Last week we had the pleasure of sitting down with Carolyn Jameson, Chief Trust Officer at Trustpilot.
The company, which runs a reviews website for businesses, sits at an interesting intersection between consumers and companies.
A lack of verifiable and trustworthy information online means the firm is in a position to help solve the trust problem that has always clung to much of the digital world.
Trustpilot is also one of several tech companies to have listed in the UK this year and has been a part of the drive to sell London as a more hospitable place for tech firms than it has been in the past.
We discussed all of this and much more with Carolyn in what was a wide-ranging conversation. You can watch the video below or read the transcript.
Hi everyone and welcome to another executive interview here at Freetrade. I'm David Kimberley and I'm part of the editorial team at Freetrade.
Before we begin just a quick shout out to our newsletter, Honey, remember to subscribe to that, we'll have a link, hopefully in the description and also in the thumbnail of this video.
So remember to subscribe and you'll get a nice piece of market news delivered to your email inbox every day. Ok, so today I'm very excited to have Carolyn Jameson with me, who is the Chief Trust Officer at Trustpilot. So Carolyn thanks very much for joining us and welcome to this executive interview here at Freetrade.
So to get started, before I did this interview, I did a kind of litmus test with some friends and family. And it seems like most people had a kind of passing knowledge of Trustpilot, but maybe didn't know exactly what the company is about, what it does and all that sort of stuff. Can you give us a little brief overview of what Trustpilot does? What does the company do, all that sort of stuff?
Of course. We do hear that and it's something that we clearly need to need to do something about. But Trustpilot is a global review platform on the face of it. But our mission is actually to become a trust layer for the internet currently using reviews to do that.
And what we do that’s different to a lot of other review platforms, is that we are an open platform. And what we mean by open is that as a consumer, you can leave feedback anytime for a business. So you don't have to wait to be invited by a business.
And similarly, a business can respond to reviews at any time without being a customer of Trustpilot. And so therefore, you know, we want to encourage collaboration basically between businesses and consumers, for the benefit of everyone, ultimately.
Okay, that's a good synopsis. And you are Chief Trust Officer, which I think is rather a unique title. So can you talk a bit about what that actually means? What does a Chief Trust Officer do in the world of Trustpilot?
Of course, well Trustpilot, as a business, we have this belief, which I think is probably reflected in the way I've described us, in being open, trustworthy, transparent in the way we operate. And as part of that, we have this role of Chief Trust Officer, which is a fairly new role.
I joined the company in 2019, and it's to make sure that we are remembering that ethos and really pushing that through the entire organization in terms of how we operate and how we think.
And then on a day-to-day basis, what that really means is that I'm also responsible for the content integrity team, who are the team that manage complaints, concerns that are raised, whether it's by consumers or businesses and the team that have to make those judgment calls about, you know, user generated content, how that should be viewed and perceived and [whether it should be] kept on the platform or not.
And then I also look after the legal aspects, the public affairs, as we work with regulators to try and help them understand this area because it's actually quite a complex area. And PR and then risk and internal audit as well. So it's quite a broad role.
Great, very interesting. So I think you touched on a couple of things there that are quite interesting. And I mean, I think the internet has always been a bit of a Wild West place and it's always been hard to [separate] fact from fiction and all that sort of stuff.
I can remember that being a problem 20 years ago when I was a kid and just starting to use it. But I think that has really ramped up in recent years, just because more and more of our lives, whether that's buying stuff or social media, are now in this digital world.
So what kind of role does Trustpilot see itself playing in that ecosystem? And do you see there being any moral or ethical problems that you come up against working in the space?
Yeah, of course. Well, the role, I think we have to play in this is that, and this is why being open and people being able to leave reviews anytime is so important and so different to other review platforms, being open means that people can leave feedback at any time.
And what we want is for that to be a real source of information for the people online and by 'people', I mean consumers, as they shop, you know, as they want to understand a bit more about businesses and we have this great feature on our platform called a business transparency page.
So we go beyond typical review platforms and you can go on to that and understand things like how businesses are engaging, how they're complaining about the reviews they have. You can see how they're engaging with people when they leave reviews.
And that's really important for consumers because what we see is that consumers actually care about how businesses respond when there's a problem, as much as the problem itself.
So that's really important and that's the opportunity for businesses. They can then come on and engage and really collaborate and learn and improve, so that they can actually do better as a business as well.
And we hope that through doing that, we create this layer of trust for the internet, and people can really come to us and rely on us as a source of information as they look at particular companies or things they want to buy.
And then to answer your question about difficult situations that we have to deal with, we do have those regularly, and I think we're no different in that respect than a lot of other companies that have to deal with user generated content.
