Archive for the ‘Running interference’ Category

Running interference is a term taken mostly from american football where team players deflect the opposition in their attack to stop the ball carrier as they attempt to make the home run. running interference4I use this term in the start-up/scale-up world when people that I meet when networking ask me what is it that I do … I tell them “I run interference” on behalf of my clients when retained for that purpose.

This will normally open up a discussion as to what I really mean by that phrase, a bit like the quote “We are the Pros from Dover” taken from the movie “Mash”. Experienced business professionals from the technology world will know what I mean but younger entrepreneurs from the emerging technology world will be less sure. That is the point of course “when you don’t know what you don’t know” when trying to navigate the shark infested pool of founding and building Tech start-ups.

Its a pool of knowledge and insight gained over decades of working for US vendors in the big game and then founding and building technology companies from scratch in the good and bad market times. You tend to get perspective on the right moves and people from years of “shedding layers of skin” from going through the process of winning and losing in the UK and Silicon Valley. We are often pigeonholed as advisers, coaches, consultants maybe even the dreaded mentors … I suppose there may be a combination there. But what sets me apart is the blend of experience, strategic thinking and accelerated tactical implementation that moves the needle on whatever challenge you are currently facing.

A lot of my work is based on accelerating access to market, entrepreneurs always need that first big deal or partnership to reference from and cement them into the market with some credibility to continue. running interference2How do you do that? … well while you have had you’re nose to the grindstone, I have had years building a trusted network in London, this gives many entry layers to quickly research where best to position you’re attack. This combined with the weight and experience I add as to how to frame the hook that will get a reaction and opens up options for you to explore.

Sometimes it can be just as important not to talk to certain people as to chasing to meet what appears to be high profile people that can aid you’re progress. But “how do you know who is good or bad”, some that will suck time and life, maybe even money out of you’re precious venture. Well that is also about having time and experience to “understand the jigsaw” that is the multilayered emerging technology market in London. I have come across most of the challenges you are taking on for the first time, numerous times in fact, it develops an instinct in you for what feels right.

So I hear you ask … why are you not off investing, a venture capitalist, being a Non Exec, Government adviser, charity work, even retired like the rest of your peers. running interference1Well much as I don’t want to build another start-up company of my own, what still gives me a thrill is breaking markets with new technology, especially if it means taking on and beating the incumbent global vendor players. Its about doing business and deals that people don’t think possible on your wits with limited resources, “that’s the win”.

stick it to the man

Technology Entrepreneurs were mavericks, outside the system, changing the world, disrupting society and most importantly … not part of the Establishment. Well that was the way it was or certainly seemed to be. Now, I am concerned, given the increasing numbers today crossing the line. Taking government sponsored roles, moving to the other side of the table with venture capital firms (some supported by government funds), fronting accelerators, entrepreneurs in residence, angel investing and even some being included on the UK Honours lists. All this far to early for most rather than concentrating on and taking the pain and joy of building out a second and third time.
For any that were wondering, yes the system or establishment has always existed ,the top two percent, whatever term you want to use for it. It has always been self-perpetuating, my goodness if you were taking off the table of its bounty why would you want it to stop. But at certain points in the cycle it has been less impregnable, chinks had appeared, a few ladders had been left over the side to climb up or was that just an illusion. Certainly in the last decade it would appear that the ladders have been drawn up behind people who made it over the parapet in more opportune times. Some of you will know that feeling of confronting it head on, even for some people without actually knowing what system it is they had come up against. For those outsiders it tends to hurt.

The system is glue

Well, if it has always been the case, what’s the problem? Focussing on the emerging technology space, if we want to continue to grow the entrepreneurial ecosystem, it needs to be a virtuous cycle of successful or experienced entrepreneurs starting again and building their next disruptive companies. What we must not have is them being seduced, distracted or diverted into other peripheral softer network roles that blunt their entrepreneurial ambition. Which in turn has less impact in growing the knowledge base of how to build start-ups. They need to take the bones of what has been successful and use that to do it better the next time, and teach others internally and externally by example. This is what Silicon Valley (sorry to mention it) has been doing for decades, they don’t even hesitate to start another company and at a speed that we are yet to match in Europe.

It really does not matter that we will always be playing catchup with the Valley, what matters is that we do our own thing, play to our strengths and continue to build out an experienced entrepreneurial network. Over twenty years ago unless you were in the inner circle or were introduced by someone who was, you could not understand how it worked or even get a chance to be funded and play your hand. Now it is more transparent with more market coverage, networks and of course the internet itself has helped with that ability to access knowledge. surferBut there is nothing to beat working for or alongside a founding team that have been through the process before with battle scars that have toughened them. The more successful serial entrepreneurs we have in the network who really love what they do, the more chance we have of inspiring greater numbers to join them in the challenge, changing the system from the outside and in the end sustaining the growth of our technology markets.