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25/04/2017

Scale up or sell? Essential insights for growing businesses

Clockwise from bottom centre: Martin Loat (Propeller Group), Anna Jones (AllBright, Sharestyle), Arian Kalantari (TheLADBible), Pip Jamieson (The Dots Agency), Tom Toumazis MBE (TheLADBible), Kevin Brown (The Garage Soho), Eric Newnham (Talon Outdoor), Tom Teichman (Spark Ventures, The Garage Soho), Paul Lees (Powwownow, thortful.com), David Mansfield (The Drive Partnership), Janet Coyle (SVC2UK at London & Partners), Mike Anderson (Chelsea Apps Factory), Gavin Dein (Reward Insight), Nicholas Oliver (People.io, C8 Management), Richard Anson (Reevoo). Not pictured: Oscar Vickerman (B.heard), Kieran Kent (Propeller PR).

Propeller recently hosted an entrepreneurs’ dinner to debate the burning issues that keep business founders awake at night – particularly how to fund growth and at what point should they ‘cash in’ and exit?

The gathering at Cinnamon Bazaar, London was addressed by seasoned start-up backer Tom Teichman, an investor in Lastminute.com, Mindcandy.com and notonthehighstreet.com via his Spark Ventures vehicle. Tom is also co-founder of brand building business The Garage Soho with legendary ad man Sir John Hegarty.

While the discussion, chaired by Propeller and PostBug founder Martin Loat, followed Chatham House Rules, our guests were kind enough to share some of their thoughts beforehand on the challenges of scaling up and deciding when, or if, to exit.

Fundraising can be a distraction from the focus on building the business, said Gavin Dein, founder and group CEO of Reward Insight. He advised making sure there were high calibre people to operate the business as usual, while the fundraising process should have a strict timeframe.

Dave Mansfield, investor and founder of The Drive Partnership, adds that debt is worth considering as an alternative to selling equity, until the company valuation ensures equity distribution will not dilute the final remuneration.

However, growth depends on having the right team to drive the business and recruiting good people may require release of equity. Oscar Vickerman, founder and CEO of B.heard, said: “I would personally encourage entrepreneurs to grow by selling equity to the right type of investors. It takes a team to win and every entrepreneur will need multiple skilled people to succeed.”

Anyone wrestling with the decision on releasing equity should ask themselves what will help achieve their business and personal goals most effectively, said Anna Jones, co-founder of AllBright and ShareStyle.

Paul Lees, founder of Powwownow and thortful.com, added that the founder-shareholders and executive team need to have the same goal and a rough agreement on the target number before starting any sale process.

He added: “The decision to scale or sell mainly depends on personal ambition. In our case a large proportion of our personal wealth was contained within the company. The sale option gave us future choices - scaling would have been a bigger risk. The larger reward of a later sale would not have made a significant difference to our future.”

Tom Toumazis MBE, Non-Executive Director of TheLADbible, warned that many start-ups spend too much trying to scale before proving there is a market for their idea and added: “I would be careful to not blow all the cash on scale, just because it has been given to you. It can appear a contradiction but work within your means and be more cautious, focus on the breakeven and be careful of VCs bearing gifts.”

Mike Anderson, founder of The Chelsea App Factory, succinctly summed up the attitude prevalent among entrepreneurs by saying: “Most get into start-ups to crystallise wealth - it is a badge of success having an exit."

 

Our dinner guests' tips of companies to watch

Circus Street

  • A scalable training service for digital transformation.
 

Thunderhead

  • The company behind the ONE engagement hub which allows brands to build a fully functioning Customer Operating System thereby creating more valuable customer relationships.
 

HAT (Hub of All Things)

  • An ecosystem that empowers exchange and trade of personal data. The HAT is a technology that can privately store anyone’s personal information in a container that only they can control and access.
 

Presence Orb

  • An analytics platform that uses the data collected from retailers' existing Wi-Fi routers to provide greater understanding of customer behaviour in-store.
 

Piccolo

  • Organic baby food business now stocked in Whole Foods, Waitrose and ASDA only one year after launch.
 

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