We know that sometimes that causes issues, you know, businesses that maybe don't engage with that positively, or some of the things that can go on in terms of fraudulent activity, as people try to manipulate those reviews, because obviously as reviews become more important as a source of information for consumers, there's more reason to manipulate those and that results in situations that can be quite difficult to manage.
Yeah, that makes sense. And, I mean, I think Trustpilot is a very big and well-known company, but how in, again, the sort of wild West world that is the internet, do you become that stamp of authority?
Do you think the company has already reached that point or do you think there's more to do in terms of, if I go on to a company's Trustpilot page and I see that they've got a great rating there. Do you think you've reached the point where that means the average person is going to go, "okay, this is a company that I can trust and work with." And if not, how do you get to that point? Do you think it's possible to sort of become that marker of authority?
I do think it's possible. And I think we already are a reliable source of information. People can come to the platform and find really useful information. There will always be more to do here. It's like, I mean, I often think of us a bit like credit card companies. They'll never be able to say they know that there is absolutely zero fraud that takes place using those credit cards.
It's a constant challenge and something that evolves all the time because techniques sort of adapt as people want to do things that they shouldn't be doing. So we're constantly on top of this and we have a real focus on how we get better at detection all the time. And that's something that we have as a real advantage as a business.
Also the volume of reviews that we have now, we have a significant number of reviews on the platform or already — 120 million. And that means that we can use that information as a data source to start to do things like spot patterns of behavior.
And then when there are outliers to that behavior, we can flag that and that means that we're very efficient at spotting any fake views that people might try to put on the platform.
And we're using automated software to do that 70% of the time. And then we have a dedicated team of fraud investigators and content integrity agents that look at this all the time. So we're very, very dedicated to this. And I don't know if you saw but last year we also announced that we're opening an R&D center in Edinburgh, which is specifically focused on consumer trust and using data analysis really as the basis for that.
Okay, Carolyn, you were just saying that you're opening an office in Edinburgh and I thought that was sort of relevant to the IPO that you just held as well, which I thought was one of the big ones that a lot of people have been talking about and very excited about, and [is a part of] this drive to get more tech and internet companies listed in the UK. So what was the decision-making process for you guys in choosing London and not the US, which I think lots of tech companies or internet companies tend to find a bit more attractive?
Well, one of the very big factors for us is the fact that the UK is actually a very large market for Trustpilot and so that's obviously good in the context of an IPO, but also the fact that, we are in the UK trying to really start to attract some large tech companies.
We have some very successful large tech companies and personally, I feel very passionate about that, especially having been part of the Skyscanner team previously and having built a company like that here.
And then also London is well-recognized in terms of governance and, and doing the right thing, that sort of feeling around it. And obviously given what we do and what we're about — we're all about trust — that that was an important factor for us as well.
Great. And I don't know how involved you were with the IPO process, but what was the sort of reception that you got? I mean, when people were thinking about investing in you or coming to you, was that very much on the basis of you guys being a technology company and sort of part of this movement to get more companies listed here?
Or was it, were you more geared towards saying we are this trust-based company that's trying to make the internet a bit of a better place? I ask just because I think a lot of the time tech is used as this really big catch-all term. And so I'm sort of interested if that actually is something that's appealing to investors, whether it's regular people or large institutions, or if they take a more detailed look at what a business does specifically.
Yes. I mean, I definitely think being part of a tech company is a factor. Just the opportunity that brings you really that ability to scale. I guess, less challenges than some, you know, physical item companies might have, which would probably vary in people's minds at the minute, especially after all the challenges that we all had through COVID or especially companies like that.
But actually the thing that seemed to really appeal to people is this desire to create this layer of trust for the internet. And I think we all can see consumers, anyone that goes online, can see that there's a real need for that.
And I think as well, because Trustpilot has this belief in doing the right thing, being transparent about the way it works, that also is attractive. When you think about some of the negativity that's come about for some tech companies, and criticism for not being like that. I think that made us quite an appealing investment for that reason, perhaps.
Okay. That makes sense. And now that you've raised this money, I mean, you've done, I think, very well. What are the plans? I mean, are you going to try and expand into new areas, are you just going to keep doing what you're doing? What's the sort of 'modus operandi' of Trustpilot in the next few years?
Our plan is very much to use this as a springboard to accelerate. And that will be in terms of the platform itself. And new features on that platform. For example, we're looking at things like how we can engage consumers more in part of the verification of reviews and how we can bring them into that journey.
And then also just making the platform more transparent, very clear, easy for people to use — that sort of thing. Also expanding into new markets as well. I mean, we're actually in a hundred countries, believe it or not. But really wanting to select some areas where we particularly push our expansion, the US for example. So that's what we hope to do.
Okay. That makes sense. Just out of interest, which markets are you kind of most successful in? Where are you making most of your money?
