Paul Taylor has built, founded, and successfully exited several companies. His newest startup could be his biggest yet.
From an early love of math to launching several startups, working at Google, and taking on the banking industry, Paul Taylor has already done a lot, and he isn’t finished yet. He’s been in business through multiple crises already and just closed his latest funding round in the face of the COVD-19 pandemic.
In our interview on the DealMakers podcast, we talked about new technology, picking the right factors to launch your own startup on, getting funded, selling your company, and more.
The Ultimate Guide To Pitch Decks
Born in the 70s
Paul was born and grew up in Northern Ireland. It was the 70s in Belfast. A time notorious for terrorism and a tough economy. Yet, he thrived, played soccer, and found he was good at school.
While he says he was always dreaming and thinking, he also enjoyed studying history, physics, and math. He also aspired to be in a band. Then one day at 16 he was inspired to put down the guitar and become a scientist.
Their school was visited by Nobel Prize-winning scientist Ernest Walton. One of the first people in the world to split an atom, and who had tea with the person who first discovered the electron.
Entering Artificial Intelligence
From there Taylor headed off to university to get his Ph.D. in Linguistics. There he found a great mix of AI, coding, and linguistics. It was exciting enough that he continued to Edinburgh University for several years of postdoc in artificial intelligence.
At the time few people cared about AI. No one was buying it. A stark contrast to today when every company and entrepreneur is bragging about being an AI business. Though of course now we also have dramatically more computing power, the cloud, and the availability of enormous amounts of data.
Then a chance meeting with a professor inspired Paul to go at it with his first company. Learning about business sent his mind buzzing. At 32 years old, he knew it was past time to try it for himself. Though now at 52 he still isn’t done starting companies.
The company took off faster than expected. Toshiba placed an order, and they had to rush to hire 25 people in order to deliver. In this new challenge Paul says he hired a waitress from a party, a random software engineer in a pub, and someone in line at a liquor store. In 12 months they raised over $2m at a $12M pre-money valuation.
After an exit, his agreement prevented him from working for two years. He went back into academia at Cambridge and used the time to write a book on tech speech.
Next, he co-founded Phonetic Arts in 2006. Another moment when a bullish economy ran into crisis. The video gaming world was exploding but changing.
They kept going. In 2010 Paul received an email and phone call from Google. That turned into a 20-week acquisition process. A process which closed right as they ran out of money, and after seven hours spent signing nearly 2,000 documents.
He and his core team were due to fly to Manhattan to finalize the deal. They only had enough money for one-way plane tickets. They checked into the hotel with no money, counting on the deal funding and Google paying their bill.
Several days later the moment is documented in a picture of them lining up at an ATM checking their balances to be sure the money landed. It did. Their investors also had a nice outcome with around a 5x return.
Entrepreneurs typically aren’t cut out to go back to work in a corporate environment for long. Yet, Paul says he was really impressed by the amazing culture at Google and the experience of seeing what great looked like at scale from the inside.
If You Don‘t Build Your Dream, Someone Will Hire You To Build Theirs
After three years he says he decided he didn’t need to make Larry Page any richer. After a short time out, he launched his most recent startup, Thought Machine.
Bringing together his previous experience and learnings from Google, this time he took on Fintech. They hit the ground running with a team of seven.
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He found an industry still stuck in the dark ages of technology. They built a new cloud-based engine for banking. It is a B2B business, licensing technology on an annual subscription. Plus, professional services, with free upgrades.
They’ve already raised over $100M. Including a fresh round of funding that was announced amidst the coronavirus mess in March 2020.
Storytelling is everything which is something that Paul was able to master. Being able to capture the essence of what you are doing in 15 to 20 slides is the key. For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here) where the most critical slides are highlighted.
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While he admits it’s much easier to raise with a few companies under your belt already, and personal relationships in place with investors before you need it, it is still a feat to take note of. Among their investors are IQ Capital and Lloyds Banking Group.
Already at a team of 300 hundred strong, Paul told our audience he is hiring and plans to add close to 25% more staff in 2020.
Start With The Market
When it comes to Paul Taylor’s advice for others considering starting their own ventures, he starts by reminding you to keep it fun. If you’re not having fun, why do it? It won’t always be easy, but make sure you are enjoying the journey.
One of his big takeaways from two decades of startups is that young entrepreneurs almost invariably get hung up on starting a company around a product. Once entrepreneurs get more experience under their belts they realize they should be starting with the market. Decide on the market. Then let the right product for the moment reveal itself.
What’s the best market to be in? Paul says to pick the biggest possible market. No matter what you do, there is going to be a lot of hard work. It just seems smarter to be in a space worth billions of dollars rather than just a couple of million.
Listen in to the full podcast episode to find out more, including:
- How to get creative with funding
- The importance of the market
- How to get acquired by Google
- The key to being a good negotiator