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Jazz Shapers

Shaper: Jon Bradford

Transcript

Elliot Moss
Welcome to the Jazz Shapers podcast from Mishcon de Reya. What you are about to hear was originally broadcast on Jazz FM however music has been cut or shortened due to rights issues.

Hello, I am Elliot Moss, welcome to Jazz Shapers, it’s where the Shapers of Business join the Shapers of Jazz, Soul and Blues. My guest today is Jon Bradford. He was the Founding Partner of Motive Partners, a financial technology investment company and Co-Founder of many other businesses and you will hear just what that means from a Jon Bradford perspective. A highly experienced, early stage investor, Jon is a strong believer that entrepreneurship is a contact sport – he hasn’t attacked me yet. As he says – but there’s time – the more times you can get interesting people in a room having like-minded conversations about working together, then you create amazing opportunities that can benefit everybody who participates in that system. I am sure we are going to be hearing the words ‘ecosystem’ as well in this one hour special. Described as the Godfather of European Accelerators due to the number of startup business accelerators he has founded and co-founded, from Montreal to Moscow, Jon is also a co-founder of F6S, even I’ve heard of them, one of the world’s largest networks for entrepreneurs and co-founder of Tech.eu, an online media company focussed on European tech. We will be talking to Jon in a few minutes about all of this. We’ve also got brilliant music from amongst others Jill Scott, Lonnie Liston Smith and Nina Simone. That is today’s Jazz Shapers. Here’s Diana Krall and Georgie Fame with Yeh Yeh.

That was Diana Krall and Georgie Fame, great take on Yeh Yeh. John Bradford is my Business Shaper, as I said earlier. He was the founding partner of Motive Partners and he’s going to tell you what they do, and a bunch of other things as well in the techspace. You’ve been busy. Hello. It’s nice to see you.

Jon Bradford
Yes. Good to see you too.

Elliot Moss
Now, tell me how you got into this world of setting things up, getting things going and then going and doing other stuff. And, why financial services, Jon? And that world of technology.

Jon Bradford
So, I am of a certain age which remembers the nineties so that kind of dates of me. I am a reformed kind, so spent most of the nineties trying to add up numbers and audits and all sorts of strange and wonderful things and…

Elliot Moss
Arthur Anderson.

Jon Bradford
Don’t say anything. That really does date me because people that know, know what that meant. And in 2000 I was fortunate that one of my clients, which was a dot-com, had just recently raised money and they asked me to join. What I hadn’t quite figured out, my timing is really bad so, if anybody asks ‘Should we buy or sell?’, do whatever the opposite I suggest is. I joined the first week in January 2000. The startup we went from zero to 65 people in about thirteen weeks. Over the following twelve months we spent $25 million, we had nothing to show for it, I think we had one customer which we billed $150 for and the dot-com crash happened somewhere in the middle of September of that year.

Elliot Moss
Great timing.

Jon Bradford
Amazing time. So, I literally was the guy who switched the lights out as we left the building.

Elliot Moss
That’s like burn rate times a thousand. Well done, Jon. So, first failure done.

Jon Bradford
Correct.

Elliot Moss
Excellent, but that’s a really important thing. In the San Francisco environment that’s applauded, in the UK environment you are looked at as if you are some kind of monster.

Jon Bradford
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
Although I am sure that’s changing but we are not as comfortable with failure here as our friends across the pond are. But you’d know this better than me. Is that true or not true or do you think it is actually evening out now?

Jon Bradford
I think it’s a generational thing. I think there’s a whole bunch of things which have changed over the last thirty years around entrepreneurship which is, if you go back thirty years ago, people did one startup, they made a lot of money, or they didn’t, and they retired to the Cotswolds, and then they did their first angel cheque and lost it and then went ‘Oh this is really bad idea, I think I’ll just put my money into property and stocks’. I think entrepreneurship is a vocation, I think people recognise that actually one can do one thing and then follow on. And you see this with some of your guests which is, they didn’t do it once, the really cool part is when you repeat to do it again and again.

Elliot Moss
So, your first failure 2000, then what? Then what happens?

Jon Bradford
2001. So, I then, one of the investors said I did a reasonably good job, even though it was a complete disaster…

Elliot Moss
Even though we spent $25 million, 65 people turned the lights off.

