Jeff Lynn began his career at a top law firm in New York, but his love of the UK brought him to London, where he decided to branch out and launch Seedrs, alongside his business partner Carlos Silva. Day-to-day he's a busy man, juggling a mix of operations. Jeff took some time out of his day to catch up with BQ and tell us a little more about how he came to be the MD....
Describe your role in no more than 100 words.
As CEO and co-founder, my role is a combination of providing leadership across the organisation while also articulating and pursuing the vision that underlies the business. It’s an exciting and highly varied role, because every day I am involved in a mix of detailed operations, short- to medium-term strategic thinking, and then looking way into the future and trying to chart a course for business to achieve its full potential.
I love it but am under no illusions about how tough the challenge is.
What is it the company does?
Seedrs one of the world’s leading equity crowdfunding platforms. We allow investors of all shapes and sizes to invest in innovative startups and other growth-focused businesses.
From as little as £10 you can own shares in and become a part of the ‘next big thing’, but more than that, we make it easy and straightforward to invest in early-stage businesses as an asset class and build a diversified portfolio that has the chance to provide outstanding returns.
For entrepreneurs, Seedrs provides a straightforward and efficient platform to raise capital and build community.
More than that though, raising money through Seedrs gives businesses a big community of supporters: suddenly you have hundreds of people with a vested interest in your success, and that can provide a lot of value as you look to grow.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
I began my career in New York as a corporate lawyer with Sullivan & Cromwell, which is one of the great old American law firms with a hugely rich history.
One day in mid-2005, I mentioned to a senior partner that I had always liked the UK and that if ever the firm had an opening for a junior associate in its London office, I’d like to be considered. A week later, I got a call from the same partner: "Jeff, you're moving to London."
I arrived in London at the end of 2005 and somehow Britain never managed to get rid of me.
By 2008 I was ready to move on from law—I had learned a lot, but I just didn’t want to spend my whole career representing really big banks taking over really big other banks and just destroying a whole bunch of value in the process.
I figured the cleanest and easiest way to break away from law and move into the entrepreneurial ecosystem was by doing a MBA.
I accepted an offer from Said Business School at Oxford and did my MBA there from 2008-2009. It was at Oxford that I met Seedrs co-founder Carlos Silva.
We started thinking about the early-stage finance world and realised that here was both unmet demand for equity capital from small companies and startups, as well as an untapped supply of funds outside of the VC and angel investment worlds.
Seedrs eventually launched in July 2012 after three years of planning and a lengthy approval process with what was then the Financial Services Authority (our approval made us the first regulated equity crowdfunding platform in the world).
What do you believe makes a great leader?
I am not the kind of CEO who reads lots of books on leadership or thinks a lot about management theory. I think that the best way to lead a business depends entirely on context: what the business is doing, how the team has come together, and a host of other things. In the case of Seedrs, I think leading this business is ideally about providing a vision and then giving the team the resources and support they need to execute it.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
At one level my legal background has been a barrier. I have tried to un-learn how to be a lawyer through the years! Lawyers are inherently risk-averse, but to run a start-up you have to be willing to assess and take risks when appropriate.
But at the same time my legal background plays a key role in much of what we do. I think anyone who knows Seedrs, knows that we have a strong focus on doing things properly and getting structures and legals right.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
Spending time with my wife and my new daughter Hannah. I have settled very happily into family life now, and while I still enjoy a few sports (skiing and scuba diving in particular) and time at the pub, I’m find the pleasures and challenges of domestication are a nice antidote to the pleasures and challenges of work!
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Oddly I always wanted to be a lawyer. As someone who now proudly describes himself as a “recovering” lawyer (and is on the New York Bar’s rolls as “retired from the practice of law”), that’s a bit strange, but even as a child I enjoyed both the logical thinking and the advocacy that were inherent in law.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about then?
I don’t have a huge amount of time for people who lack attention to detail or professionalism in their work generally. I actually think I’m pretty tolerant, and I try not to judge other people’s working styles or approaches – if they get the job done, that’s good enough for me!
But early in my career, the importance of detail was drilled into my head: things like formatting, typos, precision of language etc. are all important ways of demonstrating quality to other people, and if you are sloppy on those, people will think you’re just as sloppy on the substantive stuff. I think I emphasise that a lot around the office, even if at times I’m sure people think I’m being overly pedantic.
Where do you see the company in five years time?
We are changing the investment landscape, giving all sorts of people the chance to invest in businesses they never could have accessed before, and helping to fund and support great entrepreneurs across all sectors.
I am passionate about establishing equity crowdfunding as a mainstream form of investment and fundraising, and while we’ve had a lot of success so far, we’re only at the beginning. Equity crowdfunding will be a multi-billion pound businesss industry in the Europe within a short timeframe, and we plan to stay at the vanguard of it.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Add value from day one. As I was moving from being a lawyer into setting up a business, several people told me, in slightly different ways, that in the startup game there is no market for general intelligence.
You need to find a way to bring your talents to bear as early as possible; that buys you a seat at the table, and over time you can then expand the sorts of things you get involved in.
That’s very much been my story with Seedrs: my role at first was almost entirely legal, drawing on my background in that space (and that was what we needed then); as time went by, and the business went live, I began to learn more about marketing, operations, product etc., and I now contribute in some way or another across almost every aspect of the company.
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