We talk to Piers Linney, tech and entrepreneur speaker.

26th Jan 2024

Piers Linney, former Dragon and current tech and entrepreneur speaker chats with Jane Farnham, Director of Great British Speakers.

We talk to former Dragon and Secret Millionaire Piers Linney to learn his story from TV appearances to founding Moblox and his tech and entrepreneur speaker roles!

Piers Linney is a notable entrepreneur and tech speaker, gaining widespread recognition as one of the ‘dragons’ on the acclaimed television show, Dragon’s Den (2013-2015). With a diverse investment portfolio spanning additive manufacturing, media-converged communications, and technology, Piers has positioned himself as a seasoned investor with a broad spectrum of expertise.

At the helm of Moblox, where he serves as the founder and CEO, Piers leads a next-generation technology and business tools platform designed specifically for small business owners in the UK. A fervent advocate for entrepreneurship and SMEs, he brings valuable firsthand insights into the challenges and hurdles encountered by businesses, drawing from his roles as a founder, advisor, director, and investor.

Piers Linney’s contributions to the tech industry have not gone unnoticed. In 2018, he earned a place in the top 20 of the Financial Times list of the Top 100 Minority Ethnic Leaders in Technology. Additionally, he secured a spot among the Top 100 BAME Leaders in Business, cementing his status as a prominent figure in both entrepreneurship and the tech sector.

Contact Great British Speakers today to book tech and entrepreneur speaker Piers Linney for your next event.

Here’s the full transcript of tech and entrepreneur speaker Piers Linney’s chat with Jane Farnham of Great British Speakers:

00:00:00:07 – 00:00:11:00
Jane Farnham
Hello, I’m Jane Farnham with Great British Speakers. And I’m here today chatting with the entrepreneur, former dragon and sick secret millionaire Piers Linney. Hi Piers.

00:00:11:02 – 00:00:12:04
Piers Linney
Thanks for having me on.

00:00:12:09 – 00:00:27:34
Jane Farnham
Our thanks for joining us. And really tough to get to talk to you face to face. I know we’ve had a little chat before. But before we get into your speaking, which is what we’re here to talk about, Rosie, I just I’m really nosy, so I’d like to know more about your background. Tell us a bit about your early life.

00:00:27:39 – 00:01:32:42
Piers Linney
So I’m a my mum’s in Barbados proper, so the Windrush generation came over, recruited in the sixties to be a nurse. And my dad is a widow. Was he passed away suddenly, was a mancunian working class mancunian lad from Cheetham Hill in northern Manchester and he was quite bright, went to Cambridge, came back again in those days and then he worked in the ceramics industry. So I was actually born in Stoke on Trent, then moved to sunny Lancashire. I was about nine, I moved up there and I grew up in a small mill town, which is quite interesting for a little like me. So I became quite a bit of judo and then I saw the nearest civilization where we sort of went there quite a lot. It was, you know, a lot of people I grew up with all Manchester is a long way away, but a lot of my time in Manchester as well and also went to university there. I’m I’m yeah, I’m sort of a bit of mixed race and I say that now my upbringing was sort of comfortable. It wasn’t sort of I never talk about the fact that I had a, you know, I drug myself, I think. But it wasn’t like that at all. My parents were my mentors and role models were.

00:01:32:47 – 00:01:47:30
Jane Farnham
So then, yeah, because I love a lot of people who do motivational speaking, you know, it’s almost that rags to riches stories and it’s so yours isn’t that. But what was the spark then to your first venture and what made that start?