Jon Bradford
I knew exactly how much money we had at any point in time and when we were going to run out of cash. So, I then effectively moved to Oxford which is a bit unnerving given I now live in Cambridge, I keep that quiet, and did a startup there. Again, it was relatively successful, it had a small exit, ironically selling to a Cambridge-based business, and then kind of functionally went through a whole series of bits and pieces which meant that I went from being an employee to helping people raise some money, to becoming an investor and somewhere in that whole kind of scale, I started helping start businesses along the way.

Elliot Moss
We are going to hold it right there and find out much more in a bit with my Business Shaper, it’s Jon Bradford. Time for some more music though, before he reveals all, apart from the Oxford/Cambridge thing. It’s Jill Scott with He Loves Me (Lyzel in E Flat).

That was mesmerising and relaxing. Jill Scott with He Loves Me (Lyzel in E Flat). I am with Jon Bradford, co-founder in all sorts of things, angel investor in, as he waves his arms at me, he can be anything he wants to be. But back, as we were talking about, the accountant gets into a startup, the startup closes, you go for the next thing, you have a little exit, you sell the Oxford-based business to business in Cambridge and then you start to be involved in a bunch of things, so people then go ‘This man Jon, he can help us’. Is that right?

Jon Bradford
Yeah, I had, what was unusual at that point was I was both experienced by doing startups but I had also started writing techs as an investor.

Elliot Moss
Okay.

Jon Bradford
And about that time, there was a thing emerged called Y Combinator, in the US, which was the first accelerator in the planet, closely followed by the second accelerator called Techstars. And I had an amazing – this was the first time I had really was being entrepreneurial – idea of why don’t I do one of those in the UK.

Elliot Moss
And what year was this because Y Combinator is super famous now?

Jon Bradford
Y Combinator was 2005, Techstars was 2007 which was about the same year that C-CAMP started in the UK and I started my thing in 2009.

Elliot Moss
And Y Combinator, the model was they took a bit of equity and gave you a bunch of help.

Jon Bradford
A little bit of equity, just to keep the lights on and then effectively an intense thirteen week bootcamp programme. Unlike Y Combinator doing it in California, did it in Middlesbrough, which at that point felt like I had done something really bad in a previous life.

Elliot Moss
Do you know what? I went on holiday and I remember in, to Durham, and we would go for tourist attraction things in Middlesbrough, there are places you can do canoeing – who would have known – in Middlesbrough.

Jon Bradford
Oh dear.

Elliot Moss
No, really. So, it was actually quite cool. Once you get your tourists, so anyone that sitting in Middlesbrough, I am a fan.

Jon Bradford
Yep. Oh, I am a total fan.

Elliot Moss
But, why Middlesbrough out of interest?

Jon Bradford
So, the reason why it was Middlesbrough was because I had been funded by public purse.

Elliot Moss
Okay.

Jon Bradford
And so in those instances they don’t say ‘Where’s the best place to go?’, they go ‘Where’s the place that needs the most support and help?’.

Elliot Moss
We can support the region, we are going to grow infrastructure and so on and so forth.

Jon Bradford
Correct.

Elliot Moss
So, what’s it called there? What was that business? Or was that…

Jon Bradford
That was, to simplify language, it was called Springboard.

Elliot Moss
Okay.

Jon Bradford
What was amazing about that was we had ten teams, one of which has gone on, directly or indirectly, to the US and is now worth over a billion dollars.

Elliot Moss
So, this one here, there’s that one in 2007, then you start getting involved in other things as well, you sort of… Explain the thing. How deeply involved are you at the beginning of these businesses and how quickly do you remove yourself, mostly, from them?

Jon Bradford
Yeah, so partly I was helping other people start these businesses and the accelerator programmes tend to be incredibly intensive so you literally are locked in a room with these people for thirteen weeks – reprobates – you know everything about them, probably things that you shouldn’t, and you really understand the businesses profoundly so, it’s kind of really impactful at that early stage. And as a result of that, what I ended up then starting to think about was, how can I solve some of my own problems? Or can I find people who share some of those passions around some of those common problems? From that, I help set up something called F6S which was how do you help entrepreneurs access money, grants, other people in that process, it’s kind of better described, it’s Facebook meets entrepreneurs. Tech.eu was, I felt that startups in Europe were under-reported so, you could go to Tech Ranch, you could hear all about what’s happening in New York and Robin, who really is the brains behind it, basically had a similar passion to I.

