"For me, the financial crash was a pivotal moment in the evolution of the UK entrepreneur, says Sean Bowen, CEO of Push Technology. " He adds "People couldn’t find work, they were desperate. If they couldn’t work the alternative was to go with your own idea People couldn’t find work, they were desperate. If they couldn’t work the alternative was to go with your own idea." Here, he talks about this life as an entrepreneur.
My business adventure began in 2004, a few years before the markets crashed. I was pitching real-time dashboards to banks – a technology which can expose the weaknesses of many financial institutions. At that time, I was working for an American consultancy business and the bank with whom I was speaking was fined by the FSA, so it was an ideal time to promote the solution. Our technology was able to present an accurate picture, to the second, of the banks risk. In stark contrast to the spreadsheets they used that might be updated once per day; we offered a tool that would track every trade, every movement, and interact with their risk analysis system to alert them if they strayed over set limits.
I saw a big market opportunity with this technology, but my boss at the time wasn’t interested. So I said fine, I’ll go and do it myself. Honestly, there wasn’t a huge amount of strategic thinking on my part. I wasn’t financially set up, so it was a massive risk for me. However, I believed in it, so I decided to do it. I received some advice when I was young from my Gran – it’s a lot easier to live with something if you try and fail, rather than wonder ‘what if’. A lot of people don’t like making decisions, and that is what entrepreneurs do - constantly. Making decisions every day and moving rapidly forward with a vision of the goal is something you must have in your DNA.
As an individual I believe that anything is achievable and I’m always willing to put myself out there and take a risk. I’ve never sat back and thought ‘this challenge is too big’. I joined the Air Force because I failed at school due to focussing too much on football and I certainly didn’t want to go back to school to re-qualify. I felt the Air Force was a better option – you get paid, get educated, do a bit for your country and travel the world. Also, having a parent who said you can’t take orders from anyone was a driving force in terms of joining the RAF. The RAF was a great place to learn. One of the critical things I learned is attention to detail, which has really helped me in business. In the RAF you need to be switched on at all times, I adopted this trait and it has helped me throughout my career. In terms of founding Push Technology, I saw an opportunity to create and sell software to banks and I took it. This is the sort of business gamble an entrepreneur takes.
For me, the financial crash was a pivotal moment in the evolution of the UK entrepreneur. People couldn’t find work, they were desperate. If they couldn’t work the alternative was to go with your own idea. What other option did they have? The economic climate definitely helped drive entrepreneurial behaviour. Old order, new order? Cycles are cycles, once the markets pick up everybody is back at work, all things are rosy again and then guess what…we have another crash. I think we are currently in a period of flux, and some people have been driven down the start-up route.
I’ve worked in the banking sector for 15 years, and it used to be that you’d work in the sector to get the big bucks and the big pay-offs. Now these technical people are looking at the start-ups. Investors will always look at small companies that are doing well, throw some money at them, and then all of a sudden there is another crisis and the cycle commences again. Bottom line is that we’re creatures of habit.
One development which really opened my eyes and changed me as a person was expanding my company to the United States. I don’t think UK investors understand what it takes to start up a software company, you get massively underfunded to start a business in the UK. Push Technology has been going for ten years and when I compare the investment we’ve had to what the average US start up receives, they are in a completely different stratosphere.
Silicon Valley is among the Top 10 regions worldwide for revenue generation – it’s unique and investors here understand how to build a business. Kids at a young age are taught business and trained in technology – building computers, learning software languages, etc. The whole area is geared around building business. There is a history of innovation in the US and they know how to do it well. That’s not to say UK technology companies can’t be successful, but it’s a much harder slog.
One anecdote I’ve picked up in the US is that it’s good to have a failure on your books. When I played sports, I realised winning is easy. However you don’t learn much from winning, and valuable lessons on what not to do and what can be done better are learned when you lose. I’m not saying people should be pleased with failure; but from failure you can analyse what worked and what didn’t. In the UK we tend to be risk adverse, glass half empty rather than glass half full. In the US there is no fear of failure, which is a cultural attitude. Americans are more likely to go for it.
Do I think of myself as an entrepreneur? Not really, it’s a tag. I haven’t changed in terms of personality and behaviour. I’ve learned a lot from the business and how to run a business, but I’ve never looked in the mirror and thought, entrepreneur. To be fair, I’ve always been hard to manage which may be a trait of an entrepreneur. If you can’t be managed, why not go and run it yourself?
Are we becoming more entrepreneurial as a country? Perhaps. The question people need to ask themselves is do you hire people better than you? I always look for people who are better than me in some way, and generally these people are not easy to manage as they challenge you. Challenge isn’t a bad thing as long as people know the rules of engagement. In any business you have teams and you need to trust and respect the people around you, but you also want to push people to get better. Entrepreneurs are difficult to manage; but, when you take a chance on them, the rewards can far outweigh the risks.
Push Technology, a privately held company with offices in London and Silicon Valley, has pioneered patented technology that delivers real-time data streaming, messaging, and more to web, mobile, and IoT applications.