00:01:47:34 – 00:03:06:39
Piers Linney
Well, yeah, So my style is an interesting one though, because I’m so I imagined me just a shortcut as well. I grew up in a mill town from 11 plus to my level, twice my A-levels, twice, went to comprehensive school. I ended up in a city law, an investment banker, a Credit Suisse when it was solvent. And so it was my journey. But yeah, long journey is quite rare. So that’s why, you know, I got paid to do certain things. But, but just very quickly. So my first foray into business was I was, I grew up in Lancashire when it snowed. Yeah, it covered your car, basically. So on Sundays, news agency didn’t deliver. And I had a week that weekday pay around six days a week. I am £5 so my age now and my one was a Sunday. My dad I think your mum exactly said I don’t look it, I bed and get the paper to get it for me. So I wrote down town, send some of BMX pics of the paper, bought it back again, be a bit of a tip and I’ve realized I have the business here, but I couldn’t buy the paper. Some of these agents clearly because there’s no margin. So I bought the from the wholesaler, disintermediated the local newsagent delivered on Sunday mornings PA to work longer hours and it took me three or 4 hours all in and I made 20 quid. So I realized that through having an idea and niche, solving a problem, quite a lot of hard work I could generate in a small way, some wealth. And I bought a much nicer yeah, which was my.

00:03:06:43 – 00:03:07:22
Jane Farnham
Way.

00:03:07:27 – 00:03:54:04
Piers Linney
Is great. It was great. But in my town there, when I said people said, What do you want to do? I said, I want to go into business. So when my school was doing work placements, I say to me, If you want to want to go to a local joiner as a kitchen manufacturer, the building company, I said, No, I want to work in Barclays. And they looked at me like I was insane. So I had to write a letter to the local Barclays myself. The manager had to get a policeman there, and I got a placement that offered a job for me enough. So and when I said I want to go, if I looked like I was insane and I said, what should I study? It therefore said, be accounting. And that’s why I ended up doing a law and accounting degree. I enjoyed law before, but I do accounting. That’s how you go into business. So well. I was surrounded by entrepreneurs. They’re all kind of making money with the hands. No one really knew what it was. I understood what I was interested in.

00:03:54:09 – 00:03:58:43
Jane Farnham
So. So then you worked in the city for for a long time.

00:03:58:48 – 00:05:19:15
Piers Linney
That’s why I went to university. And then I applied to law 60 applications, didn’t get a look in anywhere. And I always say the on my journey, people always gave me a couple of chances. That’s why if what else should as well is that my a one law firm out of 68 gave me a placement and I managed to qualify as a lawyer in the city. But when I was qualified, I did French couple. So I’m actually a qualified lawyer. I did venture capital and leveraged buyouts, corporate finance. When I realized that I think most of my life dotting I’s and crossing T’s, I wanted to be with adventure. I wanted to be the investor or the entrepreneur doing the deal. This is pre tech. So a friend of mine said to me, You should go into banking. And I looked at them and I said, I remember that to this day, what’s investment banking? Because what I come for came from I’d have a clue investment banking was what really was corporate finance, really. I kind of studied it. We didn’t understand it. So I then managed through the quite long story is to get a job in the city with another bank, then called BS at Barclays to see what kind of Barclays Capital now. And that’s for another group of people giving me a chance. And I became a banker, but I was only there from 97 to sort of 2000. I’m on the rise of the dot com wave and that’s when I left. But my bonus in 2000 and went into starting my first business, made some money, started the dotcom and I’m before anybody since.

00:05:19:20 – 00:05:30:33
Jane Farnham
It’s always the way it is and it once you start working for yourself, it’s very difficult to move back into other businesses. So you were a successful entrepreneur at an early age. What’s the range? Where were we talking then?

00:05:30:37 – 00:05:52:03
Piers Linney
It’s now I’m sort of 26 or 30. When I left, you know, I was earning more money than anything what to do with. I was bought my first call, a debit card, you know, So it was just bonkers that now I was getting more money as a bonus, my parents put together in a whole year. So it was quite interesting how you transition from one to the other. But then when I started to sell again.

00:05:52:08 – 00:05:55:14
Jane Farnham
Well, what sort of business did you set up? The first one.

