Jonny Wilkinson, Co-founder and Managing Director of Equitise, talks to The Ortus Club’s Ali Noelle Sy about how having the proper support system and taking time to gain perspective can enable a Managing Director to drive change and progress within an organisation.
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Can you give us a one-sentence description of your company?
Equitise is an investment platform for unlisted securities. The main area that we operate in is equity crowdfunding, and we were the main proponents of changing the regulations and laws in Australia to allow for equity crowdfunding in 2018.
So, our vision is to make the ability to access capital for startups and high growth companies very easy and accessible, as well as allow everyday investors the opportunity to be shareholders in these amazing companies.
Can you describe the role of a Managing Director in one word? Why?
One word for managing director would be ‘captain’ or ‘composer’. The role of the managing director is they’re the person that’s standing out in front of the orchestra or is in charge of the ship. They’re the people who need to bring the team together. They might be the person that people see and largely gets a lot of the glory, but they’re the person who is there with the team coordinating and ensuring that everyone does their part to get the best outcome for the organisation or for the ship to sail smoothly.
What current challenges are Managing Directors facing right now? Can you identify a solution?
As a high-growth business, particularly in the regulated space that we operate in, the need to grow quickly in a way that meets all the regulatory requirements keeps our stakeholders happy. It gets the best outcome while protecting investors’ assets and ensuring that the companies we’re helping raise capital are of the highest quality. It’s difficult to balance all of those outcomes to continue growing the business quickly, but there are things we can do to try and mitigate that.
Being in a regulated space like FinTech, putting in place technology, processes, and people to help grow and scale the business effectively is always important. So, trying to leverage the technology, what we know, and our expertise to do that is always one of the things we can do.
But, like all businesses at the moment, talent is probably our biggest challenge. Getting good quality people with the right experience or work ethic, focus, and passion is always hard. We always want to try and get the A-players and have a team that’s stacked with the absolute best, brightest, and smartest. Still, there’s a myriad of issues, whether it be larger tech companies chasing talent, forcing up wages, or offering great packages, flexibility, work-from-anywhere, and all these sorts of things.
As a smaller growing organisation, it’s very hard for us to compete. But, the flip side of that is we are a small organisation that’s growing. There is a lot of autonomy. There’s a lot of opportunity and experience that people can get in being a part of our business. So, trying to leverage those things and explain to the talent we’re out looking for, the opportunities that come with that are definitely one of the things we’re looking at. But, ultimately, in something of a purpose-driven business where we’re passionate about making early-stage capital markets more efficient and helping companies and investors, it’s an opportunity to talk about that and have prospective employees understand and buy into that mission.
There are a lot of people that find investing in startups quite interesting and exciting. So, it can be very rewarding doing what we do and helping these great companies raise money. That’s always something we can talk about and help people understand, which is a great way of having them bind to the ethos and who we are as an organisation.
“Running a business and being an entrepreneur can sometimes feel like you’re alone on an island with no one around. To succeed, it is crucial to make sure that you’re equipped, have the support, and are willing to tough it out.”
How do you explain the success you’ve had in your career?
So, the success I’ve had in my career I would attribute to a number of things. I’ve probably had a very privileged upbringing and having the ability to get a great education, to go to a good university, to meet people, and have a network that I can leverage is obviously very important and has benefited me tremendously. But, the other thing that I would probably say is the work ethic that I have had instilled into me by my parents and family is one of the things that has definitely helped me in my career.
Being passionate about something and working hard and persevering to achieve an outcome is something that, often as an entrepreneur, is very important. Many times, you might be the person who’s there that has the belief that what you’re doing and what you’re trying to achieve is correct, and everyone might be telling you you’re wrong. Or, for example, in our instance, we had to change some laws to allow equity crowdfunding to operate in Australia.
We had plenty of people saying, ‘You never change the laws. This won’t happen. It’s not worth it,’ and that sort of thing. So, it took a long time. It took a lot of hard work and perseverance and also trying to do everything we can across lots of different avenues to get the laws changed. But, we finally did, and the Australian ecosystem and equity crowdfunding and capital raising for unlisted companies have grown and is continuing to grow, so that’s obviously an example of where the hard work, perseverance, and belief in something can pay off.
I think those two things largely contributed to where I’ve gotten. Getting to do interesting things and work with interesting people makes the difficult days better, and it means that I keep on coming back to do it. So, that’s a very important part of what we do.
Can you tell us about a time you took a major risk in your career?
Starting a company in a space where there were no laws or there was no way of truly operating as we saw the business model working is probably one of those times. Very early on, when we were starting to advertise, there was a suggestion that maybe the laws would change in Australia to allow for it. But, soon after, we quit our jobs and began operating. It became obvious that the laws weren’t going to change for quite some time.
So, we moved to New Zealand. I packed up and moved my entire life there for 18 months while we got the business set up, licensed, and operating from New Zealand because they changed their laws to allow for equity crowdfunding. I suppose that’s a pretty big risk. Quitting your job, moving to another country, and trying to do something where there are no real laws is probably one of those big risks or big leaps. That’s probably the biggest one today.
How can you see your role evolving in the next two to three years?
Being a founder of a business and being out in front running it is obviously a difficult thing. As a business evolves and grows, my experience and skillsets may not continue to be the most relevant or appropriate for the person running our business. So, who knows? As things grow and we evolve, hopefully, I won’t be made redundant, but I might change my role in the business. I might not be the person leading the business as we go through the next stages of growth. I might be responsible for a particular area or I might be doing some things that maybe I’m particularly well-suited to do, and that’s something I may find exciting and be passionate about, rather than the main person running the business.
What career advice would you like to share with Managing Directors?
Working with entrepreneurs day in, day out, I see a lot of interesting things. At the end of the day, if you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, if you’re not willing to persevere, it’s very difficult, particularly in high-growth companies and startups where there’s a lot of uncertainty. So my advice would be to make sure you’re doing something you love. Make sure you’re doing something that’s rewarding and fulfilling, and stick out as best as you can.
Have in place the best support networks and systems you can because it’s lonely, it’s difficult, and it’s hard work running a business. So, if you don’t have those in place, you make it all much harder. Running a business and being an entrepreneur can sometimes feel like you’re alone on an island, and there’s no one around or no one to talk to. So, making sure that you’re equipped to do it, that you have the support, and that you’re willing to tough it out is probably the single most important thing.
Then, have some humility. Try to understand how you best fit into the business, particularly as it grows, realising when you might not be the best person to do something or when there’s a better way of doing things. Ultimately, and this is something I always sort of speak with entrepreneurs about, is gaining perspective and being involved in running your business is one of the hardest things you can do. Being so focused and involved in everything and having your head down makes it very hard to take a step back and really sort of take a long, hard look and gain that perspective to understand how you’re doing things or how you can be doing things better.
So, putting in place systems, having people around you, and having ways that you can get that perspective is really important. If you can do that, if you can come up with a way of balancing all that, then you should do a good job of running a business.