Today we are speaking with our Director and Founder, Stephen Robertson, who has just been named amongst The World’s Leading IP Strategists for the sixth consecutive year by IAM 300. The list recognises the individuals who are leading the way in the development and implementation of strategies that maximise the value of IP portfolios. This is a fantastic achievement for both Stephen and Metis Partners – a fitting time then to learn more about Stephen’s journey to success.
1. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A rock star (maybe I still do).
2. Being an entrepreneur is not for everyone – how did you know this was for you?
I guess I always wanted to be a real entrepreneur having created and sold my first two businesses before the age of 16! We had a family friend who worked in a garage that had a new car wash installed (around 1980) – it had 3 big brushes, one that went over the top and two that went along each side of the car. People were complaining, however, that it didn’t properly clean their wheels. I set up a wheel cleaning station before they drove through the car wash. I advertised that there was no fixed price – I asked people to pay me what they thought the job was worth. I worked on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, making a small fortune, and eventually sold that “business” to another kid! …and the seed was sown.
3. Stephen, let’s fast-forward – can you tell us how you got the idea/concept for Metis Partners?
I have an accounting and legal background, and so knew a little about IP from my M&A corporate finance days. But it was only when I started working for a business-angel entrepreneur, who had invested in a start-up business, that I had to get a real handle on IP. This business had IP that he didn’t fully understand, as he told me “they keep asking for money for patents, inventions and lawyers and I don’t know what they are spending it on”. It was a baptism of fire and I quickly got a grip of the issues around patents, trade secrets, critical processes, know-how and inventors. I realised it is a complicated area and failure to perform proper diligence can result in you getting your fingers seriously burned!
The research I did for that business made something clear – there was a gap in the market for IP related services – it seemed to be only legal people, either IP lawyers or patent attorneys, that had taken up residence. I identified an opportunity to translate IP from a legal matter into a business matter of some strategic and financial importance and to provide the critical advice (that would have been helpful to me when working for the business-angel).
4. How did your direction change? Can you tell us more about what you do now compared to what you did at the start?
Willingness to accept change and move with the market was critical to our success – the business offering I started with is not what we offer today.
I set up my own business armed with all the knowledge and experience I had managed to glean from my M&A and business angel days and a genuine desire to know more! Initially working from home, I came up with the name Metis Partners (in Greek Mythology Metis was the goddess of knowledge, wisdom and strategy – and I thought it sounded like a professional firm). My first assignments were assisting SMEs deal with some of the issues around IP protection and IP due diligence. I began attending IP conferences all over the world, read a lot, talked to potential clients and fully committed to expanding my knowledge in the area, particularly as I could see that intangibles were being increasingly discussed in accounting circles.
I was committed to growing the business but a key part of that was ensuring I was satisfying a demand in the marketplace. I quickly realised we were offering and resourcing too many services around IP assets and I found we spent a lot of time satisfying the curiosity of SMEs and other entrepreneurs, educating them on IP assets without them becoming buyers of our services – not a sustainable business model! I also observed that the market for IP services in the UK didn’t really mature in the UK like the US (very patent centric), which forced me to realign my strategy to meet the changing demand in the UK market: our focus has been on growing our (1) IP Corporate Recovery, and (2) IP Valuation practices. We are now reaping the benefits of this new direction: our focus on these two core business areas has resulted in significant growth, in us maintaining a strong market position and earning an excellent professional reputation as IP experts in our fields.
5. What were the most crucial things you did to grow your business?
Recruiting bright people who want to make a real contribution to our business and have lots of ideas that I want to listen to. Ensuring that we as a firm were constantly reflecting the market’s IP needs. I take personal responsibility for monitoring and participating in international IP events, bringing back the “future of the IP market”, sharing that with staff and clients and ensuring our services reflect the potential changes. We are constantly refining our strategy and business performance targets. Staff are an integral part of this and their own targets are aligned so they can see how valuable their individual contributions are to achieving our goals. And that old cliché, be happy to delegate – it is the only way to create a scalable business.
6. To what do you attribute your success to?
The personal drive to succeed, even when the market isn’t ready to hear you – never give up. Having trained as a Chartered Accountant, I learnt at the start of my working life to never compromise on quality, honesty and corporate integrity. I have stuck to those principles (I even have these words in our corporate value on the walls of our office!) and demand that Metis continue to deliver services and products of the highest professional standards. It is what we are all about.
7. What do you look for in an employee?
Bright people with lots of energy who are not afraid to question processes. I love to hear someone in the office saying “I have an idea of how this can work better!”, it keeps us fresh and innovative. We need our team to commit to our core principles of professionalism because our reputation depends on it. And we like them to be fun – we have lots of team activities and lots of laughs – it makes the office a great place to work (well at least I think so!).
8. If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out, what would it be?
Try not to be all things to all men, focus on a niche in which you can build a unique reputation, by becoming a specialist in the field and so able to charge a premium for your services and go where the business is; there is always low hanging fruit somewhere – you just have to find it!