War stories, failures and fascinating lessons learnt from our launch event
Podcast transcription - 24th October 2018
Alan Cowley: Welcome to a special edition of the Invested Investor podcast. We're here today at our first book launch at Central Working at the Bradfield Centre in Cambridge.
Alan Cowley: Thank you all for coming. This has been a good few years for Peter's ideas and a good year and a half of getting to the point of officially launching and having a book in people's hands. There's a lot of people in this room that have put towards this a lot and I'm just here to thank them. So the likes of our close team, Soraya has just been absolutely incredible since the start, still at the front on social media. All the focus groups, the audio team, Mark Cotton that's around, the author Kate, all the podcastees, everyone that's here and that's helped out, friends, family, really everything. Obviously family as well and yeah we just hope that you all enjoy yourselves and enjoy the war stories that are coming up. I'll pass you over to Peter.
Peter Cowley: Thank you. What we're going to do is have about seven people who got two or three minutes each, no more, just to give you an amusing anecdote of a failure in the business life. Two or three things first, one I've got my shorts on, who else has got their shorts on? Anybody got their shorts on? No, it's November isn't it. Now the reason I've got my shorts on, if you look at the book on the back there's a picture of somebody. My wife, where's Allison? Is Allison around, my wife loves that cartoon. The cartoonist is actually somebody that we found who does work for Private Eye called Supermodel if you know that strip in the Private Eye. For those who know me I'm not particularly formal so I turn up at events in Cambridge College with my shorts on which is what I'm doing here.
Point about angel investing and entrepreneurs is that we as angels back people, and it's a people relationship. So people relationship from the point initially meeting, getting the point of investing and then on the journey together. I often liken it, and several of you would have heard this, as being like a stronger bond than a marriage because unfortunately some people in this room will have been divorced. Once you've invested in a start-up you cannot get divorced. The entrepreneur cannot give the money back and you can't sell that share somewhere else, it's a really strong bond. Therefore the relationship has got to be good.
Right we're going to have quickfire three minutes or so for each person hopefully. I haven't got a yellow card here, just to talk through some failures, just to give you an idea the sort of breadth of the information we've put into the book, so let's start with Jeanette.
Jeanette Walker: Thank you Invested Investor extraordinaire AKA Peter Cowley. Thank you distinguished guests. On behalf of Trinity College and of course its Nobel Prize winning master, it is not just a pleasure but it's a privilege to welcome you to the Bradfield Centre here this evening. We're right at the heart of the 48 year old Cambridge Science Park. Now talking about age when I was young I held firmly to the belief that it is love that makes the world go round. Now that I'm much older and marginally wiser do you know what? I still think it's love that makes the world go round but before you conclude that the first ever director of the Science Park is a shallow idealist, I've also learned through direct experience as a company founder myself that the axis on which the world pivots needs oiling.
We cannot survive never mind succeed without the financial equivalent of WD40 or to be vulgar, money. But whilst WD40 can be applied by a novice hand successfully, the money required to oil the wheels of commercial innovation needs to be guided by a more experienced hand. Cue our guest of honour this evening. I first met Peter in 1998. Back then I was running a small business renting a desk over in a very shabby office on the Windship Road from a friend of Peter's. My idea was simple, it involved selling companies ranging from Ford Motor Company to Bristol Water to a bingo hall in the Midlands. I would take anybody's money, I wasn't fussy.
The idea was to sell them large sheets of corrugated board printed with their logos which they would give away to their customers as sunscreen blinds, but them on the windscreen in the summer and it would be high visible outdoor advertising for the company. What's not to love about that idea I thought, and being an idealist I was convinced this business was going to make me rich provided of course the British weather mimicked that of the Costa Del Sol for at least eight months of the year which is did for the first two and to be honest the only two years that my company traded profitably.
To this very day my sceptical brother John continues to tell his friends he has the perfect formula for making a small fortune. "All you've got to do," he says, "Is give Jeanette a large one." Now the one thing is that even though I tried and failed, I say to him, "I will not be sitting in my rocking chair when I'm in my 80s if I'm spared wondering what would have happened if I'd set up that car windscreen blind company?"
