By @SimonCocking

CEO of ValidSoft @ValidSoft, part of a fantastic team developing and driving Multi-Factor Authentication to mass market adoption, enhancing user experience & reducing fraud in the digital age. Also strategic advisor to a number of early and later stage technology companies. Also advising Private Equity, Venture Capital & Incubator Funds on their technology investments & mentoring their portfolio companies.

VS

Good to meet you at Belfast Web Summit. How did you find it? Was there anything you were surprised to see?

Yes good to meet you too. I thought it was a very innovative and interesting gathering. I think the real challenge with such events is how do they get the right audience/attendees, which needs to be a balance of vendors, existing/potential customers and so called experts?

Also, how do they create a more useful agenda by picking topics that will inform the audience and also organising panel discussions with speakers of conflicting viewpoints in order to air open topics within the industry.

What future trends are you excited by?

I have a bit of a “nuts and bolts infrastructure” view of the FinTech industry. While I’m extremely impressed by the plethora of new disruptive B2B & B2C services that these early stage companies are launching and would like to see them succeed. I fear very few will, unless some of the issues with the existing infrastructure and regulatory restrictions are dealt with. I don’t profess to have all the answers or to know if block-chain or something similar is the right way forward but clearly the existing restrictions around banking, payments, Fx, etc. are helping to support/protect the incumbents and the old way of doing things, which impedes disruptive start-ups and ultimately the consumers options.

Your background, how did you end up doing what do you now?

Fate! I can’t tell you that I had a career plan, I have simply taken each opportunity on its merits and attempted to make a success of it. Ultimately you get a reputation for your endeavours and more come your way.

You’ve got a lot of interests! How do you divide your time between them all?

That’s often one of the toughest challenges but I do believe it’s a critical one to manage. When running a business it’s very easy to become somewhat myopic and I believe that restricts strategic creativity. It’s an old adage but “fit of body, fit of mind” does seem to ring true. It helps immensely to step away, let go of any related stress for a moment and then re-engage with fresh eyes and an open mind. I’ve also found that taking time to be around and mentor other early stage companies helps me to be more creative in my own job.

Tips for pitching to an angel investor like yourself?

Personally I think it’s important that they have done their research & know who they’re pitching too and why. There’s often a tendency to waste everyone’s time by pitching to anyone who’ll stand still long enough but I believe it’s important to look beyond the money, which if you have a great idea then you should easily be able to get from anywhere, and ask “aside from the investment, what else can this person do to help my business succeed?”

You’ve grown lot of companies, does it get easier, or are the challenges constantly changing?

If you ask me this question during the middle of a tough day tell I’ll probably tell you that it’s always tough but when reflecting during a quiet moment I have to be honest & say that it does get a little easier. There are always lots of challenges, some you’ve seen before and many that are new and changing however, the end goal remains the same and with experience you learn where to seek help, how to make quicker decisions and  how to admit a mistake and take remedial action quickly. There are also key traits that many founder lack with regard to team building and motivation, relationship building (with customers, partners, investors, influencers) and the simple (but complex if you don’t know what they are) basic obligations of running a legal company. These are things that have destroyed many a company, despite having great ideas and technology. So in the end the journey does become easier

Anything you’d do differently with growing and selling those companies?

Of course, hindsight is a wonderful thing and so it’s easy to look back and note mistakes that could have been avoided, deals that could have been won and areas where more value that could have been created but, that was all part of the journey and as all the outcomes were ultimately positive so the real answer is “no”!

Plans for the future?

I’m a great believer in living in the present moment, and taking time to appreciate/enjoy it so I don’t have a great master plan to share with you. I’m very focused on making my current company, ValidSoft, successful & supporting my various investments to positive exits. I’ve also been very involved in supporting the developing eco-systems in South East Asian with a blend of angel investing, mentoring and charitable work and am keen to expand on this over time.

What social media if any do you use?

None. I do believe in using social media to support the growth of a company but I’m also a strong advocate of personal privacy. I’m lucky enough to have a great group of family and friends around the world and I use direct communications to communicate with them as regularly as possible.

How do you manage life / work, and online / offline balance?

Having been in the mobile telecoms industry for most of my working career I’ve always said that the most powerful feature on a mobile phone is the “off button”. I love gadgets & technology and use them extensively but I’m also still a great believer in face to face communication and stepping away from computers and phones, especially during personal, family and down time. These are all tools that should be used to make our lives better, but should not be allowed to rule us!

I was recently at a dinner and realised that everyone at the table was looking at their mobile instead of communicating with the people sitting next to them and some of them were even texting others on the table rather than speaking. So I got a large tray from the waiter and went around the table collecting everyone’s mobile phone. Some looked shocked and some looked like I was asking them to hand over their first born child. However, they all reluctantly succumbed and after an initial minute or two of uneasy silence the conversations gradually began to flow and we ended up having a great, fun and fruitful dinner. Word apparently got out because a few days later at another dinner my fellow diners all handed their mobiles to me upon arrival!

Blogging / thought leaders, who do you follow / read?

I’m not a person who reads all these business books as I have found that the authors tend to have achieved something, reverse engineered their experiences in to a book & regurgitated good business practices in to new formats. I prefer reading about topics such as history, science, spirituality, autobiographies and entertaining fiction.

I also enjoy watching some of the TED talks and will admit to following a few blogs although these often change based on what challenges are topical with me at a given time.

Anything else to add / we should have asked you?

Perhaps you should have asked me what my favourite poem is?

CP

It’s “Ithaka” by Cavafy as I believe it sums up life’s journey beautifully.

As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard
(C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992)

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