Shaper: Frank Meehan

Show aired on 4th April 2015

Transcript

Elliot Moss
That was What Are We Doing featuring Brandy on vocals, you probably knew that with Robert Glasper and the Robert Glasper Experiment. Frank Meehan is my Business Shaper today and as I said he is the co-founder of many many things and he has been involved in the web world for a very very long time. SmartUp is the primary business, it is a platform for entrepreneurs to meet on line, he’s in business with Brent Hoberman, a previous Business Shaper, Luke Johnson, a previous Business Shaper amongst others. That’s one of his businesses and he has also an investor, he is part of SparkLabs, the co-founder there of an investment company, again in the web. There’s a trend here Frank and thank you so much for joining me. You are one of those people that has been involved in the world of the Internet, in the world of coding, in the world of the technology that sits behind so many things – when did you get into it? When did you know that you were going to go into technology and things? Let’s start back there.

Frank Meehan
Oh back then, wow that was when Dad put an Apple 2E or something in front of me as a very young kid and then I started, I started playing around with things and actually my parent’s place is a bit chaotic and there were books everywhere and I just wanted to try and catalogue things and I wanted to actually try and get some order into it so I started writing little databases on the computer and then started moving on with that and started using those at the school and then I started a computer club at the school in the late 80s. Now it wasn’t very cool to start a computer club at school in the late 80s, it is now but it wasn’t then and then I ended up in Sweden and my first job after University was as a coder, with Erikson, they sent me all around the world as a young kid, hacking into telephone systems around the world; doing interesting experiments for Governments asking for different things. It was great fun.

Elliott Moss
And Bill Gates did say of course that ‘the geeks will inherit the world’ and he is right and the geek sitting in front of me is as you can probably tell from his accent, is Australian. He has travelled round the world and we will talk about these various sojourns that he has had but he is also the geeks these days that wear black t-shirts and jeans which he is doing as well, it is sort of the de rigueur thing. Frank you are obviously, you love your technology and I have children and those children love their technology but it wasn’t at that point in the 80s what people did. Now you grow up on-line. You didn’t grow up on-line then in the 1980s when I indeed was a young person, youngish. What do you think drew you to it because you obviously like to know how things work. What was it then, the computer club and all those other things that set you up? Why that?

Frank Meehan
I think it was just, you know, you just want to make things you know and it seems that my little eight year old has inherited that as well, you know him and his mates they just want to make things right and it is fascinating you know, I think for the twenty first century, I think entrepreneurship and just creating things is going to be the number one profession. It is just going to, I mean, you know you’ve got kids who just don’t want to get into the old corporate life anymore which makes it very interesting because corporates find it really hard to get the best talent now but back when I was starting off you went for a corporate job. You know, you went off and you started off in the corporate world but these days it has all changed and it is just brilliant how fast it has changed in the last twenty years, watching it.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me to find out exactly what Frank has been up to and I’ve only touched the very surface of it and there has been just extraordinary amounts of things but predicated on an interest in and how things work and then as Frank quite aptly put it ‘making things’. Time for some music this is Bang Bang from Mr Dizzy Gillespie.

Some things just don’t date and that’s one of them. That’s Bang Bang from Dizzy Gillespie. Frank Meehan is my Business Shaper today, he is the co-founder of SparkLabs, they are an investment company, they invest in early stage web-based businesses and also SmartUp which is a business in collaboration with four entrepreneurs, a platform on-line set up by other entrepreneurs including Brent Hoberman and Luke Johnson to name but a couple – pretty eminent people. Now Frank, just… I am going to jump forwards for just a minute. In a nutshell describe to me how you have gone out and pitched SmartUp and also how you have gone out and pitched what you do in SparkLabs because some people listening will go ‘I kind of know what investments means over here, I kind of know what you are talking about’ but nail it for me, just for a moment.

Frank Meehan
Yeah sure. Well let’s take SparkLabs to start with. So we set up SparkLabs a couple of years ago. Firstly as an accelerator in Korea because we saw Korea was about to go boom from an Internet you know, entrepreneurial perspective which it has and then we set up the global fund about fourteen months ago and so my partners are in San Francisco, Saul, Singapore, Tel Aviv and London.

