From a bucket of ice, to a world leading life sciences innovator

Podcast transcription - 18th JuLY 2018

Peter Cowley:                  So welcome again to another Invested Investor podcast. Today we have Jonathan Milner, who I've known for about seven or eight years, a stellar example of an entrepreneur, an angel investor. We're going to talk to his life and what he's learned over the last 15 or 20 years of being an angel. First of all, Jonathan, welcome and can you just describe some of your background? What led you into being an entrepreneur?

Jonathan Milner:             Yes, of course. I'm delighted to be here. I suppose my greatest inspiration was actually my father. My father actually was an engineer by background and a successful engineer as well, but at school he was given a report which said he would never be a leader of men. He actually went on to lead 5,000 people in John Brown Engineering, in Daniel's Hamilton, in the Cotswolds and then later on he had his own light engineering company down in Portsmouth. And so I actually moved down to Portsmouth with my family for him to start his light engineering company.

                                             So my start in life was actually during a-levels when I got really interested in biology and I had an incredible biology teacher, very inspirational. So I decided that I was going to do some sort of biology, whether it's medicine or biology at university and ended up applying for applied biology at Bath university from 1984 to 1988. That was a fabulous sandwich course where you went away on placement and worked somewhere for six months and then came back to the university to study for six months. It was a fabulous-

Peter Cowley:                  Where did you go? Where were you on placement?

Jonathan Milner:             My first placement was looking at bark beetles in the Welsh forest and doing biological control of bark beetles, fabulous experience for an 18-year old to be out there chopping down trees and searching for bark beetles. So that was my first placement. Then I went to the Leicester Biocentre where I got a passion for genetics and yeast genetics and that was the hot subject at the time. And then I ended up at the University of Michigan in Anarbor, again, doing yeast genetics and that was my passion at that point and I thought I was going to follow that passion. So I got accepted for a place at Dundee University to do my PHD.

Peter Cowley:                  In what subject?

Jonathan Milner:             In Molecular Biology of yeast genetics.

Peter Cowley:                  What's use genetics?

Jonathan Milner:             Yeast genetics.

Peter Cowley:                  Oh yeast. Yeast, yeah.

Jonathan Milner:             Yeast genetics is fascinating because the whole way that we've managed to work out how human cells replicate and divide was through looking at yeast. And the pioneer of those, a Nobel prize winner, of course, Paul Nurse, and he was my hero at the time. He was making really incredible groundbreaking discoveries that led to all the cell cycle genes and everything we know about the cell cycle in the human homologues of these genes that were found subsequently. So it seems a bit bizarre thinking about yeast genetics-

Peter Cowley:                  It does.

Jonathan Milner:             How can that help? And it was absolutely fundamental in our current understanding of how human cells go wrong in health and disease. So I was all ready to go to Dundee, but unfortunately my father became very ill. He contracted lung cancer and I didn't want to move so far away. He was living at Portsmouth at that time, so I wanted to stay near him. So I accepted a position, not in yeast genetics, but I found one at Leicester University doing molecular biology on a bacterium.

Peter Cowley:                  This was your PHD or it was ... ?

Jonathan Milner:             This was my PHD. Yes, yes, yes. So I had a wonderful time in Leicester during this work on bacterial genes actually, pathology genes. Then central to the story, which is all coming together of how I ended up being an entrepreneur and angel investor and CEO of Abcam et cetera, is the fact that at Leicester, met my wife Rosie. She was from Greece and she was going to go back to Greece and I said, "Well, why don't you stay here? I'll find some work here and you can find some work here."

Jonathan Milner:             She's an artist and she wanted to do an art gallery management position so she wanted to find one of those in England somewhere. So we both moved to Bath and I took a postdoc position at Bath doing antibody engineering and that was the pioneering time of-

Peter Cowley:                  This was '92, '93-

Jonathan Milner:             This was '92, '93 and it was just at the time when CATs, Cambridge Antibody Technology was getting going, so I got to know all the guys from CAT. So I spent a bit of time up in Cambridge, meeting them. Great guys, John McCafferty, Kevin Johnson, David Chiswell, fabulous time. So that was my first sort of insight into antibody engineering and I was all ready, after that postdoc in Bath, I was all ready to then move on to the next phase of my career, which I'd got my heart set on joining Cambridge Antibody Technology. So I came up for my dream job. I had the interview for that, failed spectacularly.

