Alistair Crane left school with nothing more than a few GCSEs. At the age of 21 he had started work for NAVTEQ, a digital mapping subsidiary of Nokia. By 23 he had co-founded the mobile app developer, Grapple. Grapple designed and created the mobile applications for global brands from McDonalds to Pfizer. It was subsequently sold in 2013 to AIM-listed company Monitise, world leading mobile payments company, for a tidy sum close to £40m. And Alistair’s take on both his personal and company’s journey is .... "It’s only just the beginning".
Alistair was kind enough to share with Abchurch some of his top tips to enhance a technology company’s journey from start-up to a mature and established industry profile.
First off for start-ups? Start right. Alistair admits that the early days can be more than a little bit daunting but if you prioritise your short term goals, a plan of action can become much clearer, surprisingly easily.
This starts with choosing the right people for your team. Alistair personally recruited the vast majority of his staff so that he can always guarantee that he is surrounded by trustworthy people who are passionate about the company and product. He believes there is freedom for everyone to be on their own journey, whilst contributing to the Company’s goals. Consistent belief in the product will ensure that at crucial yet turbulent moments in a business’s life-cycle, the CEO won’t need to have all the answers, as the insight and passion will come from within. In terms of leadership, there just needs to be a gesture towards how things may play out and people will be on board. There can be no grey areas in the team’s enthusiasm for the journey – you’re all in it together.
Whilst Alistair is a firm believer that it is not always necessary for the CEO to hold all the answers, he believes you have a firm focus of what you ultimately want to achieve with the business; profitability, expansion or even an exit. Be that through a trade sale or an eventual IPO, you need to have an eye on the future so that you can optimise the present. More often than not this can involve positioning yourself in a certain light in-front of target audiences. When Grapple turned down all VC funding, they knew their financial position would come under scrutiny, so they had to be clever with the way they communicated their business growth.
Development of both personal and corporate brands ensures that what the company does and how they do things is clearly communicated. The personal brand that Alistair has developed is undoubtedly a key factor in the growth and development of his start-up. In his own words, if he was a brand, he would be Ronseal…doing exactly what he says he will do. Such steely determination is likely a shared attribute amongst many start-up CEOs – although not all may choose the right words to describe what they do. Alistair’s choice? .... "I’ll just keep smashing through walls for as long as I can!”
Alistair is adamant that there must always be positivity surrounding the brand. Whether it’s current or ex-employees, clients, future clients or investors, they always need to think you are good people with something of value to say and do. His own experiences have taught him to be conscious of past, present and future relationships at all times and sometimes this can be down to something as simple as just offering some help.
It’s not all smashing through walls though, and Alistair explains that his experiences have taught him that value is subjective - an art not a science. He feels that start-ups must come to appreciate this if they want to make the transition to a more established industry presence. The stakeholders and influencers that can affect the financial credentials of the company may have a different perception of value to the CEO and team. Ultimately, their view can directly affect the long term trajectory of the company. He suggests that CEOs need to have partnerships with people who can both understand the value proposition and advise about how to position it. Sometimes you need a little help along the journey.
Here’s where PRs come in – they are on a journey too, and want to be good people and help. Companies like Abchurch can advise start-ups on what their content should include and how to communicate it. This includes positioning firms in front of the right investors, analysts and media, so that key audiences gain a clear insight into your company’s model and the future value you hold.
In the words of the American novelist, Don Williams jr. ...
“The road of life twists and turns and no two directions are ever the same. Yet our lessons come from the journey, not the destination.”
Follow Alistair Crane on Twitter @AdFundAl