Engineering design: Santiago Matheus

Born in Ecuador, Santiago Matheus started businesses in four continents before co-founding Method Design Lab in London in March this year. He reveals what he'd wish he'd known when he started.

Born in Ecuador, Santiago Matheus started businesses in four continents before co-founding Method Design Lab in London in March this year. This “accelerator” claims to be the first to take a design-centric, user-experience approach to innovation. He tells GrowthBusiness what he’d wish he’d known when he started.

I’ve learnt along the way that if you want to be successful in business, you need to start a business with three key roles present – you need to have a visionary, a salesman and a son-of-a-bitch.

If you are too nice you will get screwed, if you can’t sell you will get screwed, and if you don’t know where you’re going you will get screwed. I’m the salesman for sure but I can also play the visionary and the son-of-a-bitch.

I used to care that everyone should like me, but as I get older I care less about that. Don’t kid yourself that just because someone is shaking your hand and you’re going to make money together that they are your friend. Knowing that allows you to be more objective about how you do business.

Don’t Ignore Politics

When I was very young, I started a couple of businesses that failed spectacularly. In my early 20s I moved to Australia from Ecuador.

At the time, Ecuador had just updated its mining exploration and exploitation laws to become very favourable to foreign investment so I decided to start a company that would raise funds in Australia for exploration and exploitation of mining in Ecuador. One of the advantages of knowing nothing and having nothing is that you can be quite bold.

I had some really nice traction and a few pretty senior executives who were taking a serious look at my proposals. In June 1996, I was planning a trip to Ecuador with these clients for September, but unfortunately before our trip Peru and Ecuador went to war, so people stopped taking my calls. Historically, there was unresolved border conflict. From that point of view I was a bit naive.

Then I moved back to Ecuador and I tried to start a funeral insurance business. It was at this time that there was a coup so my wife and I moved to California – that was in 1999, right at the top of the dotcom boom. I worked for software provider Inktomi Corporation.

They promoted me to run the e-commerce sales team in London in 2000. Over the next couple of years I worked for a number of other companies and founded others in the San Francisco Bay area and Boston, and I studied at business school in France at INSEAD.

I came to the UK in February 2006 to run the European business of global design and innovation consulting agency IDEO. It was interesting because it was a “fix and grow” scenario, and that was the first time I had managed an ongoing business. When I started we had 30 staff, and when I left there were more than 60.

I have always been entrepreneurial. It is hard for me to work inside a corporate environment so I departed amicably. Around the same time, I met Kevin Farnham, the CEO of Method, and while I turned down an invitation to run the business in Europe at that time, we started talking about other possible ventures.

An Eye On Venture

I had begun investing in tech start-ups at the time, so we started talking about what we could do in this space. He is a founder and entrepreneur, and he understood what I wanted to do – that makes a huge difference.

In the summer of 2010 we spoke with Central Saint Martins. I proposed we should launch an accelerator that offers a new way of bringing products and services to market.

We secured £500,000 in seed funding from Method and had a soft launch in December and an official launch in March. In the meantime, Kevin convinced me to run Method Europe anyway – so I am performing a dual role, which actually makes perfect sense.

A big value driver inside Method Design Lab (MDL) is the fact that not only do we source intellectual property (IP) from Method staff, but Method also works on developing that IP in collaboration with MDL staff. We are currently working on 12 products and services, and we are now looking to raise £20 million from corporate firms in order to grow.

Once you get a taste of the entrepreneurial life, if it is in your nature, it is hard to go back. You become almost unemployable. I’m in a really sweet limbo, because while I work for Method, I also work for MDL and I’m kind of getting paid to be an entrepreneur.

Todd Cardy

Todd Cardy

Todd was Editor of between 2010 and 2011 as well as being responsible for publishing our digital and printed magazines focusing on private equity and venture capital.

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