AGENT Q&A with Olivia Higgs, Co-Founder & COO of KOMPASLast Updated: May 1, 2020
“Trust your instinct more and don’t be afraid to disagree with the majority”: co-founder of urban exploration app KOMPS, Olivia Higgs is one of the UK’s most inspiring young tech entrepreneurs. London-based and with a global vision, Olivia spoke to AGENT about her business story so far.
Imagination has always been at the core of the business vision of KOMPAS co-founder Olivia Higgs, as far back as when she was a student at secondary school.
“Dave Coplin (Microsoft) spoke with an enviable level of imagination that so many of us lose as we age…”
As the COO of KOMPAS, Olivia Higgs is striving to perfect the company’s app that enables people to discover the hidden gems, haunts and locations of cities they live in or visit, all over the world.
It is hardly surprising that when you rewind to the years of Olivia Higgs’ secondary schooling, you encounter a teenaged girl whose business vision was fired when she imagined a “treehouse-inspired boutique hotel”. The actual enterprise itself may not have come to pass, but it was a tantalising glimpse of the shape of things to come for Olivia Higgs.
Having redirected her obvious passion for place, travel and hospitality into a tech company that is focused on city exploration, Olivia Higgs is also one of the UK’s most inspiring young entrepreneurs.
That’s entirely befitting a young woman who cites as one of her chief inspirations Dave Coplin, the Principal Tech Evangelist at Microsoft, and his “exciting way of talking about the world and all of its possibilities”.
Obviously following the example of her role mole, here is Olivia Higgs in early 2020, delivering a TEDx talk on artificial intelligence technology, countering fears about its potential for harm with uplifting insight into its possible benefit to societies worldwide.
It’s this sense of imagination that makes KOMPAS such an exciting proposition, using smart algorithms to personalise content for individual users, creating relevant, hassle-free routes through the cities of their choice. Users can also customise their journeys and discover locations such as landmarks, destinations, art venues and other social and cultural hubs in their own cities.
12 Questions for Olivia Higgs
Olivia Higgs spoke to AGENT about her career to date, recalling her earliest experiences, dreams, inspirations and role models, and revealed some of the key lessons she has learned on her entrepreneurial journey.
1. Briefly tell us about your business and your business goals.
KOMPAS is all about changing the face of city exploration through personalisation. We’re helping locals get to know the city they live in, as it’s easy to get lost in the world’s ‘urban jungles’. We highly value a unique and personalised experience as each individual interaction with the application should be different.
We achieve this through the application of k-means clustering and other machine-learning techniques, to create highly curated content in the cities we’ve launched in. Our aim is to remove the stigma around daily routines and sub-standard solutions, in favour of using an application that allows you to discover a new favourite street artist, or find someone for a quick but to eat from an independent and aspiring chef.
We’re using our technology to try and help people feel comfortable when exploring independently, and as our technology continues to develop, this will only continue to become more accurate.
2. What age were you when you realised you wanted to run your own business?
Way back in secondary school, I had my heart set on creating and running a treehouse-inspired boutique hotel made from natural resources from its surrounding environment. Each guest room would be up in the treetops, creating an exciting, and unique experience.
I then moved onto young enterprise, where I learnt fundamental skills such as finance and team management.
Nowadays I’ve moved my ideas away from hotels, and implemented my passion for travel into a technology company focused on city exploration.
3. Who are your business icons and inspirations?
There are lots of big names out there that have achieved some awe-inspiring feats, but the names that stick in my mind are from talks and conferences that I’ve had the pleasure of attending in person.
For example, Dave Coplin, Principal Tech Evangelist of Microsoft, had an exciting way of talking about the world and all of its possibilities. He spoke with an enviable level of imagination that so many of us lose as we age and get sucked into what we’re conditioned to believe is ‘realistic’.
4. What has been your biggest challenge in business, and how did you surmount it?
Sometimes there are days where everything does just go wrong, and it requires a great deal of perseverance to keep things going. To surmount these days, I take a step back, and look at the bigger picture, focusing on what we have achieved as a company to date, rather than spending too much time on day-to-day set backs that 95% of the time are quickly solvable.
5. What gives you the most satisfaction in business?
The biggest satisfaction to date has easily got to be seeing people fall in love with our vision, to the point where they’re actively promoting and talking about what we’re doing.
It gives as a huge amount of motivation, and also helps us grow quickly through word-of-mouth marketing.
6. Work-Life balance: is it possible? How do you achieve it?
What balance? This is something that I have struggled with, as it can be difficult to switch off the working part of my brain when so much time and energy is dedicated.
That said, I’m getting better at switching off, and I do think it’s possible. You just have to make sure you put as much importance on being outside of work, as you do to your to-do-list.
7. What is the first thing you do every day?
Normally, the first thing I do is check the notifications on my phone for any urgent emails or notifications that have come through that require my immediate attention. I know it shouldn’t be, but I’m 100% certain that I’m not alone when i do this in the morning. Welcome to the digital society!
8. What screen saver picture is currently on your phone?
Being 100% honest, it’s a city landscape view with the KOMPAS logo overlaid on top. It’s not even my work phone, but my co-founder did a great job at creating some very visual backgrounds for laptops and phones. I just couldn’t help myself.
9. What is the most important app on your mobile phone, and why?
Well it goes without saying that it just has to be KOMPAS! Beside KOMPAS of course, I think I’d have to say Quartz and their new bot that brings you up to date news. When i don’t have much time, I know that I can rely on it to give me a quick overview of the news and what’s happening.
10. What is the last thing you Googled?
“Kunsthalle Muenchen” which is a cultural foundation in Munich. I’ve been working on the database recently to make sure that our users have a great experience while exploring.
11. What item do you never leave the house without, and why?
I’m practically always on the move, and have a long commute into work, so I’d have to say my phone. It makes full use of my travel-time, which is largely spent on research and development.
12. What advice would you give to your younger self starting out in business?
Trust your instinct more and don’t be afraid to disagree with the majority.