Marcus Spillane is a Serial Entrepreneur and experienced Finance, Investment and Business Development Executive. He attended University College Cork and joined Deloitte where he qualified as a Chartered Accountant. Marcus has a broad portfolio of businesses he has created on his own including Mercier Private Equity, Capstone Intelligent Solutions, MS venture and more recently started Lab1492 with some seasoned executive. Marcus has attracted more than $20 million in investment across a number of businesses and diverse industries in New York. Marcus acts as a consultant, advisor and mentor to several start-ups providing business development, strategic and fundraising advice along with introductions to potential investors where appropriate. His most recent endeavor Lab1492 assists leading Fortune 100 companies as well as early-stage startups who are looking to break into the US Market do so in a highly successful and cost effective manner.
Can you tell us a little about your background and why you decided to move to NY from Ireland?
I grew up in Cork, went to UCC and joined Deloitte where I qualified as a Chartered Accountant. I worked in M&A in New York from 2000-2002. Loved New York but didn’t fancy being an accountant for the rest of my days! When I left I was always trying to figure out how to get back here. After 2002 I went out on my own setting up a number of different businesses, Mercier Private Equity and Capstone Intelligent Solutions being the 2 main ones. I guess I loved the freedom that working for myself gave me though it is never quite as simple as that. With Mercier I ended up acquiring a large heavy civil engineering company in London. I ran that with my partner for 3 years before he fired me from my own company. We had quite the acrimonious falling out and, looking back, it took me a while to get over. In 2010 I reconnected with an old friend who had an idea for a startup and asked me to join. He happened to live in New York and as I was in a bit of a dark place after my firing I took the chance to start a fresh in a city that I had always wanted to return to. I’ve set up 2 startups here that failed and now have a few interests, as both an investor and advisor to a number of others. I recently started Lab1492 with some partners – Lab1492 is a market expansion program for Non US companies looking to establish themselves in the US.
Describe a day in the life of an Entrepreneur?
Unstructured, full on and requires a lot of self motivation, though that is generally not hard if you are doing something you love or are passionate about. Your project, or whatever it is you are doing consumes you. It’s hard to switch off and there are plenty of nights where you are wide awake with thoughts racing through your mind. I’m somewhat unusual in that I am involved with more than one business and so I often find myself unproductive as I end up not focusing on any one thing but get pulled in many different directions.
As an investor in different industries – what industry is of greatest interest to you?
For me industry has nothing to do with it. I am industry agnostic but saying that I don’t get involved with things I don’t understand. For me it is all about working with great people and with whom I have a rapport and connection. I know early on when I meet other entrepreneurs whether there is a connection and if there is then I explore whether there are opportunities to work together. As a result I really end up working with people I respect hugely, who value my input and with whom I would happily get into the trenches with.
What are the 3 things that you will look for when they are deciding whether or not to invest in an early stage company?
The old clichés – for me the most important thing is team as I explained above. I’m not so concerned like many VC’s about a huge market. They have no choice but to swing for the fences and to aim for those massive returns but I don’t. But the team has to be solid and they have to have an idea or a product that solves a real problem and which has a large opportunity. While I bring some discipline and the usual checklists to an evaluation, I do find that gut and instinct are important too.
What has been your most challenging professional experience?
Definitely being fired from your own company yet remaining as both a shareholder and board director. It was awkward to say the least. Sitting at board meetings, representing myself in front of 5 other directors, who did not want me to be there, was tough. Particularly when that business began to spiral out of control after I left. It ended up going into liquidation. Trying to rescue the business, with the others against you, and seeing everything I had worked for for 7 years go up in smoke took some time to get over. But I am so much stronger as a result.
What does success mean to you?
As a young ambitious accountant money was definitely up there. To some extent it is still is important but only in as much as it affords me the lifestyle I like to lead. For me it is about working hard and playing hard and I do. Outside of work, in a voluntary capacity, I am the worldwide President of 3 of the Olympic Sailing Classes, I sit on the Olympic Steering Group of the Irish Sailing Association and in a months time I will be appointed to the governing council of World Sailing. Being able to be involved in sailing at a global level, a sport which I am hugely passionate about, is something I am immensely proud of.
What has been one of the biggest risks you have taken in your career and did it pay off?
Signing loan documentation to draw down the multi million pound debt required as part of the purchase of a business as we were one and a half million short on the equity line with only a verbal commitment that it was going to be transferred in time to close the deal. We got it but before any documentation was actually signed. The last 24 hours before closing was as stressed as I have ever been. It paid off in that we closed the deal and for 3 years more than doubled the size of the business. But then I got fired…and after I left it got out of control and went into liquidation. So both.
What business leader do you most admire and why?
Elon Musk – His limitless vision, self-confidence and sheer balls. Running Tesla, SolarCity and SpaceX and then coming out with a plan to colonize Mars just makes my head spin. Brilliant and inspiring.
What benefits have you seen from networking?
Everything I have ever achieved has been through networking. Meeting my business partners, getting the opportunities to be involved in a few different companies, the sailing opportunities have all stemmed from networking.
What advice would you offer your 21-year- old self?
Risk it. Be bold and confident. There is no wrong decision. You can reinvent yourself anytime.