A Start-Up Man’s Gotta Know His Limitations

Some of you may have noticed a rash of new jobs on my LinkedIn profile. A bit more digging might reveal that I found a lot of companies and then wind as as some kind of adviser rather than CEO or CTO or a board member.


It’s simple. After running projects and companies for thirty years I know what I do best – I get things started. I make stuff happen.

There are two simple rules for a start-up specialist:

  1. Know your limitations
  2. Work with good people

Once the product is developed, investment secured and sales channels locked and loaded I’m done. Hopefully I can leave the business in the hands of a team who can do something with it and move on to the next innovation – and there are plenty of good ones out there.

As a scientist and entrepreneur with a passion for innovation I’m happy to be involved in the management of companies, but that’s not what I do best. At Cientifica PLC I spent endless and in my view pointless meetings arguing about valuations of early stage businesses with people who didn’t have a clue what a start up is, let alone graphene. I spent months dealing with complex legal issues related to raising a few hundred thousand pounds and putting out a press release could take weeks and hundreds of emails. Aaaaaaaaaghh!

After exiting the PLC I made a vow never to get tangled up in the deep admin side of a business again. Some people may love it but to me it felt like a slow motion version of the Boston Molasses Flood crossed with Groundhog Day (” then comes the realisation that he is doomed to spend the rest of eternity in the same place, seeing the same people do the same thing EVERY day.”)

Since October I have rarely been happier or more productive. I wake up early, think deep thoughts while rowing 5km and spend the rest of the day working with an increasing variety of businesses around the world, helping them innovate, opening the doors to new customers, developing strategic plans, providing scientific advice and stopping the business types from annoying the academics too much. And I rarely have to wear a suit.

The LinkedIn stuff is the tip of an increasingly large iceberg of clients. I’ve been involved in the development of more new products and businesses in the last three months than I was in the previous two years, which is a sign that something is working well.

And I even get to work one of my favourite Robyn Hitchcock songs into the title.

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