The Godfather of European Accelerators
Podcast transcription - 27th March
Peter Cowley: Welcome again to another Invested Investor podcast. Today, we have Jon Bradford. He is an entrepreneur, he's founded Accelerators, he's a VC, and he's done many, many other things. Jon, let's talk a bit about your background?
Jon Bradford: As someone who's been described as the Godfather of European accelerators, that basically puts me down as just being very old. So, I'm going to try, and minimise the backstory. I think everything about investing, in my head, is about relevancy of what's happening today, not what happened 10 years ago.
Boring background is, originally from Belfast. After a couple of beers, it becomes obvious, or, more obvious. I was a boring accountant for most of the 90s. Jumped ship about three weeks before the dot com meltdown, and was part of an early team which was dot com. We risked $20 million in six weeks.
Peter Cowley: In the UK?
Jon Bradford: In the UK. We spent all $20 million and had nothing to show for it.
Interestingly, and it just shows what the pattern of this whole story is. This is 2000. There's a young associate in a business called Apax called Michael Chalfant, who was an investor.
Peter Cowley: Mike Chalfant?
Jon Bradford: Correct. Who is clearly an incredibly smart, bright, capable VC who now works for Mosaic. It shows that I just want to demonstrate a pattern of interesting loops that intertwine. A lot of this is a very social process.
Anyway, fortunately or unfortunately, that didn't turn into anything and it didn't hurt me. I jumped ship, then moved onto another start-up, which was at the other university, being Oxford rather than Cambridge. Interestingly, that was setup by a founder called Victor Christou. Victor, for those that don't know, runs CIC here in Cambridge. Exceptionally bright, capable. That business sold to a Cambridge business. We won't hold them out for that. Which, ultimately, sold to a large Japanese business.
Anyway, I ended up doing a turnaround. I, subsequently, then did big corporate finance. One day, one of the VCs that was constantly pitching for money, phoned me back, which was unusual. They normally don't phone you back.
Peter Cowley: When are we now?
Jon Bradford: This is, 2007.
But, they basically said, we've got the last part of a million pounds in a bank account that needs investing. Would you like to come along and do some seed investing? Typically, it was 150K cheque’s, there was six cheque’s. I did five of them. I got to number six and said, I've got this crazy idea. I've seen this thing in the States called Y Combinator and Techstars. What if, instead of writing one cheque, I write 10 cheque’s for 15K? Wouldn't that be amazing?
It was the very first thing I'd ever done entrepreneurial in my life. I had no idea how I was going to do it. They said yes. I started something called the Difference Engine.
Peter Cowley: In the northeast, as well?
Jon Bradford: It was even worse than the northeast, it was Middlesbrough. I've just now upset a whole bunch of people in Middlesbrough.
Peter Cowley: You have.
Jon Bradford: Then, I had to do a version of it in Sunderland. If it's any consolation, Middlesbrough was much nicer than Sunderland. Now I've just got all the people from Sunderland hating me now, as well.
From that programme, I somehow blagged a whole bunch of people who shouldn't have gone to Middlesbrough to help support that, including people from Google, PayPal, and all sorts of strange and wonderful things. Actually, from that class, there was a guy called Sebastian Lehmann, who started a really, really bad business. Was invested in, by a guy called Andy McLaughlin, who's now at Soft Tech. I don't know what the new business is called because it's changed.
That business inadvertently turned into, and I take no credit for it, something called Postmates in the States, which is worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Peter Cowley: So, it flipped across to the States, did it?
Jon Bradford: It flipped to the States. They completely threw the whole business away. He met his co-founder, Shawn. Started a complete new business. The back story is, we did have 8%. Sebastian, because he's a smart guy, went back at the end of the programme and said, “You know, you gave me 20 grand for these 8%, what if I gave you back the 20 grand for the 8%”? Because it was a regional fund, they were like, this is amazing. We've made some money. The money went out, the money came in, this is great.
