In Cambridge we operate in an exciting technology hub, building world beating technology companies, from University spin-outs to global multi-billion dollar corporations. Without a world class team to execute the vision, however, would these companies have ultimately been as successful?
At Bailey Fisher’s recent CEO event, it was fascinating but probably not surprising to hear a room full of CEOs vote unanimously in favour of team, ahead of technology and investment, as the most important factor in building a successful company. So in 2012, what do we mean by team? My definition is a broad one. TEAM: Technology founders, Employees, Advisors (investors), Mentors. The best teams encompass the board, advisors and investors operating as a cohesive unit with the technology founder and executives. Forgetting titles, Advisors and Investors should be completely engaged and want to be part of the journey with the executives, reaching for the same goal. A current Chairman of a number of technology ventures recently told me that when he was CEO, he would lose sleep, concerned about his accountability to his investors until he decided to share sales details with them fully, viewing them as team members and partners, rather than purely investors. Ultimately this led to a stronger, more open relationship. When it comes to Mentors, the role of a CEO is often lonely, and bringing on board an experienced Chairman/NED who can advise the business as well as mentor you can make the journey a whole lot easier. Billy Boyle made the most of mentors when setting up Owlstone Nanotech as a PhD student eight years ago. Today, he and his two co-founders are at the helm of a successful and growing business which has raised over $15m in investment.
Billy says "We all individually came to Cambridge because not only were we geeky engineer types but also because we wanted to start a business off the back of research, and Cambridge was a place that already had a reputation for doing that." Billy talks of the supportive, tightly networked culture, in which "serendipitous meetings" regularly occur. "We had mentors, people who had been on the scene, had done it before, had been very successful, and they were giving up loads of their time to us total newbies who were asking the stupidest questions." "There's very much a willingness to help others. The 'pay it back' mentality is alive and strong."In your team, Advisors should also include the lawyers, accountants and other professional services firms working with you. Make the most of these advisors as advocates for your company. At Bailey Fisher we work as an Advisor, getting to know the culture and motivations of the existing team and long term goals of the business. Ever since we started Bailey Fisher 14 years ago, our experience has shown us that team is far more important than technology. How many times do we see investors backing an A team with a B technology? The Holy Grail is obviously to have both an A team and a ground breakingtechnology working in parallel. A case in point is Neul, the brainchild of the founders of CSR who identified a technology gap in the market and are successfully exploiting this, backed by a significant round of investment. It has been said that if these guys don’t succeed, no-one will. Last year we were approached by the Chairman of Neul to undertake a piece of work, resulting in the introduction of David Smyth as CFO to the business. David’s background was with Orange, where he was part of the initial team that went through an amazing period of growth, building the company from very early-stage to multi-billion dollar corporation. The chance to do something similar with Neul was very appealing for him. The specific attractions of Neul for David were the very impressive management team - the fact that they had ‘done it all before’ and built a $bn company was an amazing draw - and the potential of the company, the technology and the industry. He had looked at lots of early stage businesses, but none had the combination of right place, right time and right people that Neul does.
In the current economic climate some of our most promising high-growthcompanies in the UK have found it increasingly difficult to use their own rolodex to attract top talent. We have certainly seen a shift away from the “have a go” entrepreneur to the more risk- averse executive. However, the primary consideration that recurs whenever we are positioning an opportunity in the market is Team: “What is the team like? Who are the advisors? Are the investors supporting the business in the medium to long term?” The technology and the market opportunity are secondary concerns. It is what a skilled and experienced team will do with that technology to meet a market need that is the key factor in determining success. How do you attract the top talent to your team? The lifecycle of a company has enormous impact on the talent required and what can be attracted, and this can change significantly. Very small, high-risk companies need to consider their attractability as a business proposition. What internal and external messages do they need to address before going to market? As well as looking at the Cambridge talent pool, look for experience in the global market. An experienced & well-networked international Chairman/NED can open doors, as well as being a magnet for further talent. Recently an international Chairman was appointed to a high-growth Cambridge company, where he has already been instrumental in attracting an industry expert to the team from a large corporate. This is a time of unprecedented economic challenges, but by focusing on team, Cambridge’s technology companies have an outstanding opportunity. Talent attracts talent and the best companies will find the best people. As a visionary leader, Steve Jobs attracted the top talent to Apple, and his focus led the company from a position of rocky sales and low market share to the world-leader it is today. The new Apple CEO Tim Cook has said recently how he was inspired by Jobs’ visionary leadership. The key lesson he learned from Jobs was to focus. Teams must be tenacious, cohesive, focused and must look internationally. With these attributes, Cambridge has every chance of producing the UK’s next multi-billion dollar success story.
If you work in technology and would like to meet to share ideas with your peer group, whether CEO, CFO, Chairman/NED or women on the board, you may be interested in Bailey Fisher’s series of networking events. Please see www.baileyfisher.com for details.
View July-August 2012 edition of Cambridge Business