So how to you go from running a loss making company based on cardboard to running not just the oldest Science Park in Europe but arguably the most successful one? Well that's a shaggy dog story if ever there was one underpinned by a dollop of determination, slugs of serendipity and as a visiting neuroscientist said to me at an event here on Tuesday, “The gift of the gap." But you know one thing that I still haven't quite worked out as I lead this exciting phase of renewal with new buildings, big new innovation centre of biotech opening this spring with investment from China, this is my little investment for the science park that I'm sneaking in here quickly, as well as a raft of other initiatives which is based around creating a community based innovation ecosystem and a park where people genuinely love to work.
So 20 years after my entrepreneurial or 30 years if you believe my friend over here, I'm still trying to work out whether I am an idealist aspiring to be a realist, or now that I've immersed myself in the world of tech and innovation, am I really a realist aspiring to be an idealist. Peter, ladies and gentlemen, perhaps I'll never know, but thank you for listening and as any self-respecting idealist would say, I know you will have a truly memorable evening. Thank you.
Kate Kirk: My name is Kate Kirk and I'm a writer and I helped Peter to write his book.
Mark Cotton: How long have you known Peter?
Kate Kirk: I've known him, I've met him on and off over the years, probably eight, nine years. I interviewed him actually for a book I wrote before about the Cambridge Phenomenon so we have met each other in the past.
Mark Cotton: And you have a mutual love of a certain sport?
Kate Kirk: We both play a very strange game called real tennis which is a cross between lawn tennis, squash and chess.
Mark Cotton: Never heard chess being involved in it.
Kate Kirk: It's very tactical.
Mark Cotton: Yeah I see what you mean. So what was the process of co-writing the book with Peter?
Kate Kirk: We talked about it for probably about six months. Peter mentioned that he was thinking of doing this and because I'd interviewed him for the Cambridge Phenomenon book he started asking me questions about how he would go about it, he's a very busy man so he wouldn't have time to actually sit down and bash away at a keyboard by himself and I explained that I could ghost write it for him so we could talk about what he wanted to put into the book and then I could write it up and then he could read through it and see if I'd captured everything that he wanted to say. So we talked about it on and off for several months and then we decided to push the button and go.
Mark Cotton: What drew you to the project?
Kate Kirk: He has a very precise, direct and very good way of describing things and talking about things and obviously he's got lots of experience in this space from both sides, from being an entrepreneur and trying to get funding and then from funding other entrepreneurs and advising even more entrepreneurs and so he's got a lot of expertise from both sides of the story. He's very good at explaining the more complicated bits of the process that you don't often get in other books, they don't often tell you what an exit might be or what a pivot might be so he's gone into it in a very detailed way.
Mark Cotton: And we're hoping for a best seller?
Kate Kirk: Absolutely. Well I hear it's already flying off the shelves so hopefully there might be a second print run soon.
Peter Cowley: Tony Quested, you're next I think.
Tony Quested: This is the point at which you hope you didn't pick up the wife's shopping list first thing in the morning. Don't forget the rhubarb, oh dear. Right here comes the rhubarb. I'm Tony Quested, I'm Business Weekly which is a print media and digital newspaper and through the website takes companies locally to millions of potential customers, collaborators, and investors. Now we only have one external investor who's been in for the whole of the 30 years we've been going, the young shaver called Hermann Houser who co-founded Acorn Computers and Arm and I'm happy to say we've made him exceptionally rich but sadly for Hermann only in mind and spirit.
Now we've got to recognise one thing, businesses fail, they fail every day for different reasons. They're badly monetised, they've got the wrong team, they haven't done the research. In some cases it's just not their time. Artificial intelligence reared its head in an identifiable form in 1956 but it's only now with the fantastic cohort of brilliant computer scientists and mathematicians in Cambridge backed by probably the most tech-savvy bunch of investors we've had the pleasure to know that is bringing this into its time and now. I would say that over 30 years I think Cambridge has been very lucky, it's had very few what you would call dodgy entrepreneurs.
We did have to blow the whistle on a biotechnology entrepreneur who was peddling a super vaccine based on a miracle plant and if you injected children in developing countries with this vaccine you would eradicate every disease that had ever come out of the tropics. We thought it might be worth ringing the World Health Organization, against this guy's file they've got a figurative skull and crossbones and told us if anyone injected a child in the developing world with this vaccine it would blow them to smithereens. We exposed him and put in an entry for the UK business awards and were told we were disqualified because Business Weekly was owned by the Barclay brothers who own the Telegraph that the former editor of the Cambridge news who made that decision promptly gave Jenny Chapman, god bless her, the award for business journalist of the year for a story praising this fantastic technology that would eradicate every disease that ever came out of the tropics, but there you go.
