In a nutshell: Substantive Research offers comparison analytics and discovery on investment research, ESG, market data pricing and products.
Supply and pricing in investment research and market data are opaque and it’s very hard for financial institutions to have confidence that they are maximising the value of these budgets. Once institutions gain access to data and insights from Substantive Research, they know how their payments and provider lists compare to peers, where the best-matched inputs can be sourced, and where pricing and supply trends are moving.
Amar: Mike knows how to throw an event and the Substantive Research Conference is a must-have for the research industry. Mike is a thought leader in this space and has taken showcasing substantive research content to provide price transparency in what has typically been an opaque research market.
Amar: Can you tell us about your background and how you became a founder?
Mike: I started my career at Euromoney Institutional Investor – ultimately becoming Publisher of Euromoney Magazine. I then moved to running sales at Ned Davis Research, a big independent investment research provider for over a thousand asset managers. This really helped me get a balanced understanding of how markets work, and how different the personalities are that work on the buy versus the sell side!
I had the idea for Substantive Research when a sales lead came in at Ned Davis. It was from a fund manager we’d been bombarding with marketing emails for a year. I picked up the call as the salesperson was at lunch – the fund manager said that he saw an email and wanted to go on trial. So I asked him “would you mind telling me why you ignored eleven emails and responded to the twelth from us?”. His reply was “I went out for dinner last night with an old colleague who had just flown in from the States. I said I needed some macro research with some timing signals that had a track record, and he said I should check out Ned Davis. So when your email came the next day I thought I’d get in touch.”
Within six months he was allocating huge amounts of budget our way as we were exactly what he needed. So my question was – if we could deliver that much value that quickly to him, why hadn’t he found us, or responded to us sooner? My research made me understand what an opaque, relationship-driven market research was, which made people think you couldn’t be efficient with your budgets. Launching Substantive Research was our response to how we thought you could be.
Amar: What do you most enjoy about being an entrepreneur?
Mike: When you work for a big company, a lot of your creative potential gets used up figuring out how to cleverly mitigate the bureaucracy, politics and inertia inherent in large organisations. It is amazing to be able to harness creativity both in myself and the team exclusively to either make things work better or build new things. There’s no waste in our day!
Amar: What keeps you motivated?
Mike: It sounds trite, but when you watch someone’s personal growth accelerate and drive a lot of value, it’s fantastic. If you can align with their personal growth goals (which sometimes takes real effort), then you can get a virtuous cycle going which makes things functional, focused and much more fun.
Amar: What do you worry about when it comes to work?
Mike: The things that stress me out are generally obstacles to us doing what we need to do. I’ve been shocked at the financial and bureaucratic burden from HMRC and other government departments for startups. It’s hard enough to start a business, but at the beginning, so much of your time and money is wasted on that side of things. Apart from that, it’s always looking to avoid complacency. The only reason a new company can exist is because it does things better, and complacency has no part of that.
Amar: What’s your biggest business learning?
Mike: Product market fit is everything. If you ‘think’ you have it then you don’t. Everything else is a rounding error in comparison, so focus on that at the expense of everything else until you know you have it!
Amar: What advice would you give new and aspiring entrepreneurs?
Mike: Get your target market together regularly at events you create to discuss the challenges of your market, without selling to them at the same time. You learn more, which leads you to build better products, and they are ready to listen to you once you have.
Amar: Anything else to add when it comes to your experiences as a founder?
Mike: Everything takes a bit longer than you think, but you should still celebrate when you get there!
Amar: Tell us something people don’t know about you…
Mike: I am a frustrated musician who is now struggling through music theory, having dodged it the first time around, and having realised you can never get really good on an instrument without understanding the theory.
Amar: Who has inspired you through your journey and why?
Mike: I admire musicians (jazz especially!) and athletes. They combine immense talent with a grim determination to do the hard yards in practice and training to ensure flawless execution. Especially the ones who broke down barriers while doing so.
Amar: What is the most important quality to possess as a leader?
Mike: Lead by example – it’s hard to ask people to go that extra yard if you aren’t doing it yourself.