George joined BGF in early 2012 and is based in the London office. Covering London, Essex and Norfolk, George is responsible for identifying and completing new investment opportunities as well as continuing to work with the boards of BGF’s investee companies.
Prior to BGF, George advised a number of large cap companies in fundraising and M&A across the Telecoms, Media and Technology sectors as an investment banker at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
He holds a MA Oxon in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from Oxford University and a MSc in Finance from the London School of Economics.
“With a background in investment banking working on large pan-European deals, the move to BGF in 2012 was a complete change of course for me. Here I have the opportunity to work closely with management teams of some of the UK’s brightest and most aspirational companies. The added bonus is that with the financial clout of £2.5bn from the banks behind us, BGF is at the heart of the growing conversation around funding UK small and mid-sized businesses. Having the flexibility to listen to and fulfil entrepreneurs’ ambitions is a great place to be.”
- Four Communications (Board Observer)
- Thames Card Technology (Board Observer)
- Broadbandchoices (Board Observer)
- McMIillan Williams (Board Observer)
- Renal Services (Board Observer)
- Oliver Sweeney
- The Exchange Lab
Jonathan joined BGF before its launch in early 2011 to help establish the BGF investment process and strategy. He is now focused on the origination, appraisal and execution of new investment opportunities. He also represents BGF on the board of a number of portfolio companies. Jonathan has 10 years’ investment experience, having previously worked for Bank of Scotland and subsequently Lloyds Banking Group in the Joint Ventures team, where he undertook several asset-backed investments. Prior to that he worked in the equity management and corporate banking divisions within the bank.
Jonathan holds an MA in Economics and Finance from Leeds University Business School. He lives with his wife and two children in North London. As well as following his home town team United, he enjoys running, having occasionally completed the London marathon and triathlon.
“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”
Chris is skilled in developing equity solutions to meet the growth objectives of ambitious management teams, the companies they run and their shareholders.
Chris is an investment professional and non-executive director with over 15 years of experience leading growth capital, buyout and venture capital investments. His sector experience includes software, aerospace/defence, engineering, media (technology and creative services), semiconductors, telecommunications and alternative energy. Chris’s responsibilities on the BGF team include leading our regional coverage of Cambridgeshire, East Anglia and Essex.
Chris has a Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge and a M.A. in Physics from the University of Oxford. Prior to joining BGF, he served with The Carlyle Group for nine years, 3i Group plc and P.A. Consulting Group.
“The exciting part of my role at BGF is about understanding the short and long term objectives of owner-managers and tailoring a solution that gets them where they want to be. It’s not just about investing patient, minority capital. I find that BGF can really help in situations where there is a desire to align in figuring out corporate strategy, succession planning and shareholder transition.”
- Four Communications (Board Director)
- Molecular Products Group
- 3sun Group (Board Director)
- The Exchange Lab (Board Director)
- Abacus e-Media (Board Director)
- Workshare (Board Director)
- M Squared Lasers
- Unruly Media
FUNDING STRATEGIC ACQUISITIONS
For businesses determined to grow quickly, a strategic acquisition can be the transformative moment in their evolution. But buying another company requires both deep pockets and the skill and experience to integrate two organisations in a way that realises their combined potential. Many growing companies have the ambition to expand this way, but lack the means to do it.
By the beginning of 2012, Anthony Foy, the chief executive of SkyDox, a business offering secure file sharing facilities that use cloud technology, was facing exactly this dilemma. “We were a small and innovative company that was a leader in its field, but we were growing in incremental steps, mostly thanks to business angel investors,” Foy explains. “We came to the conclusion that making an acquisition would enable us to realise our ambitions more quickly.” He identified Workshare, a US company with a very complementary document management business, as the perfect target. The question was how to finance the deal.
“It was a slightly unusual transaction because we were hoping to buy a company that was both older and bigger than us,” Foy says. Securing sufficient debt from risk-averse banks was out of the question and equity investors were wary too. “We did pitch to several private equity companies, but I wouldn’t say imagination is a particular hallmark of that industry,” Foy recalls. The solution proved to be an injection of growth capital from BGF.
In September 2012, it invested £7.25m in SkyDox, with Scottish Equity Partners also participating in the financing. The acquisition of Workshare was completed a few weeks later. “Raising money is never easy – it’s a painful and humbling process and you have to really believe in what you’re doing,” says Foy. “We chose BGF because they had the intellectual capacity to see beyond the immediate risk of the deal to the longer term potential of bringing these companies together – they had the capital we needed to grow, but they also offered a partnership where our interests were aligned.”
Nevertheless, Foy says he thought hard about whether he had the drive to make the deal work. “The pain is something you put up with in order to realise your ambition,” he says. “Not everyone desires that and part of this process is deciding whether you really want to go for that growth, or whether you prefer to run a lifestyle business.”