We also had to more recently expose an entrepreneur who produced an alleged wonder material from which you could produce enough solar energy to eradicate the need for the National Grid either in this country or equivalent anywhere else on the planet. He raised millions of pounds, went bust, and then one investor badly stung came back far too late after the house had bolted to say that he'd discovered that the founding entrepreneur raised all the cash based on a false identity including a forged passport. We identified the administrators who said they didn't know anything about it but they would inform the government. Another biotech entrepreneur he's still operating in his raising funds, has formed nine companies, raised something like 20 million, folded the lot, if you look at his record in company's house it looks like an advert for bleach, all you see is dissolved, dissolved, dissolved, he's at it again.
Healthcare is particularly vulnerable at the moment, people are looking for miracle products, you'll read about anti-aging chocolates and everything else but if you dig deeper some of these products have got so much sugar that you're in danger, you think I can eat as much chocolate as I want for the rest of my life, sit back and wait for the Telegram from the king for a king it shall be and who wants to be the world's first 40 stone centenarian? If an idea looks too good to be true, it almost certainly isn't true. An American friend of mine has a very basic attitude to investments he says, and pardon my French, "I due deal the crap out of it." He has what he calls his outlaw, so first of all he chills out so he's not rushing into it, then he finds out using all the assets he can and if it doesn't check out, he stays out so he doesn't get caught out.
So if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, sounds like a duck, then probably what you're looking at is a duck. If it lacks any of those characteristics you might have a turkey on your hands and the only product you're going to be left holding your share of is the kind that normally emanates from a bulls hind quarters. Peter, thank you very much.
Emmi Nicholl: My name is Emmi Nicholl and I work for Cambridge Angels. I've known Peter for just over a year now.
Mark Cotton: And you know him through Cambridge Angels, obviously.
Emmi Nicholl: I do, yes. I was introduced to him through my network in Cambridge.
Mark Cotton: What attracts you to Peter as a person, as an investor?
Emmi Nicholl: Peter is wonderfully authentic, I think that's the best word I would use to describe him. He's really himself, he's an inspiration, I would regard him as my mentor but he's just truly authentic, he's just Peter. He is honest, sometimes brutally so but in such a positive way that you really know exactly where you stand.
Mark Cotton: And have you read the book?
Emmi Nicholl: Of course I have. The book is incredible, it was a real learning experience for me, my role in Cambridge Angels is relatively new so I learned a lot about angel investing and our groups of angels.
Mark Cotton: And what do you actually do at Cambridge Angels?
Emmi Nicholl: I have the best job title in the world, it's deal sorcerer. My role is indeed to source deals for the Cambridge Angels but also to help the organisation be a bit more functional, a bit more streamlined, a bit more efficient.
Mark Cotton: And if you could say in a sentence what you love most about your job, what is it?
Emmi Nicholl: The network, I absolutely love meeting all of our members and engaging with the network. I've met really incredibly interesting people and I don't regret a moment of any event I go to, any people that I talk to, any people that I meet, just wonderful.
Mark Cotton: I better let you get networking then, hadn't I?
Emmi Nicholl: Thank you very much.
Peter Cowley: Richard I think has probably flown in from the most distance, come from Krakow, who I've known for years, Richard.
Richard Lucas: Okay so Peter, this is a four minute speech delivered in two minutes. My name's Richard, I'm from Poland where the politics is in crisis, the country is deeply divided between progressive modernizers and nationalists who don't like immigrants and the pollution gets really bad in the winter and I'm going to London tomorrow. So why did I come from Krakow to be with you here tonight? First and foremost because Peter wanted me to tell the story of the potential business partner who had 30,000 dollars in cash and a gun in his briefcase when he opened it. Luckily he didn't make me an offer I couldn't refuse. I will tell that story but I'm here for three reasons.
Among Peter's many achievements has been to help build CAMentrepreneurs worldwide, he's been to meetings with me in New York twice, in London twice, in Warsaw twice and we had a meeting in Sydney, Australia last week to which neither Peter or I attended. He's shared the cost of organising the event, he doesn't like to waste his money or his time as you all know but helping getting that going deserves your attention, appreciation and support.