Unfortunately, that 8%, I estimate, is probably worth about $3 million today.
Peter Cowley: Yeah, these things happen. There are plenty of those stories that are out there.
Let's move on, after you moved down south, did that continue?
Jon Bradford: The Difference Engine turned into Ignite.
Peter Cowley: Oh, yes, okay.
Jon Bradford: Ignite was co-founded by a very good friend of mine, Paul Smith, who's pretty amazing. We've done other things together in Dubai, for example.
Actually, the one thing I would add, because it'll come round in the big circle, is at that point in juncture when I set up the Difference Engine, I sent two emails. I sent one to Paul Graham, and I sent one to David Cohen.
Peter Cowley: Paul Graham being the YC founder.
Jon Bradford: YC, and David being Techstars.
Paul basically emailed me. He returned my email, which is good on him, but he basically said, I'm super busy. Everything you need to know is on my website.
David Cohen, on the other hand, basically said, "how can I help?" Ironically, he came to Newcastle. There's a video of him somewhere in Newcastle promoting the Difference Engine.
Peter Cowley: In 08 now, 09?
Jon Bradford: 2009.
Peter Cowley: Nine, okay.
Jon Bradford: It was eight, nine.
At this point, when I go show my age, I'm 39. So, for anybody who is out and listening to this podcast who is going, this is a young man's game, I took 20 something years to figure out how to be an entrepreneur. Or, actually have the bravery to go and do something.
Interestingly, that also aligns with being married to my wonderful wife, who is incredibly tolerant of me, who can be a pain in the ass. Pardon my French. Actually, I think, she gave me the freedom to basically say, if you're going to go and do this, please go and do it. Stop wrenching and complaining.
In that intervening period, different times in turn have spring boards with the the people in Cambridge.
Peter Cowley: Down here in Cambridge yeah.
Jon Bradford: That then backed up into Techstars, which is when David came back and said, “Can you help me?” three years later. Between those three series of brands, I ended up running ten Accelerators in five years.
Peter Cowley: Yes. Okay. So, we'll come back to the lessons you learnt in a minute, but just the straight. You come to Cambridge, and you decided to move from the northeast down to Cambridge. Your family moved down as well, and the first contact I had with you was about eight years ago when you knocked on the door of the Cambridge Chancellor and said, “Could we borrow your brand” basically.
Jon Bradford: Would you be supportive of this? If I tried to..
Peter Cowley: Exactly. In fact, for mentoring as well, and capital of course. Yeah. Lots of stuff happened in that time. Let's just talk through the Accelerator process here. What you've learned from, what the good and bad things are, because in general you don't bring ten companies on and have ten successes do you?
Jon Bradford: I got better as I went along.
Peter Cowley: Good. What did you learn from that? It's a really important point, there.
Jon Bradford: The thing that I learned, which is obvious when you say that I had lied, is when you invest at an early point in the business, there are only two things that matter in my head. One is the people, and two is how big is the sardine market that you're going after. The way that it manifested itself, by the time I got to the tenth programme, and by the way, my tenth programme is the returns, no, I was going to say they're better than the first one. But, the first one worked because I had a spectacular opportunity. The tenth one I would argue was the best programme by a square mile.
We had, during the selection process, this simple rule, which was if we knew nothing about the background of these businesses, what they did, the product, whether they are an investment, any of that and the only decision you could make was the people standing in front of you, did you believe the story and would you invest in them on a personal level? We excluded one team on that basis, and ended up with an amazing class. I think we'll end up with strong returns on at least half, potentially three quarters of them. There's only two that have fallen out.
Peter Cowley: I'll ask again in ten years.
Jon Bradford: They've now gone through that 18 /24, month valley of death, and they're still there, and they're doing interesting things. They're big markets, and they were amazing guys. The thing that I had found was my biggest, single feeling, and it happens all the time, it's the thing that I constantly push investors on is never fall in love with the idea of the product. Never fall in love with the idea of the co-founders, or the co-investors. You have to make the decision on your own basis, and you have to make the decision based upon the team. Now, let me describe that a different way.
