Alistair Forbes is the recently appointed Chair of CrowdX’s new advisory board. This short interview offers some insight into the values and knowledge he will bring to CrowdX and its member growth companies, not only as a technology company strategist but also in his role as mentor and experienced professional investor.
Alistair, tell us a bit about your career to date?
My background is in the software industry and I have been involved in many early stage companies, startup and scale up types businesses, initially as a CTO and then in general management roles. As is par for the course with early phase businesses, some of them go really well, some of them not so well. Of course, you learn from both scenarios.
Working with start-ups through to exit means I have been through the whole growth cycle. That includes managing scale-up in the case of one business in which in four years turnover went from US$6 million to US$60 million. That was a huge learning experience that combined organic growth and scaling through acquisition – both of which played an important part in our growth.
You manage a portfolio of companies as a professional investor. What have you learnt from that?
I have been on both the buy side and the sell side as an investor, mentor and manager and it has given me the opportunity to look at many potential liquidity options and scenarios in companies’ growth cycles.
In addition to being a private investor, I have had experience as a professional investor, having led the software and internet portfolio activity of an early stage tech VC firm supporting University spinout companies and other companies from an early stage as they sought to find product-market fit and achieve commercial traction. Of course, different vertical markets have different characteristics, and I have worked across many as an investor, but I think one common point is the importance of human capital management and making the most of people’s talents is an issue that is very important to me.
What is a big challenge companies face today?
An expression that resonates with me is that more companies die as a result of indigestion than starvation – I think that companies are often in danger of trying to solve too many problems for too many people. There’s a danger of getting spread too thin. You need to ask, what’s this company going to be famous for? It really needs to be one thing – if you can succeed at that then there will be plenty of time to build out your product line and target different customer segments as you grow.
What’s your favourite book that you recommend to CEOs?
‘Obviously Awesome’ is written by April Dunford. A highly experienced marketeer who has worked in multiple venture-backed companies that have scaled and exited. It’s a really interesting book about product positioning. Her premise is that, unless you can position your product effectively, you will struggle to appeal to the people you want to sell to and you’re probably going to spend a huge amount of time and money trying to explain what it is. The book provides a structured process to work through how to position your product that I think would benefit any company.
What do you do in your spare time?
I’m pretty keen on cycling. I’m going to be doing a cycling tour in May with some friends. I am also really interested in photography and recently went on a portrait photography workshop which was the first time I’ve ever done that. I love travel and it is great we are beginning to open up again. Italy, in particular, is one of my favourite countries.
What makes you most excited about CrowdX?
It is the fact that CrowdX is opening up a new source of liquidity for private companies and providing secondary financing – that’s something that is generally not very easily accessed by these private companies. So, that’s the starting point.
Ultimately there will be a platform story. Everyone’s going to come into the platform for one thing but, over time, I want to support in building a platform through which companies have access to a suite of capabilities through a single platform, with a single bill to pay and high quality end to end support as a growth company.