Niel Ransom founded Ransomshire Associates, Inc., an advisory firm focused on enabling early-stage companies to achieve business growth and successful exits. Prior to Ransomshire, Niel served as CTO of Alcatel, where he directed a staff of 1200 scientists and engineers comprising Alcatel’s research, corporate strategy, intellectual property, and R&D investment organizations. Before joining Alcatel, he directed the Advanced Technology Systems Center at BellSouth. He started his career at Bell Laboratories where he headed various development and applied research organizations.
What should founders or companies be focused on if they want to grow a scalable business?
In my experience, there are a few key things that founders or companies must think about early on if they are to grow a scalable business.
First, founders must have a clear vision of what they want to achieve with their company, a vision for which they are passionate. This vision should be ambitious, but also realistic. They then need to build a strong team around them of people who are talented, ambitious, and committed to that vision. They must understand what the customer wants and needs, those that are not being satisfied today, and lay out a plan to build a set of products or services that can meet those needs. Lastly, even at the start, they need a plan for how they will manage growth effectively to ensure the company will be able to scale over time.
Why is now a good time to be an early-stage tech investor?
It’s been said in the past that there's too much VC money chasing too few good ideas. Well, that's not the case right now as overall VC investment is down, and investors are much more careful how we invest, only willing to invest in truly excellent deals – a great discipline anyway. This is the time to be very careful both in selecting the companies in which we invest and the valuations we give the companies.
That said, there are diamonds out there, but you have to search to find them. The tech industry continues to evolve, creating new opportunities for investors. However, it is important to do your research and invest in companies that have a strong team, disruptive ideas, and a clear strategy.
First, founders must have a clear vision of what they want to achieve with their company, a vision for which they are passionate.
Are there particular technologies or trends you are following closely?
Being a deep tech investor is about recognizing emerging technologies that can create real value. I like technologies that can have a practical impact today. What we love to see is results coming out of research that makes it possible to do something we never could do before. Maybe it’s a semiconductor device able to do complex AI inference while consuming almost no power. We think, “That ought to be worth something. Where could you use that? Is that going to enable a significant advancement in an important application like electric vehicles, for instance? Is there a path to take this out of the lab, turn it into a product, and create a market advantage?”
There are startups doing this very thing, and I get excited about that.
Please share a little bit about your professional background?
I started my career at Bell Labs, where I worked on applied research for 17 years. I then moved to BellSouth, where I ran the Advanced Technology Systems Center. Later, I transitioned to work as the CTO of Alcatel, where I was responsible for a global team of 1,200 scientists and engineers. We did several strategic acquisitions at that time. Returning to the U.S. I thought it might be more fun moving to the selling side rather than the buying side of startups and transitioned to venture capital where I have invested in and served on the boards of a number of startups and public companies.
Is there an accomplishment you are most proud of in your career?
I am most proud of my work on broadband access. In the early days of dial-up Internet, there was no viable consumer broadband service. I helped lead the effort to create a “buying club” that brought together four of the largest regional Bell operating companies around a common set of DSL technical specifications. This allowed us to negotiate lower prices for equipment thereby making broadband Internet access finally affordable for consumers.
What does your role as an Advisor with Celesta look like?
My role at Celesta is multi-faceted, but our number one goal as a team is to help the companies in our portfolio succeed. We do this by providing them with many tools – particularly capital, advice, and industry connections.
As an advisor, I also help evaluate new investment opportunities, meeting with startups to assess their potential. Once we’ve invested, I work with the companies to help them with their strategy, operations, and fundraising. I also help them build strong teams and develop a clear vision for the future.
What are you reading right now?
I recently finished reading a fascinating book called "Immune," by Philipp Dettmer, which provides an in-depth look at the human immune system.