Elliot Moss
And all places where you believe that there is interesting things happening in the world of entrepreneurialism and technology?

Frank Meehan
Absolutely. Yeah absolutely and it is just about you know, good companies going global faster than ever beforehand because people can find their products anywhere and but most investors are very local so we decided to set up six circles of influence and to help Asian companies go to the US and US companies go to Asia etc., by having people on the ground. It has really worked, we made forty five investments in fourteen months around the world and you know, really heavily concentrating in the Fintech scene here in London which is booming.

Elliot Moss
That’s Financial Technology?

Frank Meehan
Financial Technology, your bit coin staff there and your transfer-wises and these guys which are just you know, re-shaping the market basically.

Elliot Moss
And quantum-wise we are talking about what minimum of twenty five thousand US is that right or is it much much higher than that?

Frank Meehan
No, no, so we do roughly been like sort of three hundred to five hundred thousand US investments.

Elliot Moss
And that’s your minimum?

Frank Meehan
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
Okay.

Frank Meehan
Yeah into, into people that are raising sort of like one to four million dollars.

Elliot Moss
And you take a stake of equity for that?

Frank Meehan
We do.

Elliot Moss
You do – yes he says, licking his lips. No but I mean then they get serious – I mean just to stay also – one of the things we haven’t even touched on – you’ve been on many boards and you have sat on the Suri Board as I understand it.

Frank Meehan
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
The Spotify Board. I mean these are brands that anyone who understands a little bit about technology and that’s most of us now would know that they are the most famous, the most successful brands out there – Suri got bought by Apple obviously and is now supplying us all with interesting facts and figures at our fingertips. So that’s the Spark Ventures piece and then just briefly on Smart, the SmartUp piece?

Frank Meehan
Yeah so Brent and I, you know and Luke a huge bunch of entrepreneurs, we wanted to figure out how to mentor at scale because you know there is hundreds of millions of people out there now who are thinking of joining start-ups or doing start-ups around the world – not just in digital but in anything and it is getting very entrepreneurial and we wanted to figure out how we reach that smart kid in Shanghai or down in Africa or over in Eastern Europe and how do we get Brent’s brain and Luke’s brain to them in the right way. So through software and drawing on my experience from Suri and personal assistance we are developing this kind of smart mentoring system where we ask you lots of questions, we get you very very you know, very personalised and in the context of what you are trying to do yourself and try and help you through that.

Elliot Moss
Well that sounds a bit good doesn’t it. SmartUp.io in case you are interested in doing that. Lots more coming up from my Business Shaper today, Frank Meehan and co-founder of at least two ventures that we know of today. It is a bit like children around the world, at least two that we know and there is probably more coming. We’ve got the latest travel in a couple of minutes but before that we have got some words of advice for your business from our program partners at Mishcon De Reya.

You are listening to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss every Saturday morning 9.00am sharp until 10.00, I get to talk to someone who is shaping the world of business and if you have missed any of the previous hundreds almost, well in fact almost two hundred guests that I have had on the program, go into iTunes and put in the words ‘Jazz’ and ‘Shapers’ you can find us there. BA Highlife is a destination for you if you happen to be in the skies shortly or even in the long haul, long-term and CityAM is another destination where you will be able to profile, see lots of profiles of my fantastic guests. My fantastic guest today is Frank Meehan, he is the co-founder of Spark Ventures and SmartUp.io –one of which is designed in a direct way to help you with your business; another one is designed behind the scenes to help your business from an investment and advice perspective. Frank your background as we said earlier is that of a technologist, you are a coder by trade. You’ve bridged that gap between engineering and. Do you think that the world, the world of successful people and I have been privileged enough to meet quite a few, is made up of those bridges because it isn’t that you’ve got one skill set, or even that you’ve got two, you’ve probably got a third which is management and knowing how to take a business forward, you’ve collected those, you are now using them all – could you have done it without any one of the bits that you’ve picked up along the way?

