Hywel Carver, CEO, Skillful Whale

Enhance the skills of technology teams in meaningful and productive sessions that really work.

The idea for Skiller Whale came from the pain Hywel and his co-founder, Dave, experienced first-hand as software engineers and technology leaders in fast-growing environments.

They were both getting frustrated to discover that a large amount of their time was spent onFinding and filling knowledge gaps that our teams didn’t know they had. After testing all the usual suspects (video libraries, content subscriptions), they saw no real improvement in abilities.

Realizing that upskilling technology teams was consistently one of the biggest headaches facing CTOs and engineering heads, they knew that if they could solve this problem, it would be transformational for the industry.

Enter Skiller Whale…

What products or services do you offer?

Skiller Whale provides Deep Coaching for companies with ambitious technology strategies. This means one-on-one, live, expert-led, small-group microcoaching sessions focused on specific tech skills required by the team.

What kind of companies do you work with?

Start-ups, scale-ups, large technology companies. Really, anyone who is first in technology and ambitious in what they want to achieve.

We currently work with a number of expanding Fintechs and Unicorns, such as Omnipresent, Wagestream, Gousto, Drizly and PensionBee.

What is your USP?

Traditionally, if you want affordable learning, you have to get access to generic content for self-study (low engagement, low impact). On the other hand, if you want high-impact learning, you have to spend a week or more of intensive time doing expensive ‘one-on-one training’.

With Skiller Whale, we created a third way: teams get the impact of intensive live training, at an affordable and sustainable pace and price. With the subscription model, the stakes are low so try for a month and cancel or pause if it doesn’t work for you.

In developing our approach, we tried a lot of things that failed. But some things worked, and we kept exploring and refining them. Finally, we realized that 4 criteria had emerged as essential for the effectiveness of technology coaching.

  • Diagnosis: it must be relevant to the knowledge of each individual: what they do not know and what they need to know.
  • Led by experts: It should be challenging, with feedback, this means it should be led live by a domain expert.
  • Experiential: it must be practical learning, not just theoretical or passive.
  • Problem based: You should have scenarios with real world applications, not just ‘hello world’ or foobar.

These helpfully spell ‘DEEP’, which with its aquatic connotations felt like the perfect term for our company!

We got help with this structure from our third co-founder, Hayley, who previously ran a company that developed skill matrices for organizations like HSBC and Microsoft. When we defined Deep Coaching, we collectively realized that the criteria echoed our experiences at the university we all attended (and where two of us met): Cambridge.

In the Oxbridge model, learning is led in small groups by domain experts. However, in college everyone is supposed to have the same path. This is certainly not the case once you’re working, so the diagnostic element is key to making our approach relevant to people in their mid-career.

No single element of what we do (DEEP) is new, but the combination is unique.

Our view is that if we get the learning experience right, we’ll figure out the rest of the scale as we grow. We have a 94% completion rate (compare to an average MOOC completion rate of 12.5%) and 99% of students give our training 4-5 stars, so we think we’re doing something right.

What are the values ​​of your company? Have you ever challenged them, and if so, how have you dealt with it?

We have made public the internal documentation of our company’s values.

  • Frankness
  • Rationality
  • Creativity
  • Autonomy

The descriptions on our public page address some of the challenges we have addressed. Specifically:

Openness is our most important value and we have defined it as allowing openness through gratitude. Many organizations expect openness, but do not create the conditions for it to be possible. It must be easy to deliver bad news. It must be recognized that it is difficult to give negative feedback, not just receive it. Psychological safety is essential.

Rationality has been questioned as a word that has been used as a weapon against women. We considered changing the word, but couldn’t find another that better fit our meaning, so we continue to use it but with the explicit acknowledgment that it has become a weapon, but our meaning is that everyone can follow through on every decision . and understand (not necessarily agree with) how we got somewhere. It’s also worth noting that we don’t believe rationality is antithetical to emotion. Sometimes the most rational thing to do is to prioritize the emotional impact of a decision.

How do you ensure you recruit a team that reflects your company values?

We are very clear about our values ​​internally and externally; and we want them to be reflected by everyone in the company, which is why we take hiring seriously.

The hiring process provides a great opportunity to not only discuss our values, but also embed them through the candidate experience. We are open and transparent about our salary band with all advertised roles, our approach to flexible working, and our commitments to enhance diversity within the technology industry.

We make sure to provide feedback to any candidate who applies and ensure that values-based questions are integrated into the process, rather than just the traditional competency approach.

Any financial or cash flow advice for new businesses starting up?

Prioritize income over capital. Early income is the strongest signal you can get that your idea could be successful. It is a sign that you are doing something worthwhile, from the bottom up. The reversal is a signal that your market exists from the top down and that you can convincingly describe it to investors; that’s a weaker signal for long-term success.

Sell ​​Early – Sell sooner than you think possible. From the beginning, our vision for Skiller Whale was a technology-driven, remote-first training environment: agile, seamlessly integrated into our users’ workday. But the first version our clients paid for had none of that: it was me traveling across London to our clients’ offices, sliding sheets of paper across the table in a stuffy meeting room, looking over their shoulders and answering questions. . You had probably spent less than 10 business days in business at that time. Not only did we get revenue sooner, but we were able to experiment and iterate much sooner. I think that approach is why we were able to invent a new learning model, and that’s why our users love us so much: everything about our service comes directly from seeing users experience it.

If you could ask the government to change one thing for businesses, what would it be?

Modernize and Simplify – Enable more integrations (like Making Tax Digital, that’s a great start). I tried to read the rules on taxable and non-taxable benefits recently, and they don’t reflect a modern world where people are increasingly working from home, part-time, and changing jobs every couple of years.

Every new form we must file, every new field on a tax return, every new plan to apply for, is an added burden on a growing and innovative company. The more administration and bureaucracy there is around running a business, the less time we have to work on the business itself, and ensuring that we are compliant becomes a real burden, costly in terms of time and money.

What is your attitude towards your competitors?

At this time, we have no direct competitors. However, there is a lot of content available and many providers of traditional eLearning for technology skills. We think it’s great that there’s so much available and so much of it is free! But our take is that it’s like a gym membership: go when you want, do what you want (and probably not). Our training brand is like a personal trainer focused on preparing a team to win a league. It’s just a completely different thing with different goals. Personal trainers don’t think gyms should be abolished, but they probably don’t think they’re enough either.

Any ideas about the future of your company and your dreams?

We always keep up with the changing technology landscape and are responsive to the needs of our customers. In our roadmap, we’re expanding our offering beyond language-specific training to broader topics like writing clean code; data modeling, as well as soft skills such as pair programming and time management.

Beyond that, we’ll be expanding into other skill domains beyond technology. Watch this space.


cherry martin

Cherry is Associate Editor of Business Matters with responsibility for planning and writing future features, interviews and more in-depth features for what is now the UK’s largest print and online source of current business news.


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