Peter Cowley:                  Impossible to believe at this point in time.

Jonathan Milner:             Failed spectacularly to get into Cambridge Antibody Technology and actually it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. So then I thought, "Well this is a bit of a shame" because Rosie at that point had finally found a job managing a gallery in Cambridge Contemporary Art. And so I thought, "Well I better get a job." And I was flipping through all the job ads and I saw this one come up at the University in Professor Tony Kouzarides' lab. And I thought, "Well, there's not a hope in hell that I'm going to be able to go to this top, top lab with this incredible scientist who's making huge strides in oncology and cancer research" but I thought I'd chance it.

                                             So I turned up for the interview and just met Tony and for some reason we just jelled and we just got on like a house on fire. So it was, "You've got the job." And then I said, "Oh, thank you." And it was only afterwards when I said to him, I said, "Did you actually read my CV?" And he said, "Oh no, I didn't need to read your CV. You were just really-

Peter Cowley:                  Character. Purely character.

Jonathan Milner:             ...and I thought you'd be good for the lab. So I just employed you for that. So then there I was in Cambridge and not being from Cambridge myself, and it was the most incredible experience, most incredible three years of my life in the top lab working with the top people, making groundbreaking discoveries. My project was on breast cancer research. We were well funded. It was mentally hugely stimulating. That was absolutely an incredible experience.

Peter Cowley:                  But of course then a major change happens. You go from the laboratory into being a lowly, in terms of income and stress I suspect, "entrepreneur". How did that happen?

Jonathan Milner:             The point came when I was thinking very carefully about what was my next step in the career. I realized that I probably wasn't going to be like Tony. I wasn't ever going to be a top academic and I certainly wasn't going to win a Nobel prize and I'd always been quite entrepreneurial inspired by my father. So I started to think about going into business and how I could do that.

Jonathan Milner:             Then one day I was working in the lab alongside a young medical scientists called Luke Hughes-Davies. he's an oncologist actually. Top, top oncologist in Cambridge now. And Luke just said to me, he said, "I can't stand these antibodies. They're really rubbish. You know what Johnny, we ought to make a company. Why don't we start a company making antibodies?"

Jonathan Milner:             Would have been one of those throwaway lines, which never went anywhere, but it started me thinking. And it started me on this sort of, what I would call it, entrepreneurial seizure and I couldn't get this out of my mind. So I started to talk to Luke about it. We'd go for coffee together and we'd say, "We're really serious about this. How are we going to make the antibodies then?" Luke would say, "Don't worry, my uncle, he has a sheep farm in Wales. We gotta make the antibodies in the sheep in Wales and then we're going to be able to harvest the antibodies from the plant and then my uncle can sell the sheep in the market. So it's all quite environmentally friendly. No wastage or anything like that." And naively, I thought this was the answer. This is fantastic. And I think to be honest with you, the idea wouldn't have gone much further had it not been for a bit of serendipity and-

Peter Cowley:                  A large amount of serendipity I think, serendipity.

Jonathan Milner:             A large amount of serendipity. And this is where the story comes full circle back to Rosie, because Rosie, as I told you, was working in the art gallery, Cambridge Contemporary Art and she was working alongside Ros Cleevely. And one year they decided to have a Christmas dinner and they couldn't find anywhere in December, so it was actually in January, so we're having a Christmas dinner in January and it was all the hangers-on and probably friends-

Peter Cowley:                  Partners, yes.