Frank Meehan
It’s a really interesting question. I mean I did an engineering degree, I haven’t done an MBA, I haven’t done anything else since the engineering and the science degrees so you know, those are things that I just picked up along the way doing a lot of different fun things. I think that’s the, that’s the future. People are going to be trying out different things and learning but you can see the ones who do really well are the ones who do pick up multiple skills along the way. I think it is pretty critical.

Elliot Moss
You mentioned earlier also that great talent now is moving straight into their own set-ups rather than corporates. Your background and my background too is in the world of big companies. You’ve run teams of over a hundred people, you’ve run procurement, you’ve developed and tested devices and apps and I think you were one of the people behind the Android headset, Android handset excuse me and launching that. Is that corporate experience critical for you and do you think there is a whole generation of entrepreneurs missing out?

Frank Meehan
No not at all. I think at the time of course you know, as we’ve said before you know, in the 90s it was you went and joined a corporate at that time and I had a great time and also you know, travelled around the world with them and worked with some brilliant people at Hutchison but I think now its very different but look at the end of the day when you know, Spotify one day is going to be a corporate, Google is a corporate and Facebook is a corporate, Obury is probably on its way to becoming a corporate so a lot of these, you know a lot of these start-ups are going there now. It is really interesting because a lot of the guys who are starting these companies haven’t had the experience of a corporate and so when they get to managing two, three thousand people it is a really interesting problem for them. I think Mark Zuckerberg has done an amazing job with Cheryl in terms of running Facebook well. I don’t think maybe Twitter has done as well as running a corporate as they probably think they should have. So I think the skill set is an interesting one and how you max it.

Elliot Moss
And that scale-up point, that thing of moving from the skunk set-up which is as you said, is a Facebook one day and then suddenly a multi-national corporation the next. What do you see as the main challenges because this is a really important topic at the moment – how – what are the two or three big things that these guys need to think about?

Frank Meehan
I think you know, what I really think someone made a point really well about the difference between say for instance, Facebook and Twitter, you know Facebook hired some great guys who had done it before. They were kind of like the guys in the chinos, you know who’d had their clip-on Blackberry’s on their belts and they weren’t that cool for Silicon Valley but they were out of Microsoft or AT&T and they just scaled massive systems and they knew how to do it and they just got down to work and they didn’t care about being cool, they just cared about making Facebook an amazing success. I think some of the other companies in the Valley care more about being cool and have struggled to scale a little bit and I think the way Facebook did it was amazingly smart.

Elliot Moss
So scale-up and grow-up a little bit too probably but not too much. Time for some music before we hear more from Frank, my Business Shaper today, Frank Meehan. This is The Elder Statesman with the anthemic Montreux Sunrise.

That was The Elder Statesman with Montreux Sunrise. The Elder Statesman for the record are Kiwi’s and my friend Frank Meehan is an Ausie. Yeah we thought we would make the connection there just in case you may not have spotted it. Frank we were talking about scaling-up and about growing-up. You have obviously now, you’ve been in the industry for sort of fifteen, twenty years, you’ve set companies up, you have sat on Boards. What is the bit that is the most satisfying for you now? Because you are an entrepreneur but you are also an investor in entrepreneurs? Where does it sit? What really buzzes you every day?

Frank Meehan
I think buzzes me is just making a product or watching a product being built and just watching them grow and market and get the consumer or the business really really interested in it. Like so for me, I try to make a really simple rule when I am investing. I like to invest in things that people will use every day. Simple things but just something that is used every day whether it is in business or whether it is personal. I don’t like to invest in things that people might use once a month or twice a month. So I like a deep engagement but what is satisfying for me is you know, watching my little eight year old and his friends you know, frankly interact in ways that are just mind blowing. I mean they are wanting to create things and do things and just you know, build things which is amazing. I invested in you know, as part of the Board on Nick Delisio suddenly when he was fifteen you know, that journey when Nick went from fifteen to seventeen was amazing. I mean Nick was just a brain and just soaked up the knowledge from everybody and just turned it around beautifully and invested in another couple of great guys, Ed and Kit who have just started, just finishing school now, they’ve started this – they’ve already had a company which I invested in with David Rowan as well from Wired and now they have got this thing called Young Founders where they basically are going to be running workshops this summer for kids under eighteen, help them start their own companies, Hackathons etc., and are just, you know, this is what I buzz off.

