Selling out versus scaling up’ – creating global champions from UK innovators
Article by:Ilona Hitel
Hosted by John O’Connell, chairman of the UK’s ScaleUp Group, last week’s event provided valuable advice for technology entrepreneurs in the UK ScaleUp space.
Hosted at techUK’s offices, the sessions included insights from Kimble’s CEO Sean Hoban, TechMarketView’s MD Tola Sargeant, and Silverpeak’s MD Paddy McGwire.
John talked about some of the highlights of his years of experience in tech entrepreneurialism and investment and shared some great stories from both running (Staffware) and investing in software companies. He summarised the essential attributes of a successful scale up as: timing, team, and tech leadership, not to mention customer experience and the strength of the sales organisation.
Tola offered a glimpse into TMV’s ‘essential ingredients’ for success that they look for in companies. Most notably: a scalable proposition/product, a real market opportunity, and of course, the business leadership team.
She also listed some common hurdles and challenges on a company’s path to growth:
lack of management bandwidth, overreliance on an inspirational CEO, sub-optimal business model, difficulty in finding talent, too much opportunity and limited focus.
Two issues for struggling companies that really resonated with me as a PR were these: lacking brand awareness, and insufficient investment in sales & marketing.
Kimble CEO Sean Hoben told a fascinating and frank tale of a company going from 11 customers, to an organisation with 200+ – and his key advice was to keep on growing while it’s clear that the market opportunity and demand is there. Selling out should not be in the vocabulary of a company scaling so rapidly, whereas an IPO might be.
A key message from Sean around the scale up journey into the US was this: you need to go where the market is to maximise success. In order to succeed in the US, you need awareness and credibility – to seem bigger than the ‘small British company’. You also need to send someone you know and trust to lead the global expansion. Or an investment partner to lead you into the US.
Individual objectives of the management team must be aligned or managed. This was the advice from Silverpeak’s Paddy McGuire. When looking at a scale up’s leadership team, it is likely they all have individual motives, financial situations, and personal ambitions. Key to keeping or getting the right leadership team in place is a solid understanding of these.
Throughout the event, UK HR tech brand Fairsail was referenced as a scale up success story; acquired by Sage last year for $150m. As a CommsCo client over the three-year period running up to the acquisition, we take special pride in helping to crack one of the key objectives in brand awareness – taking on giant Workday, and leading a PR and marketing programme to reflect this – an ambitious challenger brand in the UK trying to break into the US market.
Fortunately, there are many, many more scale ups following in its footsteps and multiple lessons can be learned from these individual examples.
My thanks to the ScaleUp Group team for running the event. Along with TechMarketView, they sponsor a number of initiatives to bring UK talent and entrepreneurs together to network, learn and be inspired.
Any ScaleUp founder interested in how the ScaleUp Group can help them should contact Paul Excell at firstname.lastname@example.org
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