I had a particular company, and I'll not embarrass them. I went holy crap, if you could fix that problem, that would be amazing. I wasn't the only person that fell in love with that idea. It was a really big, interesting idea that the world needed to fix, and it still hasn't fixed. As I say, I won't embarrass anybody, but it wasn't going anywhere. It was because the team just didn't have the chops to pull it off. I fell in love with the idea so much.
Peter Cowley: How long ago was this?
Jon Bradford: This was probably halfway through. The wonderful thing about the way the programmes are set up is I have a bunch, of LPs, you were one of them, that I would constantly ask questions of and ask for feedback. A. About the process, but B. About the individuals. I was leveraging off everybody else's skills. That's the same thing I'll probably say, is that as an investor, you have to be humble enough to recognise what you do know and what you don't know and actually constantly look for feedback from other people. You'll find your own way of thinking about how you do investments. It's a very personal thing, but it's very important for you to listen to how other people think about investments, and the process that they go through.
Peter Cowley: Andy Phillips said on an earlier podcast, “You think you're better than average, but you're certainly not to start with."
Jon Bradford: I tell you what, my track record is a strong indication of it.
Peter Cowley: Okay, so it comes down to people. This is really difficult. Let's just talk about this for a moment. That you're an entrepreneur listening to this podcast, how can you make yourself a better person for angels, and the other way around is, that an angel hasn't done much investing yet, how can you work out whether the entrepreneurial team in front of you are going to be backable?
Jon Bradford: Let's come back to this same question and remind me of it in a minute. From an entrepreneurial point of view, you should never build a business because that's how you raise money. You should be building businesses because you want to fix a big, hairy problem, and you think it's worthy of your energy and effort. The money is a consequence of the need to do that. Anybody, and this is probably one of the biggest feelings in the U.S., you can get people who are very good at raising money, it doesn't necessarily equate to they're very good entrepreneurs.
Peter Cowley: Tara Noss is an example, potentially?
Jon Bradford: Correct. So, that's the first thing. The second thing is, I always say, and hopefully I'll be able to run a programme around this, is actually teaching entrepreneurs the value of good investors beyond just dollar amounts. Cash in pocket. There's a wonderful blog post that I always say that every entrepreneur should ever read, which is by Mark Schuster, called lines not dots. In bits, it says, essentially, you have to build a relationship with an investor before you ask them for money. People make decisions based upon a series of points on a graph. They don't make them as a one off at a point in time. It's incredibly hard, and investors feel incredibly uncomfortable, if they are put in a room and asked, "Would you like to invest?"
Peter Cowley: This is relationship building, isn't it? This is building trust. This is what this whole podcast is about.
Jon Bradford: I describe its proof points, and then in my journey, my proof point was I asked government to give me a bit of money. They have a different risk tolerance than other people. I said I want to go and do something. I proved that I could do it. I then had the good fortune of being able to go and ask some angels to ask to put some money into work. I then delivered on a bunch of those things, and then I got the right to ask for more money.
So the fact that even as an investor, and as somebody particularly who potentially has LPs, everything is about who are you and prove to me that you're worthy of me giving you more money. So, everything, both on an investor side and an entrepreneur side is very similar. The journey of a series A to series B is exactly the same thing. It's all about proof points.
Peter Cowley: Yeah. You've sort of answered the second question, which is the angels got to get to know the entrepreneur before investing.
Jon Bradford: Correct.
Peter Cowley: How does the entrepreneur prove themselves? Maybe it's the same thing. Maybe it's just you've got to get to know the angel before asking for money, as you say.
Jon Bradford: The way I try to get entrepreneurs to think about it is you sit in a room. This is the classic line, silly glib comment but completely correct, is, "If you want advice, ask for money and if you want money, ask for advice."
