The potential was what brought Andy MacMillan (MBA 2003) back on a scouting mission to Edinburgh last year. Some 16 years after his graduation in 2003, his Silicon Valley based company UserTesting was looking to open its first European base, and he knew Edinburgh had to be on the shortlist.
As CEO of the company, he was attracted by Edinburgh's thriving tech scene, as well as support from local and Scottish government along with the University of Edinburgh. It also helped that the city was the place that had broadened his horizons and helped him realise his ambitions.
When Andy came to Scotland from the States in 2002 to study for his MBA, he was a coder and software developer by trade; but one who had his mind fixed on a very different target, and a move to the 'business end' of the industry.
"We talked a lot about business case studies in the MBA class, but every business case study involved people", he explains. "The human beings and their decisions played a key role and that made business so interesting to me. It was a part of how I made the transition from technologist to business leader.
"You can build the best solution in the world, but you can't market, expand, and sell the idea if it's not interesting. This is where technology meets people and I think it's what's going to change business models over the next couple of decades."
The human element is the key for UserTesting. The company works with over 35,000 customers and 37 of the world's top 100 brands, including Facebook, Sony, and Spotify.
It offers 'on-demand human insight', allowing real people to test a client's systems, tech, and ways of working, then feed that information back to the client.
The platform tests every customer experience imaginable, from digital to real world, and even allows clients to trial prototypes. The feedback is instantaneous. Clients receive audio and video messages from testers, who are drawn directly from their target markets, while they test the product. This insight, combined with the speed of delivery—with some clients receiving results within an hour—has seen the company expand rapidly and make strides within Europe.
The decision to situate UserTesting's European base in Edinburgh was not solely borne out of sentiment and Andy's own connection with the city, but the: "incredible technology and computer science talent coming out of multiple universities in Scotland".
This talent is a further asset, but echoing other alumni discussing the pace and intensity of work, Andy also sees flexibility in how the industry allows talent to work remotely.
"People can be anywhere now. If you need to work from home for a morning because your child has something going on, then great, we'll do that. It doesn't matter where you are, what matters is your ideas and how you collaborate with others, and collaboration doesn't have to be over coffee.
"At UserTesting we are trying to help people build a product that has more empathy. When you think about how much technology we use and how much of it doesn't connect the right way, how many times you think 'why does this app not work, why doesn't this solve my problem'. I think it's because we are using data to make product decisions, as opposed to people.
"You can bank on a mobile app now. You can use an app to order coffee, walk in, and pick it up right off the counter. Advances like this are great; I'd rather bank on my phone than drive to the bank, but I still want it to understand me. It's really important to bring that human empathy aspect back to the technology sector."
After finishing the MBA he transitioned from software development to product manager, which was the key step in his transition to being a CEO and business leader. "I don't think any of that would have happened if I didn't have the credential of the MBA, that understanding of how to run a business", Andy adds.
Now, nearly two decades on, he is spending more time back in Edinburgh putting the final building blocks in place for the UserTesting European base. Current headcount in Edinburgh is 40 with the ambition of growing that number to 100. "We're really growing in Scotland", he says.
And in this world of fluid borders and boundaries, he sees genuine potential for Edinburgh: "We think it's the next big tech hub."