If your business is struggling to innovate, then you should listen to Anthony Rose, founder and CEO of SeedLegals.
Who better to learn from about how to incorporate, raise funds and grow your business, than the founder of the startup that one in six of all early-stage startups in the UK are using in their funding rounds.
Widely known as “The man behind BBC iPlayer”, Anthony ran the iPlayer and other BBC services from 2007 to 2010, taking the iPlayer from pre-launch to a major success story.
In this interview, Anthony talks about the jobs that only the CEO should do, including the CEO’s role in innovation, building company culture, getting to product market fit, and why, when you’ve got product market fit, the most important job of a CEO is to then manage culture.
This is a truly insightful interview and a must read for all leaders of startups looking to grow and build their companies.
Before founding SeedLegals, Anthony Rose, known as “The man behind BBC iPlayer”, ran the iPlayer and other BBC services from 2007 to 2010, taking the iPlayer from pre-launch to a major success story.
Today, Anthony is co-founder and CEO at SeedLegals, a legal tech platform that lets startups and investors complete the legals needed to build, grow and fund their business, at a fraction of the cost of using a law firm.
In fact, more than one in six of all early-stage funding rounds in the UK are now done on SeedLegals, and their goal is to transform the way startups grow and build their companies.
Why did Anthony found SeedLegals?
“After I left the BBC I built a startup, sold it, built a startup, sold it, invested in a few companies and got tired of paying lawyers.”
When you go to a law firm, says Anthony, you give the lawyers a problem and they give you a solution, and that solution is a pile of legal documents. But he realised that actually, people aren’t looking for legal documents, they’re looking for solutions.
“And it sounds trite, but the solution is articles, webinars, a workflow that shows you do this and then do this and don’t do that, data that shows you what the valuations are, are you the only idiot who’s telling your investor you won’t accept a deal term or are you genius for selecting it, and the investor is totally out of line.”
And if you’re in an industry where you’re disrupting an existing old style incumbent, you need to think about the things that they value, advises Anthony, and then figure out a way to do everything completely differently.
More importantly, says Anthony, blockchain and smart contracts will be the future. People will soon start relying on them making contracts a thing of the past.
“We’re not trying to replace the legal system. We’re trying to help you do within the legal framework, what you want to do, but in a more efficient way, and show you what’s right, what you’re wasting your time doing, and what’s likely to succeed.”
Innovation shouldn’t be solely the CEO’s remit, says Anthony, in fact, that’s the problem from the old world, where only the CEO did innovation, meaning that the onus lay on the CEO to innovate.
“But the problem is the CEOs are usually an older white male, and they come from a world of top down control. And so initially they have a good idea, but at some point the ideas or the space has moved on from them. So the innovation comes from within the team. And now your goal as a CEO is to harness innovation from everyone else.”
Two extreme examples of bad approaches to innovation include Steve Jobs at Apple – when he wasn’t around, innovation didn’t happen. And at Google, where they encouraged everyone to come up with ideas and then killed the majority of ideas because they didn’t align with key strategy or vision.
So, how do you innovate the right way?
“One of the things founders should quickly learn is to robustly say no to ideas. The goal is to have lots of ideas and kill the ones right at the beginning before they become expensive. [While you still] encourage and guide people to have ideas.”
The sweet spot for CEOs in innovation, says Anthony, is to explain the purpose of innovation, the mission, where you want it to go, and then ask people within those parameters if they have any ideas.
Companies like to talk about innovation, says Anthony, but actually, innovation very rarely happens in big companies, it’s why they buy up small companies, because they’re not innovating themselves.
“And the more they talk about innovation, often, the less innovation they’re doing, and I think really innovation is encouraging your team to have ideas, and then removing the blockers so that they can quickly decide whether to progress with an idea or not.”
Set the bar really low to validate an idea and use www.usertesting.com to test your idea, suggests Anthony. It’s not expensive, you can pose questions to testers to validate your idea and if you can, mock up a relatively inexpensive prototype and ask your target audience to try it out.
If that works, then invest in a small developer to get the idea to the next step. If it turns out you need an FCA regulated crypto exchange with a £2 million pound investment, your idea probably needs more work.
“A lot of it is if you can encourage your team to have ideas and create the path to get them live. And of course guide them so that it’s targeted rather than scattergun, then I think that’s a good approach.”
As organisations switch focus from purpose to performance, the CEO needs to start prioritising company culture.
In the beginning, often businesses start with a tech person or a product person creating a company. They bring in essential people to build out the team and they all have a clear mission and purpose which everyone is aligned to.
Every new hire is brought in by the founder or the founding team, and everyone has the ear of the founder. But as the organisation grows, in order to stop being a hobby fueled by VC money and start being a profitable business, you have to bring in a sales team. And the sales team aren’t led by the CEO, they’re driven by KPIs and OKRs, and targets and such like.
And the organisational mindset switches from ‘changing the world’ to ‘meeting monthly revenue targets’. But this switch in purpose can be at odds with the mindset of early joiners – it isn’t what they signed up for, but it’s what the company is becoming.
This is where the organisation has to have a robust enough culture to stand up on its own. This is what the CEO has to have worked hard to implement up to this point.
“The starting point is that each of your early team members has to understand that they have to reinvent themselves constantly to work in a growing organisation, or they won’t be able to be part of the organisation anymore.”
Dominic has spent 14 years working in sales, marketing and business management within the IT sector. He has held executive positions at Peer 1 Hosting, IT Lab and Rackspace. At Peer 1 he built the UK business to £30m run rate in 5 years. He won many awards for creating a great place to work. At Rackspace Dominic built the UK company from four to 150 staff, and increased annual revenues from £595,000 to £25 million in just four years. Under his management, Rackspace was recognised as one of the most outstanding workplaces in Europe, and won several service awards for its Fanatical Support TM. Dominic has a BSc in Agricultural and Food Marketing from Newcastle and a MBA from Sheffield Business School. Dominic is also a regular public speaker on creating great places to work and achieving continuous client satisfaction and an assessor on the Sunday Times Customer Experience Awards.