Five minutes with Anthony Rose. Talking entrepreneurial leaders
Updated: Jul 31, 2019
Kandu is running an blog series to identify the most important skills and attributes of an “entrepreneurial leader”. This week, we spoke to Anthony Rose (@anthonyrose) - founder and CEO at SeedLegals and one of the top team behind the BBC's iPlayer.
1. Which change project have you led and/ or new venture have you developed, that you most proud of - and why?
Over my professional career I've been involved with three disruptive areas. The first one was Kazaa, the music file sharing company, back in the early 2000s. This was when people were starting to listen to and download music online instead of buying CDs. My involvement with Kazaa was my first foray into an area where the incumbent, in this case the record industry, was being disrupted by newcomers.
What I learned was that, when you do want to #change things, you go to the incumbents, the leaders in the industry, and tell them about your new startup. You then expect that they're going to love what you do and want to partner with you. But what I learned the hard way is that they often don't think you're the solution, they think you're the problem! And the reason for this is because while they recognise change is happening, they don't want that change.
You think the world will be a better place if people stop buying CDs and listen to music online, while the leaders of the industry are making $10 billion a year selling CDs. So my advice to founders is that if you are planning to disrupt an industry, you're much better off starting out with a direct consumer proposition rather than attempting to partner with incumbents, because you may be spending a lot of time beating your head against the wall.
My second disruptive play was with BBC iPlayer, where a forward-looking broadcaster recognised the arrival of the internet and took the bold step of disrupting their own TV products with an online proposition that would extend their overall reach. Like many corporations, they were torn by internal tensions. The BBC One team wanted separate iPlayers, such as a BBC One iPlayer and BBC Two iPlayer etc. My goal was to work with the teams to create a single unified proposition that consumers would love. The iPlayer was a disruptor as it changed the way people watched TV, as well as creating a greater love for the BBC's products.
My third foray into a disruptive space has been with SeedLegals, which replaces the need to use a lawyer for funding rounds with an always-on platform. The reality is that people have had to pay large amounts to lawyers for decades, who treated every contract as if it was unique in the world. However, #startup funding rounds, as well as most team and investor agreements, are remarkably self-similar.
If you can use data, tutorials and #technology to show where both contracting parties and deals end up, things can be done dramatically more efficiently. You can turn something that was the equivalent of going to a Savile Row tailor and having an expensive suit made for vast amounts of money into buying off-the-shelf. And the reality is that we all buy off the shelf because it fits the vast majority of the population and is a tenth of the price of custom made.
2. How do you identify an ‘entrepreneurial leader’?
The first criteria would be not listening to what anyone else tells you to do! The second characteristic is to think of everything as an opportunity, not a problem. Every time you read about a problem in the paper, the first thing you're thinking about is: 'I wonder if there's a startup opportunity'. This can be for anything from climate change, Brexit, banking, policy or regulation change, trains on strike etc. So I think it's a #mindset where you think about every problem that you come across as a potential solution; something to be fixed with an app or a website or a service. I think the third criteria is having a natural inclination to bring a team together, and provide a mission and an objective, and hopefully provide some respect and #leadership so that people want to join and follow on that mission.
3. What do you think are the most important skills and/or attributes that make up a successful entrepreneurial leader? Which of these skills or attributes, speaking from your own experience, are developed through nurture or nature?
I'm not sure that there's any DNA that encodes an entrepreneur or leader. I suspect it's going to come about through receiving a lot of positive feedback, or it's going to be a force of circumstance and lack that led you down a certain path.
In my case, I was into electronic design while I was still at school, and continued to fuel that interest when I headed home. I had a robot pick and place machine, a surface mount, conveyor belt soldering machine and circuit boards in my study. I basically created my own #techstartup in the days before it was called a startup. In addition, because these were the days before startup equity investments, the business had to actually make money. So I learned the hard way, from the ground up, the things needed to build a business. And naturally, I learned that most ideas remain thought experiments, because there are far more ideas than good executed products that people will want.
The key thing is that ideas are cheap, and implementation is expensive. And so what I loved most was the game of thinking of endless numbers of ideas, then going through a funnel of whittling them down into ones you would actually spend time on and use. A great trick was to ask people if they ever searched for such a product, and if they would use and pay for it, rather than asking them if your idea was good. You would then create a prototype, test it with people, and build a minimum viable product. Finally, you could try putting a team together and maybe stick your product together with gaffer tape and try it out.