As far as the Invested Investor is concerned, Peter may not be a billionaire yet but I would say he's doing quite well. But I'm a TEDx organiser and TED support and TED is about ideas worth spreading and the Invested Investor is an idea worth spreading. He's not just doing his job well of being a great investor and supporter, but he's spreading knowledge and good practice not just for investors but for entrepreneurs as well. In this way the work he's doing is raising standards and at least for angel investors and entrepreneurs making the world a better place.
Finally the guy with the briefcase. You should be really careful who you go into business with. Of course I didn't accept the money or the gun from Marek, the guy with the gun, but there's an old Irish poem which I think time allows me to share. One evening in October, when I was far from sober, my feet began to stutter and I lay down in the gutter. A pig came up and laid down by my side, you can tell a man who boozes by the company he chooses. The pig got up and slowly walked away. On other occasions I've chosen the wrong people to go into business with and lost a great deal of money but I'm glad to say that Peter is not one of them and I'm happy and proud to be in business with Peter, thanks very much.
Mike Scialom: My name's Mike Scialom I'm from Cambridge Independent and I'm here being interviewed by Mark Cotton who's asking me questions about what's going on this evening and how I know Peter Cowley.
Mark Cotton: What draws you to Peter specifically? Is there something unique about what Peter does?
Mike Scialom: Yeah well firstly he's very embedded in the culture here and 10, 15 years ago we would have been at CB2 or some other sort of hangout in the centre of town, now we're at the Bradfield Centre which is a 20 million pound building and it's just absolutely fabulous and it's incredible to see how Cambridge is evolving in this way and it's on the science part obviously which has had a long term reputation but this is a whole different scale of amazing. So that's one tribute to Peter and the other one is that he's targeted a very interesting space which is between very early stage companies who wouldn't get venture capital and the angel investors who are able to fund them and that's a very interesting, competitive but also precarious place to operate in and he's got a really good track record of making money and supporting and encouraging the development of early stage businesses in Cambridge so hat's off to him, I'm a big fan.
He's very honest, he's very insightful and he nails it and you kind of know, of course he's right. You have the feeling of even though it might make you feel a little bit like I'm a bit slow, I've missed the point, you go he got it and so hat's off to him. But he's obviously had experience and expertise that's grown over kind of like decades I guess you could say of the Cambridge Phenomenon and that's stood him in good stead but he's still very much got his feet on the ground and at a grassroots level he's functioning in a very successful way that contributes an awful lot to the ecosystem here.
Mark Cotton: Where do you see Cambridge in 10 years?
Mike Scialom: That's a very good question. It's obviously becoming a much more international kind of city, the hub is broadening out hopefully the life sciences situation will develop. The AI, the technology side as well is going very well but we have to accept that what's started off as a very clubbable environment where it's like if you know someone that you could get something done and you could get some investment and you're up and running is suddenly under a massive microscope and it's performing very well under that microscope and I think it will continue to perform very well actually and I think one of the good things that's happening is that the companies like Huawei or TusPark or whatever who are coming here are actually adapting their model to the Cambridge sector rather than expecting the sector to adapt to them and I think that's a really important cultural phenomenon which will stand Cambridge in good stead for the years to come.
Peter Cowley: Now we have Katy who's been on the whole journey right from the beginning. It was her that I shared it with about two and a half years ago.
Katy Tuncer: It was, yes. I'm a coach and I work in the Cambridge ecosystem both sides of the deal and as Peter said this journey began with some conversations about what Peter stood for. I'm Peter's coach and some of you already know that, and we were talking about what Peter stood for and what contribution he wanted to make to the ecosystem and to the world in the early stage business sector that we work in. It's been a real privilege to be part of that and to be here tonight and Peter to invite me to talk about failure and as we get to this point where the book is launched and it's really happening.
I'm a serial entrepreneur myself and you can read about my failures in the book. I'm not going to do any spoilers tonight although one of my fellow entrepreneurs said to me earlier this week, "Katy your failures were all entirely avoidable and very stupid," so you can make that judgment when you read the book. What I did want to say is that I have noticed a change over my lifetime in how people view failure and one of my personal experiences has given me a lot of faith and confidence to go out and continue with my entrepreneurial journey. It was Peter who encouraged me when I achieved the magnificent failure that you can read about that I should phone each and every one of my investors, and there were quite a lot of them because we had done a crowdfund, and I just wanted to run away and hide.