Elliot Moss
And it sounds like you buzz off having multiple things to go on and it doesn’t look like you get stressed unless you are just really, you are hiding the deep stress that you have. You don’t look like a stressed kind of guy yet with all of these moving pieces, one would think – I mean how do you keep yourself emotionally – distance is the wrong word but emotionally kind of away from really getting angsty about all the different investments you’ve made because it strikes me that that would be, that would be quite stressful.

Frank Meehan
So I think anyone who has ever known me over the years, it’s always going to be God Frank’s got a good team looking after him. I mean and that’s really true, I mean I have always had an amazing bunch of people who are you know, working on things, you know, moving things around, keeping things under operational control.

Elliot Moss
Something must stress you out Frank?

Frank Meehan
Yeah maybe cricket and making sure Australia wins the World Cup but other than that you know, it’s pretty good.

Elliot Moss
You want to be in business with this man definitely. I certainly do. Final chat coming up with Frank plus we will hear some classic blues from John Lee Hooker, that’s after the latest traffic and travel here on Jazz FM.

Boom Boom from Mr John Lee Hooker. Frank Meehan is my Business Shaper just for a few more precious minutes and we’ve talked about all sorts of things, the fact that you don’t get stressed on the whole apart from being stressed by cricket, the fact that you are comfortable making investments multiply across the piece and still creating your own things. There must have been disappointment along the way Frank. There is no-one that gets away with it doing what you do in a very fast moving industry. When you have had them, how have you dealt with them?

Frank Meehan
Yeah absolutely. I mean we had a, I had a great handset company called Inca Mobile and we were like pioneers in integrating Internet on to mobile coms and built these great handsets, Skype phones, Facebook phones back in the late 2000s and we did really really well but I think we should have shifted from hardware and taken our software and put it across multiple devices instead of just concentrating on our own brand hardware earlier than we did and that was really interesting in dealing with that. That was a hard process because we had grown from a company of thirty, winning huge amounts of awards and shifting a lot of product to two hundred and starting to run into trouble.

Elliot Moss
So how did that make you feel?

Frank Meehan
Well it made me feel like I really just wanted to, to just turn the company around faster than I could and I learned a couple of lessons there I think in terms of you know, in terms of turnaround. When you’ve got a company that big, that’s growing that fast and you have to move fast to go with the flow is that you need to be pretty ruthless about it.

Elliot Moss
And are you the same when it comes to investments? When they are really not working out at what point do you become ruthless and pull the plug?

Frank Meehan
Yeah you have to be pretty ruthless. I mean, you know, look the thing with investments is that the main thing is that the entrepreneurs and the founders behind it need to be in touch with you all the time and telling you that there is a problem. The worst thing and it happens a lot is when you get an email out of nowhere, you haven’t heard from them for six months and then you know, we’re going to run out of money in two months – hey can you give us some money? And we are like ‘No’ right because you know and what they think is you’ve already got money into us so of course you are going to put more money in to supporting us and like well actually no, I’ve got five hundred thousand which I am either going to put in to you or I am going to put into something else which might do even better and I think entrepreneurs fail to understand that; even second or third time entrepreneurs sometimes that you know, you’ve really just got to just stay in touch with your investors.

Elliot Moss
As you look forward now where is all going to go? Are you going to carry on making things yourself? Are you going to carry on investing in other people making things? Or are you going to do both?

Frank Meehan
I think I am always going to do both. I think as we, because I like building things, I will, I think with SmartUp we’ve… SmartUp is a really really important thing for me because I think there is a huge need for early stage entrepreneurs. The on-boarding of them on to the entrepreneurial journey. That is still a bit of a mystery for a lot of people and I see that all the time. I get asked the same questions every city I go to so it was like how do I just address these questions and help people do that and I think Brent and Luke you know, we all see the same thing. So that’s really fascinating but I love seeing what’s going on and you know, having a global perspective across Asia, the US you know, Israel and Europe is fantastic because we really do see what’s going on but I am super excited about Asia, I think Asia is just obviously, you know it is booming but it really really is booming and it won’t be too long before Silicon Valley finally has a challenger I think.