Elliot Moss
This is Robin?

Jon Bradford
Walters.

Elliot Moss
Okay.

Jon Bradford
Had a similar passion and we wanted to basically make a new site which actually talked about European tech on a regular basis. And so that’s kind of where that came from. What’s interesting is what’s common about the problems I want to fix tend to be platform ecosystem type problems. How do you just make the whole system work better for everybody and improve entrepreneurship as a kind of a broader theme?

Elliot Moss
And that’s been your driving passion?

Jon Bradford
That’s what I’ve been doing. That’s kind of worked so, so pick those two up, I’ve ended up becoming an investor, I helped to set up a couple of co-work spaces, one in Cambridge which is where I live and one in Belfast which is where I am originally from.

Elliot Moss
You’ll be setting up another one in Middlesbrough soon. Maybe you are going to be back.

Jon Bradford
Maybe I am. I am probably not in a rush to go to Middlesbrough again.

Elliot Moss
You never know. Stay with me for much more from my guest, it’s Jon Bradford, he’ll be back in a couple of minutes. But first, we are going to hear a taster from the latest News Sessions podcast which can be found on all of the major podcast platforms. Mishcon de Reya’s Hayley Geffin explores the world of the social media regulation and how to protect ourselves online. Have a listen to this.

There are many ways to enjoy all our former Jazz Shapers and indeed to hear this very programme again with Jon. You can ask Alexa to play Jazz Shapers and there you can hear lots of the recent programmes, or if you put Jazz Shapers into iTunes or your preferred podcast platform – it’s a mouthful isn’t it – you can enjoy the full archive. But back to today’s guest, it’s Jon Bradford, founding partner of Motive Partners, a financial technology investment company and, as you’ve heard, a founder or co-founder of lots of other businesses too. I often ask the question about team, but in your case it’s plural, so yes, I can see you’ve sat there and it’s intense in the incubator stage but when you are the man that goes from zero to one versus the man that takes the businesses from one to ten…

Jon Bradford
Correct.

Elliot Moss
That zero to one, from a standing start, you ain’t going to get anywhere without the right people. How have you been able to thin slice good from bad over the years and have you got better at it? Is it a skill that you can hone or is it instinctive and you’ve got it and no-one else has?

Jon Bradford
I’ve got better at it. I think one, it’s very had to necessarily pick a good entrepreneur but it’s easier, or entrepreneurs teams, it’s easier to remove teams which are unlikely to work and then what you are left with is, there’s a fighting chance that what you have might work.

Elliot Moss
And how do you know the ones that aren’t going to work? What are characteristics they exhibit?

Jon Bradford
When they all turn up and they all sound the same. I mean, it’s a much used word now in terms of diversity but it’s a meaningful thing within entrepreneurship, which is having diversity, a background diversity of skills, diversity of character, so being able to manage, someone has to be really enthusiastic but somebody needs to be a little bit melancholy in terms of thinking about ‘But, what’s really going to happen?’. So, it’s always existed but it’s now shaped in a different way in terms of the way the conversation exists. I am also very driven by entrepreneurs need to be persuasive, they need to be able to persuade customers, investors, other employees to do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do which is join a startup which has really limited or no chance of actually going anywhere, doing anything and making them believe that actually there is this real potential that something will come from this magical experience which is going to be a startup.

Elliot Moss
And that magic, that buzz for you, so you weed out the wheat from the chaff, they are not going to work, no diversity, that is going to happen, they all sound the same, as you said. Those aren’t sounding the same. How do you ensure that you protect and get from 0.1 to .2 to .3 in those early times? Because that is, I imagine, brutal. With so many people, it has become a la mode to say, I am an entrepreneur and I am in the financial service, all that stuff. What’s the criteria or the characteristic that you would say is the one above everything else, if you had to only have in your hand that ensures that those people survive and make the cut and then flourish? Because there’s tonnes of good ideas around, right? And technology is becoming a far more equal game, there’s not so many price barriers and so on and so forth, so it must be even harder to succeed.

