KN Talks Tech: Q&A with John Thornhill

Andrew Solomon

John Thornhill is the founder of CentralEyes, a cloud-based platform which assists owners of retail and hospitality venues in the management of their sites. CentralEyes’ customer list includes Pix Pinxtos, a chain of Central London tapas bars founded by John, the first of which opened in 2009 and was customer zero.

John also co-founded Mojo (Moments of Joy), a mobile app to assist those who are supporting a loved one with dementia.

John’s most recent venture is High Life, a platform he founded which allows professionally piloted drones to be hired in a variety of locations around the Mediterranean.

We managed to sit down with John in a rare moment when he’s not juggling the responsibilities of running multiple businesses to discuss, amongst other things, the positives of the pandemic and how he harnesses negativity and fear to drive his success.  

What inspired you to create your first tech business, CentralEyes?

JT: When I opened the first Pix bar back in 2009, I couldn’t find a single software platform which focussed on most of the key elements of managing a hospitality venue. I wanted one platform which could help in a variety of areas, such as staffing, HR, health and safety, rota planning, ordering, stock etc. I used my background as a technology consultant to develop my own platform, given the absence of anything suitable in the market to suit my requirements. Using the platform in my own business was a good place to start, as I was able to improve it in a live environment before going to market and offering it to other venues.

How has the pandemic affected your businesses? What workarounds did you implement?

JT: Covid resulted in the hospitality industry largely grinding to a halt and so, alongside Pix closing its doors during the lockdowns, demand for CentralEyes fell off a cliff. It wasn’t all doom and gloom though as I founded Mojo and High Life during the pandemic. I saw opportunities and used transferable skills to create two new businesses.

If you could start CentralEyes again, what would do differently?      

JT: Less complex/bespoke coding projects! The key for CentralEyes is interoperability with existing software, so I would urge new software businesses to keep the development process as simple as possible; otherwise it could cost you in the long term.

What three skills do you think make a good entrepreneur?

JT: Vision, which shouldn’t be confused with strategy. You don’t necessarily need to know the pathway to your goal at the start of the journey but you should be able to visualise your destination. Strategy can stay fluid but the vision should always be fixed.

Presentation. It’s crucial to be able to articulate and explain your vision, both to investors and staff. You need people to buy into and share your vision so they will collaborate with you.

Attention to detail. You need to be disciplined and consider the detail whenever needed, even if you hate it…and that includes finalising key legal contracts!     

What has been your most satisfying moment as an entrepreneur?

JT: There’s no one moment I can pinpoint on what I consider a journey of alternating successes and failures. Whenever a seemingly great milestone has been reached, I’m already thinking about the next project, so I don’t spend time being self-satisfied. I’m actually driven more by fear than I am by success.

What advice would you give to a new entrepreneur starting up their own business?

JT: Whenever possible, remunerate your initial key contributors with cash, rather than giving away shares early on. It’s tempting to bring partners along with you for the ride at the beginning, as you think that they are critical.  However,  you’re often proved wrong later on and it’s usually tough/expensive to get the shares back in the future. 

I’m fine with granting share options to incentivise key employees in the medium-to-long term, but my preference for rewarding work provided in the short term is cash, rather than shares.

Who has been your greatest inspiration?

JT: Negative push factors have always been useful for me in my journey. I’ve been disproportionately driven by people who have doubted me and who I have wanted to prove wrong…they’ll remain nameless though.




Latest blogs & news

Pandemic Entrepreneurs – Setting the Pace

The COVID-19 pandemic saw a rise in entrepreneurship, with the Bank of England reporting that contrary to the typical cycle of company creations, which tend to rise in booms and decline in recessions, the number of new companies set up during the pandemic in fact clearly increased.

Lifecycle of a tech startup series: Directors' Duties

KNow Wear Limited has used the investment received to date to further develop the wearable tech product to the extent that it now has a minimum viable product with basic features to introduce to the market. The company has identified a test group of 100 consumers who will test this version of the product and provide feedback. Following the test phase the company will collate the feedback and further develop the product before releasing a final version of the product to the market.

Software support helpdesk services – key contracting principles

In our recent blog, we explored why a Framework Agreement structure is typically the most appropriate customer contracting model for IT managed services providers (“MSPs”) and IT consultancies which offer a diverse product and service offering. Whilst our initial blog focussed on the purpose and terms of the Framework Agreement itself, that document is merely the starting point, given that a Work Order is also needed to document specific terms relating to each product or service offered by an MSP or IT consultancy. A typical service offering is a dedicated software support helpdesk, usually provided to support each of the software products offered by the MSP or IT consultancy to its customers. This blog considers a handful of the key issues to bear in mind when documenting the terms of a Work Order relating to the supply of a software support helpdesk service.

