Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Do we need more engineers in government?

Its very interesting that the number of students applying for Engineering and Science courses at University has - at last - started to rise. In the UK anyway.

Have you ever thought about why it is that there are so few engineers and scientists in UK and US government. 

The UK’s cabinet has six PPE (Politics, Philosophy and Economics) degrees, five history degrees, three law degrees, and plenty of other arts and humanities graduates.

The fact that most come from a couple of universities concerns me less than the fact that the 'gene pool' in terms of education, experience, ways of thinking 
and problem solving seems very narrow indeed.
Politicians in the UK are often heard decrying the fact that we don't have enough engineers - they presumably don't mean in Government. They mean in industry. 

Countries like China on the other hand have its politburo full of scientists and engineers. Hu Jintao, the country’s president, graduated with a degree in water conservancy engineering, while the rest of the group consists of chemical, electrical and radio engineers and the the odd geologist.

I'd like to advance a theory as to why this very obvious disparity between some western democracies and China in the people we get to lead us and take the profound decisions which affect our and our children's lives.

In the UK and the US, to get elected you need to be an orator, have the 'gift of the gab', be charismatic, media friendly, articulate, persuasive. Not necessarily the strengths of the average engineer or scientist  - or anyone else with left-brain hemi-spherical dominance.

Does our democratic process unfairly disadvantage the engineers and the scientists?

In China, those that get top marks in the Sciences, its seems, get to the top.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Stick or Twist. Sell or swing for the fences.

A number of the companies in the TAG portfolio are at very tricky junctions in their lives. Its the point where they are now faced with multiple options. I'm guessing there are many companies at this particular point.
None of these options is bad - but deciding on which to take is not at all easy.
Many startups of the 2006-2008 vintage are reaching the point where they are real businesses, generating cash and growing well.
So what is the problem?
Simply put - where to next?
The options broadly fall into these 4 categories:
1. Sell
2. Continue building with cash internally generated
3. Raise more cash at a good valuation and go for growth
4. A combination of 1 and 3 - ie take some cash off the table, raise more funds for the company and really go for it. [This can be done by an IPO or raising VC/Private Equity funds - but that's another issue]

Many entrepreneurs  - mostly those outside of the US - are criticised for selling too early. I'm pretty sympathetic to a first time entrepreneur who having sweated for 5 years or more is sorely tempted to convert his/her shares into cash.
The amounts of cash a founder will receive for a good business are literally life changing - in a good way.

Investors often see the situation very differently. Especially if the company is still growing rapidly and is addressing a large market. There is frequently great frustration at the lost opportunity to build something really big - something fund returning.

Increasingly, enlightened investors are working closely with founders to enable option 4 - ie allow founders to sell ordinary shares - at nominal (or no) discount to the price paid for new preferred shares.

This would seem to be a good way forward for a founder who still has 'fire in the belly', wants to continue to build a huge company but also has the need to get their personal finances on a sound footing.

The lesson in all this for startups is that choosing investors who can help navigate through this rather tricky phase is pretty important.