Peter had me phone them all and I got on the phone to the first one, one of the bigger investors and I fessed up and I said, "I admit I failed, here's why, what's I've done, here's what's happened," waiting for the judgment and this first investor absolutely brilliant said, "Oh wow, you called me, I'm surprised. I expected you to just ran away. You called me, great. So call me again when you're ready for me to back your next venture." Honestly that's true and I was just so excited I thought, okay, phone the next investor. Now I didn't get that every time. But I actually had most of my investors say, "good on you for admitting you failed and great, thanks for ringing." That was the most common result and I have gone ahead and I have had some successes which are far less interesting than my failures but I just wanted to share that experience.
Part of the whole spirit of the Invested Investor for us to not be afraid and to put ourselves out there and actually in the opening speech as well, we're never going to say what if, if we try and fail that's fine. So I'm okay with being made famous in Peter's book for failure. Thank you.
I'm Katy, I'm a business coach working in the Cambridge early stage business ecosystem and I work with leaders both side of the deal with VCs and angels as well as founders and CEOs to find their own brilliance, do deliver the results they need to within their businesses.
Mark Cotton: You've worked with both Peter and Alan, haven't you?
Katy Tuncer: I have, yes, mainly with Peter. So Peter and I have been working together for I think it's nearly five years so I've been very privileged to be part of what's ended up being the Invested Investor book. It's quite a journey actually, when we first started talking about Peter's, it was about his brand and the fact that he had started to become well known and asked to do more and more speaking and more and more support to various different business and groups and he said, "What am I going to do with this? What's the point?" And we sat there, we talked about what he stood for and I kept trying to bring him back to what he really wanted to do in the world, what he wanted to contribute and what he was standing for.
There was a lot around transparency, that's always been a big thing for Peter and we actually filmed that coaching session so I have a little clip of about two minutes of Peter talking about what he stood for and what it was that he wanted to do and who he wanted to be so that was quite a useful grounding. From then there was quite a lot of idea generation from other people in Peter's life about how he could get out there and achieve more so I remember writing a project plan one point which was originally called Peter Goes Live, I never was much for branding, the Invested Investor came later from someone else.
But Peter Goes Live was a project plan that included the things that he wanted to do, had on it the podcasts which of course you know well about and Alan then at that point came and said, "I could do that," and it was a really great moment of realisation that that's a partnership that could really take this forward. That's when I stepped back from the project itself, stayed working with Peter on a one to one basis but then the Invested Investor took on a life of its own and it's just amazing to be here today and see this actually happening. The book's launched, all these hundreds of people reading it and will be thousands and the impact this is going to have is just brilliant.
Mark Cotton: Have you actually been helping Peter and Alan because that to me, working with your father like I did for half a day once and that was enough-
Katy Tuncer: I don't think I could either.
Mark Cotton: Have you coached them through that?
Katy Tuncer: Yes, I wouldn't want to overstate my role in it. Mainly I work with Peter and I think one of the things as a coach you get very good at is knowing boundaries, so I've worked with Alan on some very specific things at Alan's request on how he could engage effectively with Peter, how he could run the project and how he could, I mean he's Alan Cowley, so how he could be individually having his own mark on it which he clearly does, so we talked about things like that. As a coach when I'm working with Alan, I'm completely in Alan's world and I'm standing there listening for Alan's brilliance and I don't think about what Peter might think and that's quite an important skill. Then when I'm working with Peter it's exactly the same and I'm not bringing in anything that Alan's told me in confidence to that conversation.
It's quite a common thing to have to do as a coach because I'll often be working for example with a founder and a board member or with two co-founders or with two members of an executive team who are in each other's world or with an investor and a company leader.
Mark Cotton: I suppose one of the main things you have to do is build a sense of confidence that person has a confidence in you that what they tell you-
Katy Tuncer: And they have to know that I will not break any confidences of what they say, so when I'm working with one person it's all about them, all about them and my interest is in them and how they can perform and nothing about how I or that other person will have any wider role, that's just one of the things about being a coach and it seems to have worked with Peter and Alan. We've worked together in focus groups and stuff like that, I facilitated a few of those and that's easy.
Mark Cotton: Well I know you've got a failure in the book but I think your coaching skills are a complete success.
Katy Tuncer: Aw, thank you.
