Well it's really lovely to meet you Sherry and for
the audience, in case you do not know a lot about this highly accomplished woman, let me give you
some key milestones in a very short period of time. 5 billion is what she has raised. 70 plus
investments in startups. She's an investor in 5 venture capital companies and she's had
also IPO involvement which we're going to hear all about. In addition, she's also been an
investor in LinkedIn, in Zoopla, in Interactive Investor, in Care.com in Joby and there is so much
more else that we are going to hear about today. So sherry, can you take us from the
beginning up to that very first listing? Sure, thanks very much Susan. So I'm a Canadian and I came over to the UK and I studied at the London School of Economics and
that really definitely changed my life in a whole bunch of ways.
After I studied there, I
became a computer programmer but it was because I was very influenced by what I had learned about
entrepreneurship and about technology when I was doing my first master's. After being
a computer programmer which again set me up for my career as a software entrepreneur, I
then, I ended up at some point working with a number of people who had MBA's and I thought, oh I
like the way they think. I think I need one of those, so I applied to a bunch of MBA schools and I
ended up going to one on the East Coast where I met the Co-Founder of my first business which was again, I sort of wasn't really, I knew I was interested in entrepreneurship after the
LSC but I became an entrepreneur after my MBA. I joined my first startup with a co-founder, which we sold to Euromoney and that was using systems like what I used to programme when
I was a computer engineer but we wanted to do something slightly different.
We want to
gather information from emerging markets and make it available to western investors using the
internet, rather than using conventional mechanisms. The first company which is now called
ISI Emerging markets at that time was called Internet Securities and again we thought it
was a cool name at first but it wasn't after that so we changed the name into something
that was more adaptable. Shortly after that I started my second
startup and that was called Interactive Investor which is still very active in the UK, does about
a quarter of the trades, a quarter of the trades. Founded it because I wanted to create, the
first company was a B 2 B institutional play and I became fascinated with B2C, and interact
investor was giving the power of institutions to consumers because thought it should be a lot
easier for them to make investments and to track investments and their pensions
and everything else.
So founded that in '95. '97 sold the first one as I said to Euromoney and then in 2000 start a sort of float. Interactive Investor. At that time dual floatations
were all the rage so we floated it on Nasdaq and London and it was 33 times
oversubscribed, which was very exciting. Then you may remember something else happened
in year 2000, which was a rather large adjustment in markets. A huge market crash, so went
from being oversubscribed to market crash probably about three weeks after the
Then learned a lot as chairing a company during a crash, you
learned a lot about I don't know, what happens when the markets go very up and very down
at the same time. That launched again a plural sort of career. Shortly after the
market crash about a year and a half after that we sold that company and I became an
angel and really went plural after that. I like the way you called what
happened that time an adjustment in the market because there's probably a lot
of people on the call either who really will remember that or really won't but an adjustment
it certainly was, so that brings us up then to 2000. Of course I'd love to ask you lots about what
happened with the funding journey along the way but in the meantime of course since 2002 let's say
2020 a lot has happened too, so take us through the last two decades. Thank you, so yeah when it was
a market it was like entering a nuclear winter I think, the 2000 crash but yeah it was a
very, very large adjustment and where the term irrational exuberance was coined, which again there had been seen that there was irrational exuberance on behalf of investors and it was replaced by a nuclear winter.
