[quote style=”boxed”]Challenge the status quo, all the time. Never get complacent. [/quote]
Stirling Cox is the managing director of AlphaSights USA, a company that connects today’s business leaders with the insight and expertise they need to prosper. The company assists a global client base, including private equity firms, asset managers, strategy consultancies, and corporate executives, in making more informed decisions. By providing clients with direct access to sources of specialist expertise through telephone consultations, in-person meetings, reconnaissance trips, and in-depth advisory work, AlphaSights helps each leader find success.
Where did the idea for AlphaSights come from?
Our two co-founders, Max Cartellieri and Andrew Heath, founded the business back in 2007. They recognized that the expert network industry was growing, and it was one that was not being served to the highest possible standard. The idea was to have one firm that would custom recruit experts, rather than rely on a database.
What is your business model?
AlphaSights connects decision makers with experts via phone conversations or face-to-face meetings. Our clients — private equity firms, hedge funds, management consulting firms, and corporations — need better information in order to make decisions. The best form of information isn’t Google or a report, but direct expertise. AlphaSights finds experts who can help our clients make decisions. Within 24 hours, you could be talking to someone who has faced a similar situation and has the information you need to make your decision in a safe, compliant, and timely manner.
What does your typical day look like?
Obviously, there’s no typical day, but I get into the office, have some breakfast, and catch up on email. Then, I have a series of meetings with key staff about their respective clients, join a conference call with our head of compliance about an improved portal we’re rolling out, have a couple of interviews with prospective candidates, and hopefully get a breather to actually get a bit of work done. That includes finding a new HR partner and joining a brainstorming session with our technology team. I then go out for after-work drinks with members of the team.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I try to identify the core of what needs to happen for the idea to even get off the ground — the minimum viable product — and start working on that. It’s very easy to overcomplicate things, and then you end up taking on too big a challenge. It’s all about the execution. Strip your idea to its bare bones, test it as quickly as possible, roll it out, make sure people use it, and make it stick. Then, iterate until you finally have the idea you pictured come to life.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
Startups are back in fashion and likely to stay so for a while. The world evolves based on innovation, and it’s very exciting to see the number of people who now want to work in entrepreneurial companies like ours rather than long-established companies. There is an ever-greater desire among people to join in this entrepreneurial movement, from high school students to friends I see dropping out of high-paying corporate jobs to make a difference.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
My first full-time job was in investment banking. I really didn’t enjoy it. It wasn’t so much that the hours were bad (although they were), but the real issue was that it was extremely unexciting work until a deal was live. There were huge amounts of yield loss; we would do needless work for something that was never going to happen.
I learned that it’s extremely hard to motivate yourself if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing. That’s why I really believe you should be doing something you enjoy — it’s the only way you will actually want to work hard and push yourself to be the best. I enjoy motivating people, which is why I love being in a people-based business rather than being involved in building a specific product.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I would start studying other businesses sooner. It turns out that a lot of the problems you end up facing have been faced by others — you will learn 10 times quicker by listening to them than you will by trying to figure everything out yourself.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Challenge the status quo, all the time. Never get complacent. There are always ways of improving what you have. If someone else looked at your world, how would he change it? What constraints do you think you have? If they weren’t there, what would you be able to do?
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
I invest in people. People have a lot more potential than you would expect, and they want to be pushed out of their comfort zones (albeit begrudgingly sometimes!). In the long run, they appreciate being given step-up opportunities and will work harder for you if they’re being challenged and know that you’re there, helping and investing in them.
What is one business idea you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Create a Kayak.com for buses. The bus market is very fragmented, and the price differentials aren’t great, so it’s not like finding the cheapest flight. What customers do care about is timing, location, and amenities on the bus (Wi-Fi, etc.). Create one platform where you can search all the different bus companies and buy tickets. Market it by having students hand out flyers at key bus stations. We started launching this business a couple of years ago with a couple of other entrepreneurs, but we all got too sucked into our existing businesses to finalize it.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?
I’d change what we learn in the educational system. We still have our children learning and studying the same things people learned 50 years ago; we’re not teaching them things that actually matter and encouraging them to take a chance. Certain people, like Peter Thiel, are trying to change this by paying students to drop out of college and start businesses. The two ways I would go about changing this would be through making sufficient money to go the Thiel route or by partnering with a few forward-thinking schools.
Tell us something about you that very few people know.
My left leg is a full inch shorter than my right leg. Very strange!
What are your three favorite online tools, software, or resources and what do you love about them?
SaneBox: I like this because it creates email efficiency, keeping my inbox somewhat tidy.
Captio: It’s a simple app that allows you to get ideas jotted down at any point in time.
Wunderlist: This provides great list tracking, but it also allows for delegation.
What is the one book you recommend our community should read and why?
I’d recommend “Good to Great” by Jim Collins. It’s a great book on how to build and run amazing companies that will continue developing. It’s inspiring as a leader.
List three experts who have helped you as an entrepreneur and why?
Noam Wasserman (HBS)
He was a Harvard Business School professor of mine, and he’s really inspiring from a more theoretical standpoint as to whether you really are an entrepreneur. He pushes you to figure out when, how, or with whom to get into the entrepreneurial world.
Tom Eisenmann (HBS)
He’s another HBS professor of mine who pushed our whole class to understand how to launch a business or execute on ideas.
Tony Hsieh (Zappos)
He’s an expert on building company culture. I got to visit the Zappos offices and meet a lot of the staff in Las Vegas. He has a very inspiring way of creating a whole community of passionate and driven people around one cause.
What did you have for breakfast?
I had an egg white omelet. It’s part of my new wedding diet.
Stirling Cox on LinkedIn:
Stirling Cox on Twitter: @AlphaSights