That’s a familiar refrain for Chris Hodges, an investor in BGF’s London office. “Our single-biggest competitor is the ‘do nothing’ approach,” he says. “The reality is that it’s tough out there and ambition is a crucial ingredient of business success.” This is one reason, why, says Hodges, the quality and attitude of the management team are priority considerations when he is mulling an investment in a business. “I need to get a sense they’re open to the bigger picture, to really strategic thinking,” Hodges adds. “We only take minority stakes, but equity dilution can be an emotional thing, so we need managers who recognise that growth capital can really turbo-charge their business.”
For those managements that meet these tests, an equity investment – especially from BGF – is the ideal way to finance an acquisition, he argues. “Equity capital is far less restrictive than bank debt, where the borrower is subsequently required to perform to very tightly defined criteria where failure may mean losing control of the business.”
Mervyn Williamson, the joint managing director of business travel management specialist Statesman Travel, points to another advantage of growth capital he says was crucial when his business was considering fund-raising options. “Bank debt wasn’t going to be practical – the problem we pose for the banks is that we’re not an asset-backed business so there’s no security for a lender – because our model depends entirely on earnings,” he says.
“But even if we had been able to borrow the money to do the deal we wanted to do, we wouldn’t have gone down that route because we were also looking for additional expertise at the boardroom table, ideally from someone outside the business travel sector who would bring a different mindset to our company.”
Like SkyDox, Statesman was also on the acquisition trail. “My partner and I had bought Statesman in 2007 and we grew it from £28m of annual revenues to £50m three years later,” he says. “But we needed to be bigger than we were in the eyes of some of the larger potential clients, who felt uncomfortable dealing with a company where they’d be a disproportionately large customer.”
That posed a chicken-and-egg problem, with larger clients unwilling to come on board until the business grew bigger while the business struggled to achieve that growth without the bigger clients. “We began looking for acquisition targets and having identified Commodore Travel, we had to think about how we would finance the deal,” Williamson adds.
Having decided growth capital was the best fit for his business, Williamson began talking to a number of interested private equity firms. But he didn’t want to give up control of the business and he was concerned about the “churn factor” in the industry. “Three years after they buy you, you can find yourselves sold to someone else who you may or may not like,” he complains.
Finally, Statesman was introduced to BGF by its banker, Lloyds Banking Group. In October 2011, the company became what was then only BGF’s second investment, accepting a £4.25m injection of funding, which was crucial in clinching the acquisition of Commodore. “We did think long and hard about bringing in a third party, but we’re happy to have ended up with a minority investor whose interests are aligned to our own,” Williamson says. “We also like being part of a portfolio family – we’ve been able to offer our services to some of the other companies in which BGF has subsequently invested and to source from those businesses at a competitive rate.”
A year-and-a-half later, Williamson says both the rationale for the acquisition and Statesman’s choice of funding solution are proving themselves. “The combination of our two companies has given us a great deal of additional credibility in the market place, boosted our procurement power and given us real strength in depth – we’ve totally raised our game,” he says. “We’re also continuing to invest, which costs money, but there’s going to be a return on that investment and we’ve had the support of BGF as we’ve made those commitments.”
All of which is music to the ears of BGF’s Chris Hodges. “More people need to recognise the attractions of growth capital,” he argues. “It became deeply unfashionable for a period, amid the first dot.com boom and the years of easy credit that followed, when leverage and debt were all the rage, but this really is an excellent way to develop a business.”
HOW THE INTERNET CHANGED THE WORLD
“The internet’s biggest impact on SMEs has been as a great leveller, making it possible for a small firm to be a global company from day one, with the reach and capabilities that once only large companies could possess,” says Charles Roxburgh, a director at the management consultancy McKinsey, which has been researching the impact of the web on the global economy.
“They can reach customers, find suppliers and tap talent on the other side of the world – and also use the internet to provide significant marketing and brand muscle.”
McKinsey’s work suggests the internet has been a hugely powerful enabler for many SMEs: in a survey of more than 4,800 firms in 12 countries around the world, it found that those which use web technologies grew more than twice as quickly as those with little internet presence.
Nor are the benefits that the internet offers available only to online businesses. While the web’s development certainly has spawned thousands of new ventures that could not exist without it, many more conventional businesses are harnessing its power to grow far more quickly than they would ever have dreamed of had they launched in the preinternet world.
The interenet is now making a major contribution at every stage of the value chain, boosting productivity wherever you look. Not only has the web fundamentally changed the way products and services are sold, but it has also revolutionised development, design, production and distribution. Even the smallest businesses now operate with the sort of geographically diversified supply chains and global workforces that until these past few years would have been the preserve of large multinational corporations. There is more to come. McKinsey’s research suggests that on a global scale, the internet is now responsible for 3.4 per cent of GDP (in the UK, it says, the figure is as high as 6 per cent) but will deliver much more. Large companies are part of that story, but it is small and medium sized enterprises for which the internet presents the most exciting opportunities.