Our key markets have been Denmark, which is because it was a Danish company originally. The UK, the Netherlands is a strong market for us. So is France, Italy....so quite spread out really.
Okay, and one thing that I see as a potential problem with Trustpilot is, I mean, as far as I understand you guys make money from companies paying to get some kind of subscription fee or something like that. Actually, first of all, can you talk a little bit about how that works?
Yeah, of course. Well, we make money through....it's a [software as a service] business, so people can subscribe. Businesses can subscribe for services, like analysis of consumer sentiment about them.
They can pay for things like, you know, if it's a physical shop, reviews by location, so that you can really get into that granular detail and understand how to improve your business. And also some enhanced marketing type widgets, things like that.
So that's how we make money. However, I think it's really important to note, you don't have to be a customer of Trustpilot to use Trustpilot as a business either. So you can also use Trustpilot for free. You can send a certain number of invitations for free, you can engage for free.
If you have concerns about a review that you see, you can report that in the same way as any business that pays and you're treated exactly the same. So there is no difference there. And that really is important to us because that comes to the point of being transparent and trustworthy. So that's a very important factor at the heart of the company really.
That makes sense. So the question I was going to ask before is, do you think there's ever the potential for some sort of conflict of interest where, if a company is paying you however much they are to use your services, and at the same time, let's say they're getting some bad reviews. What can you do if they come to you and say, "hey, we're getting this bad review. Can you fix it in some way?" Do you just have to say, "no, we can't do that"? Or how would that work?
Yes. I mean, we will treat every company, every issue, the same, the same way, and whether somebody pays or not is irrelevant. And actually, you know, I think some of the measures that we've taken in the last year haven't always been that popular with businesses, but it hasn't stopped us doing them because they've been the right thing.
And one thing in particular that I can point to on this is the fact that we don't hide reviews while they're being investigated. So if a company or a consumer flags a review, it's treated the same, it's investigated by the content integrity team. And whilst it's being investigated, it isn't hidden.
So, you know, we're not giving businesses preferential treatment or hiding reviews that they're unhappy about. And that was a move that we took that wasn't necessarily that popular with some of our customers, but it was the right thing to do.
That makes sense. So is it ever kind of tough? Do you ever feel as though you're sort of stuck between a bit of a rock and a hard place, Where I can imagine it becomes almost a bit, you know, partisan or something like that? I mean, if there's a company that, let's say, customers feel very upset with, and then the company doesn't feel it's justified, is it like fighting two battles at once?
Well, you know, I can understand why you might say that, but I think ultimately we have such a strong belief in the mission that we're on and the value that that brings.
And we focus on that and that really takes us through those difficult situations. But I mean, as a business, if I were in a business, I would want honest feedback. That's what helps me improve. And I would want feedback from everyone as much feedback as I could get in a usable format that then I can improve my business with. And I think the majority of businesses will think like that.
And, I mean, I guess it's like if you were running for election. There's no point in only asking for half of the population to vote because you don't know really whether that's a true winner or not. So where businesses are using selective, inviting, that's not really giving them a full view of their business and enabling them to improve as much as they could. So if we focus on that mission, that takes us through these difficult situations.
Yeah. That makes sense. And, maybe to finish off, I mean, you've been at the company now for a couple of years and you are very involved in what I think is quite an interesting part of, not just the internet, but sort of our society as a whole. It's quite a core issue to what's going on in the next, let's say, five to ten years.
I know it's quite a long stretch of time, but how do you see trust and the internet sort of developing? I mean, do you think we'll get to a point where a company like yours becomes this mark of authority, or do you think, as you said earlier, that it's always going to be a bit of a struggle.
A also just how important do you think this 'trust' — in the broadest sense of the time — is going to be in our digital lives moving forward?
I think trust is going to be massive in our digital lives. And I think it already is. And I think that the companies that will really stand out are the ones that do the right thing.
And I think that involves being transparent — really transparent — about how you work. I think consumers will be interested in far more factors than just, you know, the very obvious ones, but also things like what, what is a company's view on how it engages with employees, for example, how does it treat its employees? Does it look at things from a sustainability point of view when it's packaging things up or whatever?
And I think factors like that are going to be really important as things to highlight on the internet as well. And that will really influence consumer behavior.
But it's a fascinating area and I think that it will continue to evolve. As I said earlier, I think there'll be a constant challenge probably beyond five years. I should imagine when we think how long we've had the internet now. But I do think the companies that have a really strong basis, it's founded on doing the right thing. I think they're the ones that will thrive.
Okay, great. Well, thanks very much for taking the time to speak to us today. It was very nice of you.
Thank you very much for having me.
Yeah, no problem. It was a fascinating conversation. So thanks everyone for watching and remember to subscribe to honey for those daily market emails. And thanks again, Carolyn. Hopefully we'll chat again at some point.