Business Leader recently spoke to the ‘man who saved the BBC’, serial tech entrepreneur and the CEO of Seedlegals, Anthony Rose. He talked to us about his career, his work at the BBC and what makes a disruptive company.
Can you start by telling us about your business background?
In my business career, I have built and sold various companies, including a music file sharing business. I ended up moving to the UK to help create the iPlayer for the BBC and subsequently I have been involved in other business ventures. I am also an active investor.
Most recently, myself and my business partner created a business called SeedLegals, which allows entrepreneurs to speed up their UK or French funding rounds and the legal aspects around them. Essentially, it’s a platform for all the legal work you need to start, raise and grow your company.
You can also create employment systems for your team, and the goal for the business is to be the operating system for all your company legal requirements.
Can you tell us more about your work at the BBC?
The BBC had been thinking about the iPlayer for years and it had been part of their research and development plans. Historically, broadcasters had been focused on television and the internet was something where you watched cats on skateboards, and they felt it was for kids.
But the BBC were visionary in that they could see where consumer behaviour was going and how technology could support it. I was approached by their Future Media Team to join and create the iPlayer. My first thought was – ‘where are the stock options!’ – but I was persuaded by the project and in 2007 I flew over from Australia to meet the team and my job was to launch the iPlayer by Christmas, with a multi-million pound budget.
I was at the BBC from 2007 until 2010 as Chief Technical Officer, leading a team of 250 people.
I want to now move on to talking about business – you have built and sold five businesses in your career. What would you say makes a disruptive business?
It is an interesting question and I would like to talk about what does not make a disruptive business.
Often people feel they are being disruptive because they are looking to change the world and they are often fixated on an existing industry. For example, we do not like how the legal sector works and it needs to be democratised. This might be interesting as an idea and it might make the world a better place but unless it aligns with the user needs in the market, the company will forever be chasing an uphill battle.
Considering this, it is not about disrupting an industry, it is about identifying a consumer need and finding a solution to a problem. You can take the iPlayer as an example. We travelled from people only being able to watch a programme whilst sitting in front of a TV to saying they could watch it whenever they want. That is disruption and innovation. We didn’t get rid of the TV, but we evolved things alongside it.
Disruption often is not about trying to take down an industry but instead it’s about forming a partnership with the industry, and it’s about being humble and not wanting to change the world but finding the fastest solution to a problem.
You need to do that first and then you can think about how the world plays out afterwards.
Considering the pandemic and subsequent recession do you feel the fundamentals to raising funds for a business changed?
Through SeedLegals, we have the advantage of being able to access funding data and what we were seeing was that in April there was a huge drop in funding rounds and we were also seeing around a 50% drop in SEIS- led investments.
This lasted for about 45 days, but funding is now back at pre-COVID-19 levels according to our data. I keep reading that investments are down, but the data is not showing that.
It is bouncing back quickly, and many businesses have proven themselves to be COVID-proof and have resilient founders. They will be able to raise funds because they have strong fundamentals in their businesses. Smart investors have continued to invest in smart businesses for the fear of missing out, despite the pandemic.
Keeping with the subject of funding, do you feel it is becoming more important to find product market fit as well as funding a great idea?
Everybody sees the stories from Silicon Valley of somebody’s idea raising millions and millions and they will understand the concept of ‘go big or go bust’ and becoming a ‘unicorn’. This is the risk profile for many US investors, but in the UK and Europe, it is very different as investors do not want to see a bottomless pit for their money. Instead, they want to see a revenue model for the business that is cash-flow positive and has a path to profitability.
In this context, product market fit becomes more important, and a business plan that shows this and a path to revenue will be one that is more likely to raise the funds it needs.
I want to talk about exiting a business. You have exited five businesses – is it good to start a business with such an end game in mind?
I think it’s a bad thing to show that you want to exit on your pitch-deck – or start a business with a view to exiting – because the primary goal should always be to grow an amazing business and team, and deliver on your vision.
You should not aim for an exit because in doing so, you might optimise your business for the wrong things. For example, if you’re aiming to exit, you will want to generate a great deal of hype in the hope you get acquired at a high valuation, but if this doesn’t happen you may have an issue.
In your opinion is it important to have a co-founder on your business journey?
Most common for businesses is to have two founders and I think this is because there is only so much time in the day to have everything on your shoulders. In this respect, it’s important to have a confidant.
More broadly, I would say there needs to always be three roles in a business. The domain expert who is the person that has the vision and the burning passion; the product or delivery person – you could say the CTO that can deliver the vision; and Mr or Mrs money who understands the finances and how to get funding.
You need to look at yourself and ask, ‘which one am I?’ and then find others that compliment this.
Moving onto the tech sector – what is exciting you now and where should investors be looking?
I am privileged to see an endless number of pitch-decks and they are so diverse. One minute you have an AI-powered drone for crop optimisation and the next one is a shoe with a camera in it to help people with sight problems.
Ideas are cheap, though, and implementation is expensive, so how does an investor decide which business to pick? This is where it is important to show product market fit and what problem you are solving.
On what is exciting me now? Well, I do not really like to categorise businesses but FoodTech and MedTech are two verticals worth looking at right now.
Finally, Anthony – what advice would you give to business leaders during this time?
It is interesting because as a business leader you can find your heart not always focusing on the existential ‘stuff’ – instead, it is about making and selling products and services.
But then a pandemic comes along, and people look to you as a leader and you are thrust into the limelight. And you rightly start to focus on your team, their health and whether they should work from home or not.
It is at times like these when leaders are judged, and once you have protected your team, you need to look at the opportunities that the situation presents.
Clearly, if you are a fintech business, you are likely to be less affected than a gym, but both need to see what opportunities are available to them.
If your investors can see you are being opportunistic too, that can only be a good thing. I would also say that failure to make decisions as a leader is fatal, it really is.