In conversation with: James Thomas

Welcome to our Q and A series, where we bring together entrepreneurs and leaders in the business community. Each interviewee brings their unique perspective and hands-on experience of the challenges faced when starting and scaling a company.

21 February 2024

James Thomas

James Thomas, CEO of JET Connectivity, talks Finding Product-Market Fit and Fundraising

Can you tell us about your journey and what led you to establish JET Connectivity?  

I'm an offshore sailor who was fortunate to be racing in the 2019 Fastnet Race. We'd got to Star Point and went to start the engine to charge the batteries, and it wouldn't start. 

I then sat on the floor of the yacht for three hours stripping the engine down to find that the issue was a failed fuel system, and we didn't have the spare parts to fix it. We continued to race without battery power, lights, navigation systems, or autopilot. This meant I was alone on the front of the yacht wrestling a sail over the side and trying my best not to go overboard, knowing the owner wouldn't have been able to come get me. This led me to think how useful it would be if we had had mobile phone coverage with maps, and navigation at least! 

What advice would you give fellow engineers who are interested in making the jump to entrepreneurship?

Engineers have some great transferable skill sets, but also need to really understand that there's no point building the perfect widget that nobody wants to buy.

Are there any challenges in being a solo founder?

There are so many challenges being the solo founder. Certainly, I'd rather have had co-founders as they make a massive difference on your success or failure.

You should think hard about your own skill sets and be critical. You can grow, or take on advisors to retain capital, but it's a lot harder than having a strong team from the start. 

What have you learned in both finding, and raising, capital? 

Cut straight to the point and do the research – there are a lot of funds with no capital, or with ridiculous term sheets. 

 I now start the fund raising calls with questions to ascertain the following in the first five minutes:

  • How much capital do you have?
  • What's your average ticket size?
  • Do you invest in businesses similar to us?
  • Do you lead or do you follow? 
  • Could I work with you?
  • What's needed to close a round with you, in terms of process?
  • Are you in the Investment Committee? 

This has ended a lot of calls quickly and saved a lot of time, but doing our homework also shows the maturity in the founding team. 

Shepherd and Wedderburn are brilliant here at protecting and advising on the process.

How did you build the team at JET Connectivity and what are the essential qualities/ ingredients that a team must have in order to be successful? 

Luck at first, and then from there it was about trying to find the people who wanted to be on the journey first and foremost. 

People need to be driven to go in the same direction. Naturally this really helps with bandwidth and getting the team to work together. I always prioritised the right cultural fit at the right time. 

What has been your process for establishing product-market fit?

Product-market fit was a challenge, and I think we are only just getting this really matured. This has been a process of customer feedback and testing the hypothesis around what their problems are, and then how they want to solve them. Some people want a faster car, others want to take a train. 

Do you have any recommendations or shout-outs in terms of support within the ecosystem? And what more could the business ecosystem or Government do to support founders like you?

I'd love to shout out to so many people, I'd miss someone if I attempted names! 

I think the ecosystem as a whole really has enabled our success. Innovate, DASA, each of the Catapults in their own way, and so many mentors and advisors. 

In terms of support, I think we need the corporates to actually embody innovation rather than just have a funded department to play in. This would really help the corporates, and actually grow them far faster, but a lot of the time we see a lot of talk and promise but little action. 

In terms of the government, I'm going to risk it and say they've been fab. Slow at times, but generally really good to work with and open to see innovation, as long as you are delivering positive impact. 

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