In my current role as EMEA CEO of Talent International, I’m fortunate that I get to work with every type of business, from large multi-national corporations to SMEs. However, some of our most interesting work takes place with start-ups.
The global tech start-up community is infectious. The entire ecosystem is full of innovative, passionate entrepreneurs. In that sense, nothing has changed; today’s aspiring business leaders still have the same fiery determination that encouraged me to start my first business. Although, despite sharing the same core characteristics and values, there are many differences between today’s entrepreneur and the business leader of yesteryear; these differences run much deeper than the stereotypical casual dress code and office beanbags.
The Future is now
The future of business for entrepreneurs and start-ups is already upon us and the truth is that the game really hasn’t changed but the playing board is completely different. We now live in a digital age where anyone with a dream and some coding knowledge can build a mobile app from home with zero investment and absolutely no concern for a business plan.
The UK is already acting as a guinea pig for the most ambitious attempt yet to get kids coding, with changes to the national curriculum. ICT – Information and Communications Technology – is out, replaced by a new “Computing” curriculum including coding lessons for children as young as five. Such a focus on digital skills perpetuates the idea that if you have a dream and some time to code it, there are plenty of people waiting in the wings to package you up and sell you off to investors who’ll take care of the boring business stuff.
From bedroom to boardroom
Once you have invented your gadget or gizmo, where do you take it today? Websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo are put budding entrepreneurs in front of an audience of millions of potential online investors willing to help get their project off the ground. This is a huge benefit for budding entrepreneurs today and something we didn’t have when I started out in the early 90s – the ability to get other people passionate about your ideas and share the dream.
Once you’ve gained a little traction you can finally move out of the bedroom and into one of the UK’s booming accelerators or incubators. These are on the rise across the UK and Europe; London’s Seedcamp has become one of the most important start-up accelerators in Europe, housing 192 start-ups. Accelerators are co-working spaces which allow start-ups to benefit from a city centre location, kitted out with the latest tech equipment and high speed internet, mentoring from established business leaders and moderate investment in exchange for a share of your business. If you can learn to shine in one of these accelerators you may well attract the attention of London’s Venture Capitalists. Last year 855 start-ups in the EU shared $5.7 billion worth of investment from VCs. From there on, the sky’s the limit.
Surviving and thriving
I’m often asked if this new way of driving start-ups is a good thing and in my view it’s great. 20 years ago you would rely heavily on big investment to start a business and this would likely mean risking everything you had in pursuit of your dream; the cost of failure was usually high. Today, the rise of the digital age has shortened the pathway to commercial success and made the opportunity to strive for it more accessible to the masses. In my view that will always be a good thing.
However, surviving in this new age requires a completely different set of skills to when I started 20 years ago. Accounting, Sales and Customer Service skills have all been leap-frogged by Marketing, Branding and PR in the list of ‘must-haves’ coming out of most new businesses. For today’s start-ups, the advantages of branching out on your own and funding being more accessible has made the business landscape much more competitive. So finding your USP and shouting it louder than anyone else from the digital rooftops is going to be crucial to the future success of start-ups when everyone today has the ‘best new idea.’