00:05:55:19 – 00:08:14:52
Piers Linney
So the first ones were, well, when I first saw the first ones were a it was an intermediary between pharmaceutical companies and medical practitioners. So it was online research detailing prescription habits, check in testing adverts for drugs, in medical journals, etc., etc.. So it kind of worked at this time. It was one of those DOT was was a bit too early because the the online experience wasn’t great. And then we could have raised more money because of dotcom crash. So luckily my co-founders passed welfare, so they carried on with it as is. So Miami about a month ago for the first time, about 20 is crazy. And so that kind of rumbled on an adventure. They sold it and make money out of it. And then I thought, What the hell do I did? Because my my bridge back to the city had been incinerated because that fine everyone conqueror. So as an entrepreneur, what do you do? You know, when you when you can’t go backwards, you have to go forward. So I what do I tell this mixed race lad in the city who’ve got these skills? I’m a lawyer, banker. I’ve got the CV, you’ve got the names, my CV and I did a quick I was asked for help, believe it, of a dance music company set up. So DJ management and record label Digital Rights did that for a while. But then I thought, What do I do mind? The guy that trained me as a lawyer had a sort of a internet into that kind of age, 20 kind of vintage venture capital fund ISA can be sorted out. So I did. And then I took that regulated vehicle called the finance vehicle and created a kind of estate agent for hedge fund money. So funny us hedge fund money. I’m bringing it and putting it into deals In the UK, the US and Germany. That was quite tough going, but I learned a lot. And then from that, after I start making my first money, really because then I was investing in businesses, starting them side hustles, helping friends do things, and some of that became quite successful, quite large. And then 40 million of revenue to to people and making millions of pounds. And then I one day when not going to meet and thinking, what are these board of directors doing? I thought I’d do it myself. So I became an operator and I stepped in so I can operate. I try not to these days, but I spent quite a few years actually operating lease and really large mid-sized companies. Okay. But always into like technology, media and telecoms. That’s where and now I’m in additive manufacturing makes 3D printed mountain bikes, and now I’m sort of suddenly coming in.

00:08:15:01 – 00:08:28:46
Jane Farnham
I write, okay, here. So you were a busy, busy boy throughout your teens, your twenties. Tell me about your TV career. When did that start and how on earth did you get to become a dragon? Did they come calling?

00:08:28:51 – 00:11:32:22
Piers Linney
So I was quite successful in business and there were many people like me really that are cut my background, my kind of schooling, education, and then ended up in the city. So I was kind of spotted and ended up in some magazine like lists of the most influential black Britons of various things like that. Three that, you know, the good old TV researcher sort of found me somehow and I was approached to do The Secret Millionaire. This is out in 2011. So The Secret Millionaire, it was one of those things where, you know, it’s on once and you see it. We don’t don’t. But that was quite a huge, big experience of the life. So I, I ended up spent most of my time in a young offenders institution in Wolverhampton. And I know I knew kids who had been in trouble all my life, but I never realized that, you know, there were so many young people in these institutions that just couldn’t read. And I’m a young lad, they’re called Daniel, and he was in there 19 years old, 11 years, you know, quite serious offenses. There’s a story to it. But, you know, he got caught and I said, I want to help him. And I said, he can’t get the thing, the prisoner’s money. I come when it comes out, I’m going to mentor him. So he came out and I mentor them, not mollycoddle them, but the direction gave him a job for a while and helped him his first sort of rent guarantee. You know, the kind of thing a among a friend the uncle might have done. And he went on to work for me. I made him redundant, which is quite awkward. He starts some businesses. I helped him get into it and he was very good at it. So if he was born in that postcode, he would have been working in some inner city somewhere, doing whatever he wanted to do in finance or technology. But because it’s boring Wolverhampton, he never access the opportunity or the support or the confidence anyway. But two weeks ago, you know, he messaged me and he’s earning nearly two grand the earner family and a young son said to show you what that diversion can do. Yeah. Many years ago, ten years down the line to see to the a millionaire I was supposed to do Dragon’s Den. So the first year I was out, I’m not sure. And it’s about 40 then and, and it kind of went away. And the second they ask me again and is a bit of a story to this so the producers are chasing me saying, do you want to do it? And at the time, as you do, I was with Savitch Brunson at his private game reserve and the Elizabeth in the Kruger National Park in South Africa. And I was thinking, yeah, I was thinking, who do I talk to about business in the media, the pros and the cons and how you stitching together and does it work And you know, this is going. So the obvious answer was Richard. And they and this is not a made up backstory. It’s actually happened. So he sat me down. So you’re right. I as well, and it’s been a bit of an issue because what is it? So explain whole backstory and Dragons Den, he sort of said to me, look, do you know people like you on TV and programs like that you could attempt to make a difference in? I used to go on the plane for a decent TV spot. You should do it. And I said, okay, fine. And I walked away with my Corona and he sort of grabbed me back and said, Well, I said, Dick, call the producer back now, who I still knows this day. So maybe call the producer back and said, I’m in there. And then and that’s where I ended up on Dragons Den.

