SBNN Founders series is sponsored by SureVoIP – A SaaS provider of business grade VoIP and business phone services
Stephen Robertson of Metis Partners founded the company 15 years ago after spotting a gap for a service he needed at the time.
While working with a business-angel who had invested in, what he thought, was an IP-rich start-up, Stephen quickly recognised that failing to do the necessary due diligence around patents, trade secrets, critical processes and other IP assets can often lead to getting your fingers burned.
He saw an opportunity to translate IP from a purely legal domain into a business matter with significant financial and strategic importance and the lack of advice in this field led to the founding of Metis Partners.
What does Metis Partners do?
Metis Partners helps clients to recognise the likely market value of their IP assets. We show them how to exploit this new-found wealth, no matter their business, or current financial circumstances. I love opening the eyes of clients to the fact that they can measure the value of the investment they been making in the IP assets of the business, rather than just thinking about IP assets as the goodwill in the business and waiting to get a valuation of them on exit.
At Metis we have successfully helped clients to identify critical IP assets – the ‘stuff’ that usually underpins the competitive advantage of the business such as the brand, the know-how, trade secrets, software and technology, and then to leverage and monetise these core business resources. We do this in a variety of ways: providing IP valuations, helping them raise money using their IP assets as security, offering guidance on how to increase the value of these assets, using them to improve the competitiveness of the business and even selling some of these IP assets when necessary.
What was the ‘ah-ha’ moment that led to the company founding?
I have a legal, accounting and finance background and so had a basic knowledge of IP from my corporate finance days. I started working with a business-angel who had invested in, what he thought, was an IP-rich start-up. I quickly recognised that failing to do the necessary due diligence around patents, trade secrets, critical processes and other IP assets can significantly compromise any associated value and often leads to getting your fingers burned.
I wanted a better grasp on the principles of IP ownership. My research made one thing clear, there was a gap in the market for IP-related services. At the time IP lawyers & patent attorneys provided advice but I was convinced that there was a gap in this emerging market for commercial IP advice.
I saw an opportunity to translate IP from a purely legal domain into a business matter with significant financial and strategic importance. I guess it’s the type of advice I would have liked to have been given when working with that business angel.
Where did you get assistance when you started?
I funded Metis Partners initially using a credit card. Our first big client was secured through the help of a former colleague, who had risen to a senior position in a US oil and gas company and asked us to help identify IP-rich acquisition targets. This assignment, with a reputable company, established our IP and professional credentials early on. Also, we were one of the first firms to work with the Scottish Intellectual Assets Centre (SIAC) who did a great job initially helping businesses recognise and build value from their intangible assets (IA).
Give us a brief history of the growth of the company
At first it was just me, trying to demonstrate proof of concept and get traction. Many people warned me it was going to be hard to create what was essentially a new market in Scotland and they were right. However, once we were able to expand and focus business development in the wider UK market, we started to take off. The SIAC was very much at the right time, but it was sadly neglected and was downsized into a small department in Scottish Enterprise now.
So what does it look like now with regard to staff and turnover?
Last year we passed the £1million mark in terms of turnover. We have 13 full-time staff and 6 part-time as part of our award-winning intern programme. Our paid graduate and undergraduate interns have been a major part of Metis Partners’ growth and success.
We’ve had more than 20 undergraduates come through the programme and many have progressed into successful careers with Deloitte, both in UK and Canada, PwC, Macroberts solicitors and Rolls Royce, among others. One of our undergraduates recently started a job with the EU. Being able to demonstrate experience in what is a near unique field has made for incredibly talented and employable young people. I am proud of what we have achieved with our intern programme and have been more than happy to provide references and often make introductions and recommendations to my network to help them on their way in their careers. Many of them still come back for our social events; we know how to throw a party.
Another scheme that has been instrumental in the development of the people at Metis Partners is the Mentor scheme for Young Managers, which was mentioned when we won the Institute of Directors award for Innovative Workplace of the Year. We have 5 in our Management Team, all under the age of 30, being coached by me with further access to senior and highly experienced external mentors for guidance and support.