Jon Bradford: Good evening, my name's Jon Bradford. I have the good fortune of being a director of this amazing space and work very closely with the guys from Central Working to make magic happen here for entrepreneurs. So the question was asked of me, failure. I have 107 investments, Peter. I would probably say without actually knowing the specific number most of those are failures, as is anyone who has invested early stage and seed investment. Then a really embarrassing story is in 2012, I approached Peter and said, "I have a really good idea," and he said, "Yeah, mm-hmm (affirmative)." And I said, "Springboard." Care of Neil Davidson who did an amazing job at Red Gate. "Why don't we do IOT and hardware?" Well let's say over the last seven years we have slowly drawn lines through not one, not two, how many did we have in that portfolio? I think it was eight, I don't think one got to the end of the program.
Anyway I think we technically have one left? Two! Three I think you're being generous. The thing I learned from that was not necessarily failure or the fact that IOT and hardware is hard and that our timing really sucked badly, was actually the level of cooperation and support I've actually had from Peter through that whole process is incredibly embarrassing because I feel like I owe him a lot more than I have delivered particularly in financial terms from that programme. He has been amazingly supportive and a great mentor during that process and everything which is in the book is a fair and good representation of what he is. If you ever have to do investment it's not what happens when you win, it's how investors behave when they don't win is a really representation of them and themselves. Thank you.
Peter Cowley: Thanks very much Jon. Simon you're next and then we have Modwenna to finish.
Simon Thorpe: Good evening everybody, I'm going to be very short and to the point. Delighted to be here, delighted to have contributed to the book. I'm Simon Thorpe, I'm a Cambridge Angel, a prolific investor I should say in technology companies, run by young men and young women. So somebody just approached me just now and said, "I hear you're going to be talking about failures," and I thought oh dear, which one am I going to start with? I've had quite a few of them. So like many of the earlier speakers we all share plenty of failures, fortunately I've had some successes and you can read about some of those eg Swift Key in the book. But I'm going to tell you just one story about a failure. It's called the ten percenter.
So it's my first exit, technically. I thought I'd done fantastically well, I was about to get the big check for my first exit and it's called the ten percenter because the acquirer had the great idea that they were going to pay all the investors just ten percent of the money in cash upfront. So we got the first ten percent, it wasn't a very big check, I was very hopeful of the next 90 percent. The next bit of news was we were going to get the next 20 percent in cash in the following months and then the remaining 70 percent was going to be in shares of the acquirer, and the acquirer we were led to believe was quite a large company until about a month later the company went bust. So we only got ten percent of our exit, so we call it the ten percenter, a great example of perceived success but turned into a huge failure.
Fortunately I've had lots of successes since, and failures many of the examples of failures I've had mirror some of the earlier stories that we've heard tonight, the founders not listening, I call it the good eyes but not very good ears. We've had companies simply running out of money, we've had all sorts of different failures so I've had plenty of experience, I just want to echo that the book is a super read, it's a bible for young entrepreneurs and for young investors who are thinking about getting started for the first time, thank you all.
Peter Cowley: Simon thank you very much.
Simon Thorpe: I'm Simon Thorpe, a Cambridge Angel and an investor in early stage technology companies largely in Cambridge and London.
Mark Cotton: Now Simon, you've had some involvement with the book, haven't you?
Simon Thorpe: Yes. I contributed by being part of the focus group that originally conceived the book, then I read the draft and gave commentary on some of the chapters and then we thought about having read it the first time, we then thought about some of the things that might need to change in it, some of the cartoons that we might want to add to demonstrate some of the points and we thought about whether there were issues that might be misinterpreted because they were incorrectly worded.
Mark Cotton: What's the biggest takeaway for you from the book?
Simon Thorpe: Well what's Peter's really trying to do is give best practice in angel investing in early stage companies, hence the name Invested Investor because he's really talking about the two sides of the coin, the investor and the entrepreneur who sets up these businesses.
Mark Cotton: I get the same thing from everyone, Peter's straight talking but his honesty as well, is that what draws you to Peter?
Simon Thorpe: That's what the book really is about, it's about best practice, it's about transparency, it's about being really clear about what investors are looking for and it's about being really clear to entrepreneurs what makes a good entrepreneur and what investors look for in a good entrepreneur.
Mark Cotton: Are you a serial angel investor?
Simon Thorpe: I'm afraid I am. I've invested in probably 40 to 50 companies.
Mark Cotton: And for you personally, why do you do it?