00:11:32:36 – 00:11:40:36
Jane Farnham
Oh, wow. And so your experience was a good one. I mean, I hear you had a really successful venture there as well, financially.

00:11:40:40 – 00:12:36:18
Piers Linney
Yeah, I probably did the best ever. Dragons Den. A lot of the information is not public, but if you’ve got children, you probably come across. Lost my name now called wonderfully That beautiful personalized children’s content books and they invested under K for about 5%. And that was a £2 million valuation which was the highest on Dragons Den until some crypto nonsense in about 2021. And then they, you know, they went through a few ups and downs, but they they sold out to a large private equity fund about two years ago now and the tens and tens, tens of millions. So in terms of it being the first tech deal, a third did on that program, I’m the only the only one I’m really aware of where there was an investment in first in tech and then a proper exit. Then there are things that are still rumbling on, but so lots of I like to think that I am but dragged Dragons Den into the into the modern age. But in two years.

00:12:36:23 – 00:12:38:22
Jane Farnham
I want to experience.

00:12:38:27 – 00:13:51:48
Piers Linney
Yeah, it’s a great experience. I’m glad I did it enough time you don’t to be defined by it. I think it’s quite hard to do in a business on TV. We both know when in business is that a lot of it’s quite boring. It’s admin. So you know that that moment that that jeopardy of putting your dreams on a table and these people sat in chairs, you know, decide yay or nay is a great moment to capture, although it’s not really what business is about, how it really works. I think the opportunity there to sort of maybe I’m looking at do something a bit more modern, maybe on a different format, but it’s been good to me in a way opens doors. I was but a bit of a bit of a reluctant celebrity in some ways, although, you know, I’m enjoying before COVID, people kind of recognized with a kind of I know you don’t you working at Barclays in Camden or somewhere from maybe let them sing what they wanted. But during COVID, they couldn’t record the program, so they rerun lots of it. So suddenly, you know, you’re getting stopped in the streets again. But it is still amaze me to this day, but how many people actually just recognize you wherever you go in the world, not just in the UK, is shown all over the world. So it opened doors for me. My element of ever really had is psychoanalyst. He’s a little lieutenant to Greater London.

00:13:51:48 – 00:13:52:13
Jane Farnham
I know him.

00:13:52:13 – 00:15:15:11
Piers Linney
Yeah, he’s a guy. He’s a guy with a sword in a following the royal family around the organizing coalitions. And I had a taken them a few days ago. But he says my after the progress. Look, you can either go now to the opening of an envelope or fridge celebrity stuff. Yeah. Or go serious. So I decided to go more serious. So I became the trustee of a nest, the UK’s largest innovation agency, 600 million foundation at the six years ended up on the Board of British Business doing COVID. So all the bounce back loans and C bills I was on the board for four years, joined Congress who went from 12 billion to 90 billion. So you can imagine what that was like. And I advised Scott on Davos inclusion. I advise a quite public, a very large UK based automotive manufacturer on strategy, which is very interesting. So I the advisors are big companies and some medium sized companies and I focused on that. So I always kind of went quiet for quite a while really. But I’ve always kind of in the background, championed small business entrepreneurship and startups, scale ups as well through my content and my activity and a lot of the keynotes I do as well tend to focus on the diversity inclusion in a great growth businesses, inspiring audiences and teams. So that’s something I’m still very passionate about. And Dragons Den is definitely open Door is a downside to it though. People do know you are wherever you are, which can be quite annoying sometimes, but the the pros definitely outweigh the cons.

