While I was in London Friday and Saturday for a number of Qelp business meetings, I selected these days in particular to be able to join Andrew Snoad and Tony Bicknell in celebrating the 10th anniversary of their firm Decision Tree Consulting (DTC). They invited all those who worked with DTC in the first 2 years of starting their company for a dinner tour on the Thames. Andrew refreshed my mind telling me that in fact I was their first large customer. I had them conduct a survey in 24 countries about the decision making process for videoconferencing equipment in multinational companies. I was working for Sony in those days, setting up their European business for videoconferencing systems and combatting with PictureTel who was the market leader. Sony had spotted videoconferencing as a potential mass market( it’s still a niche unfortunately), but had little experience in the telecoms market which is why I was brought in. DTC won the assignment for the survey while in competition with Anderson Consulting and Coopers who should have been able to leverage their international presence but didn’t.
Earlier that Friday I met for lunch with Osman Mardin, who supported me while I was conducting a tough financing round for ThreeFive Photonics in early 2003. Guess what? He reminded me that I was his launching customer after he left investment bank Robertson Stephens and started Sardis Capital, his current financing firm. Do I have a preference for selecting start-ups? Not necessarily –although I sympathize greatly with them- but if you award them the business you are more likely to get the undivided attention of the entrepreneur which can lead to more value for money. You don’t forget your first date, you don’t forget your first customer – it does create a special bond.