So after that I started, so after selling, so floated it and then sold it then became an angel investor which I loved and loved
so much that I've got about 70 angel investments under my belt and also I like
being hands-on. I like literally working alongside the entrepreneurs, so do that. Again, I'm
a hands-on active active angel investor for further on I also am an investor in venture capital firms and I enjoy doing that, they're slightly later stage so at that point you sort of delegate to others. Board of Raspberry Pi which is a hardware
company owned by a foundation, that takes the profits from the hardware company and plows
it into education about making things and using computers where I'm actually making computers. Again, the the reason we started up Raspberry Pi is there had been a decline in the ability of
students to do programming and there was less students applying to computer science and they
were less able because they were using devices rather than knowing how they actually worked
So we wanted to create a movement about actually understanding what it took to make things
using both hardware and software. Raspberry Pi has been a large part of my life and I really, really love it. Founded a couple of other charities, so founders for schools which takes
founders of businesses and puts them into schools. This is because somewhere along
the line I also had three lovely children. Actually I was 5 months pregnant when
I floated Interactive Investor which was pretty full on but at some
point they started growing up and I was aware of there not being founders and entrepreneurship
not featuring as a really viable career for students to think about. They
were still telling students that they should be doctors, lawyers, bankers
which there's nothing wrong with banking or law or anything else but my life
as an angel investor is actually filled with really exciting fast growth companies and
they employ about a hundred percent of the net new jobs are in these these new companies.
I thought why aren't they at schools talking about this really cool stuff that we do as
entrepreneurs, so started up a charity to help that but it was a platform, very similar
to other platforms that we put together.
I was the first angel in uh into Zoopla which you mentioned
and also joined them for the flotation and then we de-listed them. So I think de-listing is also
an interesting, actually I've de-listed a couple of, maybe three companies, sort of put
them on the stock market and then taken them off the stock market which is fun and interesting
and there's good reasons for floating things and there's also good reasons sometimes for removing them from the stock market. Another charity is called the
Scale-Up Institute and this was really helping the government understand what
they needed to do in order to stimulate economic growth by removing barriers from startups
and scale ups that were growing very rapidly. In the UK we discovered that it was a little bit
harder here than in some other countries, so we set up an institute to remove the barriers in
the UK and I'm super pleased to say that many of those barriers have been removed and
we've seen a 25% increase in the number of scale ups per 100,000 of population since
we set up that institute which is good.
Then human capital, I'm
fascinated with the future of work. I'm absolutely fascinated by it so have done a a lot of work
at Cambridge Assessment which is examinations and also Cambridge University Press which is
writing the books or publishing the books that are written by the professors. Then also work at Pearson as a NED there and spent a little bit of
time lecturing in entrepreneurship and finance at London Business School.
All of which is over the past 20 years, interesting but again teasing apart what is the future of work? How do
you prepare people to be appropriately skilled so that they can work in a scale up or they can even
work in a large company? Co-founder of Workfinder also which is around the future of work as well
making it really easy for students while they're at university to have short-term, part-time
jobs in scale-ups because there's nothing like tasting the fruit of a company that you
might want to work at that also prepares you for understanding what that means. If you're at university you can work in the pub or you can work in a in a scale-up. I definitely know
what I think is more valuable so we wanted to make that, but well for both parties we wanted to
make that super easy.
So that's kind of potted history of the last 20 years.
It can be clumped into a bit of policy stuff, quite a lot of finance stuff, a lot of education
but usually around entrepreneurship and removing barriers, talent barriers that prevent
prevent economic growth from happening because there's a real talent shortage. Well in many
countries but particularly in the UK at the moment. You know what strikes me Sherry, is the amount
of times you said the word start in that – start, launched, took, I mean the amount of action that
was in those past 20 years as well as, as you say I love the way you say, somewhere along
the line I had three beautiful children in there as well. Could you just
in you know in a couple of seconds tell us what does 2021 look like for you? Now 2021 is still quite busy but probably slightly
more focused in the last 20 years so I'm on the Board of the Stock Exchange, the London
Stock Exchange and really enjoy that Non-Exec directorship and really focused on the primary
markets and the issuers. So I obsess about the issuers. Some people
on the board are focused on risk and compliance and I'm like is there anything we can do so
that we can get more companies floating? How else can we help these sorts of things? So I think
I had something slightly different.
I think I'm the only person on the stock exchange who has floated their own company, but isn't that crucial? Isn't that crucial the fact that of basically having been a customer you could say of of the service in which you're on the board of?
