We recently announced Martin Fincham as our new Chairman here at Veeqo. Martin has a long and impressive track record working at board and C-suite level in successful technology businesses. And even spent several years as an executive out in California's Silicon Valley - the Mecca of the tech world. But who exactly is Martin? What are his thoughts on the ecommerce industry right now? And why did he decide to come on board with Veeqo? We sat down with him for a quick (socially-distanced!) Q&A to find out.
1) Why did you choose to come on board with Veeqo?
I was evaluating a handful of different opportunities with companies operating in my sweet spot of B2B SaaS. I was only going to choose to work with a couple of those vendors, and three things stood out for me with Veeqo:
- Product-led growth, from a product-led founder. By this I mean that I love it when a founder builds the “product they wished they’d had” in their previous job. Matt’s experience of ecommerce retail gives Veeqo some precious DNA that money can’t buy. It's also no coincidence that I find these kinds of businesses achieve product-market-fit far sooner, and delight their customers at a symbiotic level.
- Investors already on board. As a quick rule of thumb, you can tell a lot about a company by the company they keep. In the early years Veeqo attracted some impressive angel investors.
- Wales; for two reasons. Firstly, while building out my portfolio I’ve tried to remain mindful of the regional opportunities beyond London (home), where there is obviously a high level of start-up and scale-up activity. Secondly, my wife Joanna is Welsh and so we spend family time in Wales. We wanted to find some way to contribute to helping Welsh start-ups and scale-ups to blaze their trails and demonstrate that great technology companies can be born in Wales and achieve global success.
2) How have you found being at Veeqo so far?
I simply turn left out of Swansea train station and voila! Oh…I see… In all seriousness, my experience has been universally positive. Veeqo is clearly loved by customers and solves the multitude of operational needs of many different kinds of online retailers; from small to large and niche to generalist. That scope of application is an impressive feat of product design and development for a small team. I’ve found that the company’s culture has everything that a well-run early-stage company should aspire to bake-in; from trust and transparency to fun and fast-paced progress. Most of my personal interactions are with other Board members, representing our major shareholders, and I’m pleased to report that we enjoy a collaborative and collegiate board that is well-equipped to support the management team; especially during an unusually challenging time like now (due to COVID-19).
3) What exactly will your role consist of within the business?
As Chairman of the Board my role is primarily one of ensuring that we maintain a good standard of governance across our business operations and that relationships with our various stakeholders are as positive and productive as they can be. I am also here as an additional resource to support management wherever I can. My functional pillars, as both a software entrepreneur and a corporate CEO, were primarily sales, marketing and growth management. But I also have a technical background, which means people pull me into discussions around product strategy and technical architecture. Because I specialise in B2B SaaS I am also able to share best practices between all of my portfolio companies; topics like HR, Fund Raising, International Expansion etc.
4) Where do you see the future going for Veeqo?
As I’ve said, Veeqo addresses a broad range of operational needs for a broad range of online retailers - which means that our Total Address Market is huge. It’s quite easy to imagine that in a few short years Veeqo will be serving tens of thousands of customers all over the world. The UK has the largest ecommerce market in Europe, and is therefore a great place to start such a business. Being ‘born in the cloud’ means that the world is truly our oyster and so the challenge is planning for, funding and managing the potentially explosive growth to come.
5) What about ecommerce in general… what do you think about the industry, and how do you see it developing in the near future?
This is a very interesting question to be asked during the first lock-down of my lifetime! Clearly, ecommerce sales are generally surging and pundits agree that we are likely experiencing an acceleration of the already unstoppable shift to buying and selling online. At times of crisis and economic downturn, there will always be winners and losers. Speaking from a personal portfolio perspective, Veeqo and a couple of my other ecommerce related businesses look more like the winners on the other side of this crisis.
6) How did you get started in the tech industry?
