Feature
Ian Herbert

Vistair: Raising finance without losing control

Retaining control of your business is just as important as receiving cash, says entrepreneur Ian Herbert, Managing Director of airline technology company Vistair.

Former BBC broadcast engineer Ian Herbert launched his career as a serial entrepreneur back in 1990. Today Ian’s 11-year-old company Vistair provides cloud-based safety systems for the world's airlines. Having won a customer-base that includes British Airways, Emirates and Thomas Cook, Ian has learned much, not least about raising finance. “I am 25 years into running my own business and it has taken me 10 of those years to learn how it all works, the rules of the game,” he says.
 
One of his steepest learning curves came from working with angel investors when he was trying to finance his interactive TV and video business, Vision Interactive, in the late 1990s. “Our bank introduced us to some high-net-worth individuals who took an interest in what we were doing and expressed a desire to invest. We were quite flattered, but when it came down to it, the amount of control they wanted was far in excess of what we wanted to give.”
 
Lessons learned

 
With a sizeable amount of cash on the table, Ian and his business partner accepted the proposal, driven by a strong desire to grow, although the outcome wasn’t entirely what they had hoped for. “Small businesses can take that investment on at too high a price, and that is what happened,” he says. “The interests and objectives of angel investors sometimes don’t align with those of a business owner.” By way of example, Ian recalls how one such investor placed their own manager at the helm of his ‘internet in a box’ company INTY, a move that Ian believes hindered the company’s growth.
 
But such travails are all part of the learning process, and more fruitful experiences have also played their part in his company’s success. Ian had the support of his bank for a long time in the 1990s. “They were very flexible when it came to short-term cashflow issues,” he says, having benefited from several unsecured loans on the strength of the bank manager understanding both his business and his vision. “They also provided us with a couple of government-backed loans from a guarantee scheme, which helped us to grow.”
 
Ian is now running a successful company with a list of sizeable global clients, a business he initially funded from his own savings. “The plan was to develop Vistair organically and slowly and make sure it was built on a solid foundation. That is what I have done.”
 
Slowly but surely
 
Ian advises others to take a similar approach to business by adopting a ‘slowly but surely’ ethos. “Don’t imagine that the window of opportunity will close overnight – there will always be another opportunity,” he says. “Bide your time and don’t get over optimistic about what you can do in terms of repaying a loan. Be realistic.” Finally, maintain control and stay true to your vision. “If someone comes in and offers loads of money and it’s all wonderful but they want control of your business, think very carefully before committing.”
 
Vistair has considered the possibility of raising finance on the stock market, although Ian has decided that this is not the right option for the company at the present time. “Again, it is all about control,” he says. “Instead, I envisage us growing organically like a family business, and evolving slowly into a large and successful entity.”

Other Articles

Cornwall is a land steeped in legend but this salty business success story is no myth.

Santander Incubator social enterprise, Liverpool Girl Geeks, has secured £20k in Rosa funding to help them grow their programmes and…

With the second-largest economy in Latin America, Mexico should be a core focus for UK exporters looking at the region

Santander Incubator social enterprise, Liverpool Girl Geeks, has secured £20k in Rosa funding to help them grow their programmes and…

Travelstar European Ltd, one of the West Midlands’ leading coach hire companies, has moved to larger premises in Portland Street, Walsall,…

The UK’s aerospace industry is the focus of our second quarterly bulletin in partnership with EEF, the manufacturer’s organisation. We take…

Where Next?

Focus On

Making it in china

John Carroll - Helping businesses achieve International success. Head of Product Management & International Business, Santander UK

Bulletin