Building and growing a successful startup/scale-up/company can be challenging enough in a booming economy, and so during times of crisis, entrepreneurs and leaders alike have to dig deep and find ways to not only survive but to emerge into a new world and thrive.
Whilst many are still focusing on the “survive” stage of this current crisis, there is much we can learn from experienced entrepreneurs that have navigated previous crises with the right mix of strategic thinking, visionary leadership and old-fashioned grit and determination to see their companies transform and emerge stronger. We’d like to introduce you to one such leader that inspires us – Andy Hill, Chairman at Lawcadia.
A couple of weeks ago our co-founder & CMO, Sacha Kirk, had the pleasure of interviewing Andy, an experienced entrepreneur who co-founded a highly successful company that was acquired by IBM Watson in 2018. Andy has been a non-executive director at Lawcadia right from the beginning of our journey and holds board positions at several high-growth startups as well as being Regional Director at Corum Group – a global tech M&A firm.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been labelled a Black Swan event and sits alongside the Global Financial Crisis, 9/11 and the dot.com crash as events that had dire consequences for the economic viability of many businesses. (If this is a term you are unfamiliar with, you are not alone. Essentially the phrase ‘Black Swan’ describes an extremely rare event with severe consequences including catastrophic damage to the economy.)
“The two Black Swan moments that I learned most from were the GFC and 9/11,” reflects Andy.
“With 9/11 we actually signed a term sheet for venture capital investment on the 20th August 2001 and we had raised a few million dollars to set up operations in the US. Of course, 21 days later 9/11 happened.”
“The mistake we made was we weren’t quick enough to understand that we were dealing with a new reality, that the world had changed and the business plan we had put together and raised capital on was no longer a possibility.”
This mistake almost resulted in the demise of the company as they tried to grow too quickly and didn’t adapt or respond to the changing market.
This ultimately resulted in a hard-earned lesson:
“When a Black Swan comes along you have to react and think through everything. We were too slow to change”.
The GFC was the next crisis to have an impact.
“There were rumblings in the financial world for most of that year , but it took a little while to unfold, but then it happened really fast”.
This time Andy’s focus was on being responsive: he prepared three business plans assuming revenue losses of 25%, 50% and 75% respectively.
“Just doing that process made me feel better. It made me feel like, okay, we have plans. We just need to deal with it. And then we also need to reflect and consider what might happen next.”
“What is this new world going to look like?”
“Going into the GFC, the company was actually performing really well. We were highly profitable and growing at 48 % year-on-year growth. It’s going fantastically well,” recalls Andy.
Despite these successes and signing global deals, Andy was concerned that the business model wasn’t sustainable.
“We needed to become a cloud analytics vendor rather than an enterprise software vendor. We needed to move to the cloud and become a true cloud SaaS analytics business.”
While grappling with the fall-out of the GFC, Andy led the company to re-engineer every single aspect of the business, not just the technology, but the way that they sold, the way they did customer support.
Andy acknowledges that it was really hard and initially he wasn’t sure that they were able to do it. However, coming out of the GFC, he realised that they had no choice, as the crisis had forced that change upon them.
“We took the company apart and then put it back together again over a number of years, it was a difficult process and we went through some hard times, but we came through the other end a completely different business.”
“Ultimately that led to IBM Watson acquiring the company in 2018”, shares Andy.
Lawcadia has been incredibly fortunate to have Andy involved, firstly as a non-executive director and more recently as Chairman.
During the conversation, Sacha asked Andy to share the back story to a text message he sent to Lawcadia co-founder & CEO, Warwick Walsh, on Saturday 29th February. While 29 February doesn’t seem that long ago, this was actually early in the crisis.
When asked what prompted him to send the text at 6pm on a Saturday, he laughs. “Probably a glass of wine I suspect!”
On a more serious note, he shares that one of the benefits of being a Chair as opposed to the CEO is you have a little bit more time to reflect and can be more detached from the day-to-day.
“I just really wanted to make sure that Warwick wasn’t distracted and wasn’t [so] caught up in all the day-to-day madness that he didn’t have time to think what the pandemic might mean to Lawcadia.”
Fortunately, our Business Continuity Plan had already taken shape – in hindsight we are grateful to a burst water pipe in the office building that forced us all to work from home (read the post about this here).
Be bold, is the advice that Andy offers leaders now and over the next 12 months.
“Try things. Let’s try some radical change. Not all of it will work, but some of it will.”
Certainly, we can all learn from Andy’s experiences. Right now, the global market is changing dramatically and no-one knows what the new world will look like in 6 months or 2 years. What we do know is that we need to be agile and responsive.
We are fortunate to have Andy Hill as our mentor and Chair as we work to navigate our way through this crisis, to not only survive, but find ways to thrive.
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View the full interview with Andy Hill below.