“I’m proud to take Sparkol into this new era” – Meet the Bristol CEO who staged an MBO of her own company
Business Leader recently sat down with Zoe Taylor, the CEO of Sparkol – a tech business based in Bristol – to discuss how the city has become the UK’s hub for innovation, and why she conducted an MBO of the company in 2018.
Zoe also talks about Sparkol’s growth as well as the company’s recently-released products.
What are your day-to-day activities at the company?
My work as CEO of a growing small business is really varied – one day I could be overseeing our latest product update and the next I’m discussing when it makes sense to open a US office! My role includes a real mix of strategic planning and dealing with things that need immediate attention like hiring a CFO or discussing potential partnerships with global contributors.
Can you give me an overview of Sparkol?
Sparkol was founded back in 2008 to provide an engaging way to present and share ideas quickly and easily, regardless of budget, design skills, geographical location or complexity of topic.
VideoScribe was the first product we produced back in 2012 and we’re proud to say it’s now used by over two million people across 140 countries to create engaging hand-drawn, animated explainer videos. It’s extremely fulfilling to know we’ve enabled so many people to share their stories and passions with the world.
Since then we’ve launched other products, including our latest software StoryPix, all with the aim of helping people to communicate and present their ideas in exciting, engaging ways. We do everything in-house at our Bristol office, from creating new image packs for VideoScribe to offering excellent customer support from our dedicated and knowledgeable team.
We’ve also just launched our own professional services for customers. We offer video production, training, and custom illustration and animation.
My own journey with Sparkol began in 2014 when I joined as COO before taking on the role of CEO in 2016. During this time we have launched multiple industry specific products.
Can you explain VideoScribe & StoryPix?
VideoScribe is our user-friendly software for creating hand-drawn, animated videos. Pictures and text are drawn out in sequence on a virtual whiteboard for a uniquely engaging visual effect. The drag and drop feature lets users move all elements around the canvas with minimal effort, no artistic talent required.
Our latest product, StoryPix, allows you to create short narrated explainer videos in minutes from a single static image. Users simply load their image, zoom into elements of the image, design their scenes and then add an accompanying voiceover and text captions. StoryPix then saves this as a video which can be shared online or used in a presentation.
How do you differ from the competitors?
Despite the small size of our team, we cater to a wide international audience. In terms of product features, VideoScribe has by far the most superior draw function. It genuinely looks as though a real hand is drawing your video. Users can use images from our own image library or incorporate their own drawings in the product using our inbuilt SVG importer. Users then have the ability to render to HD.
Sparkol’s products are intuitive and versatile – they are built to be used alongside other creative tools. This has given us a global reach in four main markets: education, business, non-profits and individuals.
The Sparkol team are a creative and passionate group and that’s exactly how we want our brand to come across to people. After all, our products are fun to use! We are not afraid to show our personality and we will always continue to provide an entertaining platform for our users.
Is Bristol becoming the tech-hub for the UK?
It’s certainly giving other cities a run for their money. London isn’t right for everyone and Bristol really does have it all – it was even named best city to live in Britain in 2017.
I grew up locally, and it’s great to see so many tech companies choosing the city as their home. It’s such a creative place and I feel privileged to be part of the thriving tech scene here. It’s always pushing boundaries and developing innovative new products.
Can you tell me about your recent takeover of the company? What made you do it?
Sparkol is amazing. VideoScribe is a fantastic tool that lets everyday businesses compete with equal footing in a global market. The company has so much potential and I am over the moon to be part of the team driving it to achieve that potential. I believe our latest product StoryPix is as powerful as VideoScribe if not more so, which means it’s a really exciting time to be at Sparkol.
What were the main challenges in the takeover?
I don’t think these things are ever easy. The day to day was tough – there was constant juggling. It felt as though I had two jobs as well as the day to day of family life; husband, kids, two springer spaniels and even my daughter’s year 6 SATS!
I think it’s natural for people to be apprehensive about changes in ownership however I’ve been part of the company for a long time so that definitely helped a lot.
What would be your advice to a CEO looking to take over the company?
If you have the belief and the passion for the business then don’t let anything get in your way, but also do not underestimate the commitment required to drive it through. Good professional advisers who keep things in perspective are invaluable.
What are your aims for the company over the next few years?
My focus over the next few years will be to maintain our success and keep us focused on creating a suite of products that will continue to have a wide geographical spread. Collaboration is going to be key for Sparkol in the next phase of growth and we will be looking for new partners to help us.
It’s a really exciting time for the company and I’m proud to take Sparkol into this new era.