15 April 2014

Fast growth founder stories

By Brian Henderson

Coming soon... Over the next few weeks we will be releasing a series of interviews that we have conducted with exciting companies making waves in the UK tech scene in London. In the same vein as our blog with Titus Sharpe, CEO of MVF, we have been talking to founders we have met, who have inspiring growth stories. 

We have asked them about what spurred them on to start their own company, their biggest challenges, how they got funding and their visions for the future. Interviewees so far have included founders from the worlds of fintech, fashion, travel and recruitment. Make sure you follow us at @PwC_Growth_UK to read them first.

In the meantime if you haven't seen the video yet, we were delighted to host Tech City News at our Embankment Place office last week to film "The Week in Tech."



I was able to give a plug for the UK tech awards, nominations for which are open now: www.uktech-awards.co.uk

Brian Henderson:
Read profile | Contact by email | Tel: +44 (0)20 7804 9018

02 April 2014

UK Tech Awards 2014: celebrating a thriving tech sector

By Brian Henderson

Uk-tech-awardsThe tech sector in the UK is clearly performing well at the moment and while there is talk of another bubble, away from the headlines there are many really innovative companies emerging across the UK. These awards are a great opportunity for us to celebrate the achievements of the sector.

The UK tech awards (formerly techMARK) launched in 2013, now reflect the contribution all companies make to the industry and includes AIM tech companies and fast growing and innovative privately owned ones.

Nominations are open now

If you're a business which operates in the tech sector and you've had a successful year, you can nominate yourself for an award. We are now inviting companies and their advisors to visit www.uktech-awards.co.uