PLATFORM - March 2024

PLATFORM - March 2024

Insights Briefing

Paul Lancaster - PLATFORM | UK Startup Week

Paul Lancaster introduced the day with many people here for the first time, is a new monthly event, this is bringing people together including start-ups and scale-ups, the event is right next to the station hence the name Platform. Paul had been thinking about doing this event for a couple of years and had been doing Newcastle Startup Week in the past, they did move things online and then went into recruitment but now back into events and coaching for business leaders and doing things in Sunderland where there is a lot of exciting things happening there. There is now UK Startup Week website with blogs, videos and podcasts and the event itself will be in the North East again in the future.

Melius Cyber - Eldon Jobe

Eldon from Melius CyberSafe started as they had been involved in other companies with different background but were always aware of cyber security, they were chatting about it as one of the founders had a plant hire company and had a PEN test but later they had a breach after doing everything they did but turned out it was something that didn't exist when the PEN test had happened, so their aim is to put everything in plain English and do something all the time which is a continuous penetration test tool and continues to do this every single day of the year and help keep the risk profile low. They have dashboard and reporting but every single day of the year there is an audit trail and when they recertify there is less business disruption and they are Crest certified and will do a full manual penetration test and run a continuous test that is 85% the level of a normal one every day. They are helping small companies do security by design, what they have tried to do is keep companies safe at every time of the year.

Raymond James Monument - Michael Rankin & Gary Fawcett

They had been doing things for many years and wanted to retake control of the services they offered. Wanted to provide a personal approach to investment and money management. It was about the team and wanting to do more tailored portfolio management, they all previously worked together with over 80 years of experience between them. They wanted to offer a service tailored to an individual and do it at a cost that was more appropriate for the region at Raymond James Monument. They are a very big company with Raymond James with thousands of wealth managers with over 20 billion dollar market cap and offer financial planning for no extra cost to provide to anyone who needs it. They are getting back to what they always wanted to do and get involved in people's finances and being part of that journey through their lives and take steps together.

Their business is all about people, they love helping people meet their financial aspirations, financial plans have to change so they take the worry away and let you focus on your business, they are a trusted advisor to make sure you are on the right track and it is structured correctly and more tax efficient and are a personal finance director and help meet your aspirations. Financial planning and investment management, help to make the ultimate investment decisions and also a lot of their clients are business owners so use their network to help their clients and community to grow including businesses looking for funding, so are a big fan of connecting companies together by getting like-minded people together. They support their clients to reach their financial goals with excellent value for money.

Trust is important, integrity as have been doing things for a long time from 0 investments to 70 million in four months with fairness and transparency being key points of the business. It is about tailoring investments and investment strategies to go anywhere and deliver the kind of returns people are looking for. They are committed to the community by connecting local business and supporting work local charities do and donate a percentage of their income and by working together they can create a better community for everyone with Ronald James Monument

Maven Capital Partners - Rebecca MacDermid & Michael Dickens

Maven does investments into North East businesses but are a UK wide company and do this with regional funds and private equity and like investing into businesses, they have people with boots on the ground to build relationships and see if it meets with their funds. They have specific funds for the North East including County Durham, they manage venture capital funds and are a generalist investor and want to invest in companies and help them grow. Investments are equity shares and help turbo charge companies or have private equity for existing businesses to help get some more cash on the table. Maven can do a lot from £150,000 investments with business with a few clients to well established companies with large investments, it is a really exciting time.

Maven can support businesses for any stage, regional fund investment is because most of the investment comes into London and the south east from UK-based and foreign investors. There are new regional funds to help balance the playing field, there is a new Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund II which is a £660 million fund and there are three new regional funds which is a small loans fund, general debt fund and equity fund. Maven have taken on the equity fund so want to talk to North East businesses in the region and are looking for businesses that are looking to grow and can invest up to £5 million and there is also a remit to support startups or scaleups but does depend on the sector with smallest ticket size is £250,000 but it is quite flexible, they will do startup and growth investments. There is also a new Female Founder Funding programme available with drop-in sessions and in-person workshops.