And so, I always say to entrepreneurs, "Six months before you think you want money go and find the investors that you might want to work with." What you do is you sit down and you say, "These are my plans. What's going to not work in my business? Explain to me this point, your experience. You've seen a lot more of these. What are the things?"
But don't go and see one investor. Go and see a dozen. Everything's about data points. Everybody is very opinionated, particularly investors, and what you want to do is you want to see the blend and you want to see the heat maps of the advice. So when you put them all together, you suddenly can go, "That's interesting. That's interesting. I didn't think about that."
What you then do is I subsequently say, "Go back three months later and actually have the same conversation. This is what we've done. This is what I've learned. This is where I'm at. This is where I'm progressing," so that by the time you get to the third data point, the investor is suddenly going, "I know this person. I've listened to him."
As an investor, all I'm expecting is progression. I want people to listen. I want them to react. React doesn't mean do what I say. React is take my advice and do something with it, even if it's, "That was wrong because I thought this, this, and this." That's fine.
Peter Cowley: It's exactly the right thing to do, but because these entrepreneurs want to get on with it, they want to get on with building the business, there may be competitive pressure. They want to short circuit this time.
Jon Bradford: But then to your point, it's a good prompt, if investors can bring much, much more than just dollars. Part of it is advice, but part of it is investors sit in the middle of networks and they have access to people that you wouldn't ordinarily get.
If you can engage an investor correctly, one can get access to a whole bunch of those networks, because part of those networks is somebody comes to me and I'll send them somebody else and say, "You should speak to this person. They know much more about this topic." That gives me a data point which is when I go back and speak to that person, say, "Was he full of BS or was actually a thing that I thought it was?"
So, I can actually use, some would say, forward-looking due diligence but I'm also trying to help the individual at the same time. So I'm not trying to catch them out. I actually genuinely am trying to help them build their business. But good investors are finding ways to mutually benefit both parties, themselves but also the entrepreneur, because if you can align yourself with the entrepreneur, you'll have a great opportunity to make better decisions, but also to create more value.
A great example of this, and I'm not trying to blow smoke up your proverbial, is there's an amazing business in Cambridge called Arachnys. Singularly, one of the reasons why that's been successful is because they got the right investors very early in the cycle, and that's something I would never have been able to do or have the patience to do. You just happen to be one of those people, and I attribute a lot of the value creation to your energy and effort and engagement through that process.
Peter Cowley: Thanks so much, Jon. I didn't expect you to say that.
Jon Bradford: Yeah.
Peter Cowley: So, I remember somebody telling me, one of the entrepreneurs, "I feel over-mentored. I feel I've spoken to too many people," not that they thought the time was wasted. They ended it with so many different new ideas, they couldn't work out what was the right way to go. What do you think of that?
Jon Bradford: Oh, it's a completely valid point. I think one of the things that I've subsequently learned is actually teaching people how to filter and process that information. I think there's an interesting back and forwards, and my company are doing it a different way, Techstars do it a different way, EF. Big shout out to EF, Entrepreneur First, who are amazing. There's an interesting dynamic, and I give up. 10 programmes, 5 years, I was burned out by the end of that. Other people picked up the bat and then went on and did amazing things.
If you could do a Techstars like programme, which is very mentor-centric, but instead of having 30 mentors through the door, you could have 10 and you could select the best 10.
Peter Cowley: Who would select? The accelerator? The start-up?
Jon Bradford: I don't know. I don't know.
Peter Cowley: That's important, and that thing there is really, important.
Jon Bradford: Yeah, the hypothetical part. No, I think that a good mentor Is actually, at that early stage valid across most topic areas because the mentoring is less about telling people what to do. It's about giving them the advice about how to think through problems.
Peter Cowley: That depends on chemistry.
Jon Bradford: Correct.
Peter Cowley: How do you work that chemistry out?
