Technology continues to transform the business world – and with it the scale and scope of its leading edge exponents, writes John Burbedge.
“One of my favourite analogies about starting a business is that it’s like jumping off a cliff with a parachute. When you jump your parachute won’t open straight away. You will spend time free-falling, not knowing for sure if your parachute will open. But if you don’t jump you will never have a chance of soaring.”
Those are the words of Georgina Hurcombe one of the contributors to this ‘Growth Spotlight’. They are emotively apt and fitting words for our Spring 2018 article – nature’s time for fresh starts and fledgling growth – focused on early-stage business growth.
It takes nerve to start a business, to jump into the unknown. It’s easier to fear failure, choose a vanilla existence – and perhaps regret that missed opportunity and potential personal achievement for the rest of your life.
As Georgina Hurcombe says: “If you don’t jump, you will never have a chance of soaring.”
Not that anyone jumps into the unknown if they can discover and resolve the dangers in advance or learn from the experiences of other ‘jumpers’.
This is why you should read this article, which provides early-stage growth insights and advice from the leaders of four companies that today standout impressively within our dynamic Thames Valley economic region.
While Hurcombe’s parachute jump imagery is still fresh in your mind let’s introduce another of our four contributors to this Growth Spotlight with her own ‘down to earth’ warnings about gaining appropriate start-up or growth funding and keeping the company vision in focus.
Sharon Pursey, co-founder of SafeToNet
A former Reading-based E-Safety company providing expert information and intelligent tools that empower parents to safeguard children on their mobile devices. Winner: Thames Valley Business Magazine Awards 2017 ‘Best Use of Technology’ and ‘Rising Star’ at 2017 Women in Business Awards.
“We’ve found that the days of purely conceptual products, fuelled by VCs with deep pockets, are long gone for most businesses, start-ups or otherwise. Even Google’s ‘Moonshot Incubator’ only has three projects currently in development.
“With early-stage funding dropping like a stone, start-ups are having to act like mid-size businesses earlier and earlier.”
Early on, the SafeToNet team all agreed that their mission was to safeguard children online.
“That is why we exist. It’s something we know to be a genuine global problem. Our product will effect a social change, and the bi-product of that is achieving significant commercial success.”
Maintaining core focus is crucial to product development, the sales process and the negotiation of issues, says Pursey.
“Every day a new commercial or technical opportunity comes to us, testing this, promising to take us in a new, different, exciting direction.
“The only way we’ve been able to evaluate these choices is to keep asking ourselves ‘Does this respect children’s rights and privacy, and will this help parents keep children safe?’
“Our vision isn’t fluffy and intangible, it’s razor sharp and we use it to simplify complex questions and remind ourselves of why we exist.”
Sandra Sassow: CEO and co-founder SEaB Energy
Based on the Southampton Science Park at Chilworth, tech-business SEaB Energy was formed by Sassow nine years ago to help improve global carbon reduction by the development of waste-to-energy technology. SEaB has a team of 22 and manufactures its own award-winning and patented products called Flexibuster and Muckbuster.
“From start-up to scale-up, you have to be creative to find the money, and persistent enough to make sure it actually shows up as cleared funds in your account.
“Funding for the company was not always easy and cashflow can be extremely tricky. Together with a strong board of advisers, I established a financially solid base for the global growth that SEaB Energy is currently experiencing.”
Sassow now manages an ethnically diverse team of engineers, developers, sales and admin people. “Hiring the ‘right’ team as you grow is difficult and getting it wrong is seriously frustrating and costly for the business. We have learned from our many mistakes along the way.”
Under Sassow’s leadership, the company has managed to develop, commercialise and patent unique green-tech appliances that have the potential to globally disrupt both the waste processing and green tech sectors.
“We actively protect and strategically plan our next steps technically, financially, and commercially. My active role in both designing and promoting the systems, along with my team’s invaluable support, has led to both the company and the technology being globally recognised and praised.
Due to the high profile achieved by SEaB’s technology, Sassow spends a lot of time promoting British technology at international forums – “Which sometimes makes me think I live in a plane.
“We work hard, we play when we can, and we are definitely striving to make a difference. Every week brings a new success and a different challenge, and my company’s growth and success would be impossible without my amazing team.”
Dan Hook: senior director, business development, ASV Globals
This exciting and innovative south-coast company based in Portchester is a designer, builder and operator of unmanned and autonomous marine systems vessel technology and the ‘SME of the Year’ winner at the 2017 Solent Business Awards.
