GTS Story

There is an old saying that failure is part of innovation, and perhaps the most important part. The birth of GTS certainly reflects this. Like a lot of success stories, it started with a failure. In fact, it started with two failures.

Back in 2009, RIG had looked at the traceability space. We started working with the Germany-based COO of a Norwegian traceability firm. The project ran into the hedge early on and we realised that the company’s business model was simply never going to work. We learnt a lot and became more interested in traceability. The company withdrew from the German market and invited their COO to become a reseller for them in Germany. The COO was knowledgeable and capable. We liked him. We sat in Frankfurt Airport and reviewed the situation. Not much value in being a reseller we concurred. Why don’t we start a traceability company and reinvent the traceability business model? And so we did and Global Traceability Solutions was born. And that is the truth about how you start a company. You start. There is great momentum in the start.

And that is where the second failure played its part. That failure played out in the boardroom of a client company, the place where strategy should be honed and debated with rigour. It was our failure too as we had representation on that board. Take a great little SaaS company that had niched the top end of its market and add a stellar client list and a fast growing recurring revenue base and you should have the makings of a £50m+ exit. Except that didn’t happen. The exit was less than £20m but more than £10m. Pay back the VCs, add in their rolled up quarterly fees, and their slice of the exit, and don’t forget those loans. If it wasn’t a failure, it was certainly a sub-optimal outcome. And it didn’t have to be that way. What attracted the VCs was that client list. The company got a million and then a few more. And that arguably is where it all started to go wrong.

We could have capitalised on our position, built out that client list further and secured our market position by investing in the product that had taken us to this point. But we didn’t. There was a new product vision that consumed a large part of the funds. Meanwhile the original product was starved of investment. It kept selling and though we got better, the selling got harder. The new product was late but that didn’t matter because it was going to sell for £100k per client, per year. Only it didn’t. The sales team, now charged with selling two products, didn’t want to sell it because they knew it was an overpriced lemon that the customers wouldn’t buy. And so all of that money got spent and the company headed to the exit door. But that wasn’t really the failure. The failure was at the point of inception, in not going to talk to the market with a piece paper and a pencil and a drawing of what we were proposing to build and then asking the question: Would you buy that? The answer would have been no. That reconnaissance might have cost £10k all in and would have saved several million.

This saga was being played out as GTS was being born and with it a determination to do things differently. So from the beginning, we sought to bring the customer into the room and to address the market and distribution challenge even before we started building product. Once we had a product we would avoid descending into that deep valley where costs exceed revenues from which many startups never emerge. From the moment we had product, we would have customers and distribution in place. That was lesson of that second failure.

The first big challenge was to identify a market in which we could carve out a position. We wanted a market with a specific emerging problem. That problem had to be one that companies had no choice but to address. It had to be a challenge that no other vendor had yet comprehensively addressed. We settled on the timber market where European timber importers and retailers would be required to comply with the requirement of the new European Timber Regulations (EUTR) which were due to come into force in March 2013. Having a compliance driver suited our home market as German companies are quicker to adopt new regulations than many of their EU partners.

The second challenge was to build a solution that was fit-for-purpose and to test out our thinking around a platform approach that would make on-boarding companies in a supply chain as easy as signing up for Facebook. What we grasped from the start was that compliance was a common problem shared by companies that were otherwise competitive. This insight made it possible for us to build a consortium of large timber retailers. The quid pro quo was simple enough: They would inform our development and ensure we built a product that was fit-for-purpose. In return, they would get free use of the platform as long as they pushed adoption of the platform down their large and overlapping supply-chains. This experience created what was to become our basic ‘thesis’. Forthwith, though with some profitably notable exceptions, we would be most attracted to markets that had an emerging data problem in their supply-chain, which no vendor had yet addressed, which industry players (with GTS acting as the catalyst) were willing to collaborate to resolve.

Alongside this initiative, we looked for an indirect distribution channel that could give us some early scale. We entered discussions with one of the large European certification service companies that we anticipated would become a monitoring organisation for the EUTR. While ultimately this collaboration was fruitless and we ended up partnering instead with a forestry certification body, we reached the point of signing a Letter of Intent (LOI) which lent support to our fundraising efforts.

We knew that our approach to solving the distribution challenge from the outset would help us raise funds and so it proved. Smart investors accept that technology risk is part of the deal. What really worries them is market risk. Our business plan sketched out our approach to nullifying this risk without mentioning how far down the road we already were to enacting it. Our business logic was favourably received and funding became contingent on formalising the commitment of our consortium members and an LOI from the certification services firm. These materialised shortly afterwards, and that is how we raised over €1m of seed capital before one line of code had been written.