Show & Tell

Fabric - Lisa Eaton

Challenges of getting investment as a female founder with Fabric. They have been in marketing for over twenty years and work with companies to build marketing strategies for businesses with a bootstrapped business with no outside funding, but biggest challenge was not clients but getting marketing talent as they needed to grow and couldn't find the right skillset thinking it was a regional issue and looked into what was being taught to marketing students which turned out to be out of date and theory based and trends from decades ago and didn't have a clear idea how to succeed or secure a role, it made it difficult to grow that kind of agency so looked into how to do this which was to build a training program on how to build growth in a business, it seemed like a perfect plan and COVID came and agency became very quiet with people spending less on marketing, gave an opportunity to take a step back and think about what was an important piece of the puzzle to be more accessible.

They thought it would be great to launch another business due to the struggle with skills so they build Fabric which is a tech platform to teach marketing strategies from scratch and build a strategy for the business they are in and coach and support the learner and make sure the learnings are being used, it went really well but there were a lot of challenges. They found a real passion in Fabric which was to help people find their feet in their role as a marketer and decided to focus full time on growing this business. They had something unique, there are tonnes of learning out there but not many doing live teaching with ongoing support and had built a good reputation with learners all over the world and wanted to take advantage of the first mover decision and were making money with slow and sustainable growth but wanted to grow quicker.

They decided to raise capital investment as they had a business that was tried and tested, but they had no network in the investment world and was a massive learning curve and were told they couldn't do it as a female as not many do it, they are a non-technical tech founder and a solo founder created a challenge mixed together along with a market that was tough at the time. They wanted a challenge and did it anyway and started a raise and find some really great angel investors in the North East and find some investments, but these angel investors are everywhere but are not visible, many have sold their business and want to invest but are difficult to find, so the challenge was finding and connecting with these people, but once they did things happened quickly but was difficult without at network but did get six local investors onboard, along with people who could help them with technical expertise and ones who had networks. They wanted to raise half a million pounds and managed to raise half and had enough money to get back into business. They wanted to launch their SAAS product and paused the round of investment and managed to get incredible traction then have been back in the market to close the round and just need a little bit more investment. They have continued to build relationships and build their network.

There is some negativity attached to investment, you can do it, it isn't easy and takes you out of the business but if believe if it is the right thing for the business it is the right thing to do. They were at a London business event and spoke about building a company without investment but many had scaremongering stories about getting investment such as getting pressure etc but they had been lucky by spending time to find the right type of investor and person. They have had an amazing experience with people who they can call if they have a crisis and aren't controlling but have the experience they need, but it does take grit and determination and if they hadn't got that investment they wouldn't have got where they are, it helps you don't always grow organically. They found investors, by starting with table of skills they needed such as people with technical skills and looked for tech business owners who were looking into investing, they didn't know people were angel investors but looked at them, they hadn't clearly identified investors but went to them to ask for help and went to them for advice not money and had expertise but they loved the journey they had been on and the mission and then wanted to invest due to that, they had found the right people in the right way. Just ask investors what they can invest as can't spend forever fundraising, look for people who are open to opportunity and are they open to minimum ticket size then meet and have a coffee.

Reclaro - Pete Wilkinson

They were at business school many years ago frustrated with strategy building and not strategy execution. There is not enough emphasis on getting things done, so put together a framework one vision, three mission critical objections and five goals for the mission critical framework. They wrote a book about the concept then created some workshops to stretch the idea as they got more traction with the concept and get people to execute at pace. People were using spreadsheets but there are limitations of this, so they got some investment to create a minimal viable product and got some early traction and ran Reclaro part-time for a few years, they were consulting and speaking and then going back to the business. They wanted to put their own money into the business, and they needed to do more and bring more people into the team.

The interesting thing is you have an idea, and you take it to market but if you don't have skill or time to get idea out then a few things happen, you refine the messaging, how you say it and refine who you say it to and refine the pricing. It has taken off and have done more monthly revenue than yearly revenue before, they are working with ambitious companies who have a strategic plan but don't have a way to see if they are on track to see if they are on track to achieve any goals. You go through periods where you are looking for signs of success then see people who like what you said, they book a demo, and they then get what they want. You make a little bit of progress where are working part-time and when go full-time then can help focus on the business.

What's interesting as a startup you just have to persist and it is really exciting to see where it works, but if a crowded market, then they may have overengineered the solution but theirs makes it easier to nail a strategy execution with a simple tool. They are based in Newcastle and are cashflow positive so frees up something for marketing or more developers, but it is exciting to build a business in the North East who are getting global recognition. Large companies can be challenging but what is great is they have looked at other companies but have chose them instead which is good to see. It is great to be a little startup where you commit and put own money in, but are through that now and can land international businesses and maybe get other parts of those businesses. It is great to get the chance to help people and see it make a difference and get great feedback and Google reviews. An overnight success story that was ten years in the making.