Jon Bradford
I think, and you have definitely seen this amongst the people you deal with. More first time entrepreneurs, and I will say they are different from serial entrepreneurs, first time entrepreneurs have to have a God given passion for fixing a thing to the point where it is almost obsessive, they get up in the morning and they want to fix the problem, they go to bed at night and they want to fix the problem, and every hour in between is trying to fix that problem. And I think that’s why people suddenly recognise that, I see, it’s okay to share ideas and talk about, like these are things I want to do because unless you have that embedded within your DNA, then it’s really hard for you to work the hours, to put in the effort that is necessary to take something from zero to one. I think it’s slightly different for serial entrepreneurs because as one starts to do this multiple times, one realises there is a bit of a formula underneath this but you still need to be able to break down the, ‘What’s the thing I want to do and can I minimise the risk of it being successful or unsuccessful?’ and that might, for example, we were talking about earlier, which is you are doing something in the restaurant trade. You will spend all of this God given energy on the first restaurant – can you get it right? Does it tick the right boxes? Does the economics work? And only when you’ve actually got that right, then you go for scale. But, a serial entrepreneur is much better at identifying an opportunity and actually systemising the opportunity that sits around that. But the first time entrepreneur, let’s put it another way, we are sitting here and we are talking about music, I always say the first album that somebody does is amazing, it’s typically seven or eight years of teenage angst, yeah, and everything they are throwing into this album is just raw, it’s passion, it’s everything and then they get to number two, and they realise that they’ve got to do it in twelve months or even less and it’s just like ‘Oh my God, how am I going to do this?’ but the really good entrepreneurs, the really good musicians, actually find a methodology to be creative and to kind of come back and repeat themselves album after album – so I am showing my age, I am going to say LP in a minute – but I think, and also because they’re both in the creative industries there’s a lot of similarity between the two.

Elliot Moss
Most people I meet have done one startup, some have done two, some have done three. You’ve obviously been involved with how many, roughly?

Jon Bradford
I think I have technically invested in over a hundred businesses now.

Elliot Moss
Okay. So, a hundred businesses…

Jon Bradford
Most of which, let’s be clear, have not been particularly successful.

Elliot Moss
That’s okay because you only need one to be successful, right Jon, and then you can retire to the Cotswolds.

Jon Bradford
No.

Elliot Moss
No, you’re not going to do that.

Jon Bradford
I’m very good at returning.

Elliot Moss
A hundred businesses means that you see patterns.

Jon Bradford
Yep.

Elliot Moss
Tell me a little bit about the beginning of a business, the middle of a business and the end of a business and people that are good at different bits and why it’s really important to ascertain what your strength is.

Jon Bradford
Yeah, so I think as the, this is interesting because if we think about San Francisco as a very mature ecosystem, and how other ecosystems like London and Berlin and Paris are emerging.

Elliot Moss
We can play internet bingo, kind of startup bingo. I did mention at the beginning we’d be hearing about ecosystems so we are on four so far.

Jon Bradford
Oh dear.

Elliot Moss
You’ve done three, I’ve done one.

Jon Bradford
Oh dear.

Elliot Moss
See if we can get seven.

Jon Bradford
Cool. So, the way I think of the lifecycle of a startup is, I think about it as a startup, subsequently followed by a grow-up, finished by a finish-up. I think what’s really interesting is London because of its background with the banks, the lawyers, the accountants, much as I hate to say that they are additive, and speaking as a reformed or a…

Elliot Moss
A delinquent.

Jon Bradford
…a delinquent, a very delinquent accountant. I wasn’t a very good accountant. Is, it actually creates a really, really strong foundation for finish-ups. This good environment for IPOs, has all of the professions that you need when you are trying to kind of get to an IPO or an exit. What emerged in the late 2000s, 2010, was Techcity which was this kind of really creative sector, the startup bit, if that makes sense. And I think London was always predisposed to do be able to do that. I think because of its advertising industry, because of its creative industries, it’s a very natural step to me between that tech and just creative. And what’s interesting is, that emerged and that emerged really strong in the Old Street area. I think one of the things which actually caught a lot of people out, was this kind of concept of actually ‘now we’ve done a startup, now we have to scale it, we need to grow it’, because actually it’s a really talent-heavy business so you can throw money at it but unless you’ve got the right people, it’s really hard to find and scale these businesses. You can see this with serial entrepreneurs again, which is, they have teams that they’ve worked with before and as they come to the second, the third one, they’ll be pulling in those people that they’ve worked with in the past…

Elliot Moss
Absolutely.