“ASV Global was launched into a developing market. The use of robotics within autonomous surface vessels was still new and only prevalent among early adopters. This meant we didn’t just have the usual challenges of a start-up company – cashflow, recruiting, business process and engineering – but also the need to stay flexible as the market developed.”
However, within just eight years the ASV team has delivered more than 90 systems to 40 customers across 10 countries.
“I would put a lot of our success down to good communication and listening to customers in the early phases of the company. We regularly reviewed our technical roadmap and product specifications to make sure they lined up with what our customers were saying.
“Open and regular communication was part of our culture from the start, not just in the sales and marketing team but the whole way throughout finance, engineering, administration and support.”
Georgina Hurcombe, MD & producer at LoveLove Films
An independent multimedia production company based in Bournemouth. Founded in 2010, it already has more than 50 TV commercials under its belt, plus many videos for mainstream musicians and major corporates. Winner: ‘Woman Business Owner of the Year’ at The Business Magazine’s 2017 Women in Business Awards.
Challenges are merely opportunities for change, and enjoyable employment is a driver for success, Hurcombe sums up.
“There isn’t one barrier when you are running a business, there are many, and they are often the most obscure barriers – ones that you would have never guessed. But what I find most important is to look at barriers as challenges.
“I always ask my team to look for solutions and I don’t entertain a ‘can’t do’ culture. After all, barriers are meant to be broken.
“One of the biggest lessons I have learnt is not to stress too much about work. I have to remind myself that I run a production company – I’m not a doctor saving lives. So, I try to make sure I’m being subjective. I’ve also learnt that it’s OK to ask for help; today I still often reach out to my peers for insight.
“Also, don’t limit yourself to other people’s expectations or rejections. I’ve come across a lot of ‘No’s’ and rejections and it’s just about being persistent and not letting it overcome you. Most importantly, I’ve learnt that if you believe in your business or project then you should pursue your goals.”
And Hurcombe’s advice to others aiming to start a successful growing business?
“Dream big dreams, but know that being an entrepreneur is hard. If it were easy then everyone would do it.
“So, if you want to go into business, make sure it’s something that you truly love because if you’re not passionate about it you will likely fail.
“Business is full of chaos and uncertainty. To grow a business many things can go wrong and often these things happening is the only way you learn. So, you really need to love what you’re doing and believe deeply in your business idea. For me LoveLove Films is not only my business it’s my passion. I love going into the studio.”
Penningtons Manches’ view:
Underpin your business with legal certainty
Any viable project begins with secure foundations, and it’s the same when starting to build up a business.
The contributors to this Growth Spotlight have faced a variety of challenges on their journey to success; we regularly advise enthusiastic business founders on the legal aspects of managing a growing company. Here are some of the important areas to pay attention to:
Cashflow and contracts
‘Cash is king’ is the age-old business maxim and that’s certainly true for a young business.
Having provided the service or product on time and to budget for customers, too many new businesses fall into the trap of celebrating their first paydays, without planning and establishing their future financing through supply agreements and contractual obligations with all the commercial partners involved.
Young businesses often depend upon just a few early customers and don’t want to scare them with formal contracts, but without a contract, customers can dispute non-specified terms, or renege on payments or even ‘disappear’.
Chasing down those late or non-payers is time-consuming, frustrating and operationally distracting or even disrupting – particularly without a formal contract to support your claim.
Patents and data
Many young businesses are founded on a good service idea, a process improvement or innovative product. That ‘spark of life’ for the commercial business may well be the essential intellectual property (IP) that will sustain its future – and it may be that this vital IP can be legally protected through a patent.
Another area a young business can be sure of is dealing directly with customers and suppliers – and that means the constant gaining of commercial and very likely personal data.
The new General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) come into force on May 25, 2018. If a company doesn’t adequately protect personal data in line with the law, it could face substantial cash fines from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
HR and HMRC
Good staff are the bedrock of a young ambitious business. Employment contracts need to be transparent, fair and binding on both sides. As with commercial contracts, HR issues can be time-consuming, frustrating and disrupt the smooth operation of your business.
So too, can involvement with HMRC or other government bodies such as the Health and Safety Executive. Compliance with the legal commercial requirements of an operational UK company need to be effectively and consistently dealt with, in a timely way, so that a young business can develop without being distracted by falling foul of avoidable pitfalls.
Get professional help
A number of other legal issues can arise when founding and growing a new business – some of which can damage a thriving future if they are not dealt with quickly and appropriately with the right professional help.