At 34, I’m perhaps not the young pup I used to be. But we’re quite a young team here at KashFlow. Dominique, who has been with me since day one – and is practically COO in all but title – is 23. Patrick, who runs our marketing team, is also 23. So by comparison our latest appointment, Raj Patel, is virtually an OAP.
Raj officially joined us this week in his role as Vice Chairman. Or as others have called it, our ‘adult supervision’.
Who’s this Raj fella then?
A Croydon lad, Raj was involved in the very early days of PC World. The sale of the company to a Dutch VC in the ’90s took him to Holland. There, he later joined Exact.com – the Dutch equivalent of Sage – in 1996. He spent 9 years in various roles there during a time of significant expansion in the business. He then spent 5 years at the helm of the company as CEO.
In many ways, we’re alike – we share a pragmatic approach to business and a preference for straight talking and honesty. But in other ways we couldn’t be more different. Whereas I’m at my most comfortable behind a computer screen, he is very much the front-and-centre, motivational, people-developing type.
What will he be doing?
As a company we’re going through a step-change from a scrappy start-up to a “proper” business. This isn’t something we decided to do, it’s just what naturally happens when you have tens of thousands of customers and start making millions in revenues. I’ve been conscious for a while now that we’re going to need to bring in some external talent for this phase of the business, and equally aware that getting the wrong person in could be disastrous. With that in mind, we have already worked with Raj for a lot of this year to make sure we were right for each other before committing and going public.
As a result of the work we’ve done together so far the company is already in much better shape than it was. Dom, Patrick and others are benefiting immensely from one-on-one coaching, internal communications are much improved and we now have a clearly defined and documented strategy for how to get where we want to go. And there’s more tangible stuff too, such as negotiating a great deal on our new offices.
Essentially, Raj will be doing a lot of the stuff I should have been doing as CEO but have neglected due to lack of experience and/or confidence. As well as benefiting from some coaching of my own, I’ll also be taking a ‘watch and learn’ approach.
Clarifying My Role
There was a line in the original press release announcing Raj’s arrival that said I’d be “freed up to spend more time on youth start-up initiatives” – an allusion to GenDIY and our increased involvement with the Princes’ Trust. I really should pay more attention to what I sign-off for release. That line has, understandably, been read by others as meaning I’m stepping back from the company. That’s certainly not the case in any way.
Yes, I recently made a 7 figure sum (woop!) by selling a small amount of my equity, but I still own a big chunk of my company and I’m still very much enjoying what I do here – and there’s much more I want to get done. With Raj taking care of a lot of the day-to-day business of running and growing the company it means I have more time to focus on our big technology project. That’s what I’m doing with the time that’s freed up – the stuff that I think will give us a huge competitive advantage and also the stuff I enjoy most.
But I’m still very much in charge, and the one making the ultimate decisions and taking responsibility for where those decisions take us.
Two Lessons Learned
This whole process has taught me two important lessons…
Firstly, as a tech founder/CEO it’s very, very difficult to hire a good CTO. I think a good C-level exec should have total ownership of their area of the business, whether that’s marketing, operations or technology. So a good CTO would insist on owning the technology plan. When you have a CEO who’s a technical founder (i.e. wrote the original product himself) and has a strong vision for what the technology stack should look like, it doesn’t give a CTO much room for manoeuvre – they’re implementing the CEO’s vision, not their own.
Secondly, you have to bring in external people if you want to grow. When I first met Raj I was very reluctant to get him involved. I’d dabbled before with bringing in “outsiders” and it has been a painful experience, not just for me but for my team too. I was reluctant to put them through that again. But the reality is that there’s only so far you can get with your founding team and with internal promotions/development. At some point, if you really want to go for growth then you have to bring in external, experienced hands. I’m glad I took the risk on trying again, despite previous experiences. I’m convinced – and so are my team – that this time, by taking it very slowly, we’ve got it right.
It’s the start of an exciting new era for KashFlow. I’m very grateful to everyone – customers, team and supporters – who have helped us get this far.