The Way I See It
Dr Mike Lynch OBE on his next steps after Autonomy, continuing to fund and build fundamental technologies through Invoke Capital.
Having left Autonomy in May 2012 after founding and spending 15 years building the company I spent the summer in Suffolk with my children and planned the next phase, watching with sadness as Autonomy continued to disintegrate within HP. It isn't easy to see your life's work just fall apart but all summer long my phone rang with old colleagues buzzing with new ideas and new opportunities to explore. I also fielded plenty of questions about my own plans, and whether I would build another Autonomy. I now have the answer.
I will not build another Autonomy, I will not even attempt to buy back the old one, however tempting that is. I see my position now as being more about finding new fundamental technologies to back and turn into world-class companies. When Autonomy started, nobody knew who we were, nobody would give us any money, nobody wanted to meet with us. Now all that is reversed and I would like to take advantage of it.
The environment for new businesses has changed a lot since my early Autonomy days, there is a better understanding of what new companies need in order to get off the ground, and better support to help them do so. That isn't to say that there aren't still some considerable hurdles to get over. We still don't have a critical mass of so-called angel investors willing to place small but risky bets on new technologies. We have a more mature venture capital community than we did twenty years ago, but we still don't have the nerves of steel required for a company to break through the barriers necessary to become £1bn enterprises.
The usual pattern for technology companies in the UK is to grow to a critical size here and then try to enter the American market, which is so much bigger and more receptive to innovations. But even assuming that the foray overseas is successful, access to capital remains a problem for technology firms in the UK. Listing rules have relaxed somewhat since Autonomy went public, but there still isn't enough of an understanding of how fast-growing technology companies work to create a supportive environment of investors and analysts willing to bet on the lows as well as the highs once companies break the £100M mark, so too often rationally we sell out early.
We can't expect to see changes overnight, but as our venture capital community continues to strengthen and develop the fortitude necessary to stand by companies as they grow, the landscape will begin to change and we should start to see a much richer diversity of companies come to the public markets.
I can say this confidently for a couple of reasons, most significantly because the output from our universities remains extremely strong. The research projects at our top universities, from Cambridge to Imperial, equal anything out of Stanford or MIT, and thanks to the experience of companies like ARM and Autonomy, there are a lot more people who can take that research and turn it into a viable business.
I have founded a company called Invoke Capital with the idea of doing just that: identifying key pieces of fundamental technologies that can be successfully turned into world-class businesses because traditionally we have been a bit slow at taking clever things from our university labs. I want to take full advantage of the fact that there are now plenty of people, ex-Autonomy and others, who have done this sort of thing before, and are keen to do it again. Among my team at Invoke are a number of software engineers who have experience in productising technologies, which may sound obvious, but it is surprising how many lack the ability to move from the theory into a practical solution.
Creating technology is one thing, taking it to market is another, and there aren't many engineers that can transition successfully between both skills. Luckily, there are now technology marketing professionals in the UK who have either worked at successful local companies, or who have spent time abroad working in larger and sophisticated markets and can bring that experience to bear here.
At Invoke, we also have a team of developers and marketers who are adept at taking these companies to market successfully. I have spent many fun afternoons in various engineering departments at Cambridge, seeing lots of exciting projects that could one day be the kernel of companies that will become household names. It is why I now read the headlines regarding Autonomy with a degree of hope as the steady trickle of employees leaving the company means that the ecosystem supporting British technology is getting stronger.
Autonomy may be a shadow of its former self but the talent that it nurtured and in turn grew it are now out doing amazing things…..I for one can't wait to see all the wonderful things they will create.