Leaders and entrepreneurs in focus: Peter Watson, MD at Distract

Your university or Business School days as a student are a prime time to test out those burgeoning entrepreneurial ideas because it’s when you can afford to get things wrong, says Peter Watson, Co-Founder and Managing Director at digital agency, Distract. ‘Work at your ideas and go through these failures now,’ he advises.

In this interview, Peter also outlines how ‘letting go of tasks and processes’ can be a challenge as a young company expands, and how he would have relished the chance to be a mentee of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, for the opportunity to learn ‘how his mind works and what he thinks about each day.’

Can you tell us a little bit about your current role and what it involves?

I’m Managing Director (MD) and Co-Founder of Distract, one of the fastest-growing agencies in the East Midlands. I founded Distract with my business partner Bradley McKenny in 2015 as a social media marketing agency, but we’ve grown to include a range of different services including PPC, SEO, web and design as well as digital PR. I oversee the agency’s new business and client liaison as well as having an overarching Managing Director’s role.

What single piece of advice would you offer budding entrepreneurs?

The single piece of advice I’d give to anyone who is at university and wants to start a business is pretty simple. Basically, start now. You can spend thousands and thousands on starting a business, but while you are at university you are essentially being paid to live. You can afford to fail and learn at this point. It doesn’t matter if you’re in your first, second or third year, get started as soon as you can.

The failure rate of businesses is so high that it’s worth starting now. Work at your ideas and go through these failures now. Any ideas or business practices that need ironing out can be done now when failure doesn’t impact on your life and end goals as much. It’s a golden opportunity that not enough people take.

Mentorship schemes in business are becoming increasingly popular. Who would have been your dream mentor when you were at the outset of your career and why?

For me, it would have been someone like the founder, chairman, CEO and president of Amazon [Jeff Bezos]. He’s someone who has gone from just selling books online to developing what has become one of the biggest brands in the world. Taking a book-selling platform to one of the biggest shops in the world, then developing on top of that is amazing and I don’t think he’s quite finished yet.

Learning how his mind works and what he thinks about each day would be fascinating and how he’s taking the company’s work across not just retail but other services too. 

What are some of the challenges and opportunities you’re currently facing, both as a leader and as an organisation?

One thing that has presented itself as a challenge in recent times has been the way in which I used to work at the client level, being involved in every process. Right now, my role has changed into a more holistic, overseeing role where I steer the company into what we think it should be.

Letting go of tasks and processes that used to be my responsibility has been a challenge. Our Head of Ads here, Tom Jacobs, is amazing but I had to learn to hand over responsibility for tasks because ultimately, you have to be able to hire people to do the jobs you originally set out to do. If you don’t, there is a danger of not developing and becoming short-sighted strategically.

Please outline the importance of ethics to your company’s strategy and why you feel it is important to business approaches as a whole today

We feel there is a shortfall within businesses, particularly among tech companies and startups of only seeking people out with expertise already ingrained. We hire our fair share of experts, but we also think there is a responsibility to give truly creative minds a chance to develop.

During the recruitment process, we often see that creative spark in people that come for interviews and with the right guidance, we think that this can be built on and taken further. If a person approaches us with ideas that spark off creative ideas within us and potentially for clients, we are always willing to listen. What is on paper isn’t always the full story, so placing more importance on the individual is very important for us.

Which three words best describe your approach to leadership (or your management style) and why?

1. Innovation: I always try and imprint the need to be innovative on the whole team. If we are standing still, then this gives the competition the chance to catch up.

2. Teaching by example: I try and be a leader that can not only teach, but also take on others’ knowledge. I have a team that surpasses my skillset in certain areas every day, but by listening to their ideas and industry knowledge, I can pass on that knowledge to my clients, other colleagues and the audiences I speak to with confidence. A mutual learning process brings mutual success with it.

3. Respect: we trust and enable our teams to thrive and achieve by equipping them with the tools and equipment they need to succeed. This can range from training to the right software packages. Also, trusting their knowledge can often lead to more success. We don’t claim to know everything, if a team member has new ideas we’ve not tested before, they get the chance to at least show us how they think we should proceed.

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