Slowly, you go from an idea to something that people will invest in and use, and that journey is a wonderful one. Nevertheless, it also means that as the founder, you have the weight of success or failure on your shoulders. That, for me, is the difference between a founder and an employee. The founder has to work to make the company a success on a daily basis. An employee, when they get bored, can go off and get a job at Google or elsewhere. In contrast, once you've created the startup, you have to lead it as far as you possibly can to a successful exit or to the next step.
4. What top tips or ‘hacks’ do you have for anyone wanting to make small changes now to be more entrepreneurial, or to create entrepreneurial cultures for their teams?
Over the course of my career, I've done many presentations for enterprises, and they are always trying to figure out ways in which they can innovate. Somehow, they found themselves with a product that millions of people use, and they make lots of money off it, but they are completely unable to innovate. And so they find themselves buying startups as a way to innovate. However, the problem is that inside a large enterprise, the people themselves are looking to invent and work on new projects. They are bored, they have an idea and they just can't figure out how to do it within the organisation. So the solution is to create that culture of #innovation.
A number one tip is to never mention the word 'innovation'. Every time I hear an enterprise talking about innovation, I know it's the death of #innovation. They're going to organise innovation committees, and set out the number of people who have to say yes to greenlight a project. If the answer is 17, you're dead. No one will ever do anything new and exciting.
The key is to let people within the organisation have an idea, and efficiently test the idea out at a low cost. The problem for large companies is that they keep thinking that unless it's a billion dollar idea, it's just not worth doing. But then you never have any new ideas.
So whether it is a small efficiency improvement, or simple idea that you can use internally as a tool, or even a tool for your customers to use, you should create a culture within the organisation where anyone can have and implement an idea.
You then create a funnel, where you might ask internally how many people would use it. You can also give team members a small budget, whether it be £100, or a few thousand pounds, to create the UI or user experience designs to validate whether people would use the feature, and slowly, slowly, you take it to the next step. Therefore, if each idea costs £300,000 to take to the next step, you will have zero innovation. But if you set a budget of say £500 to mock up an idea, you will have a company culture that loves to try new things, and gets rewarded with a team leader board, a team dinner or something similar to that.
5. How can organisations better support their potential entrepreneurial leaders, and why should they do that?
If it's a big organisation, you probably have two types of people in your workforce. According to the Myers Briggs tests, some people are natural leaders, and some people like to execute things that they are given. In fact, when you building a startup, if you build a team of rock stars, this basically means that people are never going to listen to anyone else, which is like herding cats forevermore. On the flip side, there are many people who like to put an idea into practice; often software developers who like being given a specification and will efficiently execute on this.
So I think that for a company to be brilliant and lead and do new things, you need a combination of both sets of people. Too many innovators, and they're going to get bored. They will keep wanting to make new things and never finish them, and will never help customers use them. So you need both mindsets.
And so for a company, what you want to do is create the culture where you can identify people who like to have ideas and execute on new things, and give them a pathway to do that. And again, the way to do that is to reward ideas. You can support those who have ideas by rapidly testing them out at a low cost, validating them and helping them develop. If they make it past those initial hurdles, they become incorporated into the mainstream product.
At SeedLegals, I love to create a customer-driven culture. Everyone from the CEO to the development team, to the customer support team, sees our customer incomings on a minute by minute basis, and everyone hops in. So the joy is that if a customer has a problem with something, I know that our CTO will be looking directly at our customer incomings. In many companies, that might mean that the customer support person would file a JIRA ticket. Days or weeks or months later, someone in the product team would prioritise it and weeks later, the tech team would put it on the product backlog and finally, perhaps ship a solution to that.
My goal at SeedLegals is that, at least for the simple things, we have them fixed or improved on the website within 24 hours - ideally within two. So If a customer wants to do something with one of our legal documents that we don't support, what I love is being able to say: 'Yes, your solution will be on our platform overnight, stay tuned'. Moreover, I know that our CTO is going to have noticed the feedback and will work out a solution without even being asked. This means that we can fix the problem by skipping the entire process that other companies go through.
So to create a culture where everyone in the business is automatically saying 'How can I improve our product or platform without having to ask anyone else?' means that people can take the initiative, produce something great and be rewarded. This leads to both you and your colleagues knowing the platform better, and working out how to improve it on a daily basis.
Find out more about Anthony at https://www.linkedin.com/in/anrose/.
Do you know of a fabulous entrepreneurial leader in your organisation, who has achieved a tangible difference to customers and/or colleagues? Then let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And lastly, find out more about Kandu! Visit www.wekandu.io or email us at email@example.com a demo. We can help your organisation to collect objective data to track the progress and return on investment of your #leadership or #change development programmes, track the impact of supporters (such as managers, #mentors and peers) on leadership development, and reduce programme admin time as we provide developing leaders with automated guidance and access to support.