Why I started a business: Serial entrepreneur

Norman Shaw, founder of mobile data security company ExactTrak, talks funding, intellectual property and entrepreneurial ambition.

I’ve started a number of companies in the past, some successful, some not. One of my recent ones was a business that sold laptops to schools and government departments. A lot of laptops get stolen so I took on a licence for a theft recovery product which got me thinking.

When the licence ran out I identified what the problem was and started ExactTrak, a specialist mobile data security company. We exhibited it four years ago at Infosecurity Europe, and someone from the Home Office came to the stand and told me to forget tracking hardware, the data was where the real problem lay. Now, we have developed a number of patented mobile data protection products.

The hunt for finance

Finding funding is bloody difficult, even when you think you have a great idea. The problem with angel finance is, we were looking to raise £500,000, and if you go for that sort of level you might end up with an awful lot of investors and trying to control 40 or 50 shareholders is a pain in the arse. We ended up going to a corporate finance firm which secured us five private investors. It’s often important to look for an investor who can offer not just money, but also experience, and that’s what we’ve got.

Before starting ExactTrak, I was someone who listened to the requirements of the market, and if I saw an opportunity, I would take it on. Being an entrepreneur now, the market is very tight, the financial crisis of 2008 has left potential investors frightened and they want to see something very secure before they are interested.

I am amazed how many people are looking for funding but how little they are doing to protect their ideas. If you have some unique IP get it patented and get it valued because, with an early-stage business, when you look for money it’s probably the only tangible thing that you can offer that potential investors can hang their hat on.

Life of a salesman

[Like many entrepreneurs] I started off as a salesman and if you have that salesman’s belief in what you’re doing you feel like you have no option but to step outside the corporate environment and put your money where your mouth is. That’s one thing I’ve never been afraid to do, hence the huge investment I’ve made in this one. If you don’t have that belief you’ll fail.

I have bigger ambitions for this company than previous ones. Our product is built for mobile data security, we have a product that’s right for the market now, but the most likely course of events is we’ll have some successful sales and in the fullness of time there will be a trade sale, one of the manufacturers will want our IP and its cheaper to buy us than fight us.

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