22 December 2017: from Ex-Boyfriend and minor shareholder, by e-mail
Dear Friends, Romans, Countrymen, ex boyfriends, boyfriends who have inherited cash recently, and any of their poor unsuspecting mates, please lend me your ears. We, ahem, haven’t actually flogged anything again this year, but as you can see from the enclosed forecast, we anticipate becoming billionaires by about next March.
We have again managed to bring in some more unsuspecting schmucks to give us further cash to provide us with holidays abroad etc, but in order to swing this we are having to reduce the initial value of your shares yet again from a pittance to almost fuck all. Sorry ‘bout that.Obviously, you could prevent this by chucking yet more money at us, and if you did we’d be happy to trouser it immediately. Yours, The Ponzis.
24 December 2017: from major shareholder, by text
I am happy to continue to support you and enjoy your never-ending enthusiasm and passion. You will get there I have no doubt. It’s not been an easy few years but you’re entering the important stretch of road, so hold your nerve!
29 December 2017: from prospective US partner, by e-mail
Your work is very impressive. The undertaking that Forte Medical has made is breaking paradigms and should be commended. I will work hard to make this a valuable relationship and support you.
The current climate and tolerance for abuse might indicate to Ex-Boyfriend that now is not the time to deliver such a missive. To my eternal regret, this individual was an early investor, although his contribution came with caveats.
First, he attempted to dissuade me from launching Forte Medical and its ambitions, offering to fund an MBA as you haven’t any qualifications it’s a better idea than making a fool of yourself. Then he announced that if I loved him, I would not embark on the mission: if you make your business work and I haven’t made mine work, you will make me look like a c*nt.
I rebutted his wishes, so he wrote to the fund managers for London’s LDA Early Growth Fund, providers of our seed funding. His e-mail declared me inept and unfit to run a business; their investment would be as good as thrown away.
This uninvited rush of memories brought numbness, followed by a realization that eleven years later and very much against the odds, I have prevailed. It has indeed been tough, but my investors’ money is still there, the business is on the cusp of great things and I am stronger than ever.
Here then are some hair-raising tales about just some of the hurdles and challenges encountered by someone inept and unfit to run a business.
The biggest challenge I failed to anticipate is how healthcare providers – NHS and private – nurture inertia towards urine collection. It’s a waste product and it’s not glamourous. Over the last eighteen months however, the hard-won research and data generated by my tiny business over recent years has started to penetrate the thought processes of policy makers and our success is crystalising into when not if … although my belief in the former has never wavered. But the story so far also provides a cautionary tale to others embarking on launching and running a new business so please, make that cup of tea, pour that glass of wine … and sit comfortably.
In the early years of our product development, a global multinational approached the company with an interest in licensing our technology. Their tests revealed that it is far more efficient than you think it is. A licensing fee was offered, equal to the amount put into the company at the time. Along with a promise of royalties on sales of 300m in Europe alone, this could have been an attractive “early win” for all involved. The dialogue ended, however, when it became clear that the royalties were less than parsimonious, delivering no benefit to shareholders. Our lawyer advised that the entity concerned may want simply to license and shelve our device, leaving their own systems unencumbered by competition. We walked away.
A year or two later and in need of funding to accelerate sales, we were introduced to and commenced discussions with a wealthy serial entrepreneur. This gentleman pledged to fulfil the whole funding round and deposited a comfortable five figure sum into the business while he conducted due diligence. Six months later when, without the promised investment we were on the brink of disaster, he recommended that I should meet with his friendly Administrator who would arrange a pre-pack, allowing him to snap up the company for a minor consideration, without its promotion to other potential buyers.
Depressed, exhausted and very worried I agreed to the meeting; on the day however, my befuddlement vanished and with fresh clarity, I declined to attend. I simply could not let down my shareholders, many of whom are friends and family. They had invested in good faith and deserved far, far better. Knowing that our coffers were empty, Serial Entrepreneur demanded the immediate return of his initial deposit … or else.
The following morning, on top of the winding up order received from Serial’s lawyers, I received calls from HMRC and VAT Inspectors, suddenly under the impression that the business was being mismanaged. Coincidence? I think not.
Immediate candid conversations with a handful of my most supportive investors delivered most of the much-needed funding, out of which I promptly repaid Serial Entrepreneur. Forte Medical was safe; he was thwarted.
For my enterprising peers, a valuable post-script to that episode is that the fund managers to whom we paid a monthly retainer were asked to check Serial Entrepreneur’s credentials. He’s fine, they said. Take his money. When the dust had settled I conducted my own very simple Companies House search; this man had in the previous year or two wound up 13 young and promising businesses. Happily, number 14 escaped. More happily still the HMRC and VAT Inspectors gave us a clean bill of health along with some excellent small company advice. My kindly VAT man even took a Peezy home for his wife, who suffered with routine urinary problems.
Let us fast-forward three years, when user and clinical feedback indicated a need for product design improvements. For Peezy Midstream to achieve better performance and cheaper manufacture it had to be re-engineered and for this costly process we needed fresh investment. I was introduced to a Consortium of investors who showed great enthusiasm for the business and agreed to fulfil the whole requirement. One week prior to the funds being transferred, they called a meeting.
We’ve changed our minds, they said. We will not invest but are happy to provide you with a loan at a reasonable rate of interest; all being well we may invest when new funding is required. In return, we would like you to assign to us the Intellectual Property relating to this and future products.
Without hesitation, I declined the kind offer; my (then) finance director declared the plan to be entirely normal and urged me to accept. I called our lawyer on loudspeaker who, on hearing the Consortium’s proposal, laughed loudly. The meeting closed and prior to leaving the gentlemen made sure to foreshadow our early demise; like those before them, they were disappointed.
What of our struggles on the clinical side of the business? One day I will elucidate further upon the leading UroGynacology Consultant who offered to deliver a successful clinical trial in return for shares; the Clinical Nurse Specialist who on finding that I knew of her department’s 30% urine specimen contamination rate asked me to leave the building; the patient safety executive who saw nothing wrong with urine spilling onto toilet floors – its what floors are for; the midwives who instruct pregnant women to rinse out and reuse the bottle for essential and important diagnostic antenatal screening designed to detect everything from pre-eclampsia to gestational diabetes.
On business development, I have encountered sales professionals whose talent for selling themselves outweighs their capacity for the job in hand. One such highly recommended freelance provided detailed and very promising monthly reports; wondering when the orders would arrive, I called some of the prospective customers apparently poised to sign juicy contracts. Few of them had heard either of him or of us and the ones that had were simply perplexed as to how or why a box of Peezys had been dumped on their desks. His referee later confessed he had provided the recommendation simply to get the chap off his own back.
Reader, there are many more tales to tell of wily folk, unscrupulous adversaries, scurrilous sales and healthcare professionals, who quite simply are not. Despite these misadventures, I have continued to develop our business proposition along with valuable R&D and established an undeniable need for our world-first MedTech.
I must acknowledge Ex-Boyfriend is correct on one thing: investors have indeed been diluted over the last eleven years. But he was – and is – wrong about me. Rome wasn’t built in a day; not only am I one to finish what I have started but being keen to learn, I have fresh and growing expertise around apposite areas of of my work: medicine, microbiology, manufacture, sales, marketing and more. Having also gathered a fantastic team and influential supporters, success is on the horizon.
Together, we are successfully changing entrenched and outdated attitudes to basic medicine. In the UK we are engaged with NHS, Department of Health and Hospital Trust leaderships. Across the pond we are forging relationships with the US Military, insurers and major healthcare providers; Forte Medical’s Austin office opens in early 2018.
In parallel with taking Peezy Midstream into generic use, we are developing new devices designed to enhance the results of early stage liquid biopsy cancer tests; my investors stand to own something of immense value over the next few years, for with at least three products selling globally, a return of over x10 would not be unusual.
Investment does not stop here as our new developments need funds not least to turn our MedTech into digital smart devices; savvy investors with an eye on integrity-based businesses and long-term reward understand that owning a smaller part of something valuable is better than a large part of nothing.
Meantime, whilst spinning the plates of enterprise and pulling rabbits out of hats, I have helped My Girls grow up and leave home, said Goodbye to my Mother, survived a brief skirmish with cancer and much more. When all is said and done, someone somewhere had to do this job.
2018, I think you and I will get along nicely.