What’s the difference between when you started and now in your marketplace?
Metis Partners has moved from being an adopter to an influencer in the market for IP valuations and related services. Since then, the main change would be a broader understanding of the value of IP, thanks to things like our innovative IP eco-system built around the IP League Table and the IP100, which is now hugely successful in the UK and is due to expand in Europe next year.
What type of companies do you have as clients?
Any company with IP assets, whether they consider them or not. We now have many international clients and we get business through referrals, intermediaries such as lawyers, banks, and accountants and lots of repeat business and, of course, we work with many of the IP100 entrants, through the exclusive IP100 Club.
What are your goals for your business?
To continue to grow both in the UK and internationally. I am committed to keeping Metis as a rewarding environment where talented young people can build a career in this growing sector.
What are your biggest current challenges?
In the 15 years we have been in business, competitors have emerged grasping opportunities in the market we created. However our unique and longstanding methodology and approach and the IP League Table have established our position and created a real benchmark in IP and IA. Our reputation and credibility set us apart from the competition; although it has given rise to some difficult decisions, because new entrants will try to undercut us on fees / price, which has led to us having to stand firm on the value we place on our skills and our services even if it means losing work in the process. I believe in delivering first class professional services at a fair price.
What has been the biggest challenge so far?
We are the undisputed market leaders in the Corporate Recovery and Restructuring market, which of course has seen many changes, particularly in the last few years. As a result, we have had to keep pace with the needs of the market. In the past when companies were going bust, our job was to maximise the recoveries for creditors from selling the IP assets allowing a buyer to quickly breathe life back into the brand and relaunch with a new business model. These days we are more involved before the business goes bust and advising on financial restructuring and recovery, often centred on IP. We are now involved much earlier in the process valuing the IP assets, rather than selling them, and often helping struggling corporates and their investors recognise the market value of their IP assets and advising on how IP structures that can facilitate lending and refinance. Fifteen years of experience and investment in developing the skills and training of staff means we continue to be the market leaders despite changes in market conditions.
What do you know now that you wished you had known earlier?
I think I ploughed my furrow in Scotland for too long. There’s a traditionalist mindset in Scottish business that hampered our growth in the early days and I should have taken more risk and probably pursued bigger, higher profile business opportunities at that time. I would have pushed down South and internationally sooner, had I known but I’m a proud Scot and was keen to prove the business model in Scotland first.
What’s the secret to good leadership?
First and foremost, knowing your people. Leadership is, in my opinion, a blend of coaching, motivating and directing your staff. The ratio of the three elements changes from person to person, and also over time as they develop. Part of it is creating the right environment, where staff aren’t afraid to make mistakes or speak out.
Where do you see the company in five years?
I see the business becoming part of a much larger, international organisation, growing in a global market relying on their international footprint and reputation. I’ve created an exciting platform for growth at Metis Partners, one which I fully expect the management team to drive forward onto a bigger world stage.
How can the Scottish startup/entrepreneur landscape be improved to help more businesses start up and grow?
I think Scottish companies need more support from Scottish communities, with more work in the B2C and B2B markets coming to Scottish companies. Also, we need to stop the derogation of lifestyle businesses. Just because a business isn’t aimed at raising Venture Capital or selling to Microsoft or Google doesn’t make it any less of a business.
Scottish businesses could go far by being more open to innovation and accessing international markets. If there was one concrete, pragmatic improvement the Scottish Government could make it would be to create new pathways to international markets that could be safely and predictably traversed by Scottish SMEs. These should be focused on support from other entrepreneurs who have been down that path before and understand the risks to be managed and opportunities to be grasped.
The final piece of advice that I would offer to all businesses – put IP on the business agenda and ask the following questions:
- What is your IP worth & when did you last have your IP valued?
- When did you last carry out an inventory of your critical IP assets?
- Is the value of your reflected in the overall business valuation?
- What value do your current lenders attribute to your IP in their security package?
…and be aware of the value of your IP assets well before it’s time to exit.
Stephen Robertson, founder, owner and director of Metis Partners
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