Since its launch GTS has on-boarded more than 65,000 companies onto its platform.

Presenting 101: Get to the point

I’ve completed seven out of my eight weeks here at RIG and am thus entering the home straight, hurriedly attempting to bring as much work as possible to completion. The nature of a RIG internship means that there are no self-contained safe intern projects – you’re expected to do real work for real clients from day 1, so the pressure is definitely on. This inevitably means that there is a steep learning curve at the start (clichéd, but never more true), and that often you won’t complete a project before you leave, but it also means that you are not short of opportunities to interact with and actively aid RIG’s biggest clients.

Hence my session at Imperial College London this morning. A representative from one of our client’s partners was in the country for the day, visiting Imperial for a presentation on our client’s relevant technology and R&D work. As a result, the CEO of our client company was in town. Over the past few weeks I’ve been compiling a report for this CEO on the prospective value proposition of his products to the upstream oil and gas market and how much value his company can capture in this space. This has not been easy, and has often involved days spent trawling the internet’s nooks and crannies for the appropriate facts and figures, mathematically manipulating these findings, and then compiling them into a presentable format.

The end result was a substantial 70-slide report on selected sectors of the upstream oil and gas industry full of tables, charts, visual graphics, and a fair smattering of good old-fashioned text. The original idea was to present this report at Imperial but, following a longer-than-expected morning session in the R&D lab (where, to my surprise, I was able to follow a substantial amount of the science on show with only an unreliable understanding of undergraduate level chemistry) we decamped to a local Lebanese restaurant for a working lunch. Here I arranged my laptop at the end of the table and got to work, explaining to the CEO in question the rationale and assumptions behind my report.

It rapidly became clear that the fundamental calculation underlying the entire presentation (namely the total cost of corrosion to the upstream Oil and Gas industry) was not going to be accepted without a heated discussion to accompany it. This debate was duly had, surprising some of the other restaurant’s patrons, but by slide 10 the objections were becoming insurmountable. So I skipped the next 50 slides and fast-forwarded to the end, where the information that the CEO was really looking for was located. The 50 slides in the middle might as well have been an appendix.

In doing so I learnt a valuable lesson. It is perfectly fine, in a written report, to logically proceed from premises to conclusion. However, a better approach, and one that is absolutely necessary in a verbal presentation where the sound of your voice is liable to tire your audience, is to hit your them with the overall conclusions right at the start, irrevocably grabbing their attention, and then go into the in-depth reasoning behind these conclusions. Otherwise, by the time you reach the information that they’re really after, your audience’s attention is focusing on what they’re going to have for dinner.

In this case, having skipped to the end of the report, I successfully managed to convey my overall findings despite the sizable challenge to the foundation of the narrative. Further work will involve a few hours re-calculating this groundwork, then following this calculation through the rest of the account and restructuring it all as required. I am, however, looking forward to the end result – I’ve been invited to present the report (after it’s been finalised) to our client’s board at their next meeting in October. It’s rare that you get the opportunity to directly influence the strategy of a multi-million pound company. I’d better make sure that the fundamental premise is utterly bullet-proof this time.

By Oliver Jackson, Summer Intern 2014


Investing in your time

One of my internship tasks was to speak to a client’s investors and find out who they know that might be interested in that client’s services. The great thing about talking to investors is that they are keen to help out, as they have a financial interest in the development of the company. The difficulty is that they don’t have a lot of time. This is my advice for making the most of both their willingness as well as their precious time:

1.       See them face to face

Although often difficult to attain, if you can arrange a meeting in person this clears a space in their diary that (usually) won’t be shuffled around. I’ve sat down to speak on the phone at least three times with one investor, and every time it’s had to be moved at the last minute. Seeing them in person guarantees you’ll see them, and you’ll get so much more out of it than any other kind of contact.

2.       Set your scene

Surroundings set the scene for a meeting, literally. For this kind of meeting, it was important for it to be light-hearted, so meeting in a casual place helped.  I met with one investor in a cool, quirky restaurant in Shoreditch with excellent chips. Another I met at a café in Mayfair at 11 in the morning, and while I waited I had the pleasure of watching a man wearing a dapper suit sitting alone smoking a cigar alongside his espresso.

3.       Prepare well

It makes such a difference to have done lots of research beforehand and arrive with plenty of ideas to guide them towards your goals. They want to help, and any lifelines you can throw them are welcomed. I raided their LinkedIn profiles in advance and came up with a long list of potential contacts that they could instantly eliminate or accept. This also got their cogs whirring for other similar contacts to the ones I had chosen. Similarly useful was a list of current clients, which helped investors to get a better idea of who I was looking for and further jogged their memory.