BUILDING A COMMUNITY OF CUSTOMERS: AFG MEDIA
AFG is the company behind Morphsuits, the all-in-one fancy dress costumes that have become a common sight at stag dos, fancy dress parties and special events all around the UK. Founded in 2009, AFG had revenues of £1.2m in 2010 but has grown astonishingly quickly. This year, sales total £11m and the business is now expanding internationally.
Gregor Lawson, one of the three founding directors of the company, says AFG has social media to thank for its 300 per cent year-on-year growth. “Without Facebook, we simply would not exist in the way we do today,” he explains.
With little to spend on advertising or marketing in its early days, AFG’s strategy was to build a community of customers through its Facebook page – not everyone would buy a costume straight away, Lawson reasoned, but the more they participated in the community, the more likely they would be to spend money when the occasion arose.
“People underestimate the commercial power of Facebook,” says Lawson. “For every one person who does something on our page, another nine will ‘like’ it and another 90 will see what’s been done.”
AFG is scrupulous about engaging with everyone who posts on its page – even complainers become advocates of the business if you engage with them, Lawson argues.
In addition to the ideas its Facebook users come up with – not least a remarkable number of photos of Morphsuit wearers in ridiculous poses – AFG offers plenty of proactive opportunities to engage. It organises competitions and even meet-ups – a flash mob in Trafalgar Square, for example, attracted 200 Morphsuit-wearing fans.
“People think social media is flitty,” Lawson says. “I disagree – if you’re clear about your objectives and your customers, you can deliver real commercial advantages on Facebook.” AFG’s own statistics prove the point – they have 1.1 million Facebook fans and counting. And only a small proportion of those fans need to become customers to sustain AFG’s rapid growth.
ACCESSING GLOBAL SUPPLIERS: PRIMROSE
The business model at online garden products retailer Primrose developed as a consequence of the way search engines operate. Type, ‘barbecue’ into Google and the site it delivers you to has to pay the search giant for referring you – even if it then discovers you were after a £5 disposable barbecue rather than the £300 gas-fired models it sells.
The solution, says Ian Charles, one half of the husband-and-wife team who founded Primrose in 2003 and still run it today, is to make sure you sell every barbecue the customer might possibly be interested in – or water feature, or garden bench and so on.
“We realised we needed to expand into every possible type of garden product and to offer the deepest possible range in each case – to become the Amazon of the gardens world if you like,” says Charles.
“Fortunately for us, one thing the internet has done is made the infrastructure of sourcing free – it now requires far less of an investment to find the manufacturers.”
Primrose aims to offer greater depth in any given garden product range than its suppliers and therefore needs to source huge amounts of stock in an industry where manufacturers are based all around the world – often in inaccessible, emerging market locations. For a relatively small business, the cost of such a sourcing operation would traditionally have been prohibitive, but the internet has changed that.
Much of Primrose’s sourcing is now conducted entirely online. That has enabled it to build the sort of stock range that means customers who use imprecise, generic terms when using search engines – that’s most customers – will usually find what they’re looking for at Primrose. “This sourcing has enabled us to be real product specialists in larger and larger number of ranges,” Charles adds.
It seems to be working – despite the entrance of giants such as Tesco to online garden products retailing, growth of up to 40 per cent a year has proved sustainable.
TAPPING TALENT: UNRULY MEDIA
Unruly Media makes and distributes social video campaigns for some of the world’s biggest companies, as well as many smaller businesses. It’s a business that wouldn’t exist without the internet, but for Unruly the web is also hugely valuable for back office operations such as recruitment.
“The internet opens up the passive talent pool,” says Deana Murfitt, the company’s chief people officer. “Prior to the internet there were lots of people sitting around who were ideal for the kind of jobs we recruit for, but there was no way of getting at them.”
Thanks to sites such as LinkedIn, Murfitt explains, Unruly has effectively been able to transform part of its human resources team into an “in-house head-hunter”. For the majority of roles for which the company recruits, the process is to identify the skills and experience needed and then to scour LinkedIn and other talent databases for candidates who might be suitable.
One obvious advantage is hugely reduced spending on recruitment agencies, but “our approach is about the quality of candidates sourced as well as the expense of finding them”, Murfitt adds. By cutting out intermediaries such as recruitment agencies, Unruly can be sure it targets only those people with the exact skillsets for the roles it is looking to fill.
Tapping talent in this way has other advantages too. “This is extra helpful for us, and for all small businesses, because the brand may not yet be recognised in the marketplace,” Murfitt says. “If you can build up your online profile, by building up lots of collateral around the type of employer you are, the kind of culture you have and the values you look for in people, you can build up your profile and reach out to passive candidates over the internet.”