Strong Point Games - Gill Hauxwell & Si Evans

Strong Point Games is a board game design and publishing company in the North East, they started off with just one game which is Strong Point which is a trivia game that incorporates the power of knowledge with the importance of social interaction. Trying to get people together away from screens. The game is a category based trivia game with unique subjects and take turns answering questions on one category but the twist is you can predict how many questions some one would get right, so you get points based on this but anyone who predicts how many questions someone gets right you get a Strong Point, so if know what people are like so you could pick up extra points so could help someone win not just needing to have the knowledge yourself and it is ideal for every generation of player.

Their mission is to promote lifestyle habits to get people to interact in a fun different way and get them together away from screens. Board games since lockdown has really started to grow and is a £27 billion industry. They want to create a game where it is a recognised game and brand and can celebrate the power of knowledge and encourage people to connect in a fun, social and interactive way. It will be a struggle to be as recognised as games like Monopoly and Tribval Pursuit. They started in 2020 where they had the idea and created a prototype and designed it, they knew they wanted it to be a trivia game and the concept went through a few changes and then they tested the prototype built from cardboard pieces from pizza boxes with people locally along with families, friends and strangers. They finalised the design along with registering the brand a year later and registered plus created 750 games by getting enough money, but this was their first mistake. Then in 2022 they were a finalist in North East Startup awards and got 2,300 manufactured in China but did want to do this in the UK but didn't make financial sense. Then in 2023 they were stocked in more stores and exhibited at UK Games Expo and in 2024 they have their first expansion pack in production.

They have more ideas they want to do, when buying a game and playing a game this is research, they are looking into getting into more retailers but if know someone who would like a game like Strong Point then recommend it and review it as these are gold in terms of the games industry. They had an email from someone who was gifted the game and were a question writer for The Chase and University Challenge so that was a great piece of feedback. They have conquered the obstacle of people who don't much trivia so helps different people win the game. They are still working but will hopefully work in the business full time but are raising awareness through different social media including TikTok.

Stable State - Ross Cooney & Matt Moran

Ross Cooney has been in the North East in the last twenty years and has acted as a technologist in startups and scaleups and now work trogether with Matt Moran with Stable State. Over the past twelve months they have looked at successful and unsuccessful companies, and there is a thread that runs through successful companies and that is they have a strong core. They all had a business plan that clearly defined their strategy and had meeting where this is discussed, these were fast moving businesses, but they were stable. Stable State have three core products ClearView and is a twelve-month plan to get a business into a stable state, will do a tech analysis of the company, they will grade your business and give evidence why you are in that state but will continue this process and identify tasks to allow you to become stable. They will create bespoke action plans with you and third parties, and the cost is spread over the twelve-month period and is more affordable.

Their second product is PortfolioView, from their experience of working with investors has been reporting, as investors find it hard to see what the companies they invest in are going through and you can see the investments and aggregate all the clear view reports and can see true reality and position of each of your investments and allow investors to be more proactive and efficient and be an on target and stable company. The current health of the business across strategy, product, people, process, platform and risk. Their third product is ClearVision, which is a twelve-month development programme to support future tech leaders with bespoke development plant, monthly peer group meetings, coaching sessions working on specific topics and quarterly dinner with industry dinners. Plan is designed to reflect on personal development and learn from key industry leaders and peers and help understand growth skills and help communicate current state of your business and develop a strategic plan to build a health and stable business that grows and build strong foundations for businesses. They have pulled the company together including branding and clients in just a few weeks to produce a tech strategy into your business and delivering exactly what your business plan says and get the right advice at the right time. They want to be light touch and bring people together and make it more cost effective and allow funds to be spend on growing the business.

In Conversation With...

