Trustpilot CEO: ‘Everybody suspects everyone else is an a***hole ‘

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Dane is adjusting to stay as CEO of a public company after last year’s £1.1bn London IPO – it’s a long way from his parents’ garage where he started business in 2007.

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Too many CEOs tell me they use TrustPilot to see how their business is really doing because it’s unfiltered,” says Peter Holten Muhlmann, with a slight grin.

Holten Mühlmann’s own business is going very well, thank you very much. Trustpilot went public in a £1.1 billion IPO on the London Stock Exchange last March and figures published this week showed revenue rose 29% to $131 million (£95.3 million) in the six months to December 31, ahead of forecasts.

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“I think we are only 1% of what we can become,” Holten says at his new London base on Mining Lane in Muhlmann City. “Today we have about 160 million reviews on the platform, but there should be billions.”

The soft-spoken 39-year-old, a self-described “big introvert,” launched Trustpilot in 2007 as a side project from her parents’ garage. The service lets people rate companies up to 5 stars and leave short reviews.

It may sound simple but it has been transformative in the world of online commerce, helping people decide which companies to buy from and which to stay away from. The business makes its money by charging companies to host ratings on their websites.

“When I started Trustpilot, a lot of people would say ‘Wouldn’t this be all negative reviews? Holten Mühlmann recalls. “Why would you bother to write a positive review?’ Everyone suspects that everyone else is a total s*** hole.

“It turns out the average star rating is 4.3 or 4.4 – people are better than you suspect.”

Building the business in its early days consisted of 18-hour “gruesome” days filled with caffeine. Now, Dane is embracing life as the CEO of a public company—a very different proposition.

“As the company gets bigger, I’m starting to realize that as CEO I’m not really involved in this,” he says. “The life of the employees will become unbearable if I involve myself in everything.

“I really try not to keep myself busy. I try to leave a lot of space during the day and ask myself, ‘What three things do I love’?”

These days he spends more time with his girlfriends and exercises daily. One downside of this new life is that Holten Mühlmann isn’t as independent as he once had to openly talk about how business is going—something he struggles with.

The stock has been a wild ride since the company entered the market. Shares offered at 265p rose to a high of 460p in September, before falling sharply after investors sold off the lock-up period. The stock is now trading more or less where it started.

Trustpilot has offices in London, Copenhagen and Berlin. The pandemic has prompted businesses to “look talent first and place second” when hiring, Holten Mühlmann says, but he remains committed to offices.

“I’m a big introvert, so at first I thought how cool it was not to go into all these arrangements,” he says. “But then I found that not meeting people in the real world was a very psychological malaise.”

Trustpilot was one of the corporate world’s pandemic winners. The lockdown and other government restrictions forced more sectors to go online – from education to undertakings – and that means more services to review on Trustpilot.

Trustpilot CEO Peter Holten Muhlmann

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Trustpilot CEO Peter Holten Muhlmann

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In recent years the company has faced criticism for fake reviews. According to its last public announcement on the issue, Trustpilot removed 2.2 million fake reviews in 2020. The data shows that the company is taking the issue seriously but it also underscores the scale of the problem. The new data is due in the company’s next annual transparency report, due out next month.

Holten Mühlmann says that TrustPilot is constantly introducing new technology to help identify and remove fake posts. Despite such problems, he feels that the company has more open roads ahead.

“We have 65,000 domains where one person has shared their experience, and I think that should be measured in millions globally,” he says.

Companies are also more likely to sell more data.

“We can become a lot better at helping businesses better understand their customers. We are only scratching the surface in that.”

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