Rupert Evill | Ethics Insight

Rupert is the Founding Director of Ethics Insight and author of "Bootstrapping Ethics". We learn about his path to starting a business and some of the frameworks he finds useful including the "Eisenhower Decision Matrix" and the "12-year-old test".

1. What's your story?

I’ve worked in risk for a long time, initially in counter-terrorism and political risk, before moving into investigations, intelligence gathering, and counter-intelligence in 2006. That work took me to Asia in 2010. Over the years, organisations started to tire of responding to crises and wanted more predictive analysis to help avoid all the bad stuff (corruption, fraud, human rights abuses, etc.).

Around that time (2012-2015), I went back to postgrad studies - focused on behavioural analysis and deception detection. I went on to graduate as a certified behavioural analysis trainer. That human side - why we do what we do - has always interested me. Control failures lead to risk in only about ⅓ of cases. Most of the time, it’s human behaviours - generally more misguided, misinformed, or coerced rather than malicious.

In 2019 I started Ethics Insight with a mission to democratise access to risk assessment, resources, and advice. We use a blend of tech (SaaS), human-centric content, and advisory work to achieve that.

Last year this experience culminated in a publisher asking me to write a book: Bootstrapping Ethics. The intention is to help anyone better manage risk WITHOUT breaking themselves or the bank!

2. What’s the most satisfying part about what you do?
I like working with people trying to do the right thing.

Many folks who get into in-house risk, compliance, etc. roles come from legal, accounting, or security service backgrounds. There can sometimes be a communication gap between them and a leadership who don’t speak the same language.

Luckily I have a sassy 12-year old who is unflinching in her criticism of any content. This “12-year-old test” has forced me to check my “curse of knowledge” and make concepts more accessible, relatable, and, if possible, fun. Seeing someone move from bafflement to understanding - usually using stories, visuals and analogies - it’s rewarding.

It’s rewarding because if we all get a bit better at this stuff, it’s harder for bad guys to succeed. From predatory public officials extorting bribes, to traffickers, right up to wars wages by corrupt states, dismantling starts with individuals making decisions. I’ve seen a lot of horrible things - but scaring people into “compliance” doesn’t work. Engaging them where they’re at does.

3. What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced and how did you move forward?

Pick a week! My wife likes to remind me that when we first met, she thought my total lack of online presence make me suspicious - ironic. I’d spent a life living in the shadows, and suddenly I was in her world of hyper-exposure. That prepared me for the most necessary but uncomfortable part of startup life - marketing.

My marketing advisor likes this cliche: “No one gets fired for hiring IBM”. For a client to pick us - a small firm - they’re taking a personal risk. If we mess up, they might be held accountable. Bridging that credibility gap is only possible by letting people get to know you.

How did I move forward? Friendships with other founders. We encourage each other to, as one friend put it, “Get over yourself”. I might feel like a prat doing some video or post, but no one else cares. So, I make lists, targets, and content generation time, set daily, with no excuses, and get it done.

4. What's the best piece of business advice you would like to share?

Discipline. Discipline. Discipline.

You’re not motivated every day, but you must get things done. Have a routine. Make lists. No excuses. Get stuff done.

The other advice that helps is, “Will it matter in a year?” If any answer is in the affirmative, deal with it now. If the answer is a negative, why are you worrying so much about it?

I like to use the Eisenhower Decision Matrix, and it’s on a big whiteboard in my office. “Do, Decide, Delegate, Delete.” Everything needs to be in one of those boxes.

5. How has working with Harvest Accounting and using Xero impacted your business / life?

What I know about accounting can be written on the back of a postage stamp; remember those? Accounting is not something to do gonzo.

Harvest takes away a pain point that would MASSIVELY distract me from working ON (not IN) the business.

Not having to worry about that frees me up to do things I’m way better suited to.

The team is responsive and able to explain issues in plain language, which I value. In short, they make a founder’s life easier. They also recommend tools that sync well with the needs of the business, so things from expenses to timesheets become painless. Anyone who has worked in a large organisation will tell you that those things can be pretty excruciating with the wrong advice and software.

6. Shameless plug for your business:

Get in touch if you’re struggling to make it right-sized to what your organisation does, relevant and relatable to stakeholders.

The method I use is simple - ABC. A is for Assess across three domains - external environment (and threats therein), internal controls, and behaviours. It’s like designing a secure building; you need to know where it will be, its purpose, and how those living there behave.

After the A of assessment, it’s time to Build content that resonates with people. Systems built using design-thinking principles, with user experience at their core. If we’re honest, most risk content is duller than David Beckham reading the phonebook. If people are to take risks seriously, we need new ideas.

C stands for Change. Maybe your organisation needs to change its strategy, ways of working, or culture. Perhaps you have an investigation, crisis, or near miss shake you into action. With decades of years responding to (often acute and extortive) situations, there’s not much I haven’t seen.

Asses. Build. Change. ABC.