Super Seven #10 Chris Erven
In the tenth of our Super Seven Series we profile our CEO, Chris Erven. Chris is a KETS founder and former Deputy Director of the Quantum Technology Enterprise Centre (QTEC) at the University of Bristol. And he’s definitely KETS’ worst joke teller!
1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I have an odd English accent because I’m originally from Toronto, Canada (for anyone who wants to go to Toronto and pass as a local, note the second “t” is silent!). I did an undergraduate degree in Systems Design Engineering which has come in handy because it was basically a jack/jill-of-all-trades which is very much the required skillset for a start-up. I got into quantum communication during my PhD, building a real-time, entangled free-space QKD system that worked across rooftops. I basically like to experiment and give things a whirl. Oh, and I’ve been told that my sense of humour is very “special”!
2. What’s your role in KETS?
I’m the CEO. Technically speaking, the Shareholders appoint a Board of Directors, they approve the high-level plan, and then it gets given to me to implement with our senior execs and the wider KETS team. Non-technically? Mostly I lose sleep! Mainly my challenge is finding just the right balance between setting the vision and high-level plan, getting input on that plan and adjusting it, and delegating the plan to the team to get on with it. It sounds simple, but it’s incredibly hard in the highly dynamic environment of a start-up where there’s never enough funds, time, people, or resource – and the world can shift on a dime overnight. (Handily though, it does prepare you to take things like this pandemic in stride, so that’s a plus.)
3. What’s the most enjoyable part of your job?
Building something, getting out there and talking to people, forming relationships, and solving problems. Whether it’s working on a problem with the KETS’ team, or finding new team members, or talking to customers and trying to understand their problems and figure out how we can solve them – I love that interaction with people and I love to solve problems. Also, I’m always talking to new investors, co-founders, companies, engineers, scientists, media, and interested people from the general public. So the network you build as a result of all of this activity is huge – it’s one of my biggest assets now and sources of enjoyment.
4. What inspires you?
In the past, I might have had a better categorised answer – a particular movie, underdog story, or piece of music. I’m sure this is a product of my current environment, but now I’m inspired by anyone who gets into the ring or down in the dirt and dares to try. Anyone who’s read Brené Brown knows what I’m talking about. But especially now with social media and politics pushing “us vs them” it’s so easy to stay in the cheap seats and “comment” and there’s very little productive value that comes from that behaviour. Much harder (and more rewarding!) is seeing a problem, or something that could be done better, or just something you want to try… and trying! No safety net, picking yourself up when it goes wrong time and again. Though I guess anyone who’s seen my golf game would also understand why I value this…
5. What advice would you give someone wanting to get into your role.
Grow thick skin, find mentors, find peer groups, people are tough, read, talk to people, always be learning, learn how to hold strong convictions loosely, be prepared to change your mind, be prepared to stand your ground. Some of the toughest decisions for the business are going to fall at your feet and it’s going to be incredibly lonely to make them as the buck stops with you. There will no longer be “right” decisions and “wrong” decisions – but only decisions that need to be made with incredibly imperfect knowledge. But if you can develop the skills to make them, then you can guide a business.
Also, don’t develop the attribute of “wrong-fidence”. I love this word, coined by a fellow entrepreneur friend. We’ve seen how leaders can come to power with bluster and nothing more than slogans. And it can be very appealing, we generally respond well to confident people and don’t want to be told the world is complicated and problems will take time to solve. But current circumstances have shown us that this is not true leadership and downright disastrous in tough situations. Be honest and up front, you don’t have to know everything, you’re allowed to admit it, seek help, and strive to do better. Don’t BS.
6. What do you do when you’re not at work?
When not working I can usually be found on the badminton court, the golf course, eating, or drinking. I love cooking with my wife, during this pandemic a favourite of ours has been trying to make something fancy on the weekend – it either turns out well… or we order pizza. There’s the odd video game in there when time permits, though usually something story based that I can pick up and put down with long spells in between, sadly my Call of Duty days are behind me. And I love to read – all sorts of stuff.
7. Where’s your favourite place?
Hard to pick one. I love an empty fairway with the sun on my face in the early morning. I love the cottage and the lake where I spent my summers as a kid, getting into mischief during the day, gazing up at the stars at night (there’s nothing like Northern Ontario for a clear sky, the milky way, and the northern lights on occasion). And I love a raucous BBQ with friends and family.
To get in touch with Chris, drop us an email at email@example.com