That must be really important. Yeah well I suspect that's why they approached me and asked
if I wanted to be on the board but it's also why I suggest is that yes and I think
there's other things that we can do to make it easier, which is again knowing
your customers is a good thing. So on the board of LSE which I love, on the board of Pearson
which is the world's largest education company and involved in primary education, secondary education, further education, higher education but also doing
a pivot towards B2C or direct to consumer because of the need to upskill adults around
the future of work which doesn't involve the historically, the classic incumbents, incumbent
educational institutions. So that's really very interesting.
It's a very large company but
it's absolutely entrepreneurial at its heart and it's making an adjustment so that
it can help adults after they've been through university upskill themselves in a variety of ways, which is fun. So it's small but it's big but
it thinks like a small, it thinks like a small startup which is quite fun. I don't think
I would have anticipated that feel in such a large company but it is there which
is fun. That agility as we'll talk about is is super important. There's
something else that really strikes me about you and I'm sure all of the audience are echoing my
thoughts on this is you're amazing at thinking big. In terms of the Ambition to Scale, is the
whole idea and the whole essence of what the theme of this conference is all about, how have
you built the muscle of thinking big and how do you know when when thinking big enough? Well there are so many issues and problems to solve that you might as well
solve big ones, I'd say but I think I in systems and I like to understand – what is the benefit of doing this activity? So if I go to two other things that
I sort of started up, one is Digital Boost which is a platform similar to Zoopla and similar to
LinkedIn, but this is a platform for upskilling adults in digital.
I knew from the work
of the CBI and others that you know 90% of adults currently working, don't have don't feel confident
about the skills that they possess in order to do their jobs but they can't quit their job
in order to go back to full-time universities. Like well how can you create a market
where they have access to short stackable courses. It's just like well
there's this issue, shouldn't just let it be and what I love about entrepreneurship
is all we do as entrepreneurs is solve problems. We don't accept instead of saying, oh it works
this way wish it didn't. It's a works this way it shouldn't, we'll change it. Let's find some other
people that can help us solve this problem. Then before you know it you've created the future.
Then our whole world is filled with people who don't accept the status quo and you set
about forming teams to improve it.
So I mean but there's a great thing I think from
business school and it was, if you are here you owe it to you know, and it's one of the
large universities and again it's a message to the students, if you're here you can
think clearly. For heaven's sake choose a big problem worth solving. If you choose big problems
worth solving you're going to be a talent magnet, you will be a customer magnet, you will be a
finance magnet and your work will have incredible impact. So I always think you should think
big because why sort a small problem if there's a really big one there that still
remains unsolved. You've got the appetite and the energy to focus on it. They're easier to solve. If you can see a problem, you can articulate it, you can break it down and
then you can make it something of the past and then you know what, there'll be another problem
that comes up into your mind and it's annoying. I think focusing energy in a positive way rather
than saying, Oh I don't really like it. Just change it, change that into positive energy.
Form a team and then you'll have a good impact.
Then you'll just list exactly, it's
brilliant the way you see it. Do you know what I've seen you do there and you've almost drawn your own
diagrams you've done it, is that you've applied a computer programming mindset to a problem in an
entrepreneurial way. I can just see that you're drawing these issues out
and that basically form a team, off you go, solve it. Then there'll be another one to solve,
it's brilliant to see. Along the way of course there there can be an awful lot of logistical
challenges and and there's a lot to be, that there's a lot that happens.
So can you give
us any like secret growth hacks that you've had? Like you mentioned there for example that you came across a lot of MBA's. You said, Oh I might like to be, I might like to have one of those.
Have you any growth hacks like that along the way that you could share with us today? Yeah one of the growth hacks, I love projects and bringing teams together like
a small task force where you just work away in a single-minded focus at something. Maybe it's
launching a new product feature, maybe it's solving a problem that's been bugging you for a long time.