Jon Bradford: Another complicated issue. I'm going to kick that one into the long grass. But my point being, to your original question, is actually having between 5 and 10 amazing mentors who are probably subject matter agnostic that fit your personality, can be profoundly valuable. You don't need lots, but trying to engineer that and find ways to make economics work for all the different parties is incredibly difficult. I think Entrepreneur First have probably got the closest version of that.
Peter Cowley: That of course is a different programme, and at some point, we'll have Matt or Alice on, I hope. Is that where you don't have teams coming in at the beginning, you have people that form teams.
Jon Bradford: Yeah.
Peter Cowley: Whereas all the accelerators you've been involved with, Springboard and Techstars, I believe, even though the teams might change around a bit, you bring teams on, don't you?
Jon Bradford: Yes. Actually one of the things we used to end up doing was if a team hadn't been together for at least 12 months, we wouldn't touch it 'cause there were a few in our very first programme in Springboard, which some of them worked well and some of them worked very, very badly. It was just because you're a mate of the person that you've been to the pubs with every Friday for the last three years doesn't make you a good co-founder. Unfortunately, the way people, finders tend to find each other tend to be through social events and actually there's no context to that. I think that's not necessarily the smartest-
Peter Cowley: It just comes right down to chemistry. The chemistry between the two founders takes time to develop and it's really, really important. Trust has got to be so strong.
Jon Bradford: But it's harder than that again, I argue, because you don't want your co-founder to be your mate.
Peter Cowley: No.
Jon Bradford: Because actually you need somebody who's willing to be pushy and challenging and sometimes the things that you're not. My co-founder of F Success is sort of everything I'm not. I love him to death and on any given day I might want to bloody kill him. We've had real struggles and problems along the way, but we've ended up being stronger because of it and we're better and we're thinking about the right things by the business because of it, but we've also had to learn to deal with each other. That equally applies to Sean having to deal with me because I'm a royal pain in the ass.
Peter Cowley: That sort of leads on to the fact that I'm very public about the fact I went to invest in a husband and wife team because they are a single unit effectively.
Jon Bradford: What if they're not husband and wife and they're boyfriend and girlfriend?
Peter Cowley: That doesn't work out there.
Jon Bradford: What if they're not?
Peter Cowley: If they're father son okay. Exactly. If they're not to begin with, that is interesting.
Jon Bradford: It's such a challenging thing to deal with. Every so often, people suggest that my wife should work with me and my wife just rolls her eyes.
Peter Cowley: Let's think about how plural your life has become after you left Techstars. Talk through the building we're in here and the motive for that, et cetera, and your transition to VC.
Jon Bradford: So, my life in parallel, maybe think about it that way, actually started during Springboard and Techstars. I had the good fortune of starting something called F Success, which is an amazing success and deserves a podcast in itself.
I discovered, and you know this, I'm really bad at saying no to people. Actually, if there is one thing that I'm really bad at is not saying no. As a result, I end up trying to help a lot of people through the process. In that world, I get dragged into other things. So, I help set up Tech EU. It's nothing to do with me. Robin Wauters is amazing and does a great job, Tech.eu, but got pulled into that.
Peter Cowley: You set up an accelerator in Bulgaria.
Jon Bradford: I ended up setting up 12 accelerators over 12 months at one point.
Peter Cowley: Around Europe.
Jon Bradford: Around Europe, from Estonia through to Poland to Bulgaria. Montreal I helped out. Moscow I did as well. Interestingly, I still have economics in Estonia and had up until quite recently stuff in Bulgaria as well.
Actually, I'll blame David Cohen. So David Cohen, who set up Techstars, his line always was, "What can I do to help you?" Every time I meet people and particularly when I finish off any conversation, I will strongly advocate that anybody who ever meets somebody new or different always finishes with, "How can I help?" as an open-ended question. If everybody on the planet just asks that question and did something positive for that person, the world will be a better place singularly.
