Having studied physics at postgraduate level, Dr David Shaw began a career in management consulting working for multiple firms across various sectors, before launching his own business information company in quantum, Fact Based Insight. David is now expanding his journey in venture capital. We caught up with him to find out more about his career path, what encouraged him to pursue a career in quantum, and his roles as an Analyst and Venture Capital partner.
You are the founder of Fact Based Insight, your own quantum business information company and are currently in the process of launching a venture capital business, also in quantum, however, you’ve worked in a variety of roles across a number of sectors. Please can you tell us a little bit more about your career journey and what inspired you to work in the field of quantum?
I did my undergraduate degree in physics at the University of Oxford and then did a PhD in high-energy physics at UCL, which was great fun. Then I jumped into commercial life and worked at a management consultancy firm called Anderson Consulting (now known as Accenture). There I worked on the technical side of consulting and worked my way up. After a fun time there, I made the jump and transitioned to the business side of consulting with a company called A.T. Kearney. Overall, I did 14 years in management consulting, but then I got the opportunity to move to a company called Datamonitor where I ended up first as a business unit Managing Director and then running the Research and Analysis function across the company. We successfully built the company up to be a known business information or market advisory company which created content for key sectors such as pharmaceuticals, financial services, energy, consumer goods, retail and automotive, and ultimately, we sold the company on to Informer PLC. After that I moved to doing a very similar thing again with another business called GlobalData Ltd (now known as GlobalData PLC). That was again great fun. I began looking about for what was the next exciting thing to get involved in. I thought it was going to be fusion power, but then I came across quantum technology and I realised this is great, I believe in it commercially and it excites me because of my background in physics. One of the lessons I learned from working in business information was that to really get into a differentiated position in a new area, it helps if you join early so that you can establish yourself and become a known brand in the market. I saw an ideal opportunity to do that in quantum technology and so I founded Fact Based Insight. Looking ahead, I’m looking to grow Fact Based Insight by combining it with some of the other leading companies following the quantum sector. I’m also helping set up a venture capital business to invest in quantum.
Can you tell us a little bit more about Fact Based Insight and why you created it?
Fact Based Insight is a business information or market advisory business, specifically focused on quantum technology, and I’m the lead analyst. I founded the company because I was really interested in the emerging quantum technology sector. It is not about mass marketing or popularising the technologies, it aims to provide people in influential positions across the sector with credible information and views that they can depend upon. These people want information that they can reference in business cases or board meetings and there’s a wealth of things that they need access to including the latest news, deals, trends, patents, market forecasts and so on, however the information must be curated, analysed and presented in a way that is useful to them. Fact Based Insight isn’t all of that yet, but its successor businesses will be. There are various ways to put together sets of numbers, and in some sense coming up with numbers isn’t the problem, however, they must be credible and referenceable and the brand that they come from must be reputable. I hope that’s what I’ve created through Fact Based Insight and that people recognise that the content provided is informed, up-to-date and insightful and can give them the credibility they desire when they are associated with it. Something great about business information as an activity is that you can take the content to multiple markets. You can of course offer it to the quantum players of all sizes in the market, along with potential adopters of quantum technology, however, this is also exactly the content that investors in the market need, and that’s where this work joins really well with the new venture capital company I’ve helped found, Coherence Ventures.
What encouraged you to branch out into venture capital?
I think business information is an essential part of the ecosystem and it is great fun. However, I have built businesses like that twice already and so one of the attractions for me in moving into venture capital is the fact I’ve not done it before. Crucially, my partners have! It’s great to be involved in taking my insight down this new avenue and to be involved in a different way.
What does your role involve and what is a typical day at work like for you? What do you enjoy most about your job?