Simon Thorpe: Well Peter said it's actually about people and I've always been interested in businesses because it's about the people that conceive a business idea and then I'm obviously looking for innovative technology and I like intellectual property and I like a big market. But it starts with the people, Peter makes that very clear when he speaks, he makes it very clear in the book.
Mark Cotton: Because everyone talks about a team, a good team can fix a bad idea but a bad team can fail with a good idea, can't they?
Simon Thorpe: Bad teams can destroy good ideas, that's for sure. Good teams start off usually with two very complimentary people, one technical, one commercial and they are, if they're going to be good they know how to hire good people around them.
Mark Cotton: Where do you see angel investing in the next 10 years?
Simon Thorpe: I think the concept of early stage investing in companies has grown significantly over the last decade. It will be cyclical so evaluations always go up but this is something that's here to stay, I think. It's a long term trend because the reality is there are many more forms of capital available to companies now than there were a generation ago when really it was very, very difficult in the private market to find any capital. Now there are many more opportunities for the entrepreneurs.
Mark Cotton: That's good.
Modwenna Rees-Mogg: Good evening everybody it's lovely to see you, my name's Modwenna and I do all sorts of things but I hang out in the angel world, write about angel stuff, write books, do conferences, do non-exec work, that's sort of my background. I know many faces in the audience, lovely to see you all tonight. So I've got three minutes and I've got so many failures I thought I'd let you choose which failure I spoke about, or maybe not failure but risk, very high risk. So would you like the story about heroin, pornography or love? Heroin's a good story, okay.
So two seconds background, I've worked in the city, I've run away to get married to the love, missed that story bad luck hear about it later, and I'm hanging out in Somerset with my children finding the school playground pretty scary and these entrepreneurs turn up in my life and say, "We've got this great new tin can which you can press a button and it will blow up internally, inside using a clever chemical and make the thing inside the can hot. So we're going to sell this to Nescafe as a sort of coke can for coffee." Seemed quite a good idea, seemed like quite nice people, I was pretty bored, seemed like it would keep me busy, my husband was very pleased already even though it was early on in our marriage that it would be a good idea to keep me busy.
So I hooked up with these guys, started learning how to do things like VAT returns and other exciting things which I had no idea existed, and then they said, "oh, let's raise some money." So I said, "I can do that, I've been in the city, I'm 27, I'm really clever." So off I toddled to the city and met some very nice people I'm still friends with saying, "I've got this great idea." They said, "We can float it on this new stock market called Aim, it's brilliant, it's an amazing new technology company." And then they said in the next meeting, "We still like this, we still think we've sounded out the institutions, they'll back it, it's going to be great, can you just tell me a bit about your team?"
So I rang up my main entrepreneur friend, said, "I've had this question, could you just tell me anything I need to know about the team?" And he said, "What, you mean my friend who is in jail for a couple of years for smuggling heroin aged 18?" I was like, "Oh thanks very much, bye." So that's my story. So risk and failure come in all sorts of places. Now if I'm allowed 30 more seconds I thought it might be a nice idea to tell you the story about the Englishman, the Irishman and the Scottish archaeologists, have you ever heard this story?
It starts with the English archaeologist, he goes into his field, he digs down, possibly near Cambridge. He finds some copper wire and phones up his friends and says, "Guess what guys, it was the English, we discovered telecommunications I have the proof, copper wire in the ground." So Scotsman rises to the challenge, goes to Scotland, he digs down 20 feet in his field, finds copper wire and he rings up his friends and says, "No, no, no bad luck, it was the Scots, we discovered telecommunications." The Irishman meanwhile gets on his plane, goes to his peat bog, digs down 30 feet, but no copper wire. So he rings up his friends, "Oh you may have invented telecommunications, but we invented wireless."
I'm Modwenna Rees-Mogg and I do a whole range of stuff around the angel and VC market ranging from writing for Angel News which I own to network to arranging conferences to writing books and I'm currently writing a book on angel investing for the academic university market.
Mark Cotton: Our listeners will have heard your episode, all your war stories, you've had an amazing journey, but maybe you could just give us a few thoughts on Peter.
Modwenna Rees-Mogg: I think one of the things that I admire and respect about Peter is the way he remains open to doing new things, so I do quite a lot of stuff abroad and surprise, surprise, there's Peter in Istanbul or in Bulgaria the other day we were at something together and I think that shows a spirit of open-mindedness which stretched beyond geographies of his attitude to life and his preparedness to do new things, engage with different sorts of people, help people do great things and such a kind man and so important, he's honest, he's straight and he tells it as it is even if you may not like it or you may not like saying it.
