We chat to Peter Mühlmann, founder and CEO of global business review site Trustpilot. Peter tells us about releasing the power of trust to help consumers buy with confidence and how businesses can use reviews as great customer feedback.
Please explain who you are, what your business is, and what it does/aims to achieve?
At Trustpilot we’re building the biggest review company on the internet where consumers review companies and share these openly. We’re a lot like TripAdvisor but on the Trustpilot site consumers leave reviews about their service and buying experience with all types of businesses.
Our platform allows consumers to choose with confidence and businesses to engage with reviews, and leverage them to increase revenue through customer engagement.
Today, there are more than 165,000 businesses reviewed on Trustpilot and over 70 million visitors a year, and Trustpilot’s online reviews are seen 1.5 billion times each month by consumers worldwide.
What time does your day usually start and end?
No day is ever the same. When you run a fast growing tech company with offices in six countries there are new and exciting challenges around every corner. I always try to get 8 hours of sleep, work as much as I can – and try to have a life in between.
What is your favourite part of your job and what is your least favourite part?
My favourite part is seeing our product run like a well oiled engine. Millions of reviews ticking in. Billions of displays. I love being able to unleash the power of trust on the internet helping consumers buy with confidence and generate insights for businesses they can use to continuously improve business operations, increase customer satisfaction and drive innovation. My least favourite is being jetlagged, which happens every single time I travel between London and Australia. I still haven’t come up with the perfect remedy, so let me know if you have a secret cure.
What inspired you to start your business? (And what made you want to be your own boss?)
I guess I was born with an entrepreneurial gene. I have always dreamt of creating something that could have a positive global impact. Early on I started my own business which I ran together with a friend. It was a small online shop where we sold cables that could connect cell phones to laptops. Even though I continued with studies at business school I felt I learned much more from running my own business than reading books. The learning environment at university was somewhat old-school and dealing with concrete problems in my business was much more appealing to me than addressing theoretical problems. I decided to follow my passion so I left business school and I think I gained about 40 years experience in the first five years of leading Trustpilot.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
The business ideas was actually sparked when my mum wanted to shop online, but needed more information in order to buy with confidence. This was 10 years ago when shopping online was a completely different to today. So I thought, why not help people make smart purchases and let them share their experiences with each other. I tested my idea on some friends and it turned out many of them who had a similar experience to my mum. That’s when I knew I was onto something. In my experience a great idea is not something that magically appears. It is something that you continuously work on and test.
How did you fund your business?
I was lucky enough to have a wealthy uncle. So after putting a business plan together, I called him and told him about my idea. I said that I needed £100,000 – he gave me £12,000, but it was enough to get started.
What has been the biggest challenge for your business?
Showing companies that reviews are not a threat but an opportunity. Most companies were a bit hesitant in the beginning. Many would think a negative review was the end of the world. Now they know reviews are an opportunity not only to showcase great customer feedback but also to show how they react when things go wrong. In fact, negative reviews give you a chance to showcase that you truly care about customer service and when consumers see companies responding to problems they are more likely to buy something. Consumers are not looking for perfection. They are looking for a company they can trust.
What do you feel are the biggest obstacles to growth for SMEs in the UK?
I would point to two main obstacles:
The first is to build trust in a world where trust is eroding. In the current era of fake news, and with so many media outlets and advertisers competing for attention, people are highly skeptical and untrusting of brands. Fortunately, consumers have, in a way, offered their own solution. While trust decreases, reliance on people increases. This is also one of the main reasons that we continue to grow rapidly. People look for communities to seek advice, and businesses can engage with reviewers helping them improve their set-up.
The second main obstacle is to differentiate against global juggernauts like Amazon, Google and Facebook. It is not an easy task, but it is possible. It requires that you show that your are a great and trusted company that customers love – and one way of doing that is by collecting and showing reviews.
Have you made any mistakes along the way and how did you overcome them/learn from them?
Absolutely. It is impossible not to make mistakes. We have even made mistakes that would have killed any normal company. Luckily for us, other things worked out extremely well. So well in fact, that we could afford to make many mistakes, learn from them and keep growing.
What previous experiences have helped you in starting your business?
Once again I have to pay tribute to my mum. She managed 60 nurses and she has given me the best management advice I ever received. So I guess one of the best pieces of advice that I can pass on is to listen to your mum.
What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to anyone looking to start their own business?
It takes much more time than you think. A company easily takes 10 years to build and during the first few years you probably won’t make any money. Most entrepreneurs are lucky if they are able to pay themselves a salary from the beginning. When you read about a company being acquired for many millions after just a few years, you read about it because it is very unusual. You shouldn’t expect rapid traction, so you need to know why you are doing it. You need to be motivated. At the same time, the most important difference between someone with an idea and someone with a company is that one of them did something about it.
Would you do anything differently if you could start again from scratch?
I’d do almost everything differently. In particular I would obsess over who I hired. Most businesses spend 2 percent of their time hiring and 98 percent of their time fixing that.
What do you do to relax away from the hustle and bustle of work?
I invite lot’s of friends over for a homemade meal and wine or climb a mountain. Great escapes from the hustle and bustle of work.
What would you be doing if you weren’t running your own business?
I would be working on space travel. Though at times I have felt weightless juggling so many different things at once, I would still love to try the real deal.
Do you manage to achieve a good work/life balance?
I only know one way, and that is all in. Sometimes I wish I could do less, but after a week of holiday I am desperate to get working again. I think, somewhat fortunately, my way of life is best described by the American author, James A. Michener: “The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he’s always doing both. ”