Elliot Moss
And just before I ask you your song choice. It strikes me that you do believe that there is an entrepreneurial spirit but that it can be taught to a point. I mean all the things you are talking about now about mentoring, the way that you invest, you are helping people so am I right in thinking that there’s a balancing act between people who’ve just got the raw materials and maybe that’s a you versus people that might need a bit of a leg up. I mean is there something in a person that helps them become and defines them as an entrepreneur? Or is it totally, can it all be taught?

Frank Meehan
I think it’s not actually really… what we are not trying to do is teach people, it’s actually they just want the right advice at the right time and it is extremely hard to get an advisor of top quality on the phone to ask them that question at the right time unless you are like a third or fourth time incredibly networked founder. So we are trying to do that. It’s just people have the same questions and they need an answer at that particular time so that’s what we are trying to do. I think it is a bit of a… just to help them at the right time.

Elliot Moss
The on demand man is here. Thank you so much for being my Business Shaper today Frank, it’s been fascinating. Just before I let you go, what’s your song choice and why have chosen it?

Frank Meehan
Yeah well I used to be in a jazz band actually and I used to play in Sweden and we used to play Birdland by Weather Report so I’ve got to hear it again.

Elliot Moss
Do you want to introduce it in Swedish?

Frank Meehan
Ha ha.

Elliot Moss
You said you could speak Swedish, I want to hear it, come on. Birdland by Weather Report but Frank Meehan is going to introduce it in Swedish.

Frank Meehan
[Speaks Swedish] Birdland from Weather Report.

Elliot Moss
That was an exclusive and here it is. Thank you so much.

That was Birdland by Weather Report the song choice of my Business Shaper today, Frank Meehan; the relaxed Australian, boy it would have been impossible to stress him out about anything. A fan of technology from a very very young age, that’s where it began for him and somewhat of a multi-tasker, the ability to set up businesses, to invest in businesses and to do many of those things at the same time. Fantastic stuff. Join me again, same time, same place, that’s 9.00am here on Jazz FM next Saturday morning. In the meantime, stay with us because coming up next, it’s Nigel Williams.

Frank Meehan

Frank is a Partner at SparkLabsGlobal Ventures and is the Co-founder and CEO of SmartUp.io, an online platform for entrepreneurs. Prior to this, he represented Horizons Ventures (HK) on multiple boards, including Spotify and Siri. He also founded Kuato Studios, a leading educational games studio, and INQ Mobile which was an early pioneer in mobile internet, winning Best Handset at Mobile World Congress 2009.

Frank joined Hutchison Whampoa in 2001, where he was responsible for the technical integration of the first 3G(WCDMA) networks around the world, launched under the Three(3) brand in multiple countries in 2003. He then ran the Three Groups’ global handset business, and developed and launched a range of products (Skypephone and INQ1), which pioneered mobile and internet communications.

Frank was selected as part of the 2012 Wired UK Top 100 in tech, and Vanity Fair’s The Next Establishment list 2010.

Follow Frank on Twitter @frank_meehan

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

My parent’s place was a bit chaotic and there were books everywhere. I wanted to catalogue things and get some order, so I started writing little databases on the computer. Then I started a computer club at school in the late 80s.

My first job after University was as a coder with Erikson in Sweden, they sent me all over the world, hacking into telephone systems and doing interesting experiments for Governments. It was great fun.

There are hundreds of millions of people out there thinking of joining or doing start-ups around the world –we wanted to figure out how we reach that smart kid in Shanghai or down in Africa or over in Eastern Europe.

We try and give people the right answer at the right time.

People are going to be trying out different things and learning but you can see the ones who do really well are the ones who pick up multiple skills along the way.

I think Mark Zuckerberg has done an amazing job with Cheryl in terms of running Facebook well.

Just get the right people.

I try to make a really simple rule when I am investing.  I like to invest in things that people will use every day.

I have always had an amazing bunch of people working on things, moving things around, keeping things under operational control.

When you’ve got a company that’s growing fast and you have to move fast to go with the flow, you need to be ruthless.