00:15:15:16 – 00:16:14:48
Jane Farnham
Well, that’s good to hear a good TV success story. So without wishing to embarrass you, I’m going to read out some of the recognition you’ve gained over your career. Are you ready for this Top 20? I’m having to read this Top 20 a Financial Times list of the top 100 minority ethnic leaders in tech, top 100 theme leaders in business. Jp morgan Sponsor Power in 2013 is one of the top 100 most influential black Britons and even an entrepreneur and leader of the year at the first black British business lords. Well, absolutely extraordinary. I mean, there is so much sort of critical acclaim that you’ve had and you know, it comes from modest beginnings. You know, you weren’t born with a silver spoon in your mouth. So what do you think we’re doing wrong in this country? Do you think everybody’s getting the same opportunities? I mean, we were talking about your secret millionaire experience earlier and what can we do better?

00:16:14:52 – 00:18:55:59
Piers Linney
So a lot of the work that I do, especially companies like Sky and some of the other stuff I do privately and I’ve also found was a found interesting of a charity called The Letter Foundation. So the big issues, which I’m a great example of social mobility, and I look at my parents and then me and what I’ve done, you know, both professionally and as an entrepreneur. And so my view is, is that, you know, ambition is evenly distributed no matter where you go. People have ambitions. And increasingly now because of social media and the Internet, is that anyone can see what other people are doing. You never used to see we could never see before what was going to in your streets or your town was Now you can see it with people over the world. So ambition is evenly distributed. What is not evenly distributed, which means you can’t connect ambition with opportunity. Sometimes it’s the social capital that’s required and that’s got three real pillars. So one is access to capital, access to support and access to networks. If you come from, you know, that the right background and you’re quite lucky you have all this stuff, you don’t even think about it. It’s there. You don’t even acknowledge or worry about it. You have access and capital, you have networks, you know, you diagnose somebody. And my daughters asked me if I do anything anywhere in the world, I can pick up the phone and get them on a call with somebody or get them an internship and access to support and guidance. And that networking is actually really important. So I focused on so my view is, is that unless you connect ambition with opportunity, you do end up in a fair society and what you then don’t get is social mobility. And part of that is because it gets harder if you are, you know, a woman or a woman ethnic minority background or we disabled both, but it’s invisible or invisible disability. It gets harder and especially if you get intersectionality. So now you are, you know, a black Caribbean woman who disabled, you know, then it gets very difficult. I’m Neurodiverse as well. So what we have to do is understand and then reduce the barriers in many countries to the UK you’re seeing a real shift in terms of the difficulty in acquiring talent and by opening your doors, by building your self conscious unconscious bias, it means you’ve access a much bigger talent pool with a very different skill set. So I talk a lot about, you know, don’t just hire yourself and I don’t hire people that look like you love the same people or the same gender. You know, believe in the same God. What’s the same football team? You have to sort of I’m searching unfamiliar waters and deeper. And access to talent is one thing. Technologies like like this is help that. But essentially in any economy, any in any society, you’ve got to try and equalize distribution of wealth.

00:18:56:04 – 00:19:19:54
Jane Farnham
Yeah. Okay. So let’s go right up to date and let’s talk about your speaking engagements, because I would imagine there’s very little you can’t talk about with your ex, with your track record and your work experience and your entrepreneurship and your TV work. And so what are your favorite topics of speaking and what do you get the most results from?

