Having a new set of eyes and ears onboard is a good thing especially when this person brings a unique background and experience to the table. Meet Julian Gay, a product strategist with international experience spanning multiple startups and Global 100 companies, and the new co-chair at GBx.
His journey across the pond — all the way from London to the Bay area — happened in a fairly organic way. He survived the downturns of the dot.com era, the 2008 financial crash, participated in acquisitions and IPOs, and now, in the midst of a pandemic, he’s planning his next big move.
Julian studied engineering at the University of Cambridge and was always fascinated with technology and finance. “After university, my first job was building Derivatives Trading Systems at Deutsche Bank. I thought to myself, I’m going to be clever and kill two birds with one stone”, recalls Gay. He worked with Deutsche Bank in London, Frankfurt, and New York, and stayed until the early 2000s, around the same time as the rise of the Netscape browser and Marc Andreessen’s internet endeavors.
“I wanted to learn more about technology, the internet, and what startups were. Initially, I was in New York on an international transfer and I was supposed to go back to London after a couple of years. When that was coming back to the table again, I decided to join a startup in San Francisco”, remembers Gay.
His move to the West resulted in joining ZEFER, a consulting and internet services company (later acquired by NEC) as a Principal Architect. At ZEFER he got exposed to different types of businesses and startups. “I was inside a startup consulting to other startups, but then the dot.com crash happened. It completely wiped everyone out, particularly in the Bay area. The startup’s (ZEFER’S) clients went away, but because of my background in finance, I ended up working with our largest clients, Wells Fargo and Schwab (Charles Schwab) ”, comments Gay.
Thanks to these large financial services clients, ZEFER survived the crash and ended up being acquired by NEC, a Japanese multinational company. Julian then became one of the founders of NEC’s Consulting branch in America, where he worked with hybrid teams developing not only the plans, but, also, the first implementations of the software.
Shifting gears and following trends
As an entrepreneur moved by his passion and curiosity, Julian decided to explore the media space. He joined PRN (Premier Retail Networks), which operates the largest off-home TV network in the world, with clients such as Walmart, Costco and Best Buy. He went through PRN’s acquisition by Technicolor and at that point decided to take the leap and start his own company.
In the early days of Silicon Roundabout, he considered going back to London to build his new endeavor. “Then I realized this makes no sense! All the people I knew there (in the UK) were not in tech. I had no network, no engineers or designers, no one in the startup world”, remembers Gay.
Back in the Bay area, Julian recruited a friend who worked with him at ZEFER and founded Filobite, an enterprise file sync and share space, like Box or Dropbox. “We were about to go and fundraise when we ran straight into the middle of the 2008 financial meltdown. That was exactly the wrong time for us as a company”, admits Julian.
Gay continued his path collecting lessons and joined Orange, the France Telecom Group. At Orange, he had what he calls “a very entrepreneurial role” in the R&D department. His job was to pitch for funding to internal departments at the company to develop new products. “As you can imagine, it was quite difficult! For one, it’s inside a large company, so there’s certain dynamics there; then there was the market in Europe, which at the time was probably two years behind where we were in Silicon Valley, so the technology didn’t transfer well”, he recalls.
From his time working in R&D, he refined his talent analyzing trends and saw an opportunity to provide cloud services to enterprises. And that’s how Xendo was born. One of the first cloud-based enterprise search service was launched on stage at TechCrunch’s Disrupt in 2014, after going through the Alchemist Accelerator program, a premier accelerator for enterprise-focused startups.
“We had 40 integrations by the end of the day”, celebrates Julian. Xendo’s customer base counted big names such as Netflix, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Looker, and Intersection (an Alphabet subsidiary). In 2015, Xendo was acquired by AppDirect, where it continued to operate as a wholly-owned subsidiary.
After two years as a General Manager at AppDirect, running AppWise (rebranded from Xendo) and AppInsights (rebranded from Leftronic), Julian left the company to explore the angel investing path.
