On Monday 20th November, 155 Bishopsgate London played host to the GBEA Scale Up Conference, opened by Oli Barratt as a follow up event to the well established Natwest Great British Entrepreneur Awards. We were thoroughly delighted to be awarded runner-up in the prestigious awards within the Start-Up Entrepreneur category last week and the conference was a perfect follow on from these celebrations. Focusing on scaling up businesses, we felt it was the perfect time for LoyalFree to delve into these conversations, as we begin to take our loyalty app business nationwide.
The conference was full of countless interesting speakers, questions and lively debate. However, we have summarised the 5 key messages we took away from the day as:
1. Growing businesses are driven by a mission
We heard from Michael Hayman of Sevenhills first, talking us through his book, Mission. We couldn’t agree more with the prognosis that businesses are becoming increasingly mission driven, with the idea of ‘Conscious Capitalism’ paving the way forward . Michael went on to discuss the characteristics of a ‘Mission Character’ as pictured below, and the differing types of entrepreneurs such as the carers (who nurture), the sharers (who focus on belonging) and the darers (who confront ideas). It’s an interesting concept as we often move between these ‘types’ as we find each day of growing a business requires you to adapt to the market around you quickly and considerately.
2. Your business will only be as good as the people in your business
Perhaps the most hotly anticipated section of the day for us was the talk from Jenny Campbell of BBC Dragon’s Den who shared her story of growth. Whilst she journeyed through her tale of ‘repair, reinvent and rebuild’ used in her career at RBS and beyond, perhaps the most poignant message was regarding the people you decide to hire into your business. There was a focus on hiring the right people with the right attitude and we would echo Jenny’s comment of ‘recruit for attitude and train for skill.’ As we look to hiring decisions in 2018 it was incredibly useful to keep this in mind. Plus, we managed to get Jenny to tell us which Dragon she would most like to go on holiday with – but we will keep that one a secret with the other attendees!
3. Founders are ideally positioned to be your best sales people
The #GBEAScale conference held host to several panel discussions throughout the day, with leading industry figures sharing their opinions with the room. During a session on ‘driving growth through sales’ we heard from Alex McPherson (Ignition Law), David Howorth (Evoke) and Gordon McAlpine (Scale up millionaire) as they were led through questions by their chair Luke Neil. A recurrent theme and question of the day was around the role of business founders within the sales process. The panel discussed fairly unanimously that the founders of a business were incredibly well placed to promote it; being the ones with the true passion and understanding of the business.
This is something we have found to ring very true in our own startup LoyalFree, with most major customers responding very well to the creators of a business being the ones involved in the sales pitch, rather than a representative. As businesses grow often founders can step away – and the question was raised of how long should the founders keep selling? We think it’s important for founders to always remain in the sales process…
4. Diversity of thought is incredibly important in Scale Up businesses
Another interesting panel explored ‘People, Talent & Skills for Scale Ups’ where we heard from Heather Melville (Natwest), Jo Dalton (JD&Co) and Stephen Fear (the Fear Group). Various questions were raised – should we have blind CVs? How do we find the A players in the crowd? But the most resounding message that came through was that of diversity. Interesting discussions were sparked over how you achieve the correct mix of staff – and whilst there is merit to ‘hire in your own image’ to ensure aligned values, perhaps this does not lead to the diversity of thought crucial to innovation. Certainly food for thought!
5. Never underestimate how long it will take to sell your business
The day was rounded off with a session titled ‘Life After Exit’ where we heard from Ajaz Ahmed (Freeserve) amongst many other business owners. The discussion was centred around the infamous ‘exit strategy’ of many scale up entrepreneurs. This is for several reasons; the nature of entrepreneurs is to have other ideas to go on to, but also investors may want to see a clear exit strategy to ensure they are getting a good return on their investment. Amidst discussions of having good advisors around you, and a solid management team was the theme that often entrepreneurs grossly underestimate how hard or long the sale process may be. Although these plans are a while off for the likes of us, the insights were incredibly useful as we heard from individuals who had sold their own businesses and come across similar hurdles to each other along the way.
Other highlights included hearing Stephen Fear’s story and his resounding message of thinking positive, Marcus Wright looking at the productivity crisis in the UK and Michael Jacobsen sharing his stories around scaling creative businesses, not to forget an engaging talk from Ian Merricks. There are many we have not mentioned because the day was jam packed of useful insight, plentiful networking opportunities and good humour.
We are already looking forward to next year’s event!