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Founder in 5: Engine B boss on the right time to give a founding CEO the boot

Engine B founder

Shamus Rae is co-founder and CEO of Engine B, a digital technology company that has developed artificial intelligence (AI)-based tools for auditors.

Founded in 2019 by Rae and Donne Burrows, Engine B’s software aims to standardise client data in professional services.

The London-headquartered company has raised £3.5m in funding, with £1.7m of that coming from an Innovate UK grant in April 2020.

In this week’s Founder in Five Q&A, the Engine B chief explains why he believes a good CEO should hire people to “boot you out” if it’s in the company’s interest, why the first 10 hires are crucial for shaping a startup’s culture, and shares the nascent technology he’s most excited by.

1. What was the most important early hire you made?

Shamus Rae: Before Engine B was even a fully-fledged company, I got Donne Burrows on board. She has all the operational smarts you’d ever need, understands how I think and shares my values for the business. She’s now the co-founder and chief operating officer.

2. When should a founder CEO pass the baton on to a new chief executive?

SR: I passionately believe that different people are good at leading businesses at different stages of their growth. It takes a CEO with real self-awareness to know when a different leader is needed to effectively grow the business so it meets its potential.

Many founders (myself included) will be able to build and grow a company until it reaches around 200 employees, after which a CEO with a different set of skills will probably be required to take that business forward. I also firmly believe that hiring people who have the talent, vision and values to boot you out if they think it’s in the best interests of the business is vital!

3. What’s the best way to promote diversity in the workplace? 

SR: The great thing about running a startup is that you can encourage diversity from the very outset and ensure it’s in the DNA of your organisation. One of the very first things we did at Engine B was write the staff handbook and define the values of the business.

I have also learned that the first ten people you hire will have a critical impact on your culture and values, so getting that right and encouraging diversity in all its forms as part of this hiring process is critical.

4. Which nascent technology holds the most promise?

SR: It’s hard not to get excited about the potential for AI to positively transform the accounting and legal professions. Specifically, when combined with knowledge graphs, AI will be hugely transformative in how we manage knowledge and service clients digitally.

 5. What’s the most adventurous thing you’ve ever done?

SR: In the early 1990s, as a serial entrepreneur, I travelled to India and Sri Lanka and realised how many talented, driven and creative people were over there.

As a result, I moved to India, based myself in Mumbai and worked out there for around seven years.

Founder in Five – a UKTN Q&A series with the entrepreneurs behind the UK’s innovative startups, scaleups, unicorns and public tech companies – is published every Friday.