Q&A with Dr. Karl Blanks, Winner of the Queen’s Award for Enterprise for Innovation

Dr. Karl Blanks is an Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) London member and the co-founder of Conversion Rate Experts, a Google-authorized consultancy that scientifically converts websites’ visitors into customers. The former rocket scientist, a Ph.D. from Cambridge University, England, has grown clients in 80-plus verticals, in 22 countries and in nine languages. With his co-founder, Ben Jesson, Karl has been honored with a Queen’s Award for Enterprise for Innovation. The awards are widely regarded as the UK’s most prestigious, recognizing the talent that has shaped Britain since 1966. 

We talked with Dr. Karl Blanks (pictured above left, with co-founder Ben Jesson on right) about working with some of the world’s most sophisticated companies, meeting Queen Elizabeth II and how EO has helped him along his entrepreneurial journey.

What do you do?

We improve websites in a scientific way. We redesign a page and then carry out what’s called an A/B-test to measure whether our new version brings in more business than the previous version. During the A/B-test, half of the visitors see the existing version and half see the new one. Once one of the pages has statistically significantly beaten the other, we declare it the winner and promote it and get rid of the loser.

What’s it like working with Google and Facebook?

It’s great. We used to think that the most sophisticated companies would be the hardest to work with. Weirdly, projects with those massive companies often go really well because the most sophisticated clients are the ones who are easiest to work with. They implement and they appreciate the process more. You see eye to eye and they spot a good idea.

What does it feel like to join the ranks of some of Britain’s greatest business talent?

We are really excited to meet the Queen. What we do has always felt more niche than it should be. It’s exciting to win something so mainstream.

Who would you like to give thanks to for their help personally or professionally?

We have absolutely loads of mentors. We learn from our team members, our clients, and from other business leaders. We read a lot, too. I buy about two books a week. One of the beauties of the Internet is that where you are geographically doesn’t determine where you are mentally.

If books are mentors, whom do you recommend?

For marketing I love Claude Hopkins, author of Scientific Advertising. There’s a book about usability called Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug, that’s so universally useful I believe it should be on the school curriculum.

Keys to Great Writing by Stephen Wilbers is amazing. When I read that book, I thought, “I can’t believe I didn’t get taught this at school.” The first 100 pages I use every day. I love books about writing. Eleven of my other favorites are in this article. They are all fantastic.

For business, the articles of Paul Graham. I also loved the book The Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman. There’s a great book about building a business called The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber. We used that as a blueprint in the early days of our business. It’s all about the difference between creating yourself a job and something that stands on its own.

How has EO helped you get where you are?

It’s amazing to be able to ask other business owners for their shares and experiences. The resources and knowledge they have shared have been invaluable.

Even more importantly, though, my follow EO Forum members have broadened my horizons. Because of the level of openness, respect and support, Forum has given me insights and understanding into many aspects of life and business that people don’t usually talk about. For example, few business books broach how tough it can be to run a business!

When we’re choosing a topic for next month, often we ask ourselves, “Will it be difficult to find the answer to this somewhere else?” If the answer is yes, we tend to go for that elephant-in-the-room topic.

You were once a rocket scientist. How has that served you in business?

In science, you have to become great at finding out things. That’s what scientific research is, really. Running a business involves day after day of finding out how to do hard things. I’ve found that my scientific research skills have been transferable. Also, you have to understand something so well you can create a mental model of how it works, so you can then use that model. Having said that, the most surprisingly useful thing I ever did was running a radio show as a student. It taught me about presentation, ideation and creating content.

How would you help tomorrow’s leaders?

I’d change what they learn at school. I think the country’s economy would change if everyone read Don’t Make Me Think. My business partner, Ben, has what I believe is a great idea: Five years after everyone leaves school, they should be asked to complete a survey with three questions: (i) What five things you learned at school turned out to be most useful, (ii) What five things you learned at school turned out to be least useful, and (iii) What do you wish you had been taught? The curriculum would then be changed accordingly.

What does the future hold?

On the immediate horizon, we are about to publish a book! It’s coming out in two to four weeks. It’s called Making Websites Win. It distills some of the most useful things we’ve learned over the past ten years. It’ll be out in paperback, hardback and Kindle.

You’re meeting the Queen in July. What do you want to ask her?

I don’t think we’ll be allowed to ask her questions. But I would love to work on her website!

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