Jonathan Milner:             ... partners, husbands, et cetera, with Ros and Rosie and others at this Christmas dinner in one of the colleges. I happened to be sitting next to David, and David - very inquisitive person, hugely chatty, very extrovert. So he was saying, "What are you going to do with your career?" And I started to say to him, "Well, I've come to this point, I've had a fantastic time in Tony's lab and I'm really thinking of starting a business." And David was incredible. Instead of sort of dismissing it or anything like that, he said, "Oh, well tell me about this." So I started to tell him about what is antibodies and these are used in all sorts of research and in diagnostics and increasingly,  there was going to be therapeutics as well coming in. And he started to get really interested in this story. So he said, "Well, come and see me next Saturday. Come to my office and we'll have a chat about what your idea is."

Peter Cowley:                  So this is early '97, '98?

Jonathan Milner:             So this was 1998, January, 1998. I remember clearly going-

Peter Cowley:                  So you went to his office at the top of his house?

Jonathan Milner:             Well it was actually on Castle Hill in Analysis. So David was still running and owning Analysis and I hadn't realized how well-known and successful already David was, which was probably a good thing because I think I would have been a bit nervous.

Peter Cowley:                  Yes.

Jonathan Milner:             He put me at ease then we went to his office and David said, "Well tell me your idea." So I said, "Well, I've got this friend and he's got an uncle in Wales, where we're going to make the sheep ... " and this and that. And I could see David starting to lose interest at this point.

Peter Cowley:                  Because he's got a techincal background, but not a life sciences background of course.

Jonathan Milner:             Yeah, yeah, yeah. And then David said to me, "So how much does it cost to make one of these units of antibody?" And I said to him, "It's about three to five pounds for a unit of antibody." And then he said, "What do you sell these for?" I said, "They sell for about 150, 200 pounds? And at that point, he got interested, of course I hadn't explained to him that actually it's quite risky making antibodies and most of the ones that you make are not going to be popular to sell. So it's actually quite difficult. You need to make a lot of different types of antibodies before you hit on the ones that are actually going to sell. But that was part of the business model that will come out later with David's coaching.

Peter Cowley:                  Excellent. But there's a great story that floats around you and an ice bucket. So can we share that with the listeners?

Jonathan Milner:             Absolutely. So coming back to David. David was incredibly generous with his time and mentored me through transitioning from a pure academic, where you only have one thing to concentrate on in the lab, which is to do your experiment. It's actually been a very rewarding and fulfilling, but your mind is just purely on one thing. So it's quite relaxing. You almost get in the zen zone when you're doing experiments.

Jonathan Milner:             I realized very early on that being an entrepreneur and trying to get a business off the ground, your mind has to flip really quickly between interviewing, between doing the cashflow, between trying to get customers, between making sure the investors are happy that you're raising money. All of these things was incredibly stressful for me. David managed to coach me through this.

Jonathan Milner:             Then the ice bucket story really comes in because there were very, very dark times when I was really, really struggling with everything. And it was all becoming too-

Peter Cowley:                  You had some finance at this point, had you?

Jonathan Milner:             At this point, David had put some money in and my wife allowed me to- she was my girlfriend at the time, actually even more generous- she said that we could remortgage our newly-bought house in Mawson Road. I trotted into David's office clutching a check for 11,000 pounds. David looked at it and said, "That's not going to be enough." David put in 40,000 pounds-

Peter Cowley:                  Which allowed you to stop working for the university then?

Jonathan Milner:             That's right. At that point we were getting into the summer and my contract was ending during the summer months. Tony had allowed me very generously to stay on and he knew that I was working in my spare time, on the business with David. Then tony joined us in the business as well as a director very, very early on-

Peter Cowley:                  But he didn't leave his role though in the university, did he?

Jonathan Milner:             Oh no, no, no. Tony's still very much-

Peter Cowley:                  He's still there, isn't he.

Jonathan Milner:             ... still there.

Peter Cowley:                  So you raised a bit of money, but you said you were getting desperate. So you wandered around Cambridge with an ice bucket with an antibody in it I believe?

Jonathan Milner:             That's right. So we'd raised this money. We were burning that very fast. Foolishly, I'd spent it too quickly and I learned a lesson. I bought a lot of stock not calculating that it would be difficult to sell. The first lesson. It was a really hard lesson.