Crafting the Studio Model: DEXI
Julian Gay’s journey in the entrepreneurial world, whether in consulting, developing, or spanning startups, led him to be constantly envisioning solutions for enterprises. His drive led him to bootstrap DEXI, a solution that applies Augmented Intelligence and Machine Learning into the financial research process. Julian is incubating his company at South Park Commons, a community of ex-founders and-employees of high growth companies, and academics.
Under the studio model, a venture model in which a company works to build several different companies in rapid succession, DEXI already has a prototype . “I was looking into lots and lots of sources of different information. I wanted something to track my own bookmarks, notes and feeds, so I built a prototype to scratch my own itch. Then I started to look into other business roles where research is key (I knew I didn’t want to build Evernote 2.0). I want it to be a B2B product, so I explored journalists, academic researchers, product markets, founders and financial analytics”, explains Julian.
That’s when Gay decided to tap into his old passion for finance by following trends around secondary markets. He examined the context we are in “there’s the rise of public markets investors getting involved in private markets through things like SPACs, private markets starting to get the dynamics of public markets and there’s the rise of the crypto markets as well” and decided to be “receptive to engage with the journey, to listen to customers, and to adapt”. Meanwhile, Julian strives to keep his overall vision and hypothesis (which is that “current financial research processes are inefficient) in sight.
When it comes to the future of DEXI, Gay has a laser-focus strategy in place. “I definitely feel the pressure to get that first revenue(…) It might be painful in the beginning, but I think it can shortcut years, if not decades, of pain where you are trying to fit a product into a market where it may have the need, but it’s not painful”, defends Gay.
DEXI’s founder is an advocate of the idea of focusing on the niche in the go-to-market strategy. “This is the entry, but it’s massive after that. You just cannot go-to-market as a ‘platform’”, he comments.
Another trend Julian is aware of and following is the “cash flow business” (“bootstrapping”). “For me, the venture path is not a no-brainer. There are more and more businesses not going down the venture path, even though they could, but, instead, they’re choosing to grow organically through revenues. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re growing slowly because with the scale of the internet now, there’s obviously massive markets, if you can address a need in a focused way. So that’s definitely on the cards”, explains Gay.
Connecting on both sides of the pond
Another topic in Julian Gay’s cards is moving back to London. He admits that every year he considers the possibility. Since 2008, the time when he realized his lack of connections in tech back home, he has been working on his network on both sides of the pond. “That’s what led me on the path to get more involved with the UK entrepreneur scene, and obviously, GBx is part of that”, recalls Gay.
When it comes to building a business in the UK, Julian is optimistic about the British ecosystem, but still considers the mechanics of starting and growing a company easier in the Bay area. “I know London is a center for FinTech, and I think it is a great market for what I’m doing at Dexi, so I definitely see and want London to be in the picture in the future”, he admits.
Two cents for founders
His advice for British founders considering moving to the US is “let your customer bring you over here”. He highlights other American hubs besides the Bay Area, such as Los Angeles and New York. “If you can tap into the Bay area market with a lower cost base, that’s an advantage, for example having your R&D team based in the UK”, exemplifies Gay.
Julian also points out that recruiting engineering talent in the Bay area is “a bad idea” because it’s quite expensive. The only time he would consider it a good move would be if “a founder is looking for specialists or a senior leadership position, someone who can interact with investors”.
The new GBx co-chair observes three cases in the company’s life cycle that justifies coming to the US:
Gay also highlights the importance of joining a group such as GBx. According to Julian, before GBx existed there was no plug and play group among the British. “We had incredible founders who’ve done incredible things in the Valley, and they kind of knew each other in pockets, but they were not leveraging the full experience that was available. GBx coming into existence sounds like a no brainer, but it didn’t for many years. Most of, I mean, all the board members did not have the benefit of that kind of coalesce community. It was all loose connections”, remembers Julian Gay.
He also celebrates the fact that through the connections with the UK consulate in San Francisco, the UK government is actively listening to the input of entrepreneurs and technology trends from Silicon Valley. You can connect with Julian Gay on GBx Directory, GBx Slack or Twitter.