Role and company:CEO of Semafone
Company turnover (and most recent ebitda/most relevant profitability metric):£3m turnover
Growth forecast for the next three years:Turnover is expected to double year on year for the next three years. Staff numbers will increase to over 100.
In under 50 words, what makes your business distinctive in its marketplace:Semafone is the only company in its market to offer a simple, patented solution to the growing problem of card fraud in telephone payments. Semafone is unique in its ability to save organisations money by cutting the cost of PCI compliance while at the same time increasing productivity and customer satisfaction.
What’s the big vision for your business?To make payments made over the phone as safe and secure as Chip and Pin.
Current level of international business, and future aspirations:We already have customers in Europe, North America, Africa and Australia. We intend to continue to expand our business on this global model, whether working directly or with partners.
Biggest career setback and what you learned from it:I was part of a team who developed an iPhone-like device in 2000/2001 – well before the explosion in smartphones and tablet devices. Despite launching in the UK with the backing of Carphone Warehouse, the device failed to really take off. It taught me that you almost always have more time to develop ideas than you think.
What makes you mad in business today?Big companies who drag their heels on paying their bills. Cashflow is vital to a small, growing business like ours.
What will be the biggest change in your market in the next three years?When the new EC data protection regulations hit in the next year or so, many businesses will suddenly become aware of the vast reputational damage that can result from a failure to protect customers’ data, including their card data. We expect to see a dramatic change in attitude from many organisations which currently treat their customers’ card data without due respect.
Can businesses in your sector/industry access the finance they need to grow? If not, what can be done to improve things?For a business at our stage of development, bank financing was never really a serious option. We had no trouble raising venture funding and have a fantastically supportive partner in Octopus Ventures. I strongly believe the tax advantages offered by EIS and VCT investment structures really have meant there is more money available to early stage ventures and I would urge the government not to change a good thing.
How would others describe your leadership style?I hate to think!
Your biggest personal extravagance?My daughter – my wife will tell you I spoil her terribly.
You’ve got two minutes with the prime minister. Tell him how best to set the UK’s independent, entrepreneurial businesses free to prosper:Given how much a successful small business can contribute to the economy through job creation he should be making it really, really attractive for smart people to start up their own companies. Amongst other things, I would ask him to re-look at the Entrepreneurs’ Relief that is available on the Capital Gains made from selling a business – why not make it 0 per cent instead of the existing 10 per cent? At least for a time? I’d also like him to ensure that all share options held under an EMI-approved scheme will benefit from the Relief, as all my staff hold some options and not all of them will be able to afford to exercise those options in advance of a sale. I would also urge him to stay in Europe; to cut VAT; and to do something about universal benefits for pensioners so that the rest of us don’t feel so hard done by when we’re told “we’re all in this together”.
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