Peter Cowley:                  Fundamental lessons there.

Jonathan Milner:             Fundamental lesson. So I stuck with this stock that I couldn't sell and absolutely desperate to get money through the door.

Peter Cowley:                  Right.

Jonathan Milner:             So we were within two weeks of going bankrupt. So in desperation, I just thought, "Well, I've got to get out there." So I grabbed a lot of antibodies, put them into an ice bucket and I just went to all the labs that I knew and all the people I knew and I just literally blagged my way in-

Peter Cowley:                  We're collecting £10 notes!

Jonathan Milner:             Well, just knocking on the door saying, "Would you like to buy these antibodies?" And they didn't want to buy these antibodies, but it didn't matter. It absolutely didn't matter and it absolutely transformed the company. Without me having done this, Abcam would have gone nowhere.

Jonathan Milner:             The reason for that is because they looked in the ice bucket and they said, "Well, I don't want that antibody and I don't want that antibody." And bear in mind there's thousands of different products so trying to predict the antibody you want is very difficult. And then they said, "But I'm having trouble making antibodies. Can you make me this antibody?" So I just said yes. So I said, "Okay, I'll make you the antibody".

Jonathan Milner:             And so I started a contract business bringing in contract work where I've managed the manufacturer of these antibodies outsource the manufacturing to a manufacturer that was much better than the university-

Peter Cowley:                  So you set up this model around the product model, yeah.

Jonathan Milner:             So the service model came in and the service model was the foundation for the cashflow, which got Abcam going because otherwise it wouldn't have survived.

Peter Cowley:So that we point it out to  listeners, this business is now worth a couple of billion in the market cap?

Jonathan Milner:             I think last time it was at sort of 2.3 billion?

Peter Cowley:                  Pound market cap?

Jonathan Milner:             Pounds market cap.

Peter Cowley:                  Yeah. So we're talking here from bankruptcy. It's the longest journey. You took 20 years or 19 years?

Jonathan Milner:             Well it's 20 years now.

Peter Cowley:                  Yeah. So you must be having its 20th anniversary this year.

Jonathan Milner:             We're having the 20th anniversary this year.

Peter Cowley:                  I know that Sir Michael Marshall was an early investor and a huge supporter of you over the years. Can you tell me about the first funding round?

Jonathan Milner:             We got us some cash flowing from the service business but we still needed to raise the money to finance the web platform, employ people, what have you. And so David introduced me to his network within Cambridge and that was really, really important because without those introductions, I wouldn't have been able to get the financing. So this was the network that we're all familiar with in Cambridge, Hermann Hauser, Peter Dawe, Steven Thomas, etc. All David's friends and follow angel investors. And they invested in Abcam very early on.

Peter Cowley:                  How much did they put in that round? Do you remember?

Jonathan Milner:             That round was about 200k.

Peter Cowley:                  Okay.

Jonathan Milner:             Yeah, yeah. Yeah. So the total amount of money we took was no more than 450k.

Peter Cowley:                  Before you floated?

Jonathan Milner:             Before we floated, yeah.

Peter Cowley:                  That's phenomenal.

Jonathan Milner:             Yeah.

Peter Cowley:                  And what was the market capitalization on day of float?

Jonathan Milner:             It was just over 50 million. It's not a bad return.

Peter Cowley:                  Phenomenal return. When did you float?

Jonathan Milner:             So that was 2005 October 3rd, 2005 on the Aim market.

Peter Cowley:                  Yeah. So that's effectively seven and a bit years from '98 when you formed the company?

Jonathan Milner:             That's correct.

Peter Cowley:                  So this is actually, this is a really great story, isn't it? Because you basically relied on customer money rather than equity to build this business, didn't you?

Jonathan Milner:             That's right.

Peter Cowley:                  By finding good product-market fit, finding customers, good gross margin by the sound of ii, et cetera. Okay. Talk us through a bit of the stages. So you've raised a couple of hundred thousand or a hundred and fifty from this group, you start employing people there, don't you I should think?

