Richard Fifield is founder and partner at Realise Capital, investing in entrepreneurs, and helping them make smart decisions, sharing a belief with one Captain James T. Kirk that there's no such thing as a no-win scenario. He's also VIDA's Chief Financial Officer. We asked him about the elements of business success 

Having worked in management across many sectors, as well as founding Realise Capital, what are your key takeaways or common themes for success?

It comes down to dogged determination, perseverance, the ability to continually learn, and to reinvent yourself. You also need to be able to attract, retain and develop talent. The smartest people attract the smartest people and that powers the business forward.

It’s important to learn about and know yourself. To compete, you’ve got to get out to the edge of your competency and motivation, but you need to know where to draw back otherwise you won’t listen to the market, clients’ needs, or your team. 

Having a great network is also fundamental: constantly asking people for feedback, otherwise you’ll just stifle your growth opportunities.

What do you look for in investing – can you talk about Realise Capital’s criteria? 

We look at a framework around fearlessness, charisma and domain knowledge. Fearlessness is about being able to hustle and never taking no for an answer, going out there alone, and having a thesis around your business model. Relentless execution, relentless optimisation: constantly trying to do things better.

Charisma is around being able to attract and retain good people. You’ve got to have some level of charisma, whether through being brilliant at something or having great people skills. You also need it to influence investors and potential clients. And it’s important to build on it: understand what’s in you that people find attractive and magnetic.

There’s also an element of domain knowledge but it’s probably the least important. Obviously in tech you have to produce a minimum viable product – either do it yourself or to get someone else to do it. But this is the third leg of the stool.

What else is necessary for success at startup stage?

It’s about people: investing in someone’s ability to execute. Investors generally focus on the entrepreneur’s passion and how they plot them on a ‘skill and will’ matrix: they may be very skilled but they don’t have the motivation and vice versa.

The addressable market that the idea is going into is also critical. It has to hold sufficient power, interest and opportunity. The startup needs to do a lot of research around the addressable market because that’s what will convince people.

Finally, execution is crucial. Investors want people who will chase them down, show that they’ve taken on feedback and come back quickly with improvements. 

What are the key elements for success in growth phases?

As you come into the growth area and maybe towards an exit, the business is managing itself, with good leaders and many systems and processes. So an investor might invest more in the business’s dynamics and metrics rather than people.

In scale up, when you’ve got some critical mass, it’s different: it’s always about constant customer insight, innovation and execution. You have to listen to customers, understand them, innovate smartly and engage in relentless sales execution. It’s often about multi-products too: developing services as the market changes.

Businesses need to constantly gain customer insight, innovate and execute in order to continue to succeed. 

Businesses need to constantly gain customer insight, innovate and execute in order to continue to succeed. 

Finding funding is a major issue for startups. What advice would you give?

The best way for startups to succeed with funding is just to get out and talk to people and start to understand it. Learn about funding, just as you would learn about building your product or managing talent.

You really have to immerse yourself in it because even if you can access funding, the issues it presents down the line are huge. You should get some good advisers to help with the complexities; people you really trust. But don’t be frightened of it. And don’t grab the first thing that comes along!

Many businesses struggle with cash flow and subsequent funding. How can they avoid this?

It’s about understanding the business model to arrive at the best current thinking on how cash flow will run through the business. That’s the starting point – really think hard around cash flow. Once you’ve done that, you can set a forecast, and the numbers drive out a cash flow, which drives out a funding requirement. So many people present their forecast as a profit and loss account. But they don’t know how that translates to cash coming through their business.

Moving to content, do you have a favourite piece of branded content?

I thought the Samsung Gear VR commercial was clever as it brought a difficult subject to life. Brands have been struggling to put AR and VR across to people. Showing that ostrich putting on the Samsung gear and being able to fly – it was well done.

Most people respond to advertising like that, which is fun and innovative. But direct response is also effective: ‘get 20% off’ or ‘use this code.’ Content can be minimal but if there’s a story running through it, a campaign will work its way into people’s heads.

The Samsung Gear VR ad: strong branded content illustrating the possibilities of virtual reality. 

Is there any niche media that you really like?

For curiosity and learning I still like The New Scientist. The articles are complex but really interesting. If you’re curious about learning, they resonate because they challenge your thinking process. I also like Private Eye. A lot of content out there looks the same but that magazine looks and reads differently from everything else.

Finally, is there a quote that inspires you or sums up your approach?  

“There’s no such thing as the ‘no win’ scenario.” It’s from Star Trek, stemming from dialogue spoken by James T. Kirk. They have a simulation for the officers that they can’t win: the ‘Kobayashi Maru’ test.

They’re put in a situation where they’re going to die to see how they handle that. Kirk re-programs it. They accuse him of cheating but he says he doesn’t believe in a no-win scenario. That’s what it’s all about. There’s always a different way.

The other phrase I like is ‘finding the fun.’ Starting up is all consuming. Businesses used to have to change very five years, nowadays they have to change every week. It creates immense pressure so finding the fun is important. 

Inspirational words from Captain James T. Kirk, captain of the Starship USS Enterprise.

Inspirational words from Captain James T. Kirk, captain of the Starship USS Enterprise.

Chloe Riess