on hundreds of hours of engineering work, Blink was born!
How has Blink evolved?
In 2019, we launched to 21,000 Stagecoach bus drivers and since then, we’ve expanded into over a dozen new industries (anywhere employees don’t sit behind a desk). We’ve grown 3x year on year and now have offices in London, New York, Boston, and Sydney.
I’m proud to say that Blink is now one of the fastest-growing B2B SaaS startups, having grown our staff count from 14 to 80, with over 350% ARR growth in the US alone in the last year.
What is so unique about your company?
There’s an assumption that the same technology and approach that works for desk-based workers for HR, e-learning, scheduling or communication will also work for frontline workers. But it’s just not true. The average frontline worker is incredibly frustrated with the digital experience at work; it’s very difficult to access enterprise applications for these workers. Blink solves that in one app, which no one else is offering at the moment.
Prior to your startup, have you any work experience?
Prior to Blink, I co-founded Tomorrow Communications, the UK’s leading provider of network and security services, before a successful exit in 2012.
How did you raise funding for your startup?
Next47 led our Series A at the end of 2021 when we raised $20M. Before that, we raised a seed round which was led by Partech. Alongside this, we have had very active support from a group of prominent angel investors.
Can you describe one of the challenges you faced?
It took a few years to build the technology and find product-market fit, a fair amount of iteration on both the technical side and the user experience side. We wanted to deeply understand why existing solutions were gaining adoption or stickiness with frontline workers, and how we could build something incredibly simple, so anyone can use the app without training or questions.
Describe your achievements so far in the industry.
Every time we get to launch Blink to a new organisation and see the impact that it can make on the way thousands of people experience work.
What’s in store for the future?
We want to connect every frontline worker, whilst helping our customers modernise and digitise their frontline operations. Desk-free workers make up 50% of the workforce in the UK and US, and 80% globally. Our goal is to reach them all.
If you could turn the time, what would you love to do in regard to your business?
So much! I’d be more deliberate and thoughtful about the type of culture we wanted to build, and I’d definitely invest more time and energy in our employer brand, talent acquisition and all things people related. More broadly, I’d love to find ways to enjoy the journey more and mark more of the milestones with the team.
“Find a big and meaningful problem, then partner with some great people to tackle it!” – Sean Nolan
Do you think it is easy to be an entrepreneur?
This is dependent on the personality of the person looking to become an entrepreneur. I don’t think everyone is suited to this lifestyle. Nothing good comes easy, as they say! It takes an incredible amount of resilience and trust in both yourself and your team to be successful, plus a lot of understanding from your friends and family!
Which books inspire you as an entrepreneur?
The first business book I read was “Jack: Straight From the Gut” by the former GE CEO Jack Welch – it’s a great tale of hard work, drive and focus on performance. Around the same time I also read ‘Maverick’ by Ricardo Semler, which describes “World’s Most Unusual Workplace”, books like that and ‘Delivering Happiness’ (about Zappos) really opened my eyes to non-traditional ways of thinking about culture. In recent years, I devoured ‘Shoe Dog’ (as many others have!), it’s reassuring to know the ups and downs in the early stages of a super successful brand.
What keeps you going even in hard times?
The knowledge that there is so much more I want to accomplish. I often think what else can I do?! More practically, am I doing the right things? Am I giving it my best, my everything? These questions keep me going.
What are your thoughts on entrepreneurship for new founders – especially those in the technology sector?
Find a problem you’re passionate about and zone in on that. It’s going to be a long journey with lots of ups and downs, so you need that passion for the problem to keep going in the tough times and stay focused.
What do you think it takes to succeed in business?
You’ve got to look after your people and your customers. There’s the classic saying “Look after your team and they’ll look after your customers” and although this may be obvious in my eyes, I think it is often overlooked.
What funding advice would you give to future entrepreneurs?
Look out for false signs of product-market fit. Early on, we had a couple of false summits. With hindsight, we should have waited longer to fully understand our market before scaling.
What is one piece of advice would you give to future entrepreneurs?
Find a big and meaningful problem, then partner with some great people to tackle it! And then don’t quit.