I use students at university as growth hacks. I think at Digital Boost, there is 10 full-time people, so
it's a small company but we've had 70 MBA's working for us in this last year as interns, doing
a variety of let's focus like a laser beam on this and just crush this issue.
Then, oh it's
fixed, great, let's think about the other one. So I think a team and a single-minded
focus is really helpful, well for scale ups and for startups because you often get very, very
busy and your permanent staff you know are dealing with a thousand spinning plates and it's like
but you really need to focus and nail down a few things. So my biggest growth hack is using interns
of students who are at university at the moment. They're hungry and they want something
meaningful and they want real projects and so what better thing.
So again, work
in a pub or work in a startup on some meaningful problem that you can just bust open if
you focus on it and bang away at it for a while, that's probably the best growth hack that I've
used over, I mean over and over and over for the past two decades. It's laser focus on something. You
make it a team's sole focus.
They still work with your other team that's spinning a thousand plates but they have one sole objective, they can't get distracted. They can't have another
priority. It's a you're here to do this, so you align a temporary sort of team
and you're clear about what you asked them to do. The start of that is you have to know a small
problem that you want to solve with, say 5 people over a couple of months and that does
require some of your thinking on your own part.
I think I learned that through when I was a President of the Alumni Association and someone who was a master user of, this is
volunteers said look it, you can get a bunch of people around in a committee but you need to have
them responsible for one thing so they feel on the hook for delivering it and that ah, well it's very
meaningful to you if you're the only one that's responsible for it because you're going to work that
much harder to deliver that. I think if you do that with teams as well, so you know it's not going to
get solved if you don't sort of deliver. You'd be amazed at what people do but
they also so A- they deliver but B – it's really fulfilling to them to say yeah it was a bit of
a mess as there was this you know grey mass that was ill-defined when we arrived and we worked away at it and it was solved by the time we left and that's my legacy.
I feel really
proud about the impact I had on that organisation and you leave the organisation in a much better position but you've done something which is really important and helpful
and that you know gives us meaning in our lives. Can we go to the thousand spinning
plates that you just mentioned because by the way I have worked with interns as well and I know
exactly what you mean.
I think it can be a brilliant process but you also of course do need
your core team just like you were saying. Sherry you've been through a range of finance rounds,
whether it has been private or public equity. What happens operationally when that drive is happening
because that can take up an enormous amount of energy and thinking time and focus and all of what
you mentioned but at the same time there's still a business there to produce earnings and hopefully
subsequently dividends and so on like that. Operationally, what has been your experience
of this? It's really important. So again I don't know if you're familiar with
raising but you think about responsible consultant, you know consulting. I like
intense fund fundraising where you take a couple of the senior management team not everybody.
Not the whole company because the operations have to stay there.
So when I sort of floated
Interactive Investor the first time is that we had the most amazing CTO who really was phenomenal. He's like I don't ever want to see a single investor. Do not put me in
front of those people and do not distract me. I'm going to keep the wheels on your bus. You go out with finance people, you go talk to all those people on those roads, don't bug me. I'm going to focus on this and if you absolutely have to talk to me, then talk to me but also leave everything to me. It means I'm going to take decisions that need to be taken on a
day-to-day basis and you're not going to know what's going on because you can't know everything. He
had been through a number of financings previous you know before and I love that because
it's a clarity of thought.
So now it's a right so CEO, CFO really going to get very distracted
probably 70% of their time on a financing. there's a lot there's a lot to do on that
but hive off the rest of the team and separate it so that that you've got the operations, the day-to-day operations don't fall apart and you don't stop your product development
because often CEO is involved in product development. So either you get a backlog of product
development that the rest of the team is going to deliver when you're distracted or you delegate it to somebody and you train them and you prepare so that you can go through this
very intense period.
