Simon Wilkinson: A letter to my younger CEO Self


Scale-Up Investors

Simon Wilkinson: A letter to my younger CEO Self

Simon Wilkinson founded mobile communications business Magic4 in 2000 during the technology boom. After receiving funding to launch as a spinoff of Philips, Simon was able to successfully grow the company worldwide into a profitable market leader, before selling to OpenWave Systems for $83m in 2004. He is now investor and chairman for multiple fast-growth technology companies.

Dear Simon,

You’ve always been a bit of an entrepreneur. Running a few mobile phone shops turned out to be very lucrative for you and taught you how to run a small business. Then, you made a decision to change your lifestyle, travelling the world while working for Philips in Dubai, Germany, Prague and Paris.

Your SMS marketing initiative at the UEFA European Championship will soon see you hatch an idea for your own venture. You’ve never been very corporate, but it will be your sales skills that help you win that all-important pitch to your division’s CEO and lead to Magic4 receiving an incredible £11m backing from Philips and private equity group, 3i. Seize the opportunity – you won’t regret it.

A lack of experience will make the first 18 months very tough for you, though you might not feel the pressure at the time. But the fact that you are building Magic4 off the back of cutting-edge proprietary technology will end up impressing a lot of people and winning you critical acclaim in the mobile industry.

Here are a few pieces of advice I want you to bear in mind as you start out on this journey:

  • Never underestimate the value of luck: You are in the right place at the right time. A combination of luck and a brilliant idea will help you secure your initial funding. Working in a big corporation that has been considering spinning off intellectual property for some time will certainly give your Magic4 pitch an extra shine, despite the fact that you haven’t built any of the technology yet.
  • Set your own milestones: Tell your board what steps you are going to take, how they should measure you, what you’re going to deliver and what your success will look like over 12 months – don’t let anyone else define those milestones for you. You know your business better than anyone else, so you alone know what you can and cannot achieve.
  • Make purposeful hires: Getting this wrong (a lot) will focus your mind in terms of what good candidates look like and help you learn how to find the right talent. Don’t be afraid to hire independent thinkers – they will challenge you on a daily basis, but their resilience and tenacity will help you build a culture of trust and hard work.
  • Don’t second guess yourself: Live by the General George S. Patton quote, “a good plan violently executed right now is far better than a perfect plan executed next week”. Make decisions and stick by them. Keep perspective down to a minimum when you get it wrong but don’t make the same mistake twice. You’re in this role for a reason.

There will be unknown challenges and mistakes along the way (and you will have to work exceptionally hard) but I know you will really enjoy this experience. Magic4’s success will make you a better leader, and change yours and your family’s lives for the better.

All the best,

Simon (your future self)