Unruly has been so pleased with the results of its internet networking that it now offers staff a bonus if they are refer successful candidates for jobs. Murfitt explains: “It’s like an ecosystem of connected people who are all interfacing across the internet to try to find the right person for the role.”
BUILDING A BRAND: BROADBANDCHOICES.CO.UK
As viewers of daytime television will know, brand is everything in the price comparison business – several competing personal finance sites have spent a fortune on advertising in an attempt to build it. In the home broadband sector, however, Broadbandchoices.co.uk has chosen to set out its stall a little differently.
“In a business-to-consumer market like ours, brand is really important but the proposition has to be absolutely right too,” says Michael Phillips, the managing director of Decision Technologies, the owner of Broadbandchoices.co.uk. “We’ve spent a great deal of time building an engine that has every tariff in the marketplace – nobody lists as many packages as we do, so nobody can claim our level of expertise.”
Since launching in 2005, the company has worked especially hard on its user interface, directing customers to an extensive list of potential broadband deals and then using a succession of filters to narrow down the choice. In a market that isn’t entirely commoditised – people are looking for different speeds, for example, or to bundle their broadband with TV and a phone service – this is crucial to the customer experience.
“Broadband is getting more complicated all the time,” Phillips adds. “Our job is to help people prioritise the variables in order to make the right choice for them.”
The business has, in other words, used the power of its technology to build a brand that is based on quality rather than ubiquity. And it is now in the process of doing the same thing in international markets such as Spain, France and Germany.
The great thing about the internet, however, is that once your brand value is established, ubiquity follows more quickly than ever before. “What’s really exciting is that in the broadband price comparison market there has been no definite brand leadership established yet and that’s a huge opportunity,” Phillips says.
ACHIEVING GLOBAL REACH: WORKSHARE
For Workshare, the internet has delivered global scale in a remarkably short space of time. Founded in 2009, Workshare provides businesses with a highly secure cloud-based document management service that enables users to share files with colleagues and clients of their choosing. Those files can be accessed via PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone and worked on by any user granted the right access privileges – the system also tracks all changes made to documents. Workshare targets markets such as legal services and financial services, where there’s a high concentration of skilled and mobile workers operating in a regulated and sensitive environment. Other examples include the pharmaceuticals industry, as well as government services.
Ordinarily, it would take years to build trusted relationships with such businesses and even longer to achieve critical mass. But not for Workshare – while it has only a handful of overseas offices, it already has hundreds of customers in 65 countries all around the world.
Anthony Foy, the company’s chief executive, says that in addition to the right product offering, it is the viral distribution model on the internet that has enabled Workshare to achieve such reach so quickly.
“Every one client that subscribes to our service typically invites five others to join them – and every one of those five then invites three more contacts of their own” he says. “We haven’t got round to tracking what those three contacts do yet, but you can see how the maths works for us.”
Clearly, the numbers begin to add up very quickly, and have already done so for Workshare. But Foy believes there is plenty more growth to come – “we’re nowhere near the point yet where we run short of potential new clients,” he says. Independent research from Gartner supports that view – it thinks this market niche will be worth $8bn by 2014.
Workshare acquires IdeaPlane
BGF portfolio company Workshare, a leading provider of secure enterprise collaboration applications, yesterday announced exciting news that it had acquired IdeaPlane, an enterprise social network built specifically for highly regulated industries.
The deal will provide Workshare customers with a complete collaboration and communication solution by integrating IdeaPlane’s easy-to-use, secure and compliant social networking features into Workshare’s collaboration platform.
According to a recent report by McKinsey & Company, adopting social technologies offers companies the potential to improve productivity of highly skilled workers by 20-25% – and save billions of dollars from time lost on inefficient communications and information searches.
Built in partnership with one of the world’s largest investment banks and launched earlier this year, IdeaPlane’s customizable social networking platform can be rapidly and securely deployed across regulated organizations. IdeaPlane will enhance the Workshare platform with robust social networking features, including status updates; the promotion of important events, news and content; email notifications and the creation of open, closed and secret groups. Enterprise administration features allow companies to comprehensively manage and moderate the network.
The acquisition comes two months after BGF invested £7.25 million of growth capital in SkyDox alongside Scottish Equity Partners, management and other employee shareholders in September 2012 as part of a £20 million investment round. The capital raised enabled SkyDox to acquire Workshare.
Anthony Foy, CEO of Workshare, said:
“Our combined platform will allow organizations to monitor, manage and closely control the social network being used within their organizations while facilitating collaboration and the exchange of information and ideas.”
James Fabricant, founder and CEO IdeaPlane commented:
“This acquisition makes strategic sense for us given both companies’ focus on customers for whom security, compliance and control are paramount. We have a shared vision for the application of social tools in the enterprise and we have platforms that can be integrated into one unified solution to realize that vision.”