Welcome to a special edition of Digital Insight. Mike Bank an Angel investor covers one of the most rewarding aspects of the entrepreneur’s life that few get to experience: The Exit. Mike meets Omkar Joshi who last week sold his business to the market leader in his sector of Financial Reporting .
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Mike Bank: Hi there, I’m Mike Bank and welcome back to section 4) of our interview with Omkar Joshi. So Omkar you’ve kindly told us about your entrepreneurship story. Your startup story all the way up to the exit of your startup, your acquisition by a large corporation.
I guess what some of our viewers might like to know now whether or not you have any specific Do’s or Don’ts in the general sense for entrepreneurship that you could share.
Omkar Joshi: It’s has been a great journey. I started in 2008. Over these five years I’ve set up a startup which we did the transaction with Company Reporting. We grew the business. We started adding customers. We created an exciting new product and eventually we were able to get that business into a really good place which is Wolters Kluwer.
So over these years I’ve obviously had quite a few learnings. Its been an absolutely fantastic journey. One that I would do again and again if I could. Obviously things may not work the same way but for all of your viewers aren’t entrepreneurs and are looking to do stuff of their own, the one thing I would say is just go do it. Because it really is worth trying it out.
I was 30 when I started. 35 now. If I hadn’t of done it then I probably wouldn’t have done it ever so, there’s a few things I’d like to help out with and hopefully it helps your audience as well.
So there’s a few Do’s. Things that you should absolutely do.
1) First one like I said. Just Do It. Don’t think when you see something that excites you, do. It’s worth trying it out.
2) The other thing I always say to people is Make Things Happen. Don’t just sit behind and say ‘Oh my God! What do I do? What happens next?’
Mike: So this is once you started trading, once you’ve set up.
Omkar: All along. If you haven’t been able to create a product: just Make It Happen. If you haven’t been able to make a sale: Make It Happen. Call people. Annoy them. Do sales calls. Do cold calling. Go after people.
You know I’ve annoyed so many people in my life. It’s unbelievable but eventually they see the value. David who was at Company Reporting, I annoyed him for a year to say ‘Listen we have synergies we need to do this together’.
So eventually it happened. So my key ‘Do’ is go and try out new things and Make Them Happen for yourselves. Until you try it you don’t know if it’s going to work out.
Mike: and if you’re not doing it then no one will for you.
Omkar: Exactly, and then someone else will do it so you might as well try it out.
The other ‘Do’ that I say to people is
3) Listen to your customers. It’s really an essential thing to do. It’s so overlooked by most entrepreneurs. You will see people trying to create products based on their own skill sets. On their own platforms based on their own previous history.
The basic thing you should do is speak to customers. That’s where it should start. That’s the whole underlying philosophy of Company Reporting. We’ve constantly had a dialogue with our customers. We’ve constantly iterated. Really tried to push the boundaries with our customers. That’s through active engagement.
Mike: Are there limits to that though? If you have many large corporate customers is there a risk that you suddenly become, that you try to be all things to all people, or you’re spending a lot of time and resources trying to service the needs of a whole spectrum of clients?
Omkar: Yes there is a risk of trying to do too much. Absolutely. Not always can you give customers everything they want. Equally not always can you tell customers what they actually want. Sometimes they don’t know what they want.
So you have to take it in context. But you have to really engage with your customers. It’s important. You can’t always give them everything they want. But it’s important that the engagement exists.
Mike: At least be aware of the relationship.
Omkar: That’s right. The other ‘Do’ that I would suggest is:
4) Iterate. Just try out new things. Make a product. Put in something and give it out. See what people think. Don’t just think ‘what if this happens?’ What if that happens? Doesn’t matter. We are in an age when people are ok with small failures. And they don’t mind it. People are ok if you give them something which doesn’t quite work.
In that sense Facebook, LinkedIn all of them have given us that added level of acceptance now days. People accept that sometimes things might not quite well work. But as long as you are trying and are seen as doing something new, that’s what people, that’s what customers want to see.
Do not hesitate to try new things. Do not hesitate to iterate on your product.
5) The other Do I would like to tell you about is Costs. Really important. A lot of businesses I see would just say ‘all I need is market share. All I need is new customers. I’m not going to look after my costs.’
Actually it’s the wrong way to look at it because you are building it on the wrong foundations. So what you want to do is have a very good feel for your cost base. How you’re building the cost base.
It’s important that you do not just go after market share. You can do it in a promotional period, but with the complete understanding that there is a point where your costs are not going to allow you to do this.
Mike: So are you talking about that from a cash flow perspective, a month-on-month basis so reducing your burn rate as it were. Or are you talking about it in terms of increasing your margins to make yourself more attractive as a business in general?
Omkar: Both. I personally, I was the CEO of Company Reporting but I used to do our own cash accounting. I used to be responsible for our bank payments. Our bank receipts. Every single payment. If its a pound or a thousand pounds had to be approved by me.
So I had a very tight control over costs. It wasn’t so much about keeping control it was about understanding where the business is. And yes it automatically means we are better margins. Produce better margins than other businesses in this space and that obviously makes us more attractive.
6) The other Do or let’s say the other Don’t in this case is one of the things that one of my advisers once told me that it’s really expensive to hire good people. But you know what’s more expensive? Is keeping the wrong people. Because that can really cost you a lot more.
So it’s important if you know that things are not working, have the discussion and part ways. It’s important to make those decisions up front.
Mike: Just out of interest how big was your team before you were bought out?
Omkar: It was a relatively small team. We operate in a slightly different way. We have editors, we have analysts and then we have the IT function and then the central management function. But it’s a relatively small team but is a team that is very ambitious. And we believe we punch way above our weight.
Mike: So having the right people is key.
Omkar: There’s a couple of other things again I point out to people. It was a question you asked before about ‘did you have an exit in mind?’ Every entrepreneur when ever you start a business, whenever you’re looking at something new, look at the exit strategy. Is there an exit?What’s going to be the future for this business?
Because as we all know 90% of all businesses fail. And it’s the 10% that actually get somewhere. They are always looking at opportunities. And exits don’t come as exits. They come as opportunities. And this in our case we saw the opportunity to partner with a large company. and it turned into something else.
So it’s important that you keep that at the back of your mind when you start a business.
8) One final Do. As somebody who spent a lot of time sleeping. Somebody who spent a lot of time playing cricket, golf, Think ! Spend a lot of time thinking. Because as an entrepreneur you’ve got lots of people who do stuff for you.
But I said initially ‘make stuff happen’. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to do it. You’ve got people to do stuff. It’s important as the CEO, the entrepreneur to think.
Take time out to think. It’s important that you reflect back on discussions. It’s important to reflect back on your product. On its shortcomings. On its future direction, on its growth prospects.
So spend a lot of time thinking. I think Bill Gates once said “I don’t really do a lot of work. I spend 60% of my time thinking”. It’s absolutely right. 60% might be stretching it, but do not underestimate the value of thinking.
Mike: And again having that team around you to enable that thinking.
Omkar: Absolutely because at the end of the day, ideas are ideas and they are worthless unless you execute on that.
So for the execution I see the team as being essential. The whole team at Company Reporting is absolutely crucial in seeing through where we are are today.
Mike: Great thanks. Well along those lines let’s take some time out to think about what you said. Thank you again for sharing with us. It’s been an absolute pleasure and you are an inspiration.
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