Working in an analyst role like this in an organisation such as Fact Based Insight is great because it allows you to follow your interests. My role has enabled me to build my understanding of the quantum technology sector because it requires me to learn and write about things, have an opinion and come up with a hopefully a balanced view. Networking is a key part of the role and something that I have enjoyed doing across the sector by attending events and meeting and catching up with people, on a national and international scale. Another major part of the role is keeping up to date with news and recent papers and then digesting that funnel of information because you always need to be considering the programme of content that you’re going to create. Different organisations work in different ways and so I can only talk about my own belief which is this work cannot be a siloed individual activity, it needs to be a team effort. If you’re a lead analyst, you’re expected to intellectually lead the coverage of a sector, but you must very much work with a team of people to bring the information together in a systematic way. For example, you need the people that are going to be able to process the news every morning and make sure it’s tagged and flagged correctly, you need people that can look at deals that have been done and correctly classify them in terms of where they fit in the value chain, you need a team of analysts that can carry out different aspects of forecasting, and you need all of this to be happening 365 days a year. Your role is to find and lead the right people and help them to develop to eventually move into more senior positions. I see the lead analyst role as being a leadership figure who can hold the floor with key clients and provide direction on what the company should focus on and produce content on, but not to be a ‘big star individual’, it’s all about bringing a team of people with a mix of skills together to create effective content.
In terms of an investor, there’s a real challenge for them in terms of understanding quantum technology. Even people who are investors and come from a conventional deep tech background struggle with quantum, and because of this there are lot of people who want to invest in the market but struggle to find the right people to entrust with finding the right deals to invest in. Part of being in venture is looking at the founding team of a start-up company and considering whether they have the right balance in place to drive the business forward and therefore whether to invest in it. To be successful, you really have to be able to take a view as to whether you believe that the particular technology the start-up team have developed is capable of doing what the company is seeking to achieve, along with understanding where it fits in the value chain as well. You also have to understand the margins in the value chain and how they are likely to evolve over time. This is where business information and venture capitalism really come together.
What transferrable skills do you think you have gained throughout your career and what do you think are the most important skills for working as a business information analyst?
I’d probably settle on two. Firstly, there’s tremendous skill in analysing data. How you take facts, apply mathematical techniques, whether literally or in terms of graphing/charting, and then produce something that is of use in a business context is key. It doesn’t matter if you find the newest and best possible analytic technique, if you arrive at an output which is not explainable to anyone else, it’s no use. You need to be able to use techniques which are well founded and understandable to enable better decisions to be made. Secondly, I think it’s very important to be able to successfully build a team of people. As I said, this work is not that of an individual, as a lead analyst you must be able to create the right structures that can sustain something over time. You must be able to recognise that there are different types of individuals with different skill sets that need not just to be brought to the table but be structured in such a way that they can work together effectively, where their different skills accelerate and contribute to the overall goal.
How can people interested in becoming a business information analyst go about it? Is there any work experience that would be beneficial in advance?
There are two common routes to becoming a lead analyst. One is to come from an academic background, having undertaken a PhD. Sometimes people who don’t want to stay in academia or create their own start-up move into organisations like this in order to remain engaged in an area they love but with some career flexibility for the future. The second common route is to join an analytical organisation but in a slightly more junior role and gradually work your way up. This is common for people who have found an area that they love and that they do not want to move away from but that do not have the higher academic qualifications. Both of these routes are very common and successful and enable people to work in a field they are passionate about while also gaining commercial business skills as well.
Is there a particular application of quantum technologies that you are particularly excited to see the development of in years to come?
The one thing that really strikes me and that I think is under-appreciated at the moment is the long term and very deep connection between quantum computing and quantum communications. Ultimately, quantum communications are a massive multiplier for quantum computing. When you network two conventional computers together, what you have is still two conventional computers. However, when you use quantum communications to coherently network two quantum devices together, you have an exponential increase in their power, and that’s fundamentally and profoundly different, and is something that’s going to be very important. It’s some way off yet and the opportunity at the moment in quantum communications is in other technologies such as Quantum Key Distribution and Quantum Random Number Generators, which are great, but I’m excited to see quantum computing and communications come together.
What would you say to young people who are considering pursuing a career in STEM?
I love STEM because it’s a great way to look at the world and marvel at how it works, however, I’m also conscious that we need STEM subjects to work with the other disciplines as they are all valid parts of a greater whole. We absolutely need people qualified in STEM subjects, but we also need people that can market things beautifully or people who can use history and economics to input into the policy framework that guides a sector forward. I am a STEM individual, and STEM is what makes me tick, but for any organisation to be successful in any sector you need a balance of skills. To a young person considering their future, I would say, understand what really excites you, whether that’s STEM or not, and then be even more excited that those skills you want to have can play a role in contributing to a bigger whole.