Show Me The Equity

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I’ve had a number of interesting conversations over the last three weeks with clients & candidates about equity which all prompted me to gather my thoughts and write this piece.

Last week we attended a number of the scheduled sessions and networking events at The Web Summit in Dublin – for those that haven’t been its essentially a gathering of the global tech industry with a whole heap of interesting 20 minute life experience sessions, ranging from Michael Dell & Sean Rad, CEO of Tinder. What’s less apparent in the marketing blurb, but so evidently obvious if you’re around the event and socialising in the pubs is the sheer number of venture capital and private equity businesses in town casting their eyes over the next new thing. It was suggested by a friend of mine that there was well over 2000 VC & PE folks in town for the three days. 

I met three companies who were all at an incredibly early stage of their development – all had proof of concept applications developed but none that were ready to launch. None had sold one dollar/euro/pound of revenue yet, and none had received any VC/PE funding. All of them were saying that there was no way they were going to be giving away anything less than 5-10% equity in their businesses to the funders. 

We’ve just started working with a cloud UC provider who are doing incredibly well over the last 6 months disrupting a very mature and unexciting marketplace, doing some massive deals with clients, and delivering revenue and gross profit. They’re considering a floatation in the next six months, and it was really interesting hearing some of their senior sales folk saying that the float, and their ultimate earning from it, was the single most exciting thing that was going to happen in the next 12 months. I couldn’t help but think that when this business floats, and equity and shares get vested, they’re going to lose a huge amount of the talent that got them to floatation because these guys are actually “invested”. This is a small business relatively speaking, and I’m just not sure they’ll be able to cope with the mass exodus when it comes – but maybe in the cloud space that really doesn’t matter anymore?

I’ve recently been helping a friend qualify a potential senior hire to his fast growing, but effectively start-up, technology business – the senior guy had come with a rock star CV from a number of big roles at a number of big internet brands. He was looking for a big salary and a big bonus. And a big expenses package. Plus he didn’t want to be “hands-on” building the team as he was above that. Oh yeah, and he wanted equity!! My friend is “invested” – he’s put in months and months of late nights and weekends, he’s actively hands on in the development, presales, design, sales, post sales, delivery, billing, cash flow & management of each & every deal.

So far this year, only 14% of the Initial Public Offerings (IPO) done in the US were done by tech companies, which is the smallest percentage since at least the mid 1990’s. The market for IPOs has turned chilly and inhospitable, and many in the tech space that have floated have seen their stock suffer significant loses. This ripple is impacting on some of the most promising private tech start-ups in the US and Europe, which is certainly impacting on their ability to hire and keep key people. From speaking with a number of international VC folk last week, some of the financing/funding numbers are being dramatically revised down from earlier in the year. Those from the US have big fears about what a future Fed rate rise (expected in December) will do to the market.

I have a view on all of this which comes from being an equity owner in two businesses, but I guess this is all ultimately relevant to company size, ambition and whether you’re the giver or taker of equity! If you’re looking for equity as part of a package, it’s sometimes a case of be careful what you wish and ask for. In a small business, like mine and my friends above, are you willing to give blood, sweat & tears and some in return for a piece of the business? I would certainly expect so, and that expectation can carry huge responsibility. In a larger business, that will directly be impacted by some of the micro and macro factors mentioned above, know that equity may not be the golden goose you expect it to be. And if you’ve done no revenue or sales yet, and are talking about multiple of x10 and x12, go and sign some revenue generating sales!

Cyber Security Predictions for 2017

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Even the most dedicated of luddites does not need to be told how entrenched digital technology is within our society. The way we watch TV, manage businesses, control our finances and socialise has been rapidly revolutionised and will no doubt continue to be radicalised as digital technology becomes increasingly sophisticated.

But, along with digital innovation comes threat innovation. Viruses and malware may have been in our awareness since the early days of computing but we’re now entering a whole new era of cyber threats. When viruses first entered our radar, digital technology was an optional addition to regular life. Damage to files as a result of a virus was more of an inconvenience than a danger and the data that could be obtained was most likely to be of little value. Take now however where the line between ‘real life’ and ‘digital life’ is becoming increasingly blurred, and data is clearly of greater value than it ever has been before.

Obtaining access to bank accounts, naturally, comprises a large amount of cyber crime. However nefariously obtaining data can serve more than the obvious means, too. For example, rival companies, political adversaries and military opponents can all benefit from gaining access to their competitors data.

Evidently, data is the new currency of this era and the industry is on to it. Until now, on average less than 3% of capital expenditures has been allocated towards security but this is beginning to change. In 2016 security sales increased by 17% for Cisco and 18% for IBM. Likewise Obama has proposed to allocate $19 billion towards the nations cyber security. Over the next 5 years, it is estimated that worldwide spending on cyber security will exceed $1 trillion, and that average spending of capital expenditure on security will exceed 12%.

So, with more money being allocated towards defense against cyber threats what changes can we expect to see in cyber security over the next year?

One aspect of cyber security that has been slowly appearing over the last year or so is the use of additional or alternative methods of providing passwords. Think pattern based passwords, finger print readers on phones and computers or face recognition software. Once it may have seemed a thing of the future, but now it’s here and it’s looking as though it may be a more common way of replacing or using in conjunction with standard password-based access systems.

Another, albeit more subtle, aspect of society that is predicted to enter our awareness over the next year is introducing greater personal control of privacy settings. For many years, the more cautious among us have known to shred all items of paperwork containing personal information on lest it end up in the wrong hands. Yet, many of us do not pay the same attention to our online behaviour. Consequently, a large amount of the data exchanged daily is unknowingly left scattered around the internet ether ready for collection by anyone who cares to take on the task. This is a potential risk to personal security but also for cooperations when employees combine their personal actives with cooperate activities. It is thus anticipated that users will be made more aware of instances where their privacy is not secure, and users may also increasingly be expected to pass ‘confirmation’ walls in order to access pages where their behaviour may not be private.

Financial Services & Fintech under attack

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Ingenio participated in a fascinating round table discussion hosted by Tech UK – the UK trade association for the technology industry last night. The theme was the impact of cyber crime on the financial services and fintech industries with insightful contributions made from the European Head of Information Security at Citibank, Sheridan Knowles, along with Sandeep Kumar who heads up Cybersecurity for CapGemini and Ben Lowater – a director of critical national infrastructure at GCHQ, amongst others.

It was interesting to see the ‘push and pull’ of opinions from senior individuals who come from three different perspectives: those that sell advice, those that buy advice and those that want to support the finance industry to flourish but with the principle aim of protecting national security and UK citizens. What’s clear to me is that even with some of the greatest minds on this topic brought together in one room, there is no clear answer and strategy as to how to best deal with this elusive threat of cyber crime which is becoming more sophisticated by the second. Sheridan Knowles publically commented that the Citi global network gets hit every 34 seconds by some form of attack on their IT and communications infrastructure.

With cyber crime becoming a bigger industry than the drugs trade, it is clear as to why the UK government has pledged £860 million between 2011-2015 to help protect the UK and its infrastructure from this burgeoning threat.

Ingenio is pleased to play a small part in helping to protect the UK’s biggest industry against criminal activity by sourcing the best cyber talent in leadership, know-how and consulting, incident response and business as usual support.