Life begins at 50: The man who waited until his sixth decade to start his own business
6 min read
13 October 2015
How old is too old to start your own business? Nigel Swycher was 53 when he launched Aistemos, a company that handles risk and valuation in intellectual property (IP).
He’d spent his working life with big companies including City solicitors Slaughter & May, where he was a partner, before quitting to set up his own company. “While partners are owners, there is a big difference in running a startup,” he explained. “There’s a dynamic and level of excitement in Aistemos that I have never experienced before.”
His age might have been unusual but his motivation was very common – he saw a gap in the market.
“I spent 20 years advising on major M&A deals and corporate transactions and always felt that technology could improve the traditional approach to due diligence,” detailed Swycher.
“More recently, the financial markets, most notable the banks and insurers, have been struggling to understand the importance of intangible assets, and intellectual property in particular. Providing access to the world’s IP data seemed like an obvious solution to all these problems.”
In this post industrial world, ideas, algorithms, technology, brands and other elements of IP have become more valuable than ever.
IP risk and valuation calculations that used to take two weeks to conduct by an IP specialist can now be generated in a couple of minutes thanks to Cipher, Aistemos’ analytics product.
Cipher launched a year ago after being piloted by 70 of some of the most well-respected companies in the City, including ARM, and Deutsche Bank. Many of these have now converted to clients.
Swycher’s big break came when he put his idea to the international financial data company Thomson Reuters. “Not only did they agree, but they offered to licence the world’s most accurate patent data to enable and accelerate the development of Cipher,” he said.
His decades of working in business provided him with useful contacts when it came to pulling together the necessary investment. “We have raised nearly £4m from my network,” he revealed. “In the mix are investment bankers, lawyers, accountants, CEOs and GCs of major corporates – and my brother. One of the Aistemos in-jokes is that the investor group would make a decent board for a major multi-national.”
Swycher has been involved in the IP world for 30 years and working on the largest and most complicated deals means that he has met a lot of what he calls “interesting people.”
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“As intangible assets have accelerated in importance in the boardroom the IP ecosystem has become ever more active and closely knit,” he said.
In other words, there have been plenty of experts in well connected but growing networks able to offer constructive criticism and advice.
In particular, before Cipher was released, 70 major organisations joined a pilot group, providing feedback that has enabled Swycher and his team, including his CFO, to build a product that the market wanted – rather than building something new and simply hoping that clients would appreciate it.
He has inevitably faced challenges, some of which are very different to those he experienced when working for large corporates. He also learnt the lesson familiar to so many small people running their own businesses – the highs are higher and the lows lower.
“The downside of my natural optimism is that things do not always turn out as I expect,” he admitted. “So, failing to persuade a client to engage with Aistemos is always hard – especially when I believe that we would do a great job.”
Doing a presentation to a group of SMEs with a bandaged nose after he walked into a glass partition was another challenge.
He is confident about this new phase of his life. “One thing is clear. Companies, advisers and investors are hungry for better access to IP business and competitive intelligence,” he said.
“Our ambition is to provide what they need in the way they need it. While our focus is currently on Europe, the US and Asia will be important markets for us in the future.”
Aistemos is coming up to its second birthday this month and the business is expanding fast with a growing roster of clients. Thanks to big data and other evolving technology automation of all aspects of the legal profession is increasing.
Does Swycher regret taking so long to start his own business? Quite the opposite, in fact.
He said: “If I could go back in time and have a chat with my 25-year-old self, I would tell myself not to rush. Everything about transforming a business idea into reality takes time, and usually a lot more time than you would think. It’s okay to be impatient as long as you’re not unreasonable in your expectations.”