The Natwest Great British Entrepreneur Awards acknowledges the inspiring stories of British entrepreneurs and businesses, with awards ceremonies being held in five major cities across the UK. Now in its fifth year, it counts Funded Club member James Watt of Brewdog as one of its previous winners. This year, four of our Crowdcube funded companies have been nominated for awards across the board. We caught up with four of the founders to get some hints and tips about running a start-up in the UK.
This online marketplace, which connects the best tutors to students hassle free and at a fair price, was founded by friends Mark Hughes and Scott Woodley. Their most recent funding round raised over £704k from 540 investors, its second crowdfunding round on Crowdcube.
How did you and Mark come up with the idea for Tutora?
I was working as a primary school teacher in Sheffield and often had parents asking me to recommend a tutor. As the good teacher I was, I'd try and help them find someone and came across a couple of tired old sites and local, expensive agencies. At the time, Mark, my co-founder and long-term friend, was working as a technology analyst for a large investment firm. When I raised this with him, we started to discuss how we could tackle the problem and ultimately, Tutora was born.
What has been your proudest achievement as a business to date?
It's hard to put your finger on one thing - I think it's more of an accumulation. When we hit 100,000 lessons taught through the platform, that felt quite significant. To sit back and think of how many people we're helping to learn something and improve their skills is mind-blowing, especially given that it still feels like we've only just launched.
What are your top tips for running a start-up?
Firstly, to go for it and be ambitious. Secondly, to do things that don't scale - sorry Paul Graham (I'm stealing one of his tips). It's so important to be willing to put the initial leg work in and to test your assumptions by speaking to people. We initially launched with absolutely no backend to the site and personally matched every student and tutor. It seems crazy looking back on that, but I think it's what allowed us to truly understand the needs of our users. I'd certainly recommend that other founders do the same - to be scrappy, wherever possible and even as you scale.
Adzuna, a search engine for job ads that lists every job, everywhere, was founded by Andrew Hunter and Doug Monro in 2011. In 2015, the company massively overfunded to over £2.1m with the support from 481 investors.
What is your proudest achievement as a company to date?
We've had so many highlights in the last six years, from powering the Prime Minister's 'Number 10 Dashboard' to helping millions of people find their perfect job. I think for me though, seeing our first international sites go live was one of my proudest moments. After years of working in fast-growth, disruptive international businesses, finally taking our own venture international was a massive buzz. And that’s still the case today, 16 countries and six years later. Knowing that we're helping jobseekers all around the globe is a pretty awesome buzz.
A close second place must go to Adzuna’s successful crowdfunding round in 2015, when we raised an additional £2.1m of finance and gained a wealth of new shareholders of all shapes and sizes – including a bunch of founders and CEOs of some incredible companies, and even a celebrity DJ.
What are your top tips for scaling a start-up?
I could spend hours talking about this, but i'll try and distill it down to 3 tips:
Be prepared for 'the struggle'. Scaling a business to millions of users and millions in revenue is hard. You will have good days, bad days, head in hands moments, times of triumph, times of defeat. Keep focussed, roll with the punches and stay positive
Don't be precious and secretive about your business idea. Get an unpolished first version of your idea in front of as many users as you can, quickly. Listen to the feedback, even if it's hard to hear
Be ambitious, be prepared to make this company your life's works, and pick a project which motivates you to leap out of bed in the morning
What are the plans for the future of Adzuna?
Our aim is to be the biggest (and best) job search engine in the world. We have big product plans for the next few years, and will be continuing to build our core team, scale up and create more innovations to help jobseekers take control of their job search. We are immensely proud of how far we have come on this journey, but there is so much more to do!
We’ve also very recently launched the latest version of Value My CV, our free tool which lets you upload your CV, and they tell you how much you're worth in today's job market.
Vibe Tickets is an open ticket marketplace where fans can buy and sell tickets transparently at a fair value. Vibe is on a mission to disrupt the multi-billion pound secondary ticket market. The company raised over £600k a year ago with the support of 294 investors.
How has being a part of VOOM helped to boost the profile of Vibe Tickets?
Virgin VOOM acted as a springboard for Vibe Ticket’s since it helped us to shout about the values and ambitions behind the app. We wanted to turn the industry on its head and find a way for fans to buy and sell tickets on a completely transparent and dynamic platform – something which had never been done before. Through the Virgin VOOM platform, influential business leaders got to hear the story of how we have progressed since 2013, and discover more about our ambitions for the future. Being a finalist also meant that I received investment from Sir Richard Branson himself, which has contributed to the evolution of the business.
What has been your proudest achievement to date?
I have experienced a lot of proud moments in my journey with Vibe, but my proudest achievement to date is probably crowdfunding £600,000 in just four weeks. To achieve something like this you need to be passionate about what you do, and believe you’re truly out to make a difference. I worked tirelessly to get that point, and it meant a lot to me to know that not only the people close to me supported Vibe Tickets. This was confirmation that other live events fans understood my ambition for Vibe Tickets to revolutionise the secondary ticketing market, and to make it completely transparent for the people that matter the most – the fans.
What advice would you give to other young entrepreneurs?
Don’t be disheartened by setbacks. Life throws all sorts of challenges at you – whether in your personal life or in the business world. Becoming a successful entrepreneur involves learning from these experiences and using them to motivate you to achieve your ambitions.
Seven Bro7hers Brewery
Seven Bro7hers is a Manchester based craft brewery run by seven brothers, all striving to brew the ‘best’ craft beer. The family-run business raised just shy of £200k in 2016 with the support of 263 investors.
What is it like running a company with your family?
Running a company with my family has its highs and lows. It can be the most powerful unit, and most of the time it is. Sometimes though, knowing each other so well means we can have a few disagreements. We always achieve what we set out to do as hard work and determination runs through the family - it's a massive factor in our success.
What are your top tips for running a food and drink start-up?
One of biggest tips I can give for a food and bev business, especially if you're just starting out, is to produce what you love. Make the things you love to eat and drink -that's what we did. We believe in our products because we really do love what we make/brew.
What has been your proudest achievement as a company to date?
Our proudest achievement so far has been winning an industry award for our branding. We wanted to stand out from the crowd with our branding, which led us to provide craft beer lovers a good idea with what our beer tastes like even before they've popped the cap and begun drinking. There's so much to be proud of though. We are moving in the right direction and I guess when our new larger brewer opens in September that will be the proudest moment yet. Everything is going to plan and we couldn't be happier right now.
You can read more about Crowdcube’s Funded Club here.