In that process, I ironically got dragged into the wonderful building we're in at the minute called the Bradfield Centre in Cambridge. That came about because of Robert Brady. Robert is an amazing guy based in Cambridge, one of the Trinity alum and at one point, Trinity were looking at building this building in the middle of the science park. They said, "We need an accelerator. You should speak to Jon." I looked at the building. I said, "You don't need an accelerator. You need to rethink the whole building." Trinity had the forward vision so they looked at Google Campus level 39, various other places and went, "Oh, that's what we need to do."
And so I've been involved in this. I've moved out and work around this building, do an amazing job. It's been a bit slow to get off the ground in a good way. I think there's been a lot of suspicion in Cambridge because Cambridge is of that way and kind, but they've actually embraced it in a very big way. We're officially six months in and we're almost half full. We're pretty close to being optimistic that by the end of the year, we will be full through the gills of this building.
What else have I done? I ended up inadvertently setting up cohorts based in Belfast, which is where I'm originally from. We're just about to double the space of that. I think I might have accidentally started another business in the last six weeks. Don't tell my boss. Oh, and by the way, I have a day job, which is I'm also a VC based in London and New York. I think that was one of your questions.
Peter Cowley: Motive Partners, isn't it?
Jon Bradford: Yeah.
Peter Cowley: Talk about that briefly. That's FinTech, is it?
Jon Bradford: So Motive Partners is a FinTech B2B, fund only. So we only look at back end metal ware systems. We believe that Legacy Businesses and financial institutions will have to replace their systems over the next 10 years. We think there's a lot of money to be made.
What's amazing about the team is they've been in and around this industry for the last 20 years. They profoundly understand the implications of changing technology. Regulation is really harry based. This is not something one does lightly. Enterprise is hard. Enterprise in a regulated industry is really, really hard. Amazing teams. We're based in London and New York because we don't think we can be in any single geography. International institutions are global.
Peter Cowley: LP's, are they public?
Jon Bradford: LP's are a broad spectrum. So we have some banks, some financial institutions who've given us money. We have some wealth funds that have given us money. We also have a lot of money that's actually come from people who have been very successful in the industry. We have an amazing advisory board, which include people like Larry Summers.
Peter Cowley: From where?
Jon Bradford: He used to be in charge, of the treasury in the US.
Peter Cowley: Okay.
Jon Bradford: Doug Flint, who was CEO of HSBC.
Peter Cowley: And you've applied some of this capital already?
Jon Bradford: Yeah. We've made a couple of investments. We really only did our first close just before Christmas. So we've got that classic. We have a big pipeline and we have a few things which are getting very close to being complete. So over the next three or four months, I think, it'll be come obvious.
We strongly believe there's a big opportunity on our space.
Peter Cowley: Okay. Before we move on to tips, I haven't asked you this before. The answer may well be no. Do you think you've been involved at all in influencing government's policies other than the UK or anywhere else on our ecosystem?
Jon Bradford: Do I think I have had any influence? I would say I have jumped up and down and ranted a little bit. So I tend to be the raving lunatic on one extreme or the other on the basis that if they listen to a little bit of it, maybe they'll hear some of it.
The reality is government isn't influenced by individuals. Government is influenced by bodies of people who lobby, unfortunately. And if I happen to be a part of some of those groups which lobby.
Peter Cowley: UK is an example of that.
Jon Bradford: Tech and investment are not very good at lobbying, if I'm being honest. I think we could be better at it. But look, every little bit helps, as they say.
Peter Cowley: I remember seeing you on Facebook having breakfast with Richard Branson somewhere in the Baltic States.
Jon Bradford: I have friend who has a friend who knows a friend.
Peter Cowley: And you got yourself invited. So, you do have the connections up there. Right, a few tips for entrepreneurs. Generally, and or getting onto accelerators and being un-accelerated.
Jon Bradford: The first thing is, it's a question whether you need to be an accelerator or not.
