Martin Fincham was one of the first batch of digital entrepreneurs. Aged 24 he founded his first software company, which he went on to scale-up and sell. He then caught the attention of Silicon Valley, where he worked for several years before spending just over a decade at global B2B software vendor LANSA, most recently as CEO.
Having proven himself as a scale-up chief – he delivered a seven-fold increase in EBITDA while at LANSA – Fincham decided to roll back his career and instead use his skills and experience to help others grow their tech businesses. If you check out his LinkedIn profile, however, you will see that he is keeping himself very well occupied.
Fincham is a partner at his scale-up consultancy, The Gorilla Factory; chair of Software as a Service (SaaS) pricing system provider, BlackCurve; chair of SaaS health and safety software provider, SHE Software; a NED at B2B artificial intelligence and neuroscience SaaS company EyeQuant; and a NED at idea management SaaS company Wazoku.
And most recently he has joined SaaS omnichannel retail platform, Veeqo, as chair; become chair of Tallin-based SaaS provider of business management software, Scoro Software; and a NED at Fintech business, Essentia Analytics, which provides behaviour analytics software to the active fund management industry. Here he explains what is required to secure, excel at and juggle a host of NED roles.
How do you divide your working week up between all your different work commitments?
The $64-thousand-dollar question! From a portfolio perspective, I have seven NED roles. They are all B2B SaaS companies and I am chairman of four of those and a regular NED at the other three.
A chair role usually carries a minimum monthly obligation of two days. The work is never really measured in exactly those terms, but from a time-management standpoint, one should at least accept that that is the obligation. So two times four roles is eight days and then regular NED roles are usually a one-day a month commitment. So contractually speaking, I have eleven days a month committed to the seven roles.
What I do on the other days can vary. I have been building this NED portfolio from scratch over the last two years, there has been a lot ‘dating’ and meeting and deep-dive evaluations. If I look back over those years, about one-third of my time will have been spent on sourcing and screening, but now the portfolio is built I don’t have to spend any time on that stuff right now.
Do you feel that you are now at your limit in terms of the number of NED roles you hold?
I am at the advised maximum, based on what friends who have done this longer than I tell me. So, I am going to make sure that I do an excellent job in all of the roles that I hold, but it’s still only eleven days a month and this is a professional career change for me, not a hobby. I am not necessarily looking to work 20 days a month either, but there is some scope to broaden or deepen the portfolio.
At what point did you decide to swap your full-time, high-profile CEO job for a NED career?
I was previously CEO of a mid-sized global software company, where I’d been for over a decade. The simple answer to that question is that over the prior thirty years I’d achieved everything that I’d set out to achieve: I’d been a founder, an entrepreneur and a corporate CEO.
I could have done any of those things again, but that prospect wasn’t very appealing. The move was also driven somewhat by altruism. I’d been involved in early stage UK tech as an angel investor (with Cambridge Angels) and an unpaid advisor to start-ups for a number of years as well. And, I do some mentoring and I have affiliations with a few of the business schools, where I work with their students on venture projects. So, it’s a combination of, I don’t want to do a repeat of what I’ve done before and I’d like to do more of the giving back.
Yes, I get paid from my NED roles and yes there is an equity upside, but no one should go into non-exec work for the money, not if they’re comparing it with corporate salaries and benefits and so forth. You’ve got to be motivated by bringing that expertise as a founder and a global CEO to help early-stage tech companies to scale-up in a capital efficient way.
What advice do you have for those in the tech business who are thinking of moving over to a portfolio NED career?
Becoming a NED in the tech arena is a really great late-stage career glide path and immensely gratifying work. If you’re a tech founder, entrepreneur or in a corporate role planning on staying put right up until retirement, you should really think instead about spending the last ten or so years of your working life in NED roles, because UK plc needs you.
I’m a commercial guy, a sales and marketing expert by background in terms of my functional skill-set. Whilst I would put UK tech up against anywhere in the world when it comes to engineering, research and product development, alas our sales and marketing and general commercial leadership is typically not as strong, say, as our American brethren.
Once you’ve reached the classic product-market-fit stage, if you’re an SaaS business, that means you’ve got to £1 million plus ARR [Annual Recurring Revenue], you’ve nailed founder-led selling, but beyond that – particularly when you get that wad of Series A investment – it really is perfecting your commercial go-to-market fit that you must achieve next and there is simply not enough of that sales and marketing expertise to go around right now. So, particularly those of us that have worked globally, we really do need to participate or otherwise we are not going to fulfil the full potential of our start-up economy.
How did you find your Nurole experience?
The Nurole experience was smooth and seamless and one that I now constantly recommend to other NEDs. The digital-first approach works perfectly for someone like me who doesn’t always appreciate the hands-on tendencies (read pushy) that traditional recruiters often display. Also, I hear that others platforms just don’t offer the same quality and frequency of good opportunities. I am not registered with any other platforms and have no desire to do so.
And now for some quickfire questions...
What book are you reading at the moment?
I’m reading the Infinite Game by Simon Sinek. It’s worth a read. He makes a valuable point about playing the long game; a business principle that I’ve long subscribed to.
Do you have a favourite quote?
Yes, it’s an African proverb: “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
What’s your favourite holiday destination?
As someone who’s recently re-married, all of the trips that we’ve been on together have been amazing, especially our honeymoon in Thailand. Finding the perfect companion is priceless.
What’s your favourite app?
With a portfolio this size, I have to say Evernote. It’s the only way I can keep all my board notes and minutes organised.
When does your alarm go off and how many hours sleep do you get?
After years of waking-up early for calls with Asia, I don’t need to set an alarm, I am generally up around 5am. It’s a great life hack to have that extra ‘golden hour’ early each morning. And being a NED, with no regular commuter journey, frees-up time for morning mindfulness (yoga/meditation/gym). My Fitbit tells me that I have been averaging about six hours sleep a night recently. My New Year’s resolution is to increase that!
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