https://innovateuk.blog.gov.uk/2017/07/11/game-changers-jon-reynolds/

Game changers: Jon Reynolds

As part of our Game changers series we meet Jon Reynolds, co-founder of SwiftKey, one of the UK’s most successful start-ups. The company’s predictive texting app is installed on more than 350 million devices worldwide and has won countless awards for innovation and technology.

Watch our Game changers video featuring Jon Reynolds, co-founder of SwiftKey, global leaders in predictive typing on mobile

From day one we were obsessed about innovating – we were obsessed about making sure our product got better over time

- Jon Reynolds, co-founder, SwiftKey

SwiftKey is one of the UK’s most successful technology start-ups. Founded in 2008 as a small business based in Cambridge, the company was acquired by Microsoft for a reported $250m in 2016.

Their market-leading flagship mobile app, SwiftKey Keyboard for Android and iPhone, adapts to the way you type and predicts the words you’ll need. It has saved users an estimated 100,000 years of typing time – so far.

SwiftKey has been voted one of the 100 Best Small Companies To Work by the Sunday Times while founders Jon Reynolds and Ben Medlock have been recognised as Young Entrepreneurs of the Year by both the London Chamber of Commerce and the European Commission.

Swiftkey - An award-winning business
SwiftKey - An award-winning business

Conceptual beginnings                                                                                                     

After graduating from Cambridge University in 2007, Jon took a job in the Civil Service. Although that may not seem the obvious starting place for innovation or entrepreneurship, it was the environment that gave him and Ben the seed of the idea forSwiftKey.

I was taking minutes in a large board meeting on a tiny little keyboard on a Blackberry mobile. We could see a very clear opportunity. We could see that keyboards weren’t very good and that we had to make typing better.

Jon says that their game-changing moment was to ask: “What have you just been typing?”. They wanted to look at the content of what a user had been writing and then try and predict what they wanted to say next.

SwiftKey - predicting text software
SwiftKey - predicting text software

It’s amazing actually, when you understand a user and you start to understand that language pattern, how accurate you can be. We can actually guess a user’s next words, understand anything.

Jon and Ben entered a competition for funding of early stage projects and to their delight (and surprise) they won.

It was £15,000 but that seemed like an enormous amount of money. We won a further grant and if we hadn’t got that money we would certainly have stopped. There were no start-up accelerators back then and little sense of how you could get funding.

The ideal mindset

Jon says that being in partnership with Ben has been an undoubted boon to the success of SwiftKey.

When you’re building a company, every single week there were challenges. Having a team you can share that with kind of helps you to defuse the stress. It’s a very hard thing to do on your own.

It’s a huge commitment running a company. It has huge sacrifices, not just for you but for your friends and for your family as well. I think that process changes you. For me, I had nothing really to lose – I didn’t have a mortgage, I didn’t have a family or kids – and so I think it was more the intellectual curiosity that helped us kind of get started. And then maybe it’s the stubbornness not to give up.

Jon's timeline

  • 2007 Graduates in Natural Sciences from University Cambridge
  • 2007 Begins career in civil service
  • 2008 Founded SwiftKey with Dr Ben Medlock
  • 2010 Releases first version of SwiftKey for Android with 7 languages
  • Expands to 160 staff, with offices in San Francisco, Seoul and London,
  • Has 300 million users in 100 languages,
  • 2014 SwiftKey Sunday Times 100 best companies to work for
  • 2016 Creates communication system for Professor Stephen Hawking
  • 2016 Awarded MBE
  • 2016 SwiftKey bought by Microsoft for £171m

Innovation is key

Despite the accolades, awards and company takeover by Microsoft, Jon says that innovation remains at the heart if what he does.

From day one we were obsessed about innovating, we were obsessed about making sure our product got better over time. We build the world’s best keyboard technology, predictive text, next word prediction, and we’ve been the world leaders in smartphone keyboards for the last five years.

[Running the company] is great fun. It can be an amazing opportunity to push yourself and meet amazing people, to really be on the edge of where technology is going, to be in a position where you can influence the way the world, to some degree, is developing. A lot of the great entrepreneurs that I meet are fundamentally frustrated by something about the world. They want to change the world and make this problem better for everyone.

Jon’s very down-to-earth, he tends to sit with the team. Very strong values in terms of his honesty and integrity. A really good listener and shows a lot of empathy.

- Trecilla Lobo, HR lead (Artificial Intelligence & Research), Microsoft

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