Jonathan Milner:             Yes, so it was essential that we start to employ, especially web developers, but we could only afford one web developer and he came on board. He was, I think our second employee, actually. Mike Shaw. Mike was absolutely terrific, apart from the fact that just before we were due to launch the website, he hadn't actually done anything.

Peter Cowley:                  What had he done?

Jonathan Milner:             He'd done a lot of planning, so I remember distinctly saying to him, "Well, we've got to launch because we've told everybody we're going to launch." And it was October and we'd said, "October the fifth, we're going to be launching this website." The night before there was nothing.

Jonathan Milner:             So I went round to Mike's house and I said, "Mike, we're going to sit here all night long. I'm going to feed you coffee and pizza and we're going to do this website." So we worked all night long. We released the website in the morning and it worked. It was terrific. Absolutely terrific.

Peter Cowley:                  And this was an early-ish website as well because this is around about 2000 I think this-

Jonathan Milner:             This was a very, very early website. The key to it was a little tiny search engine, which in comparison to search engines these days, is absolutely hopeless, but then it was a state-of-the-art search engine called Muscat.

Peter Cowley:                  Oh yes. John Snyder?

Jonathan Milner:             John Snyder's Muscat. So John licensed this Muscat and we put this search engine on the website and that's what really got the company going because people were coming to our website to search for antibodies. So this little search engine built into the website, despite being really clunky today's standards, was better than anything out there at the time.

Jonathan Milner:             So suddenly we were getting thousands and thousands of hits for researchers wanting to find their antibody. Then it occurred to us that this is a pretty neat trick here. We're getting all of these hits and passing all these potential customers, researchers through to all the companies that we're listing. We were listing 300 or 400 companies.

Peter Cowley:                  Oh you were reselling other people's product?

Jonathan Milner:             We weren't reselling.

Peter Cowley:                  Oh. You were-

Jonathan Milner:             No we weren't reselling. We were just a minature Google within-

Peter Cowley:                  Ah, like you were passing across leads.

Jonathan Milner:             Absolutely. It was just a miniature Google, because google wasn't any good. You didn't need it anymore because Google wasn't any good in those days, and search engines were a bit rubbish. You got irrelevant results. We were just delivering very specific results-

Peter Cowley:                  And charging for those ... ?

Jonathan Milner:             No.

Peter Cowley:                  And you weren't even charging for it.

Jonathan Milner:             No.

Peter Cowley:                  So where's the monetization?

Jonathan Milner:             So that was the funny thing. So we were getting a lot of criticism for, "Well this is a crazy business model. What are you doing? You're not charging you. You're not getting any money." But we had a trick up our sleeve. And that was that we had information. We had information about which antibodies these researchers wanted. So it was a really simple task then to say, "Well, we know what the top 10 antibodies are. We know what the top 20. We know what the top 50 are. All we need to do is systematically start to put these into our catalog and next time somebody searches on these, instead of going through-

Peter Cowley:                  You offer your own product, yes.

Jonathan Milner:             ... to the competitors, we offer them our own product. So we started to build up this catalog of own antibodies.

Peter Cowley:                  This took her a long? This took you several months to build up enough data to monetize it, did it or ...

Jonathan Milner:             It only took a few months to get enough data to know which antibodies-

Peter Cowley:                  Yes, yeah.

Jonathan Milner:             ... to put into the catalog and then it was the hard work of actually going out there and either making the antibodies or sourcing them, finding the right supplier for them to actually put them onto our website with the...

Peter Cowley:                  And quality control and ...

Jonathan Milner:             And quality control and everything.

Peter Cowley:                  So you set up a manufacturing arm of antibodies or did you sub-contract the manufacturing?

Jonathan Milner:             There's two parts to making an antibody. The one is the first part where you have to immunize your host animal and then take the spleen or the blood and make the antibodies from that and that is subcontracted out. And then the second part of that is to actually do the inflammation part, which is the data surrounding the antibody for what it can be useful and that actually turned out to be the most valuable part of the product. It wasn't the physical product, which is the antibody that sits in the tube if you like. It was actually the data surrounding the antibody.

