10 Questions For 10 Years: An Interview With DisplayNote’s CEO Paul Brown

  • Photo: Paul Brown, CEO of DisplayNote

    Local Technology company DisplayNote celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. CEO Paul Brown reflects on his experiences of creating a tech start-up, how the company has evolved over the last 10 years and the challenges and lessons he’s faced along the way.

    How did DisplayNote come about a decade ago?

    I’d been working in the education technology space for a number of years, and at the time, the industry was undergoing quite a few changes. There had been the transition from traditional blackboards to whiteboards, to interactive whiteboards, and then to interactive projectors. The industry was beginning to talk about bringing your own device to classrooms, later to be known as BYOD. Devices like iPads had become more readily available and affordable. This is when interactivity between the front of the classroom display and the personal device became a bit of a hot topic, which sparked my interest.

    DisplayNote evolved at that time through discussions with teachers and the wider technology industry. I think, as would be the case for most startups, the risk was not acting upon an opportunity. I said, okay, there's an opportunity here; let's go and do something different.

    How has the company transformed since that time?

    At the start, we focused on the tech that shared content from the interactive whiteboard to students’ devices. However, iPads and personal devices in the classroom didn’t take off quite as quickly as we had predicted. There were restrictions from both a budgetary and pedagogical perspective over what devices were going to be used and how. But we found we were being asked more and more about sharing content up to the front of the classroom. And so, we naturally evolved from making collaborative edtech solutions to being more involved in the wireless presentation space and looking at it from a software perspective.

    A big change for us was when display manufacturers started to incorporate intelligence into the screens in the form of computing functionality; you were no longer just connecting your device to a screen - the display at the front of a classroom was becoming a collaborative device rather than just a display device.

    Another pivotal point for the business was when we began to embed our software onto the display devices. I think that's when we saw the real step change for the business, and our growth was accelerated.

    What do you see as the company's biggest achievements?

    Coming from Northern Ireland, I think it’s often in our nature to be modest and play things down. But as a small country, I think Northern Ireland has always done some really incredible things in terms of our technology successes.

    As a company, we’ve achieved some great success with blue chip companies where we've licensed our software across the globe, from companies in China to Japan and North America. We’ve also seen year-on-year revenue growth since we started in 2012. In fact, we haven’t had a year where we’ve taken a dip, and I very much credit this to the adaptability of the team and the durability of our technology. We’re always looking to innovate and adapt to market conditions or new opportunities that might exist within adjacent markets.

    Do you have any personal highlights that stand out over the last 10 years?

    I've gained a lot of experience over the last 10 years, particularly when it comes to leadership. Financing, a company's lifecycle, and building a culture have all been part of this. I’m certainly not the finished article by any means; just ask my colleagues...

    Some of the successes we’ve had with new products have been particularly rewarding. I love being customer-focused - so seeing people's eyes light up and feeling like you’re making a difference is hard to replace. Meaningful customer feedback from a happy customer often has the most personal significance and sense of reward for me.

    What have been some of the toughest challenges you’ve faced along the way?

    Being in the tech industry, the landscape changes at a rapid pace, and we’re always thinking about what’s next. And although we’ve grown each year, there have been times when that growth has been a challenge to achieve. Certainly, in the early days, the challenge was thinking about growth, product-market fit, and finance.

    Today, the challenges are not wholly different, but just on a different scale. Often, the toughest aspect is the handling your own and others' expectations, it can feel lonely at times. And the sleepless nights that I am sure many leaders experience…I feel fortunate to have a strong team around me, advisors, and a wife who is a professional counsellor!

    What is the most significant lesson you’ve learned?

    Two weeks never actually means two weeks.

    Where do you see DisplayNote going in the next 10 years?

    We’re currently recognised as a player in the audiovisual industry wherein we embed our software on display devices. I’d like us to broaden out and have relevance in the workforce to employees on their devices, improving the whole connectivity experience. I do see us being more of an enterprise-focused company going forward, although our roots in education technology will still remain a core part of our business.

    As we grow, it’s also important to me that we maintain the culture of the company and that it still remains a great place to work. What the next 10 years looks like, I don't know. I tend to think more in two-year periods. Maybe that's short-sighted, but given the industry that we're in, a lot of things can change quite quickly, and remaining adaptable is important.

    How would you describe the company in a sentence?

    We create connected experiences for the world's presenters, educators, and learners.

    Tell us something people might not know about you?

    I recently got my motorbike license (which I think was in part due to the feeling of being confined as a result of covid), so I’ve enjoyed touring around Scotland and parts of Europe over the last year in my spare time - it’s actually allowed me to reconnect with an old school friend.

    If you weren’t the CEO of DisplayNote, what do you think you’d be doing?

    That’s a good question. I don’t think I’d be working for someone else. I’d probably be involved in some other business At one point in my early career; I almost joined the police as I was always fascinated with crime and criminology. Thankfully, I remain on the right side of the law - even though I’ve never really been one for following rules.

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