Peter Cowley: Yeah.
Jon Bradford: It was so strange given that I run them. How do you get on to an accelerator? Thinking about investment, which it has, to be a consequence of what you're doing. You shouldn't build a business to be on an accelerator. The thing that good start-ups could and should be doing all the time is being incredibly customer focused and thinking about what the problem is, you're trying to solve.
And that's not what's happening between your ears and what you think is happening. It's when you're listening to potential customers. I'm a great believer in that people should speak to a potential customers, one day every day. So in any given week, you speak to five potential customers.
Peter Cowley: As a founder, CEO or all the founders?
Jon Bradford: All of the founders, should participate. Unfortunately, CEO's tend not to want to have those conversations. The tend to be less social.
But I think the more customer centric you can become, the more conversations you can have. The greater the likelihood you will find a way through because of the thing you think you're going to do and the thing that you will do are two different things.
Peter Cowley: The pivot.
Jon Bradford: The pivot. I hate that word.
Peter Cowley: Yeah. It's wrong. It implies some sort of rotation, doesn't it?
Jon Bradford: And the other thing is product market fair is not a single point in time. It's like somebody wants to try but it's like you don't want to use spinning players. It's like you've got to keep spinning your player. And as the product changes and as you evolve, as you get larger, your customer base is going to change. And as your customer base changes, actually your product's probably going to have to change or your services at the same time.
So it's something you constantly have to be aware of and be evolving and changing depending upon your customer group. Some have done that incredibly well and some have failed because they fix the problem for a small demographic, initially. But when they've moved on to the bigger demographic and they have failed to change, they just don't grow. They don't in.
Peter Cowley: They'll leave lots of dinosaurs, Xerox as an example, isn't it?
Jon Bradford: They did okay for a while.
Peter Cowley: Yeah, Kodak. This podcast is also aimed at angels who want to be better angels and investors who want to become angels. So what would you suggest some tips for them to find the next big winner to avoid the mistakes, et cetera.
Jon Bradford: I think I probably have a slightly different view. And maybe it's because I don't probably take this as seriously as I should, is actually every time I write a cheque to an investor or a team, I actually never expect to see it back again.
Peter Cowley: No. Don't worry. It's coming through and through and through. This is completely lost money at that point. And anything that comes back.
Jon Bradford: If it comes back. And as a result, actually, if you think about the logic behind that. The logic, then, becomes, actually are they people that you want to have your money? And so, there's a morality around that, which is, I don't invest in people I dislike, even if it might be the most amazing investment opportunity in the world.
It's very person-centric. I also feel it's something that will make the world a better place. So, don't expect to see the money. Make sure that it's someone that you can put your hand on heart and say, "I want this person to actually succeed". And what they succeed with is something worthy of succeeding.
The best kick you can get is that the double bottom line is seeing someone succeed and actually becoming incredibly successful at what they do. And actually, potentially you can make money from it. That, to me, is incredibly powerful. I strongly believe when you start, you have to be prepared to write 10 cheque’s. And of the first 10 cheque’s, are you going to follow on probably the first four or five.
Find a friend. Work with them. Find multiple friends.
Peter Cowley: These angel friends?
Jon Bradford: Sorry. Other angels, good point. Other investors. Listen, learn, be a little bit humble. Know that you don't know this. Every time somebody comes to me and says, "I've got some money. I've done very well." I go and find the most experienced investors I can find to say, "Just go and play with them".
Sometimes you want to invest with the long side and sometimes you don't. You have to do one for one. And by the time you get to the second series of five, you'll have created your framework about how you want to make decisions.
Peter Cowley: Exactly.
Jon Bradford: And then support the next generation that come through behind you. So, I think this is the really, frustrating part, in a world where we spend our lives looking for entrepreneurs to build scalable products, I strongly believe that this is a business investment, an angel investment. It's an un-scale-able process.