Wubbleyou - Mark Renney

You can learn a lot from people who have run a business for a long time and mistakes that they have made. Wubbleyou builds software and bring tech products to market for startups and scaling businesses and have pivoted from web design to web development and are on that scaling journey themselves. They got started while at Northumbria University in 2009 but the job prospects were not great at the time, so they decided to start their own business instead, it was just the two of them originally but make a conscious effort to grow. There scaling journey only started in 2018 but hit a brick wall when COVID hit and then went from two to ten people. There were opportunities back in 2009 and they stepped on a leaflet on why don't you start your own business so decided to do that. Getting to start to do the cool projects they have worked on has been great such as a cash-back website, but they were doing ethical hacking at University too and they found that LG smart TVs were spying on people. They went through the Northumbia University incubator scheme.

Building the team, it started from two, but building the team was one of the hardest things they did, they got to a junction point when they thought they can only do so much and wanted to do more, building a team is rolling the dice and seeing what works and learning from this, the team they have now is really great. Their first hires were other developers and project managers and the core of what they do is development heavy, 99% of people are good people but a good person and a good business might not quite fit, but you may need to overcome that and what do you do about it. It is easy to find people but you need to find the right people for your business, do they look at things and think is there a better way of doing things.

Mistakes made when hiring are when it has been when hiring reactively and need to fill a post quickly and then not fixing a situation quickly enough was a key mistake and hurts everyone and the person who has come into the team and trying to do it too quickly, but they look at right people with right mindset not right skill set. They know exactly what they are looking for, when someone joins the team and it is right you just know and can see this is going to work. Some companies will hire slow and fire quickly.

The type of clients include startups wanting to bring a tech product to market and what they do that sets them out, they will challenge the project and understand what they want to achieve and why are they doing this, if you just build a product without thinking about it you waste money and time so need to understand objectives and what customers want and take those incremental steps. They are interested in long-term partnerships, you could build anything but it might not be the right thing for the business so they spend time with the client to make sure they deliver what they need, it may look amazing but no-one wants to buy it so don't want to do that, they will do a discovery process. They have condensed what they do which is their planning stage is to understand needs and the minimum that is needed to test and idea which is to take the most minimal product to market to validate it and see if people would pay money for a product, then understand the investments needed to build out the product is really important. People looking to build a tech product is you can do a lot yourself in no-code platforms to get investment, build something in WordPress and build something you can learn from.

From initial enquiry for the discovery process takes a few weeks but can be shorter but is then more intense, but work with customers and stakeholders to really understand what is going on, need to make sure the client is invested as much as they are. What should businesses know when building a tech product is a typical mistake is spending a lot of money before validating something, you should be making as many mistakes as possible as quickly as possible, so if make a mistake in a prototype is cheaper than a bespoke product. You should be doing Build, Measure and Learn and read the Lean Startup and other books and try and make mistakes as early as possible before writing any code. You can refine an idea and see what works and build on that and what doesn't do less of that, you can make something better or look better. The more you talk about an idea the more real it becomes and then know that something is going to work, you can have strong opinions that can be weakly held before getting evidence to back it.

Their company has grown over the past fifteen years and have a great plan but can't account for things like COVID and isn't an easy journey, but you know what you have signed up for when running a business, so can be really optimistic by having what you need to overcome issues. They bought out their cofounder amicably as they were pulling in different directions but needed that separation to do their own things. They had worked together for years but doing it on their own gave them that fight or flight response for about a month but had to take the leap and once it was done it wasn't too bad. They had help from their team and worked with a mentor and advisor, speak to the right people and have those conversations and having support from other founders is so important to make sure you are doing the right thing and sense check your ideas. People skills was hard and a few years ago they found public speaking difficult but pushed themselves into situations where they could do this and as a business owner it is a responsibility to do this.

Their lowest point was during buyout when papers were signed back in 2020 but where in a point just afterwards during lockdowns where people weren't spending as much and it was all their problem compared to being half the problem but brought someone in who then left but had to work hard and find the right people. You could wake up thinking a day is going to be great and things can go wrong, and it can be like that sometimes. They have had an eclectic range of things they have worked on from referrals but are also working on a lead generation engine that is more predictable, but they also rarely lose clients which is good. Is the name Wubbleyou a challenge, some people find hard to say the company name, the name came from hearing someone saying the word at Northumbria University, they did think about changing the name but they are glad they didn't.

What's next is they have a year ahead of them to make the most of what they have got, have got a great team they think they can do more, be more effective and deliver more value and don't want a year where they are recruiting like crazy. They want to speak to more people at more networking events in the future and get advice on bringing a tech product and if just want a chat and get some advice.