My first million: psychology put me on the path to riches

As a psychology student, Catriona Campbell became interested in how we interact with technology. She turned what was once the preserve of academics into a business model that allowed her to survive the dotcom bubble and set up the biggest usability company in Europe.


As a psychology student at Stirling University, Campbell won an Erasmus scholarship to attend the Sorbonne in Paris in 1992. Specialising in behavioural psychology, she "got a real buzz" from the study of "Human Computer Interaction" the way in which we interact with technology.

How, she wondered, could you improve digital communications for the user's benefit? With that question in mind, she set herself the goal of working in electronic communications, joining Barclays Bank's management development programme in 1995. Three years later, she was head of the bank's e-communications and, at 26, the youngest woman at the bank in a senior management job. But it wasn't until 1999, when she was poached by General Electric as an e-commerce adviser, that her career really took off.

"GE ran store cards for British retail companies, but the stores weren't allowing you to pay [for goods] over their websites. So I began persuading CEOs, GE and website owners to optimise their websites to do so." This brought her into contact with John Horner, then head of the Arcadia group. "When he saw what I was doing, he was amazed. This research you're doing, he said, it's brilliant. I'll give you money to do it yourself."

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At this point, however, the dotcom boom came to a sudden end and the pool of potential investors dried up. But Campbell thought she had the "pill" for the burst bubble. "Many of the companies hadn't optimised their websites properly, meaning visitors were turning away and not converting into customers. None of the sites had usability', which was a big problem. And behavioural psychologists like me can see why people aren't converting."

Armed with a well thought-out business plan, she approached business contacts she had made during the dotcom boom. Several businesses liked her concept and fund-raising proved relatively easy. One backer, a venture capitalist, gave her £350,000 in cash and £150,000 in premises and resources to set up the company. Two weeks before Christmas 2001, she had all the funding secured, and by January 2002 the company that would become Foviance was up and running. Within three months, it had its first client and by the end of its first year it was profitable. Campbell was, and remains, the major shareholder.

"We built the business up to be scalable, and we're now the biggest usability company in Europe and the fourth biggest in the world. We work for 43 of the UK FTSE 100 companies and will have a turnover of £3m this year. Only academics had been focused on the area before, but now that we've turned it into a business, we're very much in demand."

Jody Clarke

Jody studied at the University of Limerick and she has been a senior writer for MoneyWeek for more than 15 years. Jody is experienced in interviewing, for example in her time she has dug into the lives of an ex-M15 agent and quirky business owners who have made millions. Jody’s other areas of expertise include advice on funds, stocks and house prices.