4.       Interested and interesting

I also took the opportunity to find out what they’re all about. Many of them are involved in pretty exciting projects, and finding out more about them not only gives you something fun and easy-going to chat about, but also gives you a better picture of how their network could fit with the company. Likewise, they took a friendly interest in me and my work, which takes the edge off the professional agenda.

5.       Get to the point

Be clear about what it is that you’re looking for. No need to bark orders at them, but they appreciate explicit instructions. In fact, many of them started the conversation with direct orders for me to give them direct orders.

They haven’t got oodles of time, but they want to help. Be straightforward and friendly. If all goes well, then both sides will leave happy.

By Leonie Nicks, Summer 2014 Intern

Excelling in Google

I took up an internship with RIG because I didn’t want to spend the summer slouched over a computer with the highlight of my days being the discovery of a new shortcut on Excel.

Thankfully, I now love Excel so it’s all good.

Kidding. I do use Excel, but only in healthy doses. Far from slouching, I’ve actually spent a fair amount of time travelling around. I’ve perfected the Londoner pavement dodge on the way to a client’s office, and had tea with investors in city spots from Mayfair to Shoreditch.

The work so far has been delightfully engaging, which, judging by the greyish montage of menial tasks my friends have painted of their internships, is a rare find in the city. For example, one of my projects is about standards compliances services. One might not expect such services to inspire, but working out who wants them and how they want them is a lesson in law, geography, and creativity.

It’s also a lesson in Google. Something I have discovered at RIG is that Google holds more answers than you’d think, if you know how to find them. Would you like to know how many ISO 14001 certificates there are in the Middle East? Probably not, but it’s there (not very many, by the way). If not the answer, then at least contact details for someone who can tell you the answer.

Cue discovery #2 – I’ve spent a surprising amount of time making calls. Not just sitting in on calls or carrying out ones that have been set up for me, but finding the person to call, arranging it and talking to them myself. Might not sound like much, but as an intern I didn’t expect to have so much independence.

Finally, if not Google or phone-a-friend, then there’s always the final lifeline – Ask the Audience. Of course, it doesn’t need to be the last resort. Their expertise and readiness to help makes asking fellow colleagues at RIG both easy and highly valuable.

My first month and a half has raced past and exceeded all expectations. Before I know it I’ll be plunged back into student land, armed with advanced Google skills and great telephone etiquette, looking back fondly on my time.

By Leonie Nicks, Summer 2014 Intern

A real internship: no tea here

In the world of RIG there is technology, and then there’s business. Putting the two together is what has made RIG so successful – they provide the business acumen, the years of commercial experience, and the spark of entrepreneurial nous, while the client provides the science and the product. I entered RIG as an intern very much from the science side of the tracks, and half expected to spend most of my time making tea for all the real consultants.

Two years into my degree, I could tell you a lot about molecular bonding models and quantum mechanics, but would have been struck dumb if asked to provide any practical information on anything at all, for example explaining how you actually add value to a business (as indeed I was, on more than one occasion!). The learning curve was inevitably going to be steep.

Three weeks in and I think the worst of the gradient is behind me. I’ve spent my time mostly in the office, compiling market reports on all manner of industries (ever heard of steel tyre cord? No, me neither, and yet apparently it’s an extremely lucrative market) for our existing clients as well as researching potential client acquisitions. As a side project I’ve been compiling a Client Relationship Mechanism for a particular one of our companies so that we can better realise their full value and not let any business opportunities fall by the wayside.

It’s not all laptop work though – on my second day I visited a client out in Horsham and somehow survived an intense meeting concerning all manner of things from ultrasonic waveguides and electromagnetics to oil pipelines and corrosion mechanisms, only to be informed at the end of the session that I was being tasked with providing a strategic report aimed at changing the whole trajectory of their business.

So much for making tea for eight weeks.

By Oliver Jackson, Summer 2014 Intern

Do robots dream of electric tweets?

Amelia Stubbs, Social Media Marketing Consultant for Twitter marketing startup Torqbak, is our guest blogger this month. Here, she tells us a little bit about Torqbak’s journey so far, as well as the challenge of combining technology with human intelligence in order to get the most out of one of the world’s fastest growing social platforms.

Twitter is in its umpteenth incarnation and is still finding its feet. Marketers don’t know what to do with the huge amount of data it provides, and the platform itself doesn’t know what to do with the marketers. What better time to be working in a Twitter based startup?

