Getting to know you: Stephen Bence

Stephen Bence

What do you currently do?

I am helping a variety of companies to grow extremely rapidly: as an entrepreneur, strategist and investor.  For example, I am Director of Strategy for top family law firm, Vardags, which is one of the fastest growing law firms in the country and was named in the Sunday Times Fast Track 100 last Sunday (6 Dec). I am also founder and Chairman of Beauhurst, which has been described as “Bloomberg for private companies.” It identifies and tracks the progress of fast growth companies in the UK (and is itself doubling revenues annually), and I am just starting off a new venture aiming to transform the lives of older people (it’s currently in stealth mode but I’m very excited about it).

What is your inspiration business?

My first employer, McKinsey.  An established professional services business isn’t perhaps the obvious choice, but McKinsey taught me an enormous amount about business and about what I wanted to do with my life (including that I didn’t want to stay working for McKinsey for my whole career).  McKinsey’s relentless focus on renewing itself in order to serve its clients better is inspirational.  And I met some amazing people there, many of whom I still work with or count amongst my friends.

Who do you admire?

My friend and collaborator Charlie Songhurst.  Charlie worked for me as an analyst at McKinsey before being headhunted by Microsoft.  Within a few years he rose to run Corporate Strategy for the whole of Microsoft (in his late 20s).  He is now an active investor, mostly in the software sector.  He’s incredibly smart and dynamic and generally has a totally contrarian take on the world of business.

Looking back, are there things you would have done differently?

I would have got on starting my own businesses much earlier in my career.  Not right after university (I didn’t know enough about business at that point) but perhaps after three years of consulting rather than spending more time in consulting, then in someone else’s start-up business and then as a venture capital investor.

What defines your way of doing business?

I am most interested in applying innovation to “boring” established businesses.  The businesses I’ve described above are in legal services, business information and healthcare, which are not the sexiest sectors.  But in each case there is a clear and proven need, competition that is living in the past and a clear way to do things differently.  I get bored easily and so I need a portfolio of activities.  And I much prefer thinking to doing so I need to surround myself with people who are far better than I am at turning my ideas into reality.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out?

Ask yourself if (a) you have the personality to run your own business (long hours, isolation in decision-making, managing on a shoestring in the beginning) and (b) whether you actually have a great idea that is worth the risk you are taking.  People often say of seeking equity investment that you have a one in a hundred chance of success.  I simply don’t buy that.  In my experience there is plenty of capital available IF you and your idea are strong enough; most of the 99 out of a hundred that don’t receive investment simply don’t deserve investment.  Also, while third party investment has its place, avoid it if possible.