Gain insights on business growth in our series of bite size chats with Business Leaders, brought to you by The FD Consultant.
We interview high achieving individuals who we believe everyone can learn from, and who bring insight into the many aspects of successfully growing a business.
In this edition’s Insights Q&A, we welcome Sid Vasili, Entrepreneur and Investor. Sid started his first enterprise in 1976 and has since built and sold a number of global businesses. Sid is now an investor who mentors and guides founders and their teams.
We hope you enjoy this edition of Insights and benefit from reading about Sid’s experiences and insights.
Hi Sid, tell us about your business journey.
I started my first business in 1976 when the internet was not even a twinkle in anyone’s eye, but the core challenges remain as they are today – how to acquire customers to grow the enterprise.
The business evolved over time and I started another business, as an extension of the first enterprise looking at new aspects and technologies. I was keen to build long term relationships and recurring revenue.
The first business was a B2B microfilm storage solution, the second business was document scanning via optical disks which was cutting edge at the time. I evolved and grew this business globally and it was sold in 2005.
I developed other ideas – I felt commercial payments at that time could be enhanced and upgraded outside of standard bank finance. So I developed a payments platform which was global, but outside of Europe. It was much faster and easier to expand in Asia and Africa. This business was also subsequently sold.
I’ve set up 8 businesses in total, some good, some very good, some bad and some plain ugly! Luckily, the good has outweighed the bad.
I sold my last business in 2018 and since then I have been investing in startups, 7 in all so far. Some are in better shape than others, and in my experience as an investor you get the same mix of success an entrepreneur.
You invest and advise?
Indeed. I like to work with the founders to understand why they are doing what they are doing – not what and how they are doing it – but why they are doing it. What niche are they fulfilling, and why would anybody buy from their business. Is the business scalable?
I take a very pragmatic approach, a non emotional approach to business having had a bumpy journey myself with my own businesses. Business is a means to an end. And that end is either positive or negative. This is the most appropriate way to approach business to give you a level base from which to assess the set of realities which can be achieved.
How do you guide your founders and their teams?
So, I sit down with founders and their teams and have a natter to understand the why and how the business will deliver. It’s a simple process, but one I deeply believe in. I look at the solution and get clarity on the customer relationship, whether it is likely to be long term or one off. Sustainability is a critical part of the business evaluation, and you need to build it into your model – because it’s a part of our children’s future.
We need to market test ideally without throwing lots of cash at it. We test the concept out. Does it make sense and if not, how do we fine tune it so it does make sense. Rather than throwing tons of cash at product development, we do a significant amount of research. This does take time, but it’s not as costly as building something that nobody is going to buy.
So, take your time, and once you’ve agreed what it looks like – put together a plan that is realistic, well costed and investible. What I mean by investible is that you’ve looked at the market, you’ve done your research, and this is not a vanity project. You have a clear reason as to why somebody is going to buy and what scale they are going to buy at.
We need to be quite clear and disciplined about what outcome the team wants over a period of time. Is it an exit strategy, is it to grow the business at a local level, is it to globalise the business, is it to merge with another business which offers similar products and services? What does it look like?
And if I disagree with their strategy, I just tell them straight. Honesty is the best policy. It doesn’t help to stroke egos if the business is not going to work.
What are the key factors which have driven your success to date?
From my perspective, I have to enjoy what I do. Doing the right thing at the right time and making money out of it. I want to ensure that everything I do and invest in is fit for purpose, outcome driven, and there is an exit plan. These are the three pillars are critical in everything I do.
What do you view as your greatest achievement?
From a personal perspective, having a wonderful family. A family that has been very supportive along my business journey.
What are the biggest challenges your businesses face?
When you start a business, you may have a vision that everything in the garden is going to be rosy, everybody is going to say ‘yes’ and you’re going to make a fortune. Unfortunately, this is not the reality of life. You need to have a sense of reality as to what you are capable of personally, and deploy trusted partners to cover your shortcomings and help bridge those gaps.
The hardest thing is to admit when you’re wrong – when you’ve made a mistake, you’ve learnt from your mistake and it doesn’t drag you down in the next part of your journey. A business failure is not a personal failure. Use each mistake and a learning point and a stepping stone on your path to glory.
No person is an island, no person knows it all. If you are lacking knowledge in a key area, seek help. Seeking help is not a weakness, it is a positive strength.
What one piece of advice would you give to those who want to achieve or sustain high growth in their businesses?
Channel your passion correctly. Don’t allow your passion to be confused with emotion. There is no emotion in business, it is outcome driven. Think about people and the team, and how they are managing the processes. Be considerate, but not so overly considerate that you lose focus.