Jonathan Milner:             David and I realized this neat trick pretty quickly, so we started to say, "Well, how can we not only add products but add data onto the products in the best possible way and the cheapest possible way?" And it occurred to us that we should allow reviews which are standard now.

Peter Cowley:                  Yes, yes.

Jonathan Milner:             So we were one of the first companies to actually allow customers to review the products and put stars on there, you know, one star or five stars and the criticism we got for that was, "How tacky. How could you do that? It's not books. These are very serious scientific products." Of course now every single scientific product will have customer reviews on it. It's standard. Everything does, but we were the pioneers there and that got us information about the products. The product became better and better over time as people knew how to use them based on these customer reviews.

Peter Cowley:                  Oh that's excellent. And you managed to maintain that gross margin that you'd sold to David on day one?

Jonathan Milner:             We did, yes we did.

Peter Cowley:                  Well done. So it was a very profitable business?

Jonathan Milner:             Very profitable business.

Peter Cowley:                  So we've got to the part where you've got product market fit. How many people are you at this point? When you've got the website launched a few months later?

Jonathan Milner:             We've got about 10 people at this point. We were in the Plant Biochemistry annex in a room, not much bigger than this, which is what-

Peter Cowley:                  Four by four? Four by three meters?

Jonathan Milner:             Four by three meters. Most of them are working at home, thankfully. So we had about four and then at that point we knew that we had to move. Then we went to the Cambridge Science Park. We found a small unit on the Cambridge Science Park and have stayed there moving from unit to unit ever since until next year when we're going to be removing of course to the Cambridge Biomedical Campus.

Peter Cowley:                  Next to Addenbrookes, yeah.

Jonathan Milner:             Next to Addenbrookes.

Peter Cowley:                  Okay. So you've got 10 people. How many people did you have at float?

Jonathan Milner:             At float? We must've been up at around 75 people, at float. Now we're Just over a thousand.

Peter Cowley:                  And now you have to be humorous and intelligent person. Part of what you've done to grow the business is making sure the culture's right. Can we just talk about how you generate that culture, whether you even knew what culture meant to start with perhaps. How you generated and how you maintained it.

Jonathan Milner:             I had no idea about culture in terms of how important it is. It's only in retrospect I realize how essential it is for an organization. The one thing that I truly believe is that the individual is actually bigger than the organization. If you start to really care and nurture your employees and care about your employees, then you get the best from them actually.

Addenbrookes                  If you concentrate on the individual rather than saying, "Will you worK for this company? You've got to do this" or "You've got to do that." If you make sure the individual's needs are actually catered for, the rewards you get back in the company is absolutely huge. I'm so proud of the one thing that keeps coming out again and again in Abcam's culture is the word friendly. When you go into Abcam, I hope you'll see that everybody is cheerful. They're friendly, they're helpful, and most of all they're all supporting each other to become successful. They want other people to be successful because that's how I built the company. I was very interested in developing my management team, in developing people in their roles, making them successful in their roles. That could mean just some people just wanted to come to work and you know, pipette things into tubes and go home and that's absolutely fine. If they're happy and successful and cheerful in that role, that's perfectly fine.

Addenbrookes                  Other people wanted to progress through the company and rise up through the ranks and become executives and again that's great and supporting them in that, but it's a quid pro quo. They had to equally support the others around them and that paid dividends because as a CEO, I found that I couldn't be successful without everybody around me really wanting to help me become successful. And that was key because having come from a background where I was an academic, and then I had to transition my role from entrepreneur, early stage company, to public listed company to high growth company to what it is today, I had to reinvent myself a number of times. If I hadn't had the support of people around me such as Jim Moret, David Clevely, I wouldn't have been able to do it.

Peter Cowley:                  Yes. You've done amazing there. You've had to learn how to learn and pass on this culture without really necessarily having had any experience of doing it.