Jon Bradford
…to help that scaling process. London is much more mature and as other systems in the European ecosystem emerge is they have to still go through those different sections as well. Some of them may have bits, some of them may not, I mean, the way I describe it sometimes is, Berlin, the Germanic kind of sense of what they are good at, they are insanely good at scaling businesses but I am not going to be rude to some of our German listeners and say actually, maybe they are just now as creative as they UK kind of system and so what they’ve actually had to learn is go backwards so they’ve been really good with something that Rocket Internet in scaling really big businesses but actually they now need to find their creative talent to be able to start and that’s, ironically, maybe the reason why it starts in Berlin because it is genuinely probably one of the more creative cities within Germany itself.

Elliot Moss
But the flip is true here and we can be rude to our British listeners…

Jon Bradford
Correct.

Elliot Moss
…that we are great at the startup piece but the grow-up bit is a bit tougher. And there’s less, I mean talking about unicorns being thrown around, there’s way less unicorns here in Europe than in the UK than there are obviously in the States.

Jon Bradford
Yeah. Whereas if you look at California, that whole system has been kind of much more refined and much more mature. I think the other thing I would probably add is it really is when the three bits line up, then you’ve got a fully-functioning system and then suddenly everything starts to tick and you can see entrepreneurship genuinely becoming a vocation.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for my final chat with Jon, plus we’ll be playing a track from Nina Simone.

That was Nina Simone with Feeling Good. Just for a few more minutes, I’m with Jon Bradford. For you now, Jon, are you still obsessed with helping? Are you still obsessed with pointing out what to you is the bleeding obvious at the beginning and then making sure that the wrong persons are bopped out the room and the right people are brought into the room? Is that still what motivates you?

Jon Bradford
Oh totally. I think I am sure there is a Doctor Who episode where some machine or something feeds off other people. I kind of, what makes me tick is actually helping other entrepreneurs and feeding off their energy and actually trying to be a positive influence on them and the outcome of the startup.

Elliot Moss
And the super skill that Jon Bradford has?

Jon Bradford
Super skill? Sleeping.

Elliot Moss
That is directly applicable to your… apart from your life at home.

Jon Bradford
Apart from my life at home, I am so good at sleeping. If it was an Olympic sport, I would do it.

Elliot Moss
How many hours do you do at night?

Jon Bradford
If I am not doing eight, I start to get really grumpy.

Elliot Moss
But you know that about yourself. Do you, I mean, joking aside, young entrepreneurs, do they sometimes think that working twenty hour days and sleeping for four is okay? And you say, actually you need more sleep or does it not get like that? Are you not quite that personal with them?

Jon Bradford
This is conversation for a longer point but I’ve fundamentally changed all my habits over the last three years and…

Elliot Moss
Because?

Jon Bradford
Because, I am almost fifty and so kind of that level of humanity suddenly kicks in and you suddenly go ‘Oh my God’ I’m going to have to figure out how I last a little bit longer than my, the abuse I’ve given my body for the first fifty years of my life.

Elliot Moss
Do you find yourself coaching younger people, saying ‘You know what, I know you are young but you do need to be a bit more balanced? I know, I love you working hard and playing hard but actually, there’s a time here, you just moderate both’.

Jon Bradford
Correct. I think I’ve gone from being working all the time to working a lot of the time but actually having time to myself to exercise. So, I’m like Forest Gump meets a VC. So, I spend…

Elliot Moss
With three children.

Jon Bradford
With three children, who see me sometimes.

Elliot Moss
They want to see you more, they told me. I’m such a meany, they never said that.

Jon Bradford
Oh I know. That’s just not right. They probably WhatsApped you.

Elliot Moss
Not yet. But let’s go back to your super skill briefly before we go to your song choice. What is that super skill?

Jon Bradford
Empathy, I think is probably, having an ability to listen and to reflect on people and make them feel good about themself.

