Lead Forensics

OPINION

Ask the Leader – Martin McKay, Founder and CEO of Texthelp

16 Jun 2021

As featured in Management Today

What do you do if you are in college and you’re struggling to keep up with your workload, either because of dyslexia or because English is your second language? Who can you turn to in the workplace when documents look like gobbledegook and you’re being pulled up on spelling mistakes in emails? Texthelp, a company co-founded by Martin McKay, is helping millions of people across the globe with technology that allows them to understand and be understood.

Martin’s ambition is to reach 1bn people around the world: “Dyslexia doesn’t care what language you speak,” he says. “Around 6% of the global workforce can use our tools.” He has been fascinated with helping people communicate ever since his dad had a stroke. “I was 12 and experienced first-hand what it’s like to struggle to be understood,” he says. In the beginning, Martin was focused on helping stroke survivors, multiple sclerosis sufferers and those with cerebral palsy but in the late nineties he realised dyslexia was a major issue for millions of people.

It hasn’t all been smooth sailing, however. “In 2014, the market changed,” he reveals. “Apple had released the iPad and the price of educational software dropped significantly. That was really disruptive but we decided to drop our prices, change our model to software-as-a-service and ultimately help more people.”

In 2019, Martin took a giant leap towards reaching his ambition by taking on investment from a private equity investor. The investment allowed the business to ramp up product development and extend its geographical reach. “Our existing investors wanted to exit the business but I didn’t,” says Martin. “LDC helped come up with a structure that would allow me to roll my investment forward, while also reinvigorating the business for the next stage of growth.”

“Initially I was a little concerned that a new investor might come in and try to take over but LDC made it clear they weren’t about to break something that was working well. They weren’t buying stock and shares; they were backing the management team and our plans. They were there to help us make the boat go faster,” adds Martin.

Since then the business has invested heavily in product development and expanded internationally. “When your software company is 30 years old, you have to keep reinventing yourself. If you don’t innovate, you become a dinosaur,” says Martin.

Today, Texthelp provides a wide range of products, including spell-checker designed specifically for dyslexic people, who often make phonetic mistakes that existing software can’t catch. The company employs 250 staff across offices in Northern Ireland, US, Canada and Australia.

“I’m on a mission to change the world and show employers that dyslexic people can be vital members of the workforce,” says McKay. “Just like someone may wear glasses to see, those with dyslexia can use our tools to be more effective.”

“I’m confident we can get to 100m users in three years; we’ve doubled our user base every 18 months for the last five years,” he continues. “But my ambition is to reach 1bn people and a valuation of £1bn. That’s my personal goal.”

orange quote mark
I was a little concerned that an investor might come in and try to take over but LDC made it clear they weren’t about to break something that was working well. They weren’t buying stock and shares; they were backing the management team and our plan.”
Martin McKay, Founder & CEO
Texthelp

Ask the Leader – Martin McKay, Founder and CEO of Texthelp

Why did you choose to take on board private equity investment?

Our existing venture capital investors wanted to exit the business but I didn’t. LDC helped come up with a structure that would allow me to roll my investment forward, while also reinvigorating the business for the next stage of growth.

How did LDC support you and your business to grow?

When you take on private equity investment, you typically bring on board a new chairman to support with future strategy. Our new chairman was very keen that we invest in product development, not just for the education industry but for our workplace customers. LDC helped us to release a new product last year, and we have a very healthy pipeline of new releases for this year and beyond. When your software company is 30 years old, you have to keep reinventing yourself. If you don’t innovate, you become a dinosaur.

What did you think about private equity before you took on investment?

Initially I was a little concerned that an investor might come in and try to take over but LDC made it clear they weren’t about to break something that was working well. They weren’t buying stock and shares; they were backing the management team and our plan. They were there to help make the boat go faster.

How did The Prince’s Trust help you to start your business?

I was young and inexperienced when I started this business, so my mother introduced me to The Prince’s Trust and said I should apply for a grant. My application was successful and a mentor came to talk to me once a week and helped me with my business plan and any other challenge I was facing. I hadn’t a clue back then. I really appreciated the help and support so I have now become a Prince’s Trust mentor myself. It’s great to be advising those in the same position I was 30 years ago, and I know the LDC team are enjoying supporting tomorrow’s leading entrepreneurs in The Prince’s Trust Enterprise Programme through their Backing Youth Ambition partnership.

Read more about Martin’s support from The Prince’s Trust here.

Download pdf