Jonathan Milner:             That's absolutely correct. I hadn't been to business school. I had no idea. I'd never ever had people reporting to me. I hate to say you're managing people. Nobody wants to be managed, but working as a team and having people around me like that, I had no concept of that or no idea actually how to do it. I had no idea how to hire or fire. I had no idea about HR, no idea about culture, about pay, absolutely nothing.

Peter Cowley:                  You're obviously a very good listener. So before we move onto your angel investing, which you turned into another career, can we just talk about some of the things that you learned painfully during the journey on Abcam. Obviously people have to leave the business, some have to leave because they're not fitting in, etc. Maybe. Did you ever run out of cash again, etc.

Jonathan Milner:             Yes. I mean there was a couple more occasions when we were nearly out of cash and we just about managed to scrape through again and get us to profitability. But I think the lesson that I learned there was that having financial discipline is so important. Crucial to that was getting Eddie Powell onboard as our finance director very early on in the company. So early on that we couldn't actually afford to pay poor Eddie.

Peter Cowley:                  You paid him in shares actually?

Jonathan Milner:             Well, no we had to contract him out to other companies.

Peter Cowley:                  So when was this? How many people were you? Just 10 or so back then?

Jonathan Milner:             I think when Eddie joined, we must have been about 15. Very early on. We were 15 people at that point in the very early-

Peter Cowley:                  Did you sold him out as the finance director-

Jonathan Milner:             So we hired him out because we couldn't afford to pay him. And then when we could afford to pay him, we got him back in, full time and Eddie brought that financial discipline to the company that was absolutely essential because with me being very entrepreneurial and just wanting to spend money all the time, the company wouldn't have lasted very long. So Eddie was essential in the transitioning of the company to a profitable company.

Peter Cowley:                  Good. So hiring and firing. I mean all entrepreneurs need to learn that. Can be a very painful process. Can you give us some advice about that?

Jonathan Milner:             I can indeed because very early on I found it incredibly difficult to. It wasn't so much the hiring because I was so entrepreneurial, I could actually attract top people. And having Eddie onboard very early on, people were intrigued. How can this little company attract such a wonderful finance director out of Marconi, to come and work in this little company? So I actually had no problem attracting good people.

Jonathan Milner:             It was the firing of people that was the real difficulty. And the lesson that I actually learned there was that I spent too long allowing the wrong people in the wrong positions to carry on within the company to the point where when it really got so bad that I had to say, "I'm sorry, this is not working out. I'm going to have to let you go." One, it was a real shock for the people you have to let go.

Jonathan Milner:             Two, I was terrified what it would look like to all the people left in the company. I was being horrible. I was going to fire them next, this is what's going through my mind. The reaction I had was totally the opposite. It was, "Jonathan, why didn't you do this earlier? Why didn't you do this six months ago? Why did it have to go on so long?" And that was the absolute eyeopener for me.

Jonathan Milner:             And then the other thing that I learned and the mistake that I made, was actually to make the whole firing process much easier, you have to give timely and honest feedback. So regular appraisals, and not just regular pace, just chats, just chats about, "This is going right, this is going wrong." So when you come to actually make that regretful decision, the person would go, "Well actually, do you know what? You're absolutely right. I can't complain. You're right. I haven't done this, I haven't done that and you've been telling me that for the last six months." And it makes the whole process much, much easier. So those are the two lessons I learned.

Peter Cowley:                  Yeah, that's so important.

                                             Thank you for listening to part one of Jonathan's Invested Investor podcast. We've been lucky enough to hear how he found it and has helped build the world leading life sciences innovator, Abcam. Starting off with a bucketful of antibodies to sell, he's helped transform the company into $2.5 billion pound multinational success. Be sure to listen to part two, which follows Jonathan into his current passion, angel investing. You can subscribe to all future podcasts via our website, or via a number of online podcast platforms, and be sure to follow us on Twitter, Linkedin, and Facebook to get the most up-to-date, interesting and insightful content.