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The Similarities Between Being In A Rock Band And Heading Up A Startup with Brian Coburn

When was the last time you met somebody who’d spent 30 years in the same company? 

Meet Brian Coburn. Brian started at Stagecoach as a 16 year old trainee and went on to be their Chief Technology Officer. Today, Brian is CEO of payment orchestration service for e-commerce enterprises, Bridge. 

With that information alone there are so many questions to be asked: how do you go from being the trainee to the CTO? What changes do you have to make along the way? What jobs do you get that allow you to go from 16 year old trainee to Chief Technology Officer at a multi billion pound turnover global business like Stagecoach? 

Did we mention Brian has done all of this without ever going to university? So what does the school of hard knocks look like? What does it teach you along the way? 

One of the most fascinating parts of the conversation is where Brian explains that his business inspiration at Stagecoach and now, at Bridge, come from being in a rock band in his youth. 

This is a really fantastic conversation with some great insights from Brian. We really enjoyed talking to him. We’re sure you will too.

On today’s podcast:

  • A 30 year career at Stagecoach
  • Digitalising Stagecoach
  • Playing in a band
  • CEO of Bridge
  • Startup business advice

Links:

Brian Coburn is CEO of tech startup, Bridge, a payments orchestration platform that was launched into the market this year. Before joining Bridge, Brian spent 30 years at Stagecoach group, the UK based public transport provider. He started out as a fresh faced 16 year old before moving up to become CIO of the group.

So how did he work his way up from trainee to CTO, and why did he make the leap to entrepreneur?

“One of the fantastic things about my team at Stagecoach, because clearly over 30 years, you have the opportunity to learn a lot, is that they’re an entrepreneurial company at heart.”

Technology

Brian credits the fact he was the first employee with a computer at Stagecoach for instilling his curiosity about networks. In particular, how they could be used to help on the finance side of things, how they could improve the business processes and how they might save costs in different areas. 

“It went from being a completely cash over the counter type business to by the time I left, you couldn’t buy a ticket for any Stagecoach service that didn’t sit on a technology platform that sat under my team.”

And for a traditional transport business, one which accepts cash from people that walk on to get a seat on the bus, that is a revolutionary approach. 

Switching to digital

One of the reasons for Stagecoach to switch to digital and become cashless was to keep innovating and cost cutting. Implementing digital payments meant being able to target customers and drive revenue more efficiently than their competitors. 

“Revenue generation and the opportunity to do more with customers to see how our service could work for them. And to have that given level of engagement is essential.”

Bridge

Bridge is a payment orchestration platform that sits into the digital retailing channels of an organisation, and gives them a greater level of flexibility, agility, and control over how they integrate and consume third party payment related services, be it processing, acquiring, fraud, etc. And that allows you to use the platform to intelligently route your payment transactions around those services.

“Most people see [payments] as something that happens at the end of the journey, it’s necessary and it’s important, but it’s hygiene, it tends to be done tactically.”

By using a payment orchestration service, like Bridge, who are already inside the retail channel and are already the integration point, businesses can concentrate on gaining commercial leverage, they can look at the bigger picture, knowing that payments are being expertly dealt with. 

Customers basically integrate once with Bridge and Bridge plugs them into everything else. By using Bridge, businesses can move into markets they maybe couldn’t easily move into before, because Bridge removes the cost and the risk of change. 

The similarity between a startup and a band

Brian started at Stagecoach as a way to fund his first love, his music. While his chance to be a rockstar may not have materialised, what his time in the band taught him paid dividends in his career. 

“Do all your rehearsing behind closed doors, make sure that what you bring out is absolutely the best thing that you can and then go out and find people who are gonna appreciate it, and then share it with them.”

Being in a band is about playing in time with other people, it’s about all pulling in the right direction, harmoniously. You have to communicate, you have to talk to everyone, you have to trust everyone.

“You’ve got to trust that you’ll do the right thing for the business in the same way as we did when we were in the band; everybody was pulling for the band.”

Instead of book recommendations

While Brian may not have spent a lot of time reading about how others have done it, what he has done is spend 30 years watching entrepreneurs at work. So his key advice is thus: 

  • Trust your gut, trust your instincts. 
  • Look people in the eye.
  • Don’t be afraid to make a decision. You can only make the best decision with the knowledge that you’ve got in front of you, and just see what happens. If it doesn’t work out, don’t be afraid to make the next decision.
  • Don’t be afraid of change. 
  • Skills can be taught, passion can not. Hire people who will strap themselves beside you in the rocket ship. 
  • Hire people who are a cultural fit. 

“It is really about understanding what motivates and drives people. What gets them out of bed in the morning, what are they looking for, and you have to accept that you may just be a stepping stone for somebody who’s on a journey to elsewhere and that’s absolutely fine. As long as they’re the right person, right now.”

  • Have probation periods – these are essential for both of you, but give people a good crack of the whip. 
  • Hire slowly, fire fast. If someone isn’t working, let them go, now. Do it quickly, do it professionally.

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