Elliot Moss
Can you imagine having done anything different to the way you’ve done it? Do you ever hanker for the days of working as an accountant in a big global firm?

Jon Bradford
Well, I would argue that the first forty years of my life, I was a waste, or built up to what I’ve done, I’ve done more interesting things in the last ten years of my life than I did in the first forty.

Elliot Moss
But that happens, doesn’t it because you’ve earned it, right? I mean, it’s tough, you have to find out.

Jon Bradford
Yeah. And part of that’s the reason why I do what I do, which is, you shouldn’t have to wait until your are forty years old to figure out what you want to do and why you want to be good at it and so if I can shorten people’s timeline and actually make them believe that they can do these things, that’s a positive outcome to me.

Elliot Moss
That’s a brilliant outcome. Just before I let you go, what’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Jon Bradford
It’s Van Morrison and actually, I’ll cheat, I would have the whole LP if I could have it, which is Astral Weeks.

Elliot Moss
And what’s the why sir?

Jon Bradford
The why is, I’m originally from Northern Ireland and I grew up for most of the seventies and eighties in what is probably not the most sound environment to have lived in and to have this kind of strange inspirational character which is this guy called Van Morrison, who was just head above everybody else, and in a world where there was nothing to inspire you in Northern Ireland, you had this character who was punching above his weight and in strange and wonderful places around the world, hanging out with Bob Dylan and all these sorts of people, it was just surreal and we were surrounded by all of the troubles that existed in Northern Ireland and so it kind of was almost the light at the end of the tunnel, that’s probably the way I think about it.

Elliot Moss
That was The Way Young Lovers Do from Van Morrison, the song choice of my Business Shaper today, Jon Bradford. Successful entrepreneurs have to have a passion, an obsessive passion for fixing things so if you’ve got one of those, you are in the right place. You have to have diversity at the heart of the teams that are brought together to build these businesses. So, if you haven’t got diversity in that team, make sure you crack it. ‘You have to be persuasive’ said Jon and you have to understand the difference between starting up, growing up and finishing up. Really, really good stuff.

You can hear our conversation with Jon all over again whenever you want to, as a podcast, just search Jazz Shapers or ask your smart speaker to play Jazz Shapers or if you are up bright and early Monday morning, you can catch this programme again, just before the Business Breakfast at 5.00am. We are back next Saturday morning from 9.00 with our next Business Shapers, the Co-Founders of luxury pyjama brand, Desmond & Dempsey. Molly Goddard and Joel Jeffery are my guests. Up next after the news at 10.00, it’s Nigel Williams with more music plus interviews and live sessions too. That’s it from me and Jazz Shapers. Have a great weekend.

We hope you enjoyed that edition of Jazz Shapers. You will find hundreds more guests available for you to listen to in our archive. To find out more, just search Jazz Shapers and iTunes or your favourite podcast platform or head over to mishcon.com/jazzshapers.

Jon Bradford, a highly experienced early stage investor, is the Founding Partner of Motive Partners, a financial technology investment company.  

Founder and Co-Founder of many other businesses including Dynamo Ventures, an early stage seed investor focused on Supply Chain and Mobility, Jon is well-accredited with the title “Godfather of European Accelerators” for founding Ignite100 Accelerator in the UK, the Start-up Wise Guys Accelerator in Estonia and the Eleven Venture Accelerator in Bulgaria. Alongside this, he helped to launch a further nine accelerators from Montreal to Moscow.

Jon is also a Director of the Bradfield Centre based in Cambridge, one of the largest start-up incubators in the UK.

Follow Jon on Twitter @jd.

Interview highlights

A lot has changed around entrepreneurship over the last 30 years.

I started to think about how I could solve my own problems.

I wanted to find people who share the same passions as me.

Entrepreneurs need to be persuasive.

What makes me tick is actually helping other entrepreneurs and feeding off their energy.

Empathy is having an ability to listen to and reflect on people and make them feel good about themselves.

I’ve done more interesting things in the last ten years of my life than I have done in the first forty.

You shouldn’t have to wait until you’re are forty years old to figure out what you want to do and why you want to be good at it.

I want to make people believe they can do things.

Entrepreneurship is a vocation.

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