We started TorqBak before Twitter’s IPO – at a time when marketing on a micro-blogging social media outlet wasn’t seen as standard. As Twitter grew, so did our company, and we saw the marketing potential develop in the off-the-cuff comments and observations of the 140 character limit. Brands have been engaged with Twitter since it started, but searching beyond those users who actively follow the brand’s profile was not yet a widely used method of outreach. We can now find audiences outside the brand’s Twitter followers, but engaging with them in a meaningful way from that point requires diligence and creativity. Technology can only get you so far.

In a very young company trying to make itself heard in the white noise of a multi-billion dollar social media network, it seems on the face of it a silly idea to try and dictate to brands how to market themselves on Twitter. At TorqBak we’re still very much in the middle of an uphill struggle (as is life for any startup). However, the deluge of data that Twitter provides – and the confusing way in which it is currently being presented – has already proven to be a rich breeding ground for data analysts and social media marketing tools.

This new ecosystem of Twitter based companies sees the social network’s terabytes of data and thinks that automating their subsequent analysis is the only way to make it meaningful. True, in part. However, automating every aspect is risky. If the well-publicised mishaps and triumphs of social media teams has taught any lesson, it’s that the human touch can be a blessing and a curse. Neutral, robotic brand responses to tweets are cold and unengaging, but a team of barely motivated interns replying to a swathe of tweets mentioning ‘brand x’ also carries risks. The incident with U.S Airways sending a graphic image in response to a complaint shows that human intelligence only goes so far. You are always one click away from a viral PR disaster.

On the other hand, automating your brand’s social media presence is also risky, especially when relying solely on keywords to find your next lead. Machine learning technology is still not anywhere near advanced enough to gauge sarcasm, for example, and sentiment analysis is only skin-deep for many language-based technologies. Social media marketing tools are being utilised by all manner of companies to make their Twitter presence more efficient, but your brand must appear human even if your marketing tools are not.

It’s important for marketers not to assume that technology is ‘smarter’, or that it ‘thinks’ in any meaningful way. It’s simply a series of processes trying to replicate something resembling human thought. There is no magic button that creates leads and engages customers. Computers go so far as doing the leg-work and present results based on what you – the human brain – have taught it. It takes a person, and a sensible one at that, to reach out on an interpersonal level and say ‘go’.

Technology is a science, but getting people to implement it effectively is an art.

RIG partners with space technology company to commercialise in Oil & Gas

RIG has started an engagement with an Irish company that has developed the heat-shield technology for the European Space Agency’s 2017 mission to the sun. No man-made technology has ever been closer to the sun, and without this revolutionary technology, the mission would not be possible.

EnBio, based in UCD’s Nova Centre, has developed CoBlast, a technology that is capable of replacing a metal’s oxide layer with a range of different combinations of particulates – each capable of conferring on the metal a bespoke set of properties.

For the Solar Orbiter mission, the required properties are extreme thermal tolerance and adhesion to the top-layer coating. Because of the mission-criticality of the technology, it has been has been accelerated to TRL6 in an exceptionally short time frame.

RIG is now working with EnBio on market validation in order to establish the potential applications for this technology in other sectors.

RIG expands its Oil & Gas practice

At the beginning of February, RIG was pleased to welcome Graham Spencer to the team.

Graham will be joining RIG’s Oil & Gas practice, having previously worked for a boutique headhunting firm in the industry.

Graham is particularly interested in IP-rich technologies and will be supporting clients looking to commercialise their technologies in the oil, gas, and related industries.

RIG consultants to teach at General Assembly

RIG consultants Shields Russell, Jessica Tayenjam and Ffion Rolph will be teaching ‘Strategy Fundamentals for Tech Startups’ on Wednesday 29 January at General Assembly London.

The class will help students to:

  • Understand what strategy really means in a startup context.
  • Define a methodology for creating a strategy.
  • Create a toolset to assess the viability of your strategy.

To find out more about the class and purchase your ticket, visit the General Assembly website.

RIG expands partnership

As of 1 October 2013, RIG consultants Sameer Pal and David Gates are now Equity Partners in Rapid Innovation Group.

Sam has been with RIG since 2003 and leads our High IP and Oil & Gas practice areas. A consummately international individual, Sam is highly skilled in crafting and executing complex multinational sales and partnerships.

A RIG member since 2005, David leads the Early Stage and SaaS practices. With a laser focus on results, David has a distinctive competence in embedding scalable processes across business areas and generating critical early sales.

RIG is indebted to Sam and David for their long-standing commitment to the company and our clients. We look forward to their ongoing contributions to shaping the business as partners.