As a part of our series called ‘Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A CEO’ we had the pleasure of interviewing James McVeigh.
CEO and Founder James McVeigh has more than 20 years of investment banking experience at Salomon Brothers, DLJ, Credit Suisse and as Managing Director of Technology, Media and Telecom banking at Bank of America/Merrill Lynch.
He has long realized that better technology means a better competitive position and created Cyndx to help his investment team close deals faster. Developed by M&A specialists, investors, and data scientists, the platform makes it easy to find and match investors with the right companies.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series Richard! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to your career path?
Success is comprised of many things — luck being one of them. And funny enough, it’s luck that brought me to the banking industry.
Before joining the workforce, I spent several years in the military. My experience as an officer prepared me for running large departments and so after graduating from Columbia Business School, I always thought I would work for a large corporation. A colleague of mine recommended that I look into opportunities on Wall Street. I took him up on it and, ultimately, landed a job at Salomon Brothers in their Investment Banking division, specifically covering the transportation sector (which was a fit following my experience in the Navy).
After Salomon Brothers was sold, I was recruited to go to DLJ where I covered cable, media and emerging telecom companies. It was during this time that internet started to really boom, and I saw firsthand how many small companies needed help raising capital. Given the platform I was on, it was hard to provide them with necessary resources to get their funding done. I learned a lot about what the market needed and what it was missing. I saw a big gap and a lot of inefficiency, because the companies that needed help the most were the companies that got the least access to the financial resources and network they needed.
Fast forward a few years, and we’ve since developed a predictive engine and efficient technology for both investors who are looking to invest in a private company and for companies who are looking to raise capital. If you’re a company, a private equity or a venture capital investor, for example, who is looking for your next investment opportunity, we can help uncover unique companies from around the world to explore and pursue — we provide difficult to find information such as number of employees, funding rounds, IP, social sentiment, financials, leadership details, and more. Conversely, if you’re a company looking to raise capital, our technology can help identify the most relevant list of investors you should consider partnering with. We also have a tremendous number of investment banks, financial advisors and consultants who use our platform to provide better service to their clients.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
Just one!? To begin with I would not describe it as hard, I would say that whenever you start something new you need to know that you’re going to face challenges, the whole way through. Some that you will anticipate and many that you cannot even imagine. For me facing and overcoming these challenges represents some of the greatest rewards.
First, launching a new company with a new product requires convincing potential employees, customers, partners, and investors that joining you is worth the risk. No one can do it alone and it’s definitely a leap of faith but with the right people, the reward can be incredible.
One of the areas, when I look back, that was difficult was finding the right experienced talent — someone who deeply understood data and how to apply it. As a banker, I needed the right technical expertise to create a platform that represented my vision. What we didn’t have but desperately needed was a great CTO, and finding the right person took a while. The other pieces were gaining access to the necessary data, developing our proprietary algorithms, and creating a platform so that we could enable our customers to engage with the platform in a way that was useful. Users of our platform expect us to provide accurate data and if we misstep, companies can fail. It is our priority to get it right all the time.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
My wife Elise has been a huge source of inspiration. She did not come from a financial background yet pushed and encouraged us to take the risks we needed to take. She remains a vital part of the organization today and has learned everything she needed to about a new industry.
In addition to Elise, I would also say that a big driver for me personally is to always do right by the people that took the risk to join us. When you commit to bringing people onto your firm, it is a very serious matter. We take the career development and well-being of our employees very seriously; we invest in them and want them to be with us for a long time. We are committed to doing everything that we can in order to make this place successful for my employees. Failure is never an option.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Thankfully, business has been incredible. A number of our customers were willing to take a risk earlier on, which is now paying off. We were fortunate to have enough early believers take the plunge with us and this was crucial for building the foundation we have today. We learn from our customers every day and are committed to giving them the best possible experience, this requires that we constantly adapt to changing market conditions.
Importantly though, success does not happen overnight. Our people are really the ones who are committed to constantly improving the product and addressing our customer requests. The folks we have working for us are everything and I am so grateful to have world-class talent on my team. At the end of the day, it’s about working together that really pushes us to accelerate.
