Getting to Know…. Matt Knowles, Operating Partner

11 May, 2020

Matt joined TempoCap three years ago after previously serving as a co-founder and CEO of HiFX, a leading provider of international money transfer and global payment solutions for both corporate and private clients.

 

He led HiFX through an MBO, three acquisitions as well as a successful trade sale in 2014 to Euronet (a NASDAQ listed global provider of electronic transaction processing solutions). HiFX grew to become one of the world’s largest non-bank providers of deliverable foreign exchange, operating across North America, Europe, and Australia and Asia, with over a million transactions per year and over a $100m in annual revenue when Matt left the business in 2017.

 

Where did the idea for HiFX come from? 

Interestingly, our original idea wasn’t the one we ended up scaling. It did secure our first investor, though. However, that original idea, and subsequent iterations, all had one connected theme of trying to disrupt banks with a customer-centric ethos. The ability to test, learn, and iterate was the secret to our success. 

 

What challenges did you have in scaling the business?

Great question. Statistically, close to 90% of businesses die in the start-up phase and only 10% of those left standing then go-on to break through the £20m revenue barrier. That’s around 1% of all companies who make that leap! 

 

At HiFX, there were several challenges that we faced in making this leap into scale-up. Most obvious, was the need to get the product / market fit right. Perhaps less obvious, and I would argue the hardest challenge of all, was the need to adapt your leadership style for each leg of the journey.

 

Each stage requires different skills, different habits, and different behaviours from you and the wider team. There is a world of difference between leading the creative chaos of the start-up to the focused execution machine needed in scale-up.

 

The danger for leaders caught in the cross-fire of running a business is that they tend to fall back on what has worked well before in the early days. A good example is blind loyalty to the original team versus getting the right people in the right seats for the next leg of the journey. It’s a significant test as to whether a CEO can evolve.

 

Connected to this theme is scaling decision making. CEOs start as the puppet master pulling the strings in every aspect of the business. They’re usually perfect for this as they are at the coalface of everything. This becomes challenging very quickly as the business gains momentum. The challenge for the CEO is to learn the skill of asking the right questions, to the right people at the right time. This means transitioning from a do-er to a listener. 

 

What’s the one piece of advice you would give yourself as a young founder?

Engage a coach much earlier in the journey. This is the single greatest piece of advice I wish I was given earlier. Having someone you can talk to outside the business that has been in your shoes is immensely valuable. I would urge any CEO to do this, and to meet with this person regularly to understand why and how they need to evolve for each stage of the journey.

 

How did you pivot into becoming a VC? 

HiFX had several PE and VC firms as clients. I met Olav Ostin (TempoCap Managing Partner) when he was a client and after I left HiFX, Olav invited me to join the firm. It was an easy decision to make, and not one I have regretted for a moment.

 

What’s the main difference being on the other side of the table?

I now have a broader experience seeing multiple business models and understanding different domains – across fintech and technology in general. I also think there are very clear benefits for the VC fund in having an entrepreneur on their investment committee. They bring knowledge of what it takes to scale and succeed, a personal network of useful connections, and just as importantly a level of empathy for how challenging the CEO’s role is. 

 

 

 

 

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