WaveCrest is a homegrown Gibraltar technology company whose software solutions enable its global business partners to make multicurrency, crossborder payments more quickly, conveniently and cost-effectively to their employees, contractors, affiliates and customers. The company employs over 150 people across multiple subsidiaries, including a Gibraltar-licensed E-Money Institution and additional locations in the US, Lithuania and India. WaveCrest processes several billion pounds of transactions through its technology platform on an annual basis and is making a name for itself in the European fintech industry with a rare combination of triple-digit annual revenue growth and profitability.
I joined the company in 2010 as the first non-founding employee in the role of Chief Financial Officer. In 2015, I took on the additional responsibilities of Chief Operating Officer to lead the company through a restructure and turnaround process before assuming the Chief Executive Officer role later that year.
People often ask what it takes to grow a startup into a successful business as if there is a checklist or set of rules that exist to follow. The reality is that every entrepreneur and startup journey is unique. In WaveCrest’s and my case, like most others, the path is not a straight or smooth one and it took over six years of frustrations, challenges, setbacks and even failures before we found our footing and started turning a profit. So, if there is such a blueprint for guaranteed success, we certainly did not have access to it.
While no two startup experiences are alike, and no single case study can fully prepare you for the actual experience of building a company, there are a few factors that are absolutely critical to positioning your new business for success, whether that business is a local retail shop or a global technology empire. Contrary to popular belief, coming up with an idea for your business is actually the easiest part of the process. It is what you do to execute on that vision that will set your business apart. But even before executing your startup’s growth plan, it’s worth thinking through these critical factors for success:
Is running a business right for you?
Entrepreneurship is by no means the only path to a happy, fulfilling life for everyone. Most successful entrepreneurs are ultra-competitive, very ambitious and have a determination to succeed that almost always results in making significant sacrifices to other areas of life. On the other hand, some work only to pay for life’s necessities and prefer to completely switch off when they leave their job. And there are of course many others who find some manageable balance in between. There is no right or wrong answer and different people find the right mix that makes them happy – but the important thing is that your actions are consistent with your expectations. If you value being able to leave the office at the same time every day or completely shutting off every night and weekend then starting a business of any kind is probably not right for you. You will need to be prepared to give up some things that others probably find necessary, whether that is watching all of your favorite television series or sports, the frequent social drinks and dinners or some other hobbies. If this sounds painful to you, then again, starting a business may not be for you. The funny thing is that if you ask most business leaders, you will find that they have sacrificed these things but do not miss them. They would rather be working on beating their business competitors than watching their favorite team compete; they would prefer to be talking business over drinks and dinner with colleagues or mentors, whom they consider their friends; and they get more joy out of overcoming a business challenge than any other hobby could provide.
Do you have the right team and are they incentivised properly?
Unless you are a self-employed freelancer or consultant, you will have to depend on partners and employees to see your business dreams through to reality. Whether you bring a partner in to help you in the early days of your startup depends on your specific skills and the requirements of your business but eventually, you will get to the point of building a team. Who you allow into your business and how you motivate them to buy into your vision and strategy is the single most important thing you will do as you build your startup. You will most likely spend more time with these people as you do with your family and you should treat them that way. Be clear about what it is you need from them and be open to listening about what is important to them as well. Make sure that you have an incentive structure in place that aligns the company’s objectives with their own. The more ownership they feel over what they are doing, the more effort they will put into executing your strategy, so in many cases, giving key partners or staff actual ownership is the right thing to do. No entrepreneur wants to give up their own equity but it is always better to own a smaller piece of something successful than 100% of nothing.
Are you in the right market?
You have your idea and maybe you have your partner but where should you actually start your company? So many people just assume that it’s easiest to start where they live or where they are already comfortable without thinking through the nature of the business they are trying to build. Different jurisdictions around the world have different market dynamics, support infrastructure, regulations and tax regimes. While some businesses can be started anywhere, others require the right mix of these and other factors. The beauty of today’s world is that we can easily move around to ensure that we are in a location that works for us personally and makes sense for our business. Social media also makes connecting with mentors easy and networking events, like those run by Startup Grind Gibraltar, help companies quickly make business connections in a new jurisdiction. In the case of Gibraltar, there is obviously a small, local market of buyers and limited natural resources or production facilities so certain businesses simply don’t make sense. But the support infrastructure, innovative regulatory regimes, low tax, and ability to attract crossborder workers makes Gibraltar a great hub for a software or technology business that has global ambitions.
Think. Plan. EXECUTE!
You have your idea. You’ve researched your market and you even have a partner who you trust. So what now? Get to work! There are always going to be “what ifs?” and doubts from yourself, your friends, your family and people who don’t want to see you succeed. It is very easy to get stuck over-analysing or over-planning but the real learning doesn’t even begin until you are actually out there interacting with the market. Whatever it is you are building as a product or providing as a service, the sooner you can have something tangible to put in front of your customers and get feedback on, the sooner you will be able to adjust and improve. No business starts off perfect but the best are agile and adapt quickly to the market’s needs. Once you have a product or service that is solving a real problem for paying customers, make sure you set aggressive goals for yourself and gather as much data as you can to monitor where you are doing well and where you are falling short. Setting a clear strategy with quantifiable goals will allow you to measure how well you are executing and make constant adjustments to optimize and improve your business.
I will be participating in a fireside chat at Startup Grind Gibraltar with Denise Matthews on the 7th September. All proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to the Guardian Angel Foundation: www.startupgrind.com/gibraltar.
words | Brent Almeida, WaveCrest Group