Peter Cowley: No, that is unfortunately the case. There's not a process. And, also, the feedback took so long because a good exit can take 10 plus years. By which time you're ten years older.
Jon Bradford: I was on a panel yesterday and they asked that question and that was exactly my response. I said, "So, how do you know when you're making good investments? It’s that they don't come back in 10 years".
Peter Cowley: Yeah, exactly. And that's really depressing, but life because businesses take a long time to grow unless you're very lucky like Magic Pony or Deep Mind where it exits in three or four years for a very lot of money, but that's really unusual.
Jon Bradford: I had the good fortunate of recently exiting one of my businesses after only three or four years. It was never made public but it returned a fund multiple times. And it was just good fortune and coincidence that the business was in the right place and there was an acquirer who wanted to buy it. I couldn't have planned it before, during or after.
Peter Cowley: The big luck element.
Jon Bradford: Massive luck. But actually, the thing about it was the guys were still there. They were building a really boring, well, it was actually a really interesting business. But they were doing the really boring thing of actually just building a business without distraction.
Peter Cowley: Yeah, with customer money.
Jon Bradford: You've got to be still there to potentially have the exit. If you're not there, it's never going to happen.
Peter Cowley: So, Jon, the final question which you don't know is going to happen. Turns out we're about 14 or 15 years between each other. So I'm 62 now. What on earth are you going to be doing when you're 62?
Jon Bradford: Still working.
Peter Cowley: What's work, though?
Jon Bradford: I don't know.
Peter Cowley: I would challenge what you do is called work.
Jon Bradford: No. It's not. It's some vague excuse of a job which I profoundly enjoy. And actually, coming back to the whole silly thing I said earlier about I didn't figure out I could be entrepreneurial until I was 39 or 40, is actually one of my big basis, actually encouraging people at a younger age to actually be bold and actually to take those steps.
Peter Cowley: The younger age. But you don't have to be too young. A 16 year-old is unlikely to know much.
Jon Bradford: I think this is the bigger conversation about should you do university? Should you not? Should you go and work with someone?
So big enterprise problems are only going to be fixed by people who have lived inside enterprise. So that means you're probably going to be in your 30s. There's not a surprise that the Facebook's of this world were built by people who were trying to fix their own problem.
I listen to an amazing podcast by Tom Hanks. And he was talking about he went to the doctor. Tom Hanks has diabetes, which I didn't know. And he asked the doctor, "How do I live a long and active life?" And the doctor said to him, he said, "You know, don't retire. Slow down what you do but continue to do the things that you love".
And I looked at my wife and my wife just rolled her eyes. And basically what that essentially meant was actually, you know what? I enjoy what I do so profoundly that I can't imagine not doing it. I can imagine doing less of it and maybe a few less aeroplanes . But I can't imagine a world where, historically, we've had this moment of, and then at the age of x, you take a pension and you retire. I can't imagine that.
And I think if more people can add value for longer and actually create more value for everybody in this system, I don't think there is going to be this binary of I work, I retire. I think it's going to become a much more bladed edge which creates a whole heap of new interesting opportunities and potential investments.
Peter Cowley: It's providing good room for the youngsters to come into the role. And of course, privatisation is the subject of another podcast at some point.
Jon Bradford: Exactly. This has been amazing.
Peter Cowley: Excellent. Really enjoyed that. We learned so much, nice and direct. Northern Ireland, I'm from Yorkshire, resemblance of the characters, as I say it. Very direct.
Jon Bradford: Sometimes we butt heads.
Peter Cowley: We have done that. I didn't talk about that. Excellent job, thank you much, indeed.
Jon Bradford: Thank you.
Peter Cowley: Thank you.
Peter Cowley: Thanks for listening to another invested investor podcast. You can subscribe to all future podcasts by our website, investedinvestor.com or by a number of podcast platforms online. Remember, you can order our book online. And be sure to follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook to get the most up-to-date, interesting and insightful content from the invested investor.