Getting into London on Monday morning to attend The Online Opportunity event which featured our own Steve Ballmer was challenging: I had a flat tyre on my car, got a late train, and Victoria was closed due to a security alert. And it was raining. But it was worth it when I did get there...
Brent Hoberman, co-founder of Lastminute.com, when asked about the entrepreneurial culture and spirit in the UK thought it alive and well – despite us being somewhat “risk averse” – and said the UK “is a good place to do business”. He also said “the media is schizophrenic” on the whole subject and mentioned a vibrant “ecosystem of support organisations”. When asked if he had advice for entrepreneurs that witness downturns (as lastminute did when the dotcom bubble burst) he said it helps to have “outrageous ambition” and to keep going even when times are tough and others doubt you. I like that.
Ben Way also mentioned our tendency to be risk averse but says “failure teaches us more than success” and often “admitting you messed up is the most empowering thing to do”. The Amercians appear to be pretty gung-ho about trying out their ideas and even if they don’t work, they learn lessons and use them to their advantage. I think it was Churchill who said “Success is going from failure to failure without any loss of enthusiasm”.....
Ben’s second message was about people – hiring good people is essential but he reckons finding those that “do the do” can be difficult. Ben is lucky to have a very experienced board supporting one of his new ventures, ViaPost. He says they have to strike a balance between process and a “VC mentality” ....and being innovative, while keeping an eye on cashflow.
Saul Klein, the man behind Seedcamp and OpenCoffee, also thinks people are a cornerstone of success – he talked about the Three O’s –
2. Other People
On the subject of Finance, Saul made a very valuable point about where you get your funds – encouraging folks to make it about “people first and cash second”. Plan to find seed investors to get you up and running in the early days with ‘no strings’ then think carefully about where you get serious cash later on.
The Dragon’s Den concept has been hugely successful, with similar panels and pitches as part of the Running the Gauntlet initiative that EEDA ran with Doug Richard’s Library House.
Do you want a Peter Jones involved in your business? For his money, or his little black book? Or both? Either way you need people involved (including investors) that are passionate about the product and can evangelise it far and wide.
Where to spend it when you get it? Well, none of the panel thought investing in Marketing and PR was particularly worthwhile: Saul Klein thinks that publicity is “part of a larger conversation with the customer” and to market yourself in the early days, the “best way is to start blogging”. Afterwards, I met Sam Sethi from Blognation and formerly Techcrunch – which Saul says is “giving oxygen to start-ups”. Ben said they probably wasted a few grand on advertising and worthless marketing when they got a few mill for one of their ventures. Personally, I’d find it hard not to visit a Jimmy Choo store if a few mill landed in my account.
Talking of Choo’s the ever-glamorous and intelligent Cary Marsh, founder and CEO of Mydeo, said instead of hiring expensive sales people who couldn’t evangelise their vision as effectively as the founding directors, she hired a PA which allowed her get out and meet people, sell her concept and build relationships with partners and customers!
Both Cary and Ben said the Microsoft partnership had been “invaluable” and all three panellists advised smart start-ups to leverage corporate programs. I’ve always said that things like Empower and StartUpZone from Microsoft were a ‘no brainer’ for small software developers.
Yesterday we took our investment in emerging companies and start-ups to the next level when Steve Ballmer announced the new Startup Accelerator – designed to offer a 'kit bag' of support services for high growth start-ups and young, small companies developing solutions on the Microsoft platform. Benefits include: access to our experts for help with ‘envisioning’ around new and emerging technologies, use of our labs and facilities, discounted software for development, programs to help you connect with partners and customers, and general business advice and ‘investment readiness’.
Miomi are one of the five launch partners. Their solution helps you capture a “moment in time”. Very cool.
Last year, we helped companies like Nitrosell and the omnipresent Tom Keane is now enjoying the glow of success. Here he is trying to sell SteveB a retail system.