00:19:19:58 – 00:23:33:50
Piers Linney
It’s the ones I tend to focus on. So things I’d say, organizations of all size. I mean, this week I’ve done, you know, Kent County Council that one of the world’s third largest cybersecurity business. Then the black tie gala, the whole management team, they’re flown in from around the world. So it can come up, can come to council the week before. So it depends Now what I tend to focus on things is they tend to be business related, a lot of it or technology or if you look at me and my experience and what I’ve done, this business is technology, social mobility, diversity, inclusion, and increasingly I’m a bit of a future ologist. So in terms of, you know, I advise very large automotive company on future strategy, you know, 20, 30 years out. So, you know, diversity is a big once it tends to pervade everything, but increasingly everything. People are very interested in technology. Yeah. So I’m involved in technology from space. I mean, I video, video, video to earth from space and satellites that we’re deploying and the business I’m involved in, I’m an investor in two additive manufactured I.D, 3D printed titanium and carbon fiber mountain bikes. The business I co-founded after some bikes to artificial intelligence. So Salford Business School implement I include name. What that does helps SMEs understand technology and implement it and leverage it. So across the board, technology pervades everything and I truly believe that we are in increased webinars To talk about this is that we’re in an age now where, you know, with my lifetime, hopefully, especially my daughter’s lifetime, we’re going to see exponential change in technology. And that’s not going to be like, you know, the Internet or maybe the Internet. We’re not PCs, computers. This is something which is fundamentally going to change the way in which we work and the way in which we live, the way in which economies and societies are managed. And that’s going to happen within, you know, exactly when, you know, ten, 20, 30 years. But technology is impacting businesses today and the ship is leaving the harbor. So if you imagine the shipping harbor is accelerating away as fast as I can, you can still make the leap, you know, from the key side onto the boat. But as it moves further away in the distance, it becomes harder and harder. And when that ship leaves the harbor finally, and you can’t make the jump, whoever is left on the key side will be a business society. It’s going to be most of us will stay in there permanently because you can never catch up. You can never you know, if the Chinese government sold artificial general intelligence on Monday and we solved it on Wednesday, we will never catch up. And that’s why nation states are so worried about it. So I talk about a lot of things I have to do are t motivations. I mean, getting a team together. Companies look going through a period of growth will pay the difficulty sometimes, but definitely periods of growth. I have a talk I’ve done several times my five factors for growth. So going through having a plan people technology, finance operations so I can talk about anything, they tend to be the main themes. I have been asked by, you know, Reuters to do a speech on the the impact of technology on the future of, you know, automated trading, which I know a little bit about. That’s a lot of research. So then the hard ones that I can do that, but the ones I’m doing with me where people get the most value I think is yes, you can talk for 20 minutes, half an hour is great. But I think one of my strengths is my skills and this is the feedback I get is the Q&A. So I’m very open, very honest. I can cover a lot of ground. People ask me anything from, you know, all the robots going to kill us all the way through to all step and meat and like so. And then if you and and everything in between I’m I wrap it all up and ask a lot of questions sometimes by audiences about you know one bottle of wine too many and I’ve always got an answer which you know and people always the feedback is that people find me very accessible, quite normal. I’m actually not stupid and the people will enjoy those sessions. So I always try and mix. You can talk to people. Keynote was great, but even the one I did there this week, which was a black tie keynote, you know, large cap, $5 billion of revenue. This business, the best part was still the roaming mike in the Q&A. Also, people get the most value.

00:23:34:04 – 00:23:53:21
Jane Farnham
Yeah, I absolutely agree with that if you like. It’s more conversational and people feel a lot more involved and engaged at that stage. That might. Well, Piers, it’s been an absolute joy talking to you and finding out all about your background and your speaking and all projects. So thank you very much for your time today. I do appreciate it.

00:23:53:25 – 00:23:54:46
Piers Linney
Thank you. It was nice talking to you.

00:23:54:55 – 00:24:10:27
Jane Farnham
And if you’d like to book Piers, then do simply contact myself or Steve at Great British Speakers on 01753439289 or you can email bookings at bookings@greatbritishtalent.com. Now, Piers, before we go, tell me what’s Deborah Meaden really like?

00:24:10:31 – 00:24:20:34
Piers Linney
She’s one of the nicest ladies you ever want to meet. And I think the persona is the product of 1990s misogyny and it couldn’t do that today.

00:24:20:40 – 00:24:25:44
Jane Farnham
I know, Nancy. She’s ready. Thank you so much. That’s very kind of you.

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Piers Linney, tech and entrepreneur speaker at Great British Speakers

Piers Linney, tech and entrepreneur speaker at Great British Speakers

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