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I Became A CEO After The Cranfield MBA – Then I Started My Own Business

Paul Blunden chose Cranfield School of Management over London Business School for his MBA. Now he’s a leader in the UK tech startup space

Paul Blunden chose Cranfield School of Management over London Business School for his MBA. Less than two years after graduation, he became CEO of a leading London-based customer experience consultancy.

In the 15 years since his MBA, he’s developed into a leader on the UK tech startup scene. Today, he’s founder and CEO of Usability 24/7, a user experience (UX) research agency, which helps organizations improve the usability of the websites, apps, and other digital interfaces that they provide to their customers.

Paul’s built up an international network of high quality, accredited practitioners who provide a 24/7 service in almost every country and language in the world. He’s worked with top brands like Dixons Group and GoCompare, and leading UK nonprofits like Shelter and Cancer Research. Now, he’s targeting Google and Facebook.

How did the idea to start Usability24/7 come about?

The idea came off the back of spending 18 months advising other small businesses. In most cases, their problems were that they lacked focus and differentiation. After the advisory work, I had itchy feet and wanted to start a new agency.

One of the critical issues in the UX research industry is that a lot of the work is delivered by junior people, to the detriment of the work and experience of the buying customer. Another is that international projects are difficult to deliver and expensive. So I decided to build an agency that would only deliver work with senior people and operate internationally.

What sets us apart is that everyone who works with us, whether as an employee or freelance, is evaluated via our free accreditation program. We evaluate capability, experience, skills, qualification and portfolio of work, and we only accredit people with a minimum level of experience and qualifications.

As a result, we’ve built an international network of senior UX researchers that give us capability all over the world and a network that’s growing all the time.

What do you hope to achieve?

I hope to grow Usability24/7 into a profitable, international user experience research provider operating in multiple locations and supporting some of the largest brands in the world. Our strategy is fairly simple: win more UK clients, enter new international markets, and target global brands like Facebook and Google.

What advice do you have for MBAs looking to start their own business?

Be brave and, even if it isn’t written down, have a clear plan in your head of what you want to achieve and how you’ll get there. Beyond that, ensure you hire good people as the success or failure of a business rests as much on the quality of the team as it does on the quality of the idea.

Why did you decide to pursue an MBA at Cranfield?

My company at the time sponsored me and gave me three choices of business school: London Business School, Henley, and Cranfield. Cranfield stood out for the international flavor of the course and the personal development opportunities, which I felt were unmatched by the other schools on offer.

Cranfield ran a group relations event which was all about learning about yourself and your leadership capabilities. It had a strong marketing and strategic human resources offering, which is crucial in building a services firm. I was able to complete my CIM marketing diploma and gain an additional CIPD human resources professional qualification while on the MBA.

Would you be where you are now without the Cranfield MBA?

Probably not. I got into startups as a result of the MBA. It helped me join a startup agency in 2001 and it gave the founder the confidence to make me CEO shortly after.

The biggest thing that the MBA has given me is confidence, which built on the range of knowledge I was able to acquire during the course. Being able to understand each area of a business has been invaluable, particularly in running my own business.

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