I was the original computer geek! Think of the Milky Bar Kid but with a keyboard rather than a chocolate pistol. I was a fortunate beneficiary of my father’s hobby of tinkering with all things electrical and electronic. By the late 1970s, we were assembling from kits what you would now describe as a personal computer. Back then a kit meant that you received the parts in a box and needed skills like soldering to wire together the electronic components and carpentry to make a wooden box, in which you would mount the keyboard and printed circuit boards. I was lucky to live through the personal computer revolution and develop the technical skills to master this new technology. Along the way, we picked up one of the first Apple Mac 128k machines to arrive in the UK. Overnight I became an evangelist for Apple and this passion helped me to evolve from a geek into salesman; eventually becoming part of the Apple business in the UK at first selling into the burgeoning Desktop Publishing market and then eventually specialising in Corporate Accounts with their sophisticated systems integration needs. This success launched my sales career and the rest is history.
7) Where was your last role before starting a portfolio career?
I was the CEO of a global enterprise software vendor called LANSA. I was with the LANSA company for 12 years; with the last five of those as CEO having taken over from the original founder. LANSA was a 30-year-old success story with over 8,000 customers in 65 countries, 250 employees spread across a dozen offices and over 300 business partners. During my tenure as CEO I increase EBITDA performance by seven-fold. The LANSA business was eventually acquired by private equity and rolled-into Idera Inc. which houses a stable of B2B software development brands.
8) What’s been your proudest achievement?
Given that pride is considered by some to be the original of all deadly sins (!) I prefer to think about what makes me feel fulfilled on both a personal and professional level. In my personal life, nothing gives me more satisfaction than watching my daughter fulfilling her potential and blooming into the woman I always hoped she would be. Professionally I’ve always tried to ensure that my success lays on the other side of my team’s achievements. I can’t pretend to have always succeeded in that regard (hopefully my scorecard improved over time), but in my heart I always wanted every team member in my charge to leave better equipped than when they first walked through my door.
9) What about your biggest failure/challenge? And what did you learn from it?
My biggest professional challenge came after an acquisition where I found myself part of an increasingly dysfunctional senior leadership team. When business performance was good, the team worked well together. But when a recession hit the teamwork and collegiate atmosphere seemingly disintegrated overnight. This dynamic was exacerbated by remote working with growing ‘them’ (field) versus ‘us’ (HQ) friction. All classic management guru stuff! So classic in fact that the brilliant author Patrick Lencioni had captured our company perfectly in his first leadership fable: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. There was even a protagonist called Martin! According to the book, the five dysfunctions are:
- Absence of trust - unwilling to be vulnerable within the group.
- Fear of conflict - seeking artificial harmony over constructive passionate debate.
- Lack of commitment - feigning buy-in for group decisions creates ambiguity throughout the organisation.
- Avoidance of accountability - ducking the responsibility to call peers on counterproductive behaviour which sets low standards.
- Inattention to results - focusing on personal success, status and ego before team success.
Working our way through resolving each of these dysfunctions was a painful yet enlightening experience. During those few months, I learned more about myself, and my interactions with others, than at any other time in my life. I even took my first personality test (I have an ENTJ profile btw). Rather than dismiss these insights as mumbo-jumbo, I figured out how to mirror and match different personality types to adapt my style to best work with other people. Had I never gone through this tough patch, I’d likely still be part of the problem rather than part of the solution each time there is conflict in a team.
10) What does a typical working day look like for you?
Each month is punctuated by scheduled board meetings. These provide the structure to my work. Advanced preparation is required to maximise the effectiveness of each meeting, and then there are always tasks to follow-up post-meeting. The remaining time each day is dynamic and varied in terms of providing ad-hoc portfolio support, meeting new people (mainly investors and new hires) and making connections across the portfolio and wider early-stage ecosystem to share best practices and generate new business opportunities.
11) Based on your experience, what one piece of advice would you give to founders/business owners?
Persevere! As Thomas Edison said “Genius is 1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration.” I believe the same is true for entrepreneurship. Very occasionally you see brilliant ideas, perfectly executed and then achieving a fast exit… but these examples are rare and enjoy a disproportionate share of the headlines. I’ve seen many more ‘overnight successes’ that have, in fact, been 10, 15 even 20 years in the making and basically one long, hard slog for the founders and their teams. Even being the ‘last one standing’ is a valid, if unglamorous, business strategy. Quite simply, if you don’t quit then you can’t lose. On the other hand, knowing when to quit and move onto the next venture is equally important. So whether you persevere with your current venture or persevere with being an entrepreneur… I rate perseverance as the #1 human quality in business (and also in life, now I come to think about it).