Mark Cotton: Where do you see angel investing in the next 10 years?
Modwenna Rees-Mogg: I think what we're going to see is more data to start coming out. The angel world's always been quite a secretive world, probably by accident rather than design because I sit across and see many different angels and see many different things going on, I see pockets where people do it really well and I see larger pockets where most people don't do it very well and therefore from my point of view that's terrible because the market churns. People come into the market, get all invested, start realising it's not as easy as that and then have to stop and go away or certainly go quiet and that's not good for the things I do.
So I want to improve that and I want those people to have a better investing experience. Most people invest because they believe a business might make it, they don't deliberately invest in a business that will not make it so there must be hope when they first invest and something goes wrong afterwards. So this is one of those curious things but I think that will begin to be worked out and people will start saying we've seen this and seen that and the information will become more available and people will realise how to resolve the challenges and help overcome them. People are too polite in England really, we're all frightfully nice and don't want to call it out but actually sometimes maybe we'd be better.
Mark Cotton: We need to be more straight like Peter is maybe.
Modwenna Rees-Mogg: I think straight like Peter, you've summed it up in one.
Peter Cowley: Well I can't believe it, this was seven or eight people, we've managed in exactly the half hour, as long as I don't drag on, I was really quite worried, our team were quite worried that we'd end up with five minutes and multiple that would be 45 minutes so just a couple more things. Just want to point out this is actually a social venture in many ways, I'd love at some point to break-even but the idea behind it is to get better entrepreneurial journey’s so this is change hoping to create. So one of the things I would really like from the group of you at some point is work out how to measure this. How on earth does one measure the fact that somebody's made some change in something. We can measure content delivery, we can measure to some extent content consumption, but actually the effects of that.
So hopefully most of you will read it, pass the message on, we want this to be... I don't know if you're aware, but I'm president of the Trade Buddy in Europe, the Europe in Business Angel Network so I've got reach throughout Europe so this would get further than just Cambridge although the book is obviously focused on a lot of people in this room because of my contacts, the idea is to spread it out much further. So at some point feed back to me how you think I'm ever going to measure the fact that it's actually made a difference. Been great fun, it's been absolutely fun working with my son and vice versa and I should point out Katy has been coaching us both to cope with each other, so if any of you has tried working with a father son relationship or even a husband wife relationship I suspect, then it's worth talking to Katy about that.
No more speeches, do network, more drink no doubt, hopefully a bit more food for those who are a little bit starving like me and thank you so much for coming.
Mark Cotton: So here we are at the end of a very long night, but actually Peter for you it's the end of two and a half years?
Peter Cowley: Yeah two and a half years since I had the first idea which wasn't this at all, it was an event or a society or something like that, a conference and it then morphed into something that would grow to much bigger audience. Then it turned into podcasts and the book.
Mark Cotton: Alan, how's the evening been for you?
Alan Cowley: Brilliant, we've seen a lot of people have helped out with the project over the last year and a half come along, we've seen new faces and the people that have spoken were just absolutely fantastic and given us real life stories of the failures and also the successes that we see day in day out in the start-up world.
Mark Cotton: A lot of the people that I've spoken to tonight, two things that stand out when they talk about you Peter are your honesty and how straightforward you are with people. People might not always want to hear the straight talk but I think it's important isn't it?
Peter Cowley: Well yes, that's because I come from the North, come from Yorkshire where people are a bit blunt and direct and Southerners don't really like that sort of thing. But in the end you're wasting nobody's time, what you must do though is bracket it with the fact that it's my opinion. There are plenty of other opinions out there, I'm not always right.
Mark Cotton: So I think it's been two and half years great work and more things to come no doubt.
Peter Cowley: Yes, book two is being planned tomorrow.
Mark Cotton: Thanks very much gentlemen.
Alan Cowley: Thank you.
Peter Cowley: Thank you very much, cheers Mark.
Peter Cowley: Thanks for listening to another Invested Investor podcast. You can subscribe to all future podcasts via our website investedinvestor.com or via a number of podcast platforms online. Remember you can order our book online and be sure to follow up on Twitter, Linkedin and Facebook to get the most up to date, interesting and insightful content from the Invested Investor.