Posts Tagged ‘funding’


So many articles in the broadsheets about people leaving London and their reasons why, some real and some spoofed for comic effect. It stirs up many emotions in people, given the pressures of modern life and the increasing ratcheting up of costs of sustaining a family and a young business in London. I moved here in 1976 from NI and lived first in Guildford a commuter town in Surrey, then Belsize Park in North London, mixed with time in Silicon Valley off and on since 1987. Now I am back in the countryside of Wiltshire, I have built start-ups in both London, Silicon Valley and in the rural areas of the UK, so I think have an interesting perspective.

So let’s get real the better opportunities for creating a team, cutting deals and getting funded are in London, simply by the volume of people, networks and funds to plug into. In my last start-up we were based in Clerkenwell and by that stage of my start-up experience knew how to slipstream all the players that created opportunities to make a name for yourself. But of course if you are less experienced and maybe never going to be the number one or two in your global market space, it can be the opposite, a more daunting, alienating place where you feel you are not at the party.

There is definitely an inner game feel to London and some just do not ever get the invites to the inner sanctum of top-level VC funding and all those cool Pitching events at Downing Street and the Palace. That, if it is happening to you, even though it is all around you in London can make you feel like a failure. Very few actually make it as a tech start-up in London, although from all the column inches, blogs and networking events devoted to the space it is difficult to see through that veneer. My calculated guess is that 98% never get funded beyond family and friend’s rounds, of which only 30% of the 2% that do will survive and maybe you will remember 3 brand names that did win in 10 years time.

It’s a tough game and takes real stamina, resilience and experience around you to make it, and that is without taking into account the negative macro events that can wipe you out like Lehmans and the periodic UK/Global market crashes every 5/7 years. But of course if you were looking at the start-up world in a logical and reasoned basis you probably are not suited to the crazy world that we entrepreneurs inhabit. Yes you must really believe as a founder beyond all the negative pushbacks that you are right about your product/service and must keep the idealist attitude alive.

So you can fail in London too, and it is why most British start-ups fail in Silicon Valley as well because the competition there is even more fierce and the money game even more aggressive than in the UK and most are not tough or experienced enough to compete on equal terms. But you are in Cardiff, Bath, Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast and Dublin, what chance do you stand cut off from Boris’s gleaming Tech City? Well it depends a lot on what level you are playing at, what your goals are and how you set about creating your own networks.

There are great start-ups out across the UK and Ireland, bright people with bright ideas, but the thing that defines a winning company is the drive to reach the goals that are set day one in the business plan. If you are out to build a global company at some point you are going to have to go where the big deals are being done, be it London, New York, Frankfurt and San Francisco. This does not mean that you have to move the whole company from the low-cost base you might have established but it does mean a lot of travel and nights away connecting to the networks that open the door to enterprise clients and the funding that follows those early big name wins.

It requires a concerted effort as well not just dipping in and out every 90 days as I see so many companies doing, the people in the big city networks won’t take time with you and create that continuity of connection if they do not sense your committment to the cause. There is no easy or quick way of doing this, the hours day and night have to be put into this programme. If you are lucky you may find key experienced champions in those networks that like you and your company and will get alongside in accelerating your access and growth. It is certainly a lonely thing to do on your own and it never does any harm to have someone watching your back on the circuit when travelling and running hard.

Here is a guest post from Mary McKenna founder of LearningPool on her recent move from Northern Ireland to London and the welcome she has received. Mary and I met for the first time at my business club at 8, Northumberland Ave 200 yds from Nelson’s Column.  A place that seems to be gaining ground as an economic West End base to work from, if you want to connect to the London start up world and the Irish business network in London. IIBN will be hosting their usual new and prospective member informal drinks there on the night of the 23rd of Feb – all with an Irish connection welcome. (If from the start up world and not Irish, I am always glad to connect with you at the Club – just get in touch)  Over to Mary…..

As I’m sure the whole world is by now aware, I’m coming to the end of my first week living back in London.  Everyone I’ve met this past week or asked for help has been extremely welcoming and I’ve been fortunate enough to have been invited to a few really useful networking events.  Best of all, however, from the perspective of a newly arrived Irish entrepreneur in London has been the Irish International Business Network or IIBN as it’s known.  The link is here for anyone that would like to know more or find out how to join I’m lucky enough to have been introduced to the original WildIrishGuy himself, Damon Oldcorn, and it seems that once you know Damon, you don’t really need to know anyone else.  I’ve always found this to be a good strategy.  Bryan Keating was the first business person I met in Northern Ireland, he’s the exact same and it’s never done me any harm.

Thursday night’s IIBN event started with drinks & chat and it was very easy to circulate and get talking to a few people as everyone’s very friendly and open.  Everyone has an Irish connection even though many, like me, don’t have an Irish accent.  Don’t let that fool you! – they all know their Leitrims from their Letterkennys and their Dungloes from their Dingles.  Our diaspora is a beautiful thing.  There were bankers, recruiters, reps from private equity houses, lawyers, entrepreneurs, investors and no doubt many more besides.  If you’re Irish, in business and in London you need to join IIBN. As part of the evening, our speaker was the charming and self-effacing Rosaleen Blair (pictured).  Rosaleen is one of those women who have achieved a helluva lot but doesn’t go around shouting that from the rooftops.  She just gets on with things.  Most of all, I liked the way she described the values her company operates by and I liked her statement of the 3 things she demands from people in her team and recruits against.  I’ve used these a few times already in conversation with others I’ve met this week but having chatted with Rosaleen on the evening, I don’t think she’ll mind.  They are as follows:

  • Trust – the members of a team have to really trust one another; of course this takes a bit of time
  • Collaboration – people need to be able & willing to work on projects with each other and to work hard to make that collaboration work
  • Sharing – Rosaleen hates it when people hold back knowledge & refuse to share it with other members of the team

I also loved what she said about encouraging a culture of “intrapreneurship” within your own organisation as a way of motivating and retaining the people in your team.  If anyone’s unsure what that means, it’s about encouraging positive aspects of entrepreneurial behaviour but within a large organisation.  It’s something we’ve always tried to do at Learning Pool. Rosaleen told us her story about how she arrived in London from Dublin in the 1990s, not knowing a soul but with a background in recruitment and having run a few small businesses in Ireland, believing herself to be fairly unemployable.  She went to work at Alexander Mann Solutions and over the course of time, persuaded her employer to allow her to try something new to fill a gap in the market and co-create adjacent services with clients (the first one being ICL/Fujitsu).  As it happened, she, working along with James Caan, became one of the early pioneers of what these days is known as RPO (Recruitment Process Outsourcing) and the rest is history.  In 2007, Rosaleen led her team through a £100m management buyout with the backing of private equity house Graphite Capital.  These days her company Alexander Mann Solutions employs 2,000 people working in 70 geographies and 42 languages.

Rosaleen also gave us some priceless bits of advice which I hope she won’t mind me passing on here to others:

  • When looking at which private equity house to go with, do some research and talk to some of the companies your main players have divested themselves of
  • As CEO, always keep your bank manager close & don’t give them any surprises; don’t pass that bank relationship off to someone else in your team
  • If your company is going to be working in some way with a private equity house, get yourself a CFO that has previously worked with a PE house, a CFO coming from a big corporate background won’t have the right sort of experience
  • Trust your own instincts and that of your team every day of the week over the advice given to you by external “experts”

Thanks Rosaleen, thanks IIBN and hello London!