I was on a call yesterday and it was with, again a CEO had just finished
the financing and he was commenting on how it was so much easier to raise finance right now. He said, when I was financed I could do eight back-to-back investor calls, you know zoom
calls in a day and I remember the last time I did it, my god I had to fly over here. I had
to fly over here, I had to fly over here and here's much more efficient process. So I think that the
efficiency of capital raising has gotten easier with this zoom and investors are comfortable with making financing decisions without necessarily having to fly the whole
team over you know either way. So I think it's one of the blessings of
the past year is that we can get quite a lot done much more efficiently in a shorter period
of time, which is good. You have to parcel them out and say right, you know
I'm not going to talk you know, I'm not going to update you every five minutes on the financing and
I don't need you to update me every five minutes on what's going on with the operations and we're
just going to really focus on the separation of duty so that we can get it
done and just be mindful of people's time.
It's important that the wheels don't fall off the bus
because the last thing you want after financing is to have the operations grind to a halt just
at the end because you didn't think about how distracting it would be. You should plan that 75% of
your time will disappear for two or three months. You say that so simply as in 75% of your time
will disappear for two or three months, but what I'm getting from you is that that is
that is realism. Did you ever not realise that? Were there any consequences? Okay why don't you
tell us about that then, your face is telling me it all. Yes, you can over share. The other thing is that we might get excited as entrepreneurs and senior leaders about the
financing because it is quite exciting. You're meeting X and Y and Z and you're excited about what they can help you do and what you will do with all of that money when it comes in. If you over share with the rest of the team, they often can feel quite uncertain.
So I think I, again I think just allow people to focus on delivering the business and I've had really terrible, when I've over shared or you've gotten everybody involved
in that, again the operations stopped and the business development stopped which meant that your
revenues fell off because you weren't doing the business development conversations. You weren't
doing the product development conversations, you weren't shipping product. So in a small company there are implications of you taking your eye off the operations, so I
do think it's important to be very mindful about if I'm going to really not be present for a
couple of months, then who's going to do that stuff because it's dangerous to the
You do a financing and everything stops or you have
a decline in revenues or profits or whatever or you have a disaster that's
been poorly handled because somebody wasn't empowered and delegated to work on that
then it can be really quite bad. So that's why I now do that and it's a lot of scar, a lot of scar tissue that built up that sort of focus and that as
a recommendation. Actually, as you talk about that I'm reminded of the risk that
you take when you're when you're raising money from that point of view but actually I think a
lot of us think about risk in terms of downside. What if this doesn't work? What if I don't raise
enough? Like what if? what if on the downside? But Sherry, is there is much risk on
the upside? What if I don't think big enough and maybe there might be like, we may
not have the capacity to serve the orders from a business development point of view and we
may not have thought of the potential that investors might have thought of before.
your thoughts about the upside and sorry the risk to the upside which is,
what if you're not thinking big enough early enough? Well I think if you're not thinking big enough
you'll have a hard time raising money. So people can often disabuse you, I think of that notion, if you're not thinking big enough and I actually think it's really
an excellent process in having conversations with investors and prospective investors because they
will say – Have you thought of this? Have you thought of this? You might have and you might not
have so it's a great investor that has the domain expertise actually helps you see
additional opportunities that you might not have perceived and their networks also help you solve
those. So I think it's really helpful and I think you could have a fatal flaw
if you're not thinking big enough.
I think you should push yourself really hard to think
through – What's the impact on your customer? What is the prospective response going to be of this competitor or the incumbent? Are you increasing the market with
your product or service? Or are you nibbling away or taking giant bites out of somebody else's
pie? I think understanding where you fit into the picture is really important. I honestly think if you're not thinking big enough very unlikely that investors are going to back you
because they will because that's what investors do. They help you see, again usually investors are systemic thinkers you may have a small narrow thing, it's just like
well we have to know how this fits into our economy or you know which is
either a local economy or it's a global economy but you really need to think about playing chess, it's like what are the next 16 moves that you're going to make.
