Don’t Shy Away From Fun — No one told me how much fun I’d have as a founder. The roller coaster of good days and bad days keeps things interesting, to say the least. And, if it’s going well, you will always have more good days. It is exciting to see Your business grow. And, the quicker you grow, the more successful you’re going to be.
As part of our interview series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A Founder,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Scott Smyth.
Scott has over fifteen years of experience in a range of commercial leadership roles. He has worked closely with market-leading technology providers to help them achieve exponential growth.
Scott previously led teams at Datamonitor and Ovum before taking the commercial lead at GlobalData (DATA). More recently, Scott Co-Founded the Data SaaS company Pivotal iQ, which was named the Great British Scaleup by Tech Market View before being acquired by HG Insights in 2018.
Scott is passionate about providing deep insights to global technology vendors via high-quality research and in his current leadership role he is dedicated to ensuring that HG remains the leading GTM intelligence provider.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
When I came back from traveling for a year after university, I got my first job at Datamonitor, a data subscription company. Right after I started, the founder sold the company for £513M to a FTSE 100 company. This was a surprise, to say the least, especially because Datamonitor was less than ten years old.
This got me excited about the possibility of starting my own subscription-based data company — so I started digging into how he had been so successful. I learned exactly why Datamonitor was a great example of a well-built subscription-based data company, and how lucrative it could be. I saw that basically any company with a large Total Addressable Market (TAM), that uses a subscription-based business model, gets impressive multiples on revenue.
So, I had this goal, but that meant I had a lot of work to do. I had to master selling, but also managing a sales team. On top of all that, I had to learn how to run a company. This dream motivated me to build my own career in the first five years I began working, before I started Pivotal iQ.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
The hardest period was in the earlier days of Pivotal IQ. Me and my business partner funded it ourselves, and we knew we had a limited runway, in terms of capital and time, to take off.
We only had six months of money to burn until we would have to put more money in. But obviously, the product wasn’t fully built. We didn’t have a brand. We didn’t really have a team. So it was kind of chicken and egg situation.
We needed to finish a minimum viable product that allowed us to build a customer base so we could invest our revenue to fuel our future growth. So for the first 12 months — six months before we built the product and six months after the product — we were working 14–16 hour days, relentlessly, racing to generate some income. We got pretty good at selling the early products, and we filled the gaps with good customer service.
That was pretty stressful, but we believed in the product, and ourselves, and we did it.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
The drive to continue, even though things are tough, just came from the fact that we had no choice.
I left my previous job as a director of global sales. It was pretty cushy, I had a lot of share options and a good reputation. So, leaving that job security to start my own company was a difficult decision because the trade off was so significant.
If I left and my company failed it would have been a terrible decision. And this was a huge motivator for me. I gave myself no choice but to succeed. So that’s kind of where the drive came from, almost accepting the fact that failure wasn’t an option.
This was an important aspect of the culture — it became part of our DNA. We held weekly “commitment meetings” and everyone would set one goal for the week. It wasn’t binding or anything, but if I don’t achieve my goals for the week, I didn’t feel good about it. On Friday afternoon, we would go around the room and we would ask the team if they felt good about their week.
I guarantee you it’s the feeling that motivates the team, it pushes them that extra distance, especially as they’re in control of it. It made a huge difference to our revenue, we grew enormously, and why our startup got acquired so fast.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
In terms of where we are today, and how that led to our success, I think that relentless push to succeed gave us such a fast start. Because we were so worried about failing, we overcompensated and went so far the other way, it teed us up for the success we had.
We closed a million dollars of revenue in our first six months, and we were on course to do 5 million dollars in our first full year of trading, which led to the acquisition in 2018 by HG Insights. So I think that relentless mindset not only kept us from failing, but led us to be so successful.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
For the first four or five months we worked in the basement of my apartment building and claimed that as our office. When we hired our first few salespeople, we finally got an office in Shoreditch, London’s tech hub. But because office space is so expensive in London, I thought we could save money by renting an open-plan coworking office with other companies. But this didn’t work out how we planned:
On our first day we got three complaints. We were doing around 15 demos a day, and we were pretty loud when we’d close a deal
Everyone else around us was annoyed. To be honest, I’m not sure if they were annoyed because they were the only ones doing so many demos. The lesson I learned from that was to always bring genuine enthusiasm, to stay true to achieving my goal. Really, this was one of the most important things we did — it’s why we were so successful.
And funnily enough, we ended up getting a private office free of charge just to stop the other members complaining. So that worked out in our favor in the end, and so did all our hard work.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
The biggest thing that made us stand out was our customer attention. For example, when one of our customers, or one employee at a customer’s company, leaves and joins another company, we pay attention.
One of the first things we do is to reach out and congratulate them. Almost immediately, they start the procurement process at their new business because they know how powerful our data is once it’s implemented. We worked hard to produce such a strong product that our customers bring it with them. They usually come to us directly.
So a big sales trigger for us is tracking people that move from one company to another. But that’s really a testament to the quality and the value of our data. We also have a very special culture, everyone is part of the mission — and the focus on growing our company and being the number one Go-To-Market intelligence provider makes us stand out from the rest.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Because of the long hours and high stress of the startup world, this is one of the first things people ask me, and it’s something I take seriously in my own life and for my team.
My secret to avoid burn out is to hire the best people. I always go for people that I’ve either worked with before, or that have experience. I know this sounds basic, but you’d be surprised how many times I’ve seen founders miss the mark.
It’s so much work to constantly ramp up or onboard someone. Whether it’s an early-stage role, manager, or senior position, I always go for the experience… and I always pay what it takes to get them. Whatever it takes.
Something else that’s really been important for me was to become a good delegator. If you’re hiring someone for their experience, you have to know when to listen. This is another big mistake I see founders make. By delegating better, you start to build trust on your team — both your trust in the hire, and their trust in you.
And even if they don’t get it 100 hundred percent right, they’ll start to learn. At the beginning, even 90 percent is good. And if you’ve got 10 people doing that, that’s a scalable approach. If you always try to do everything yourself and become a control freak, you will burn out. And your team won’t feel good either. It’s just not scalable… you end up burning out.
So, my two biggest tips are to hire the best people you know, and let them do their job — that’s why you hired them after all.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I love this question. This is so important for founders, more than for other roles. The biggest person that helped me get to where I was today is my dad. He was someone I always looked up to when growing up, and I’m grateful for that.
He was a great dad, but he was also a successful entrepreneur. He sold his business when I was in my mid teens and got me very involved in the process to teach me. He was always patient with me and took me through what he was doing, and why he was doing it. So it was kind of the best crash course in being able to start my own company. One of the best ways to learn is by watching, and I had a front row seat.
That was a great starting ground and that certainly helped me expedite my success.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
This is such an important part of being a founder and laying the groundwork for a successful business. I feel like I’ve achieved a lot in my professional career, and now I am beginning my philanthropic career.
To begin, I’m helping out where I can. I I went to Liberia and Sierra Leone with my two adopted nieces to visit their orphanages and worked with the local tradesmen to help them start their businesses. I’m grateful to finally in a position to do more, and as I get a little bit older and have more time, that’s going to be a big focus.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Your Head Is On The Block — This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but you’ve got to remember that you don’t have anyone else helping you. Even though I had a business partner, I was still very much in the trenches. You are the finance department, the HR department, you’re the marketing department, you’re the salesperson, you’re the product person — you really have to do a bit of everything, and the buck always stops with you. For me, I managed this by telling myself failure was not an option.
- Forget About Sleep — Everyone thinks it’s quite glamorous starting your own company and to be your own boss. But the reality is, it’s the hardest I’ve ever worked. I worked a lot of 16-hour days. And then you’re stressed even when you’re not working. If you’re relentless, which you kind of have to be, then your working hours are relentless too. For me, I managed this by owning it. If you’re mentally prepared to work (and, for a while, probably only that!), you’re already one step ahead.
- Expect Big Challenges You Won’t Be Ready For — When you’re just starting off, you don’t really have any Go-To experts in their fields. As you grow your company, you have people with good experience doing what they’re doing — usually, they’ve been doing it for years. When you’re starting your own company, you make the best decisions with the information and experience you’ve got. But you’re not an expert in each field, so there’s a lot of pressure on making the right decision. For me, I managed this by having confidence in myself, but also reaching out to my professional network and my team for advice and insights, and I listened (which could be another key piece of advice by itself).
- Hiring is hugely important — This is key for scaling and longterm success. At first, I didn’t realize how important it is to hire people that you like and that you work well with. Your team becomes like family for you and you spend more time with them than your family, especially as a founder. Being surrounded by people that you really like and get on with is so important when starting your own company.
- Don’t Shy Away From Fun — No one told me how much fun I’d have as a founder. The roller coaster of good days and bad days keeps things interesting, to say the least. And, if it’s going well, you will always have more good days. It is exciting to see Your business grow. And, the quicker you grow, the more successful you’re going to be.
Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder”?
You need to learn how to successfully ride the emotional ups and downs of the founder roller coaster — to keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle!
It’s all about perspective. Yes, there are towering highs and deeper lows when you’re on your own. It’s only natural, the stakes are higher, the pressure’s greater. But if you’re going to start your own company, then you’re doing it because you believe in yourself, you believe in your idea, and your product. The big thing that helped me was I knew that whatever the outcome, even if I did fail, it was going to be a lifelong experience that I could learn from. Then, these lessons would make me more successful if and when I wanted to go and start another company.
That was always my fallback position — that there’s no such thing as a bad lesson, and there’s no such thing as not gaining good experience. Failing is important. That outlook helped me, and I’m constantly trying to relate to that. Remember: you started a company for a reason, and it’s all about execution.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
This is an easy one, because it’s something that I try and do anyway, not even starting a movement. One of my favorite films is called Pay It Forward. And it’s also a philosophy that I try and live by. For me, paying it forward essentially means that you should always do a selfless act without any expectation of something in return.
Sometimes you do something for good and the person never even know. I prefer doing good silently, but sometimes the effect is strong when the person knows you’ve done it. For example, if you do a kind thing to someone, that person — who knows they’ve benefited from the kind thing you’ve done — can then pay this kindness forward. Imagine if this happened everyday. You could make the whole world a kinder, happier place. So I always try and pay it forward.
There are lots of different ways to do this, it can look like anything. Some of it’s monetary, some of it’s not. Sometimes this is for a member of your family, sometimes for strangers. Just living by this philosophy allows you to make someone else’s day a little bit better, and, sometimes, yours too.
If everyone has that philosophy, the world becomes a happy place. So that’s the movement that I operate on and hopefully it starts to trend and goes viral and everyone can become happier and more fulfilled!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you! You can find my writing here:
Keep an eye out, we’ve got lots more coming out soon!
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!