Good Business: Rob Reason, HiddenCity

Nicola Slawson finds out how entrepreneur Rob Reason applies the principles of transparency and value-based pay to his unique company that helps people to discover hidden parts of cities across the UK

Each fortnight, the Good Business column catches up with the people who are leading social change. It’s hosted by Impact Hub Islington, an incubation space in London for socially minded entrepreneurs

Nicola: Hi Rob, can you tell us about your business?

Rob: Well, it’s called HiddenCity. As a participant, you solve a trail of clues, which guide you across a city. Each clue is sent by text message and each clue leads you to a new location. We focus on the hidden side of the city and that’s helped us get to where we are today. It’s our particular focus.

Our mission is to be the most exciting way to see the best cities in the world. We’re currently in five cities in the UK – Brighton, London, Manchester, Newcastle and York.

What happens when someone goes on a HiddenCity hunt?

The experience takes two to three hours to complete and you might end up exploring underground bars, teetering to see rooftop views through a window or discovering hidden art in a gallery. Multiple teams can be entered for those who want a competition.

Most of the trails we create now are themed around something particular. For instance, last year we created a London trail called Time Out Easter hunt, starting at the Wellcome Collection as they had a Japanese exhibition about spring on at the time. In Newcastle we have a trail where participants can discover the quayside in Gateshead and in Brighton we have one uncovering the city’s quirkiest bars.

What makes you a good business?

“There is nothing hidden. Even to the extent that everyone knows how much everyone is getting paid.”

It’s the whole approach. I remember hearing about a book called Maverick! The Success Story Behind The World’s Most Unusual Workplace, by Ricardo Semler, when I was working at a previous company. It has some interesting principles about autonomy, honesty and transparency. One of my colleagues asked 1,000 people at a company conference if they would consider opening up the company records. He was completely rebuffed. I thought that was rubbish.

If you apply the principles from the book at a really high level, then you end up with a business where everyone knows everything that’s going on. There is nothing hidden. Even to the extent that everyone knows how much everyone is getting paid.

How did you apply this concept?

Well, if you join HiddenCity as a freelancer, you get access to the entire file system and you can see everything. One of the team has commented that in comparison to other companies they’ve worked for, HiddenCity is so open, it’s so easy to understand what’s going on and you don’t feel like you’ll ever be crossed.

As long as you start everything you write on the basis that anyone may see it, then it ends up being a really positive thing. I really advocate complete transparency.

Are there any other unusual business practices you apply?

We’ve moved more and more to a principle in the last year that I heard about from a free book called Breaking The Time Barrier. It’s written by one of the founders of Fresh Books. It‘s about the principles of pricing work based on value, not on time.

The biggest motivation is not actually the fee, as long as staff are being paid a reasonable amount; it’s about how they are working towards a higher goal. It’s much better to pay them purely on the value of what they contribute to the business. It’s working so far.