to me just about the next three that you can see. I want you, if I'm going to invest in
somebody, I want to know that they've thought through what that chess game is going to be for
the next 1,3,5 years. I don't want you to talk about something that tactically you can
focus on the next quarter because that won't provide the dividends because you'll get blindsided by something that you didn't think about. When you talk about
thinking ahead, the 16 steps, the chess board – What's the trigger of one of those steps being an IPO as
distinct from a bigger and bigger round or an exit? Well what's an exit? For some is a debut, a market debut of others so again an exit is never actually an exit, it's usually an entrance of something else
which you need to deliver on. So sorry to throw that back at you. You're right, you're
right. I suppose what I'm really saying is – What's the difference between bigger and bigger rounds
private equity versus going into public equity versus selling completely and walking away entirely? Yeah, well I think selling isn't usually necessarily for some very large part of
the team isn't walking away.
So if you're evaluating whether or not you sell a company or
whether or not you float it, you're usually running those two processes in parallel and you're trying
to see whether or not it truly is better for that organisation, that service to be independent, truly
independent i.e. on a on a stock exchange with all other stock exchange springs or if it
might be more valuable as a division of something else because that something else can bring it a
channel of distribution or other skill sets that it wouldn't
I think that discovery of should we sell it or is its destiny better
on the market? is an important aspect for the team to go through
with its advisors and it's shareholders. Sometimes you decide to sell if you think that maybe the founders coming, you know maybe the founder doesn't have what it's taken, maybe they're
exhausted. Maybe there's other stuff going on and you think, it's going to be really hard for
them to exist or they can't pull together the team so you're often making decisions as an
investor, it's like, are they going to be able to successfully do a debut and then hold the wheels
on the bus for that period of time? Or is it better that it would be owned by by something else for instance, where they don't want the senior management
team because they've got people that come in and do that sort of stuff so again those are sorts of discovery when we, one of the companies we sold we put it into
an auction, there were 17 different potential purchasers and what you're doing there is, where
does it fit really nicely into where's their cultural fit? Where is there not
overlap, so there's not going to be like a tissue rejection in the company.
Remember that many
M&A activities fail. Many more of them fail than succeed so you if it's your company that you're
selling and those people you hired and you love and their families that you've been responsible
for, you don't want them to end up in something that just gets shut down or where they all leave
because it wasn't a good fit. So I think the thought processes are – Where's the ultimate destiny
and where will it be best served? Where will the customers and all of the stakeholders be better served? You know as we bring this conversation to a close Sherry, one of the prizes
here today is an hour's mentoring session with your good self and I think that is going to be
so valuable to the person in question who wins that prize but let me just tell you
what I've taken out of this conversation. Why solve a small problem when you can solve a
big one? A growth hack is interns in university and give them a laser focus on a problem
that you can just bust open as you mentioned. RACI is a great tool for stakeholder analysis
and particularly how it changes depending on the cycle.
That the efficiency of capital raising
has actually increased the moment because you can have back-to-back meetings rather than flying the
team all over the world. Keep your eye on the operational ball and if you're not going to do
that make sure somebody else keeps the wheels on your bus. Also push yourself to think bigger
and the role of capital individuals should all should always be to position the capital where
the business has the best role. On that note is there any final words that you have for our
audience today. I don't think there's anything more fun or exhilarating or worthwhile than
starting up something that is used by millions if not billions of of people. It's hugely creative, it's not easy but it is incredibly rewarding. If you know if you're doing it sometimes
you have great days, sometimes you have bad days but generally the ecosystem wants you to win.
So if you're thinking about whether or not you want to do it or maybe you're having
a bad day, just keep on. It's worth it and our world is created by entrepreneurs and
people who help them solve issues and improve our lives rather than accept the status quo which
may not be what we want. So if you get grumpy, don't grump about it. Think about how can I change
this and then go do it. Sherry you're amazing. It's been a joy, truly a joy to interview
you. Thank you very much for being here today and showing us your Ambition to Scale.
Thank you very much and keep well..