Lastly, incremental growth has been really important. A lot of our new business comes from inbound leads that hear about us from existing clients or when an employee moves from one firm to another and asks their new employer “why are you not using Cyndx.” We also have a tremendous amount of repeat business which creates a very strong foundation for our growth, which has been beneficial to us.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
It’s hard to say honestly… When it comes to work, I take matters like servicing our clients and protecting our employees very seriously. We like to think analytically before making decisions as we know that mistakes would be very costly to our clients. Ironically, one thing that does come to mind, was the original name that we had for the company — C Round Capital. When you think about the products that we offer today, corporate search and discovery with its broad implication, C Round Capital really has no real association with what we have become.
In retrospect, it represented our original “narrow” vision of what we thought we would be — a funding platform. In the end, Cyndx is a much more appropriate name for a leading corporate search and discovery platform. Yet to this day, C Round Capital remains the name of our holding company, a reminder of our early days and how far we have come.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I imagine a lot of people say this, but we are one of very few firms to do what we do. We have created a massive dataset that combines and aggregates the results of multiple different databases. We have also created search and discovery tools that improve the efficiency and transparency between investors and companies in the capital raising process. We believe that no other company that is as focused on the corporate space combines our scale and AI capabilities.
Going back to an earlier question, I realized early on in my career that the process for raising capital is very inefficient for deals that are roughly speaking, under $10M. Unfortunately, this represents the vast majority of deals taking place. This means that early-stage investors and companies have to rely on their own personal networks and manual searches to find opportunities. This is time consuming and means that many great companies do not get the resources they deserve. We solve that issue with an AI-driven technology platform that vastly improves the experience for both sides.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
My main tip would be to focus on what you love. You will then thrive at what you do. We all face challenges, the key is knowing how to manage through it. During those times, it is important to stick to your vision and focus on what matters most — your people. If you do that you will avoid burnout.
Also, enjoy the ride and don’t skip necessary steps to get to success. If you do, you will almost certainly have to back track and do things over later on. Put the right processes in place, surround yourself with the right people and do things right the first time. Don’t cut corners!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My family was very supportive. I’m reminded of how my son felt about the prospect of me leaving the security of a job at a big investment bank to start a new company. When I left banking, he was in eighth grade and was concerned we would not be able to maintain the same lifestyle with taking such a risk. I told him that taking risks is necessary in life and that you should always go after what you want; avoid playing it safe. Risk is just a part of life, and in some ways, without taking risks, what’s the point?
I channeled this mentality into the people I brought on as well. I was able to bring on members of my board who had gone through a similar experience and were able to bring a unique perspective to the table that helped launch the company forward.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
We are very active in our community, and one example is the contributions we make to the inner-City Scholarship Fund. We also offer assistance for ROTC students at the University of Notre Dame. We give a stipend to students graduating to help them as they start out on their new careers. We have also given room & board assistance because while the government pays the tuition for ROTC students, they do not cover room & board — which can create a significant financial burden for these students.
This year we did it for 25 kids who graduated. Our goal is to eventually cover 100% of the room & board for every ROTC student that is there.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Here are a few things that come to mind:
- Identify members outside of your sphere who are willing to spend the time to help you. Find someone who is truly willing to advise you for the sake of helping you.
- Keep your equity close. Giving it up too soon is almost never worth it, and you’ll likely never get it back.
- Investors are not one and the same. Do your research and know who you take on. Money is great but it can be deceiving if the investor behind it cannot help you solve your problems.
- Honesty is of the most importance. You can have the most talented people in your circle, but if they are not decent, honest people, you will fail…it’s only a matter of time.
- While this may sound counter to an earlier point, take capital when you can. Don’t assume it will always be readily available because it won’t be. It can take an eternity to hit your first million but once you do, that’s when the growth starts to take off. But again, just make sure you do it right and work with the right people who are the best fit for you and your company.
Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder”?
Again, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of hiring the right people. It’s crucial to find folks who agree with your vision, and who believe in what you are doing. Most important of all, make sure you really trust the people you work with. We prioritize finding great people to work with over those who may have more experience in our sector, but we don’t necessarily trust. Having people to ride the highs and lows cannot be understated.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Ironically, the foundation of our company was always about a movement. We founded the company to empower the smaller / underserved companies with access to the same level of intelligence the larger companies were getting from Wall Street. We knew that access to capital would enable these smaller and often more innovative companies to grow, employ more people and have a tremendous social impact. Today we price our products so that they are easily affordable to even the smallest startup.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
We can be found at www.cyndx.com, where you can sign up for our newsletter and learn more about the products we offer for investors and startups companies. You can also follow us on LinkedIn where we share all company updates, and perspectives on trends that affect our industry.