Q&A with Derek Moore, CEO and Co-Founder, Coffee & TV

Derek Moore, CEO and Co-Founder of Coffee & TV, shares insights on how to build and engage a high performing creative team
Derek set up Coffee & TV with three co-founders in May 2015. This Soho-based visual media company – which specialises in design, CG animation and visual effects for TV, films, and commercials – has worked on TV shows including Doctor Who and Planet Earth for the BBC. It’s motto is: ‘if you can’t shoot it, we can make it, and if you can shoot it, we can make it better’. We caught up with Derek to find out more about his day-to-day life as a successful entrepreneur. He also shared his insights on getting the best out of his team.
What time does your alarm go off and how do you prepare yourself for the day?
I’ve never really been a ‘morning person’, unlike most of the best CEOs I know! So I try hard to stick to a morning routine. I’m usually up by 7am, and either do 20-30 minutes of yoga, or cycle the 26 miles from my home to the office (depending on the weather). If I don’t get some exercise in first thing, my day usually runs away with me and I run out of time.
How do you get the most out of your day and be more productive?
In addition to keeping control of my email inbox (https://blog.hubspot.com/customer-success/inbox-zero), I recently learned the 3 D’s – Deal with it, Delegate it or Delete it. That way I don’t have an ever increasing to-do list. I try to collate and diarise groups of tasks too; so, for example, I put time in my diary for staff to drop in for a chat, and for thinking time. Time is a precious resource so it’s all about staying in control of it and trying to not get swallowed up in the demands of the moment. It doesn’t always work out that way though!
What have you done to maintain your company culture as you have scaled?
We don’t just talk about putting our people first, we actually do it. Even before our clients. Our talented artists are our most valuable asset, so we obsess about empowering them to be the best they can be. We go out of our way to make new people feel welcome and create a family. We’ve done this by providing exceptional benefits, training and regularly talking to our staff about what they need to do their job to the best of their ability. The list of perks and systems to monitor culture are quite lengthy. From granting time off without question in times of personal trouble, massages, life coaching, gym membership, frequent one-to-ones. It’s this support that helps staff to feel valued and appreciated.
What technology tools have helped your business to grow?
I love researching the latest tech to help us implement systems that make our company better. At the moment we use Pipedrive for sales, Slack for internal comms, OfficeVibe for feedback, Xero for accounts, PowerBI for our live financial data, Trello for project management, Citrus HR for people, Ceta for scheduling. These have all been instrumental in supporting our business and staff as we continue to grow.
What piece of technology couldn’t you personally live without, and why?
Flame, our VFX software; we couldn’t have started Coffee & TV without it. When this kit was made more affordable, my partners and I saw our opportunity to start the company. And Zwift keeps me cycling when the winter weather hits.
How have you built your team to drive growth?
I realised early on that many businesses are limited by the capacity (and sometimes capability) of the CEO. So I focussed on finding great people with the right mindset to learn and grow as we do. In the beginning my partners and I had to do every job ourselves; but as we got bigger we were able to find specialists to take over their own areas of expertise. By a combination of good recruitment and learning to let go, the business has been able to scale – not only getting bigger but getting better too.
How would you describe your management style, and what has made you a better leader?
My management style is supportive rather than dictatorial. It’s all about the team at Coffee & TV, so my job is to ensure everyone has the right tools, motivation, capability and clarity to do their job properly. I hadn’t ever thought of myself as a leader, so I’ve worked really hard to hone my style by going to talks, seminars and dinners about culture and people management. I even went back to business school to do a mini MBA to learn the academic side.

The Supper Club has been a major part of my learning and growth. I now have a very supportive business network who hold me to account for the things I said I’d do, and inspire me with the ideas that I would never have found on my own.

What skill or ability do you think has most helped you to scale?
We were able to scale up quickly because we knew the right people to join Coffee & TV. Over the years my partners and I have worked with some of the best talent in the industry, so at each stage of our journey we have managed to bring in exactly the right people.
What motivated you to start your business? Have your motivations changed, and why?
I had been an artist or supervisor for 25 years, and part of that longevity required constant learning to take advantage of the rapid technology changes. I felt the need to learn something new and exciting – and starting a business is that! In the beginning, I wanted to prove that a humble employee could create something amazing. At that time I was mainly focussed on my partners and myself. However, our 30-strong team inspire me every day. So, my motivation now is to make our company the best it can be for them.
Which book has had the biggest impact on you, and what could other entrepreneurs learn from it?
There are so many amazing books, but if I had to choose one I’d go for Mindset by Carol Dweck. The fact you get to choose your outlook and can work on improving it is a revelation. None of us have to stick with the skills, attitudes or hang-ups that we have grown up with. We can do the work to become better learners, better leaders, better people.
How do you maintain a healthy work/life balance?
This is a bit controversial but I don’t believe in a work/life balance. I’m passionate about my work, just as I’m passionate about my friends and family, so it all kind of blurs into one incredibly lucky life. What’s to balance? There’s never enough time but I want to do all of it!
What is your greatest fear, and what are you doing about it?
It all going Pete Tong! I know it won’t, because between myself and the team, we’ve worked so hard to devise a successful strategy and offering. In turn, we’ve also built up the profits to support us if ever the market were to dip. I feel such a responsibility to our team and their families, Coffee & TV has to continue to be secure to support them.
What is the hardest lesson youve learned in business, or the biggest challenge you have overcome?
Not everyone ‘gets’ your culture. Not long after starting up, it was going so well we decided to open a second studio, in a different city in the UK. The business case was sound, but the people we recruited for it hadn’t spent much time in our culture, so couldn’t totally integrate. In the end we let them take that business over, but if we had recognised that new people need a good few months living and breathing your values, there would have been a much better chance of alignment, and therefore success.
Why did you join The Supper Club, and what do you get the most benefit from?
In the beginning, as a new MD, I had very little idea of what I needed to do. We hired some advisors to help, who recommended I join a network of other entrepreneurs. I quickly realised that there is no rule book and that, to some extent, most of us are making it up as we go! That has helped me a lot with the confidence I need to lead properly.

It is also invaluable to have access to just about any business advice at the drop of a hat. Everyone in the Club is very happy to share and help others, so it is an amazing support network to call on when you need it.

What is the most valuable piece of advice or insight you’ve gained from the Club?
The insight is that not all successful business people are tight, money-grabbing b@$t@rd$! There is genuine empathy as we have all been, and some are still on, a learning journey. It is great to know you can be nice and helpful and not get trampled on. The best advice was to get your company values sorted. We did this a while ago and it has been transformational.
If you could go back ten years and give yourself one piece of advice, what it be?
Trust yourself. I thought I knew what I was doing but was quite humble and not super-confident. I should probably have been a bit more vocal about my ambitions and skill set.
Looking ahead ten years, what is the biggest opportunity or threat to your business that you are preparing for?
The plan is to double in size over the next couple of years. Then of course, the threat is expanding too quickly and fracturing our fantastic culture. Clients and staff love Coffee & TV because it’s like coming home. Communication and a lot of support will be required to ensure a smooth transition.

The opportunity is huge though. We have a unique model where we embrace and reward the very best talent. We ought to be able to grab substantial market share with our methods, in both our current niche and in several others.

How do you get the best from your team?
What has had the biggest impact on their engagement 
or productivity?
Crumpets! Out of all the benefits offered to staff, this is what makes them happy in the morning.

However, in all seriousness, I believe the support given to staff both personally and professionally drives them to work hard for the business. Also having cutting edge kit works wonders for the team’s ability and confidence. I’ve worked in loads of companies where we had to use old and slow software, this would have a huge impact on the job and morale.

What have you learned about creating and maintaining a good work culture? What would you do differently in hindsight?
Treat staff how you would want to be treated and have a clearly defined strategy. The market we operate in is volatile and constantly changing, as are the internal dynamics of our studio. So, it is just as important that we have a strategy to navigate by, that helps us make hundreds of smaller decisions every day. But rule one in a people business is to always put your people first.