Me And My Partner: 'Money is always terribly emotive'

Martin Prescott, managing director of RedPC, turned to Lawrence Steingold for funding advice. Steingold was so impressed, he joined the company. Founded in 2002, RedPC employs six people
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Martin Prescott

Martin Prescott

Lawrence came to me through a finance company. I came up with the idea for a business based around the Government's home computing initiative.

I wasn't too clear on what I needed to get it going, other than perhaps a little bit of funding. I contacted a finance company I had used for small-scale commercial leasing. They were interested and asked me to put it into a detailed business plan. To help me do that, they introduced me to Lawrence.

He came along and we chatted about the plan. We worked on business planning for three or four weeks - spreadsheets, budgets and so on - which he does very well. He came back and said he really liked this idea, would I mind if he funded it? He didn't think it would need anything like as much money as I first thought and it was within his means to support it. It was an attractive offer because it meant we didn't have to go to any external funders and could keep it all in house. So Lawrence took an equity stake and became a director.

It came out of the blue, but any hesitation on my part could be measured in seconds. I found it terribly flattering that after spending a lot of time learning the ins and outs of the idea, he thought it was worth getting involved himself. And of course, from my point of view it meant I didn't have to go and grovel to the banks and finance providers.

It was a real stroke of luck. I've always been involved in small companies and have a small company mentality, whereas Lawrence comes from the opposite end of the scale. He is a big company man. He's helped tremendously on that side, knocking the company into some kind of shape, making the management work and keeping me in line.

I'd set the company up but he formalised it with contracts and everything else. It is the sort of thing that I would never have got round to.

People always describe entrepreneurs as finding it hard to delegate. I'm exactly the opposite. If someone came along who I thought had the skills and confidences to take over the whole thing, I would hand him the keys straight away.

We reached equilibrium some time ago. It works well. I bounce a lot off him. The company is very e-mail-orientated. He gets copied in to lots of stuff, probably much more than he actually reads, but I value the fact that I can run things past him and get his perspective on it.

There have been times when we haven't agreed, when I've been prepared to take risks because that's all I'd ever done in my business life and he's said, hold on a second. But not as many as you might think.

In the early days when we had some pretty lean months, it was all hands to the pumps. Lawrence has been on the phone tele-selling, which is really not a role he is comfortable with, but he's done it because he has had to do it.

And I've been involved in the financial side of things, which is really his domain. We've had to make snap decisions and things have had to be done instinctively. Touch wood, we've never come unstuck.

It has worked out extremely well. I think my unshakeable confidence in the business sometimes scared him, but now it is coming to fruition, he's 100 per cent behind it.

Lawrence Steingold

The leasing company introduced me to Martin. We had a number of meetings. I spent some time with him and we put a business plan together. On paper it looked extremely good and we realised that it didn't need an awful lot of capital.

He was already running a complementary business and said he could use it to support the new company. So his contribution was the people that he already had and the existing structure. My contribution was the funding. I thought it was a great opportunity and I liked the way Martin worked. He's a fairly aggressive and tenacious character in business terms. He had thought the idea through and was very confident it would work.

I thought he was a guy that I could work with as long as I could maintain adequate control. I think he looked on me as the control that he needed.

He maintains he's not really a salesman, but he's more of a salesman than he admits. Part of his strength comes from being a counsellor. He's very good at talking to people. He can talk to anyone. And he can carry on a conversation that goes on for a lot longer than I could.

He's actually a lot more detailed than I thought he was. He's really got into the nuts and bolts of what makes the business work in terms of the technical information needed by the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise.

I speak to Martin at least once a day, maybe twice a day. We have regular meetings and he probably sends me 15 e-mails a day and keeps me up to date.

I'm quite conscious of that fact that we need to do business on a proper basis. He has in the past been a bit of a wheeler dealer, and if this company is going to achieve its potential it has to be put on a sound footing, which I think is where I come in.

We've had a few glitches but I've invested a lot more in the business than I would have done had I not really believed in it.

We've had words, but we've managed to resolve them. And when money's involved it's always terribly emotive, but even if the whole thing blew up I'd say it was still the right thing to do. It would only blow up if Martin took his eye off the ball, so my main objective is to ensure that the operational side is running as smoothly as possible so that it gives him the scope to do what he's good at.

The relationship has changed. In the beginning you are slightly wary until you really know somebody. We've had cash flow issues which needed resolving. My attitude is tell me everything and we'll work it out. It's perhaps not quite the way Martin used to be, but he's more like that now. He knows that if he comes to me first, there's a better chance of us resolving it satisfactorily.

I learnt very early on that sales people bring in the revenue and are crucial. I believe that if you've got good sales people you should support them in every way that you can. It's the same in almost any organisation. If you haven't got good support systems and haven't got a good rapport with the people that are generating the revenue, then you might as well not be there.