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“In everything I do, I try to raise the bar” - Richard Barkey

8 February 2011

Imparta

This week’s Entrepreneurship Guest lecture was by Richard Barkey, the Founder and current CEO at Imparta. Richard is an Engineering graduate from Cambridge University and did an MBA at Harvard. He then joined McKinsey for seven years as a conventional consultant. During those years, specifically when working in the field of training, Barkey felt “he could do it better”. This do-it-better mentality then evolved spinning-out Imparta which turned over £9 million last year.

Barkey points out that over 87% of the content of training is forgotten within two weeks; “training doesn’t work”. He mentions that training differs from education; whereas education has to do with knowledge, in training you learn by doing, avoiding the boring aspects of learning. Taking McKinsey as an example, Barkey explains that the first two years are spent learning by practice. He wished to compress this learning into the shortest time possible and make it interesting.

Barkey believes that the best ideas come from an intersection of disciplines: in Barkey’s case, the intersection was between his passion for computer games, business and learning. Hence, he created Imparta’s first product in 1998: Strategy Co-Pilot, a computer game that allows its players to “learn by doing” through an interactive office environment. Players can interact with co-workers and office equipment such as fax machines, phones and computers (including spreadsheets and other documents). Strategy Co-Pilot enabled Barkey to realise what he had envisioned: players could learn quickly enjoying themselves.

Barkey then described his journey with Imparta which started in 1998 with Strategy Co-Pilot. He admits that had this product not been over-engineered, he could have launched it earlier. For the first four or five years the company grew progressively and built the first relationships based on trust, which are crucial but require time. In 2007 disaster struck the company because an employee “had run out of steam” and was cutting corners. Subsequently, the company survived and grew through the recession: it generated revenues of £9.5 million in 2010 growing to £11 million in 2011.

Students were then provided with crucial tips from Barkey’s experience with Imparta. Firstly, be sure you want to be an entrepreneur: certain attributes are required, such as dedication and a non-financial motivation. An entrepreneur’s locus of control should be internal rather than external: entrepreneurs should believe they are in control of what happens in their life. Barkey then adds that the hiring of employees is a crucial step: rather than traditional interviews, the process should be made more interactive, for example by introducing tests relating to the job.

Another crucial step is targeting the market with the right products. During the recession, Barkey experienced first-hand the market’s lack of interest in his strategy-based training game. Hence, Imparta shifted to offering sales training, something most businesses required especially during the recession. “Be a helicopter”, Barkey adds; it is crucial to have an in-depth view of things (i.e. at operational level), however this should not distract from the overall bigger picture (i.e. at managerial level). Also, Barkey suggests to “keep yourself fresh”, in order to be able to fully function. In his case, he did this by taking up photography classes.

Finally, Barkey concluded the talk by warning students to “beware of success”. According to research, he states that although salesmen are successful at the beginning of their career, after 18 months their performance begins to worsen. This is due to their know-it-all attitude which creates the false assumption that they now know what the customers want. Barkey warns against this kind of attitude: in order to keep on being successful, salesmen must constantly be inquisitive, putting apart their own agenda and focusing on the customers’.

Written by Mansour Abdulghaffar and Carolina Mostert, UCL Students.

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UCL Entrepreneurship Guest Lecture Series >>