By Mark Choueke on 1st August 2019
SeedLegals, the SaaS platform founders use to administer funding rounds, is Anthony Rose's fifth startup; sixth if you count his time at BBC where he was CTO for YouView and Head of the iPlayer business - an environment he describes as "a startup within a corporation". We asked for his key learnings as a serial entrepreneur.
It doesn’t matter how many years you’ve done this or how focused you are on constantly trying to improve. Once I hired a software guy who performed excellently on a very tough technical test. By day two it was clear he was struggling. On day three he came to me and said: "I just can’t cut it here. It’s best if I go before you fire me.”
I’ve built and sold a few startups. With each one you go on a journey so if an exit opportunity arises that's worth taking, you take it. It was never on my mind at launch stage though.
Sometimes I talk to founders who have an intent to found a company and flip it. It’s a bad approach because you’re then focusing on a hyper-curve rather than building a sustainable business. It’s a high risk strategy and less rewarding than doing something you love.
You have to be able to embrace the fear and the struggle that comes along with launching and running a business. It’s both a fantastic freedom and also incredibly stressful. In a large company there is always someone you can turn to but as a founder, particularly of a startup where time and cash is limited, you have to get to scale in order to get to the next round just to survive.
You have major decisions that you need to make. You can ask outsiders for advice but the advice you’ll get is ultimately useless. Certain decisions just have to come from the gut. Your gut. There is no science or maths and only in the fullness of time will you know whether you got it right.
Not making a decision is not an option. At the BBC there are people who can go through their day or week or year without making decisions. At a startup, if you don’t make a decision, you are dead. I love the thrill of having to do something.
Often as a founder you feel like you’re winging it which feels to many like an irresponsible way to run a business. But instinct draws on the sum of your experience. It’s like crossing the road - you instinctively know to look both ways for cars comes coming - you don’t need to read a manual every time you do it.
I learnt this the hard way over the years. It’s a red flag if I meet a startup planning all the amazing set of things they’re going to be doing. The more features they tell me about, the more red flags I see. I’ve come to the conclusion you can do one thing really well or several things badly. Investors know this. They look for laser focus on one thing that can be scaled.
One of the things I hear in large organisations is people moaning about needing sign off for the most minor of decisions. That’s what makes them so slow. A measure of how agile your organisation is how many people need to say ‘yes’ before you can do something. If the answer is 17 you’ll never develop anything new. If the number is zero then you probably have complete chaos. If the number is one or two that’s probably about right.
We created a startup within the BBC. I liked to build teams that were inspired to come up with good ideas that lay beneath the ‘minimum checks’ level. We tried to create a playpen where the rules were clear to the team members. If you want to do something at a certain level of ‘severity’, just do it, do not ask anyone else. If it’s a bigger thing then ask me or maybe one your colleagues.
If you’re worried about something, a downturn, Brexit, whatever, then dude, you are not an entrepreneur. Because an entrepreneur is thinking: “Hmmm, Brexit...that might mean less of something; so what am I going to make that fills the gap?”
Any time I hear companies talk about innovation, I know they are not innovative. Companies that really do innovate rarely talk about it. They never say the word. They just focus on letting their teams get on with it.