Banker turned Angel Investor and Company Director, discusses latest projects, LaunchPad Recruits and Adthena
When Damien Régent looks back to when he first arrived in London back in 1996, with suitcase in hand and 3 nights booked at a non-descript B&B, determined to land a job in the City, he might reflect that circumstances back then were not so very different from how they are now. A young Prime Minister with his hopes pinned on an inclusive “big” society, an economy emerging from several years of self-imposed austerity, and a sense of optimism fired primarily by a group of business people whose mercurial activities were promising to lead the country towards a new kind of capitalism. Entrepreneurs.
18 years on, and Damien has embarked on a 2nd career, arriving this time with an impressive book of contacts, some personal wealth, and a slightly longer term plan: to build minority stakes in a portfolio of entrepreneurial businesses, as an Angel investor.
A former Managing Director, Financial Analyst, and Co-Head of the European financials credit trading team at UBS Investment Bank, Damien does not exactly come across as a day-dreamer, but he admits to becoming distracted by the opportunity to partner with established product offerings outside of his relative comfort zone of the financial markets. To work in a hands-on fashion with emerging start-ups, joining the board, opening the books, and providing mentoring and guidance, sounded, well, he shrugs, “fun”.
Many of his colleagues thought he had lost his marbles, but years of trusting his instincts whilst others flounder has taught Damien the value of getting in at the right time. And the intoxicating combination of hype, tax incentivisation, proven success and early stage promise convinced Damien, in late 2012, that now was the time to come to Tech City. If one thing has changed beyond recognition over the last 18 years, it is surely the emergence in East London of a technological and cultural infrastructure that has every chance of becoming the world’s best.
To date, Damien has made only two significant investments, in LaunchPad Recruits, who provide an online video interviewing platform for recruitment, and Adthena, suppliers of competitive intelligence and online search optimisation techniques for big brands and advertising agencies. Let’s talk about LaunchPad Recruits first.
Damien first met founder Will Hamilton in Feb 2013, and was sold over the course of a 10 minute presentation. The business plan resonated, the numbers added up, and, most importantly of all, the Company provided a simple solution to a problem common to almost any enterprise, across any industry sector. People hire people, not paper.
Love at first sight it may have been, but, Damien being Damien, it was only after protracted hours of discussions, due diligence, and market research that he finally opted to come on board in April, and his input to date has been significant. The best entrepreneurs, he explains, are like sponges; good listeners, able to take constructive criticism in their stride, and willing to adapt in order to grow.
With such a strong product offering, and an almost unlimited target market, it is hard to see much downside with LaunchPad Recruits. Video interviewing empowers both employer and applicant; HR is a data hungry environment, and candidate vetting a crucial, yet time consuming and therefore expensive part of the recruitment process. By putting the power into the hands of the candidate, allowing them to express themselves by stepping off the page and into a visual setting, a company can quickly identify the candidates they feel have the right credentials in a fraction of the time, and at a fraction of the cost. No travel costs, no lengthy and unproductive interviews, no timewasters.
When I raise the question of whether a video interview could be interpreted by unsuccessful candidates as discriminatory, with all the legal repercussions this might entail, he is quick to point out that actually the concept turns the idea of discrimination on its head, and indeed that view is shared by the high number of large, sophisticated groups that use the product. You are given the opportunity, after all, to present your ideas exactly how you wish to do so. No first interview nerves, no clashes of personality; some companies even offer you the chance to re-record your answers if you initially have trouble getting your message across. A fair viewing, you might say.
We both agree LaunchPad could not have existed 3-4 years ago, and it is a testament to the team that they have launched a platform that scores highly in both UX and scalability so quickly. But as I said before, time keeping and book keeping are second nature to Damien.
Similarly to LaunchPad Recruits, Damien “got” the idea behind Adthena within minutes of hearing the presentation given by Ian O’Rourke, Adthena’s CEO. Impressed by both the size of their potential market, and the proficiency of the team behind the product, he joined the board as a non-exec Director in November ’13. “It ticked all the boxes”, he explains.
Large companies spend billions of dollars on Google AdWords; search optimisation, sponsored links and keywords are a key part of their advertising strategies, because the rewards can be so huge, particularly for industries that market directly to their customers online (e.g. financial services, gaming, retail, travel). Google, of course, uses an auction process to make sure it always sells to the highest bidder, therefore you need to know what your competitors are up to if you are going to strategize your spending effectively, and optimise your return. Adthena uses big data and bespoke analytical tools to map the competitive landscape, allowing you to plan your campaign meticulously.
Adthena’s product offering is complex and specialised, and tailored differently for each client. In the competitive intelligence space it is all about who you have on your team, and given the technological demands of this branch of analytics, the barriers to entry are high. Adthena has built several patent pending technologies using the talent it has at its disposal, and Damien believes that it is poised to “deliver the goods” to major advertisers desperate to stay one step ahead of their competitors.
As we talk, the word that I am beginning to hear more and more often is “fun”. Damien clearly enjoys his work, which is divided between the 15 plus hours per week he spends with LaunchPad and Adthena, additional mentoring work elsewhere, and his search for more companies to invest in. An ever present at networking events across London, Damien is aware of a commonly held opinion amongst Angel Investors, that “there is too much money chasing not enough good ideas”, however he has made it his goal to add a couple of companies in the next year or two, and he relishes being “the master of my own destiny”.
Acknowledging that it is still remarkably tough to make it as an entrepreneur, with the failure rate still “extremely high, around 90% in the first year or a two of a business”, perhaps it is his passion for the job that sets him apart? As the stakes get higher and the exit strategy starts to become a reality, equity shares are diluted as companies embark on second and third round funding, and the pie begins to grow, it would be easy to lose one’s nerve. The passionate survive because they are fully engaged, take on fiduciary duties, help with the decision making process, believe in success. Not everybody does, or can.
Damien admits he is picky when it comes to choosing who he partners with. So next time you find yourself getting ready to pitch, take a deep breath, forget your fear of failure, and give it everything you’ve got. You never know who might be listening.
Damien Régent is an Angel Investor, Business Mentor and Entrepreneur. He is Non-Executive Director at Adthena and LaunchPad Recruits. He joined the board of Reprieve, the Human Rights charity, in 2011 after first volunteering in 2010, and he is also a business mentor at Prime, a charity set up by HRH The Prince Charles, promoting entrepreneurship for the over 50’s.