My Week: Jos White of Notion Capital

The entrepreneur-turned-investor on working between time zones and why Brits should think bigger.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

As a rule, I try to leave Mondays relatively free, but that doesn’t always happen. It’s a good day to have a catch up as it makes me feel more organised for the week ahead. Also, I’ve made a new year’s resolution to try to keep my emails to one page; I was always known for having ridiculous pages and pages of emails so it’s proving to be a bit of a challenge! Also, I have a lot to read – I have a to-do folder but I also have a to-read folder. I have to read business plans, presentations and stuff like that we’ve had from management teams pitching to Notion, but also papers ahead of meetings for the two boards I’m on.

Tuesday was a fairly typical day for someone who lives in New York but works in a UK-based company – we had our monthly partners meeting, which started at 11am UK time for my benefit. As it was, I was on the call at 6am. I’m usually in the UK for these, but because I was over with family over Christmas I decided I would be in New York for this meeting. During the call we reviewed opportunities, looked at our current portfolio and discussed upcoming fundraising plans – all standard stuff. And straight off the back of that at 4pm, I had another call with a company whose board I sit on.

Although I’ve worked in technology businesses for almost two decades, my degree is actually in English and my background is marketing-related. I worked for an advertising company and then joined my brother Ben, who I still work with, and his original partner in their business in 1992. Ben is a real people person but he’s also a closet techie. He’s not a programmer but he likes to fiddle with things and figure out why things aren’t done differently. I always think that to come up with a really good idea, you need to forget everything that’s currently being done. You have to imagine that you’ve come down from outer space and think ‘why isn’t it done this way?’ Ben’s very, very good at that and it’s actually how he came up with the idea for Messagelabs back in the late nineties [the company Ben and Jos founded in 1999, and sold in 2008 for £397m.]

For the most part, Ben and I get on really well and we complement each other nicely. For example, I can write very well – I used to be a copywriter – whereas Ben is completely and utterly dyslexic. On the other hand, we’re quite similar: we’re both quite strong minded, as well as being ambitious and stubborn, so I think me coming out to the States in 2002 to set up Messagelabs over here gave us a bit more room to breathe. I arrived with a business plan, a bit of funding and the three people I picked from our UK operation to help me start the US business.

It was a big step but I’m a huge believer that British companies don’t think big enough. We’re brilliantly creative but we normally then sell on that creativity; it’s as if we’re afraid of really being a market leader and scaling our inventions. I think we managed to do that to some extent with Messagelabs. In fact, the US ended up being our largest market in terms of users, so I’m very proud that we managed to come out here and do that.

Tomorrow I am meeting the CEO of a UK-based early-stage tech business for him to pitch to me. That’s a typical meeting for me: talking to entrepreneurs about their businesses. There’s nothing like hearing the passion and the energy and the enthusiasm that somebody starting a business has. I still very much feel that I’m an entrepreneur.

Jos White is a founding partner at Notion Capital, ‘an investment business run by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs’.

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