Spotlight on RFeye

START-UP SPOTLIGHT from The Invested Investor, published in partnership with Angel News.

In partnership with Angel News, this month’s Start-up Spotlight focuses on the co-founder of Cambridge based CRFS, Alistair Massarella.

Following a background in engineering and physics, Alistair used his experiences with the British Antarctic survey to join the Olivetti research labs in Cambridge. He co-founded the spin out Adaptive Broadband, which was acquired by Axxcelera Broadband Wireless.

Alistair went onto co-found Cambridge Broadband Ltd with VC funding lead by Amadeus Capital. CBNL developed the next generation of wireless backhaul solutions, improving capacity and spectral efficiency to meet the ever, increasing demands of mobile data growth.

In 2007 Alistair co-founded CRFS with start-up funding from the Cambridge Angels. CRFS has successfully grown revenue and profits year on year and in 2013 won the Queens award for export and was listed in the TM100 in 2014. The company continues to invest in research and development in order to create new hardware and software systems for the most advanced spectrum intelligence networks available today.

1)      What does your company do?

CRFS provides best-in-class solutions for radio spectrum monitoring, management and geolocation.

CRFS offers a new generation of technology for the detection, identification and geolocation of signals in complex RF environments. Typical challenges faced by our customers include:

·       Management of spectrum critical sites

·       Malicious or accidental interference

·       Unauthorized use of licensed spectrum

·       Frequency jamming

·       Threats to national security or public safety

·       Bugging or compromise of secure facilities

·       Border and perimeter monitoring

·       EM situational awareness

·       Major events planning and management

CRFS is recognized by those in the know as truly "best in class" - our RFeye systems are deployed worldwide by regulatory, military, law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

2)      How do you distinguish yourself from your competitors?

·       Inventors of the unique and world beating RFeye technology

·       Experts in the application of RF technology and leaders in real-time distributed RF monitoring and geolocation

·       A full solution provider using a unique combination of our RFeye products, system integration, customization, training and support

·       Innovators at the forefront of new technology

·       Easy to work with and extremely customer responsive

·       Committed to providing the best value-for-money solutions

3)      What are the challenges you face in setting up your company?

Typically, the answer to this would be coming up with the business idea, convincing investors to back the idea and ultimately put the funding in place to get through to profitability and/or exit without having to raise anymore money. Compared to what came after that then the business idea and funding was relatively straight forward!

I think the biggest challenge is hiring the best possible people that buy into your idea and are willing to work hard to achieve that. Some people like stock, some salary, some flexible hours, some like to work rigid hours and some people really don’t like working at all. If your business needs more people than just yourself or the founding team then hiring is crucial. Use a contracting HR company to do this. For the past few years we have been using “Call HR” and introduced psychometric testing along with “homework” and quite rigorous as well as structured interview questions and interviews.

In the early stages of a company its all too easy to just get any individuals on board without a proper interviewing process and in the long run this will cost you dearly.

4)      What are the great stories of ‘rewards or satisfactions’ that you can share?

Building a business that designs, develops and manufactures software and hardware that has many design disciplines from RF front ends, rugged hardware platforms with FPGA and processors, embedded software, networking software as well as plenty of flashing LEDs is great when it all comes together.

We have nearly 60 people doing this, and the processes required to knit the design, manufacturing, marketing, sales and admin teams together is a challenge but when it works correctly its tremendously satisfying. It does not always work as expected and is an evolving process.

I am lucky enough to visit customers on site who use our systems. The feedback we get is thankfully on the most part very positive and if it is not, then we respond to the customer and if it makes sense then we fix or design a new feature that helps them. This differentiates us from our competition.

5)      How do you characterise success?

Making sure no matter how many people are working for CRFS, that they all enjoy working for CRFS. If you get that right, then growing the business and investing in new ideas and designs if so much easier to get right. That keeps the company generating profit and giving a return to the investors, eventually.

6)      How do you view your relationship with your investors?

CRFS was founded using the Cambridge Angels investor network. This is quite different from a VC route which is another topic. However, the Cambridge Angels have been fantastic in their support for the company. I know our investors are extremely happy with the progress CRFS has made. Ultimately all investors would like to see a return on investment and this will happen as the company continues to grow and make attractive net profits.

7)      How would you choose your investors?

This depends on the dimensions and type of the company you are trying to create. Personally, I would always use an Angel community. I want to be able to meet all my investors face to face and have everyone investing on the same level e.g. all ordinary shares no preference shares, no double dipping etc

8)      How do you maintain a work/life balance?

Clearly running any business will mean you will always be working many more hours than “normal” in the early days. If you hire the right people, then you spend more time doing what you are good at and working to your strengths. If you are doing that then the balance is much easier to achieve.

9)      Who inspires you and why?

This might sound cheesy, but Elon Musk. I would not use the word inspire, more admire. To run several companies with many thousands of people, drive the engineering in all sorts of directions from cars, rockets, solar tiles, tunnels, software, and he has a young family. It is remarkable.

It’s the fact that he is hands on, roll your sleeves up, ignore the people who say, “you can’t do it that way” and just gets on with it. The Falcon Heavy launch was epic, that must have been a real buzz. This circles back around to people wanting to work for the business. I really do not think SpaceX could have achieved what they have achieved without a vast majority of the employees wanting to see that rocket fly.

10)   If you could offer an entrepreneur one piece of business advice, what would it be?

I can only speak for starting a technology company.

-          Hiring and HR is the most important part of the company from day one.

-          People are happy to work for a salary with good benefits. Hold onto the company stock.

-          If you are starting a company to get financially rich, then don’t. The probability is that it will not happen. If that is your motivation, then chances are the hard work over many years that running a start up involves will soon become a real chore.