This was my first ever BIMA breakfast, and “wow” what an introduction. The bacon rolls were fantastic…
… but what followed was a genuinely engaging and insightful discussion. The panel was vastly experienced and the audience eager and keenly curious. The digital and tech sectors are awash with apocryphal stories of expensive deals, disastrous earn-outs and big personality brinkmanship, but here – in the Edinburgh offices of Cortex – was a panel with real experience and war stories to tell.
Richard Simpson of Tayburn hosted and moderated the session and set things up with an introduction to the panel and summary observations. The structure of the briefing was simple: three speakers, three parts of the business lifecycle (start, grow, sell).
Peter Proud (MD of Cortex) was up first and gave a brief introduction of his rise through the Microsoft ranks and their inability to see a good idea even when he brought it to them on a plate. Peter talked us through the challenges of getting things started on your own and gave a candid account of the highs and lows of that critical first 12 months. Mike Reid (Tayburn Chairman) followed and focused on the growth phase – based on his own experiences of MD Sapient Nitro in the UK – where he managed to get a job, in part, by convincing the US owners that Edinburgh was a suburb of London. Finally, John Waddell provided his insights and anecdotes of countless deals he’d been involved during the “sell” cycle of business.
Perhaps what surprised me most was the consistent reference to the importance of culture in each phase. Not propositions, sales pipelines, cashflow or technical innovation – but culture and people. Mike said he felt like he was joining a cult not a company such was the focus of the team in those early days. Similarly, there was a need to be bold in ambition and take some risks. There are no rewards for thinking small, so don’t be awed by big competitors or prestige client accounts that may seem out of reach. Even when selling a business culture is important - the best deals were those where negotiations took place prior to the presentation of the contract – e.g. you understand each other before the formal document needs a signature.
Tellingly, each of the panellists had fascinating non-linear careers full of discontinuities and change. Although not discussed directly, these life journeys are an essential part of the start, grow, sell cycle - enriching our experience and presenting new, hitherto unconsidered, opportunities. So, my takeaway thought was to embrace the change and enjoy the ride, you never know where it might take you.