Lifecycle of a tech startup series: Obtaining a Sponsor License

KNow Wear Limited have identified some overseas talent that they would like to hire to help to expand the business. This candidate does not currently have permission to work in the UK and therefore KNow Wear Limited is considering whether it can apply for a sponsor licence from UK Visas & Immigration (“UKVI”). Obtaining a sponsor licence, will then enable the company to go on and sponsor individuals to apply for immigration permission to work in the UK.

Framework Agreements: the customer contract model for technology service providers

Many businesses lack comprehensive in-house IT expertise and resources to fully implement and manage all of their IT infrastructure requirements. IT managed services providers (“MSPs”) and IT consultancies plug the gaps by typically offering a diverse range of IT services and products to lighten the burden on their customers’ in-house IT teams (or to even remove the need to have an in-house IT team). 

Lifecycle of a tech startup series: R&D tax relief

Having raised £500,000 and, in episode 8, hired a software developer, KNow Wear Limited is starting to flourish. As Ben Franklin wrote when the USA was in its infancy, nothing is certain except death and taxes. Knowledge of the UK tax system is valuable for any UK business owner, start-ups can dramatically improve their chances of success by ensuring they claim the various tax reliefs and incentives available. Episode 4 looked at the valuable tax reliefs a company can offer its investors, your focus today is on the tax relief (or repayment) available to companies carrying out research and development activities.

The journey from social media influencer to tech entrepreneur

Social media has revolutionised the way in which we interact with businesses and each other and has shown that it can be a generous friend to business owners and entrepreneurs, helping them to harness a following, build their brand and grow a worldwide customer base. 

Lifecycle of a tech startup series: Employees and Consultants

In our previous blog in our Lifecycle of a tech startup series, KNow Wear Limited secured investment of £500,000. Having completed the raise, you, Sarah and Chris have decided that you need more help in developing and marketing the product. You are looking to create two new roles in the business - the first is a Software Developer to support Sarah’s work and the second is a Head of Marketing.

Data: A New Direction - Unleashing the transformational power AI?

In this blog series, we will review the key proposals for reform of data protection law within the Government’s consultation paper ‘Data: A New Direction’. We will consider how far the Government will stray from the current path and signpost some potential pitfalls and practicalities for consideration along the way.

The new cookie conundrum

Potential reforms to UK data privacy laws will change the way that cookies work on websites - businesses need to prepare now.


Lifecycle of a tech startup series: Seed raise

Having decided in episode 4  of our lifecycle of a tech startup series on targeting angel investors to raise £500,000 investment in the business, the founders of KNow Wear Limited researched various angel investor networks which aimed to connect start-ups like yours with angel investors. You applied to pitch at a couple of events and were invited by one network to interview with them in person. The network was very impressed with the business and invited you to pitch at their next event.  

What is an Advanced Subscription Agreement?

If you are involved in investing, either as a startup or an investor, you are likely to come across an advanced subscription agreement. So what is an advanced subscription agreement and what do you need to consider when entering into one? 

Lifecycle of a tech startup series: Tax reliefs

You are aware that the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) and the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) are two tax incentive schemes for individuals who invest in early-stage companies. What are the key considerations when determining whether a particular investment is eligible for SEIS/EIS relief?


Lifecycle of a tech startup series: Preparing to raise investment

In the last instalment we talked about the ways in which the founders of KNow Wear Limited could protect the intellectual property in their business. Since then, the business has been progressing well and our founders have been working on developing a prototype.  

Lifecycle of a tech startup series: Intellectual Property

In our last instalment our founders, Sarah and Chris, considered the basics in establishing their tech startup and they incorporated a company under the registered name ‘KNow Wear Limited’. 

How the tech sector can make the most of the UK’s new immigration rules

Many companies in the tech sector will be aware of the new immigration system and Skilled Worker category opening in a couple of weeks on 1 December. For those companies without a sponsor licence, they will need to apply for one in order to recruit both non-EU and EU citizens. EU citizens resident in the UK before 11pm on 31 December 2020 can apply to the EU Settlement Scheme.

Lifecycle of a tech startup series: The basics

Welcome back to the blog series covering the lifecycle of a tech startup, from a legal perspective.

Lifecycle of a tech startup series: Case study

Alex (tech), Andy (tech), Emer (investments) and I (investments) work alongside startups and founders day to day and thought it might to helpful to some of you out there to bring together our expertise on the legal issues that tend to arise and how we deal with them. 

Bounce Back Loan Scheme: Is it a bounce back from CBILS?

This week the government announced a further loan scheme to help small and medium-sized businesses affected by coronavirus. In a reaction to the criticism received for the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (“CBILS”) and its implementation, the Bounce Bank Loan Scheme is promised as a simplified scheme which allows small and medium-sized businesses to borrow up to 25% of their turnover, capped at £50,000.

Has the S.O.S from startups been answered?

Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, the UK government has launched a number of schemes offering financial support for businesses. This support includes the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, the Small Business Grant Fund, the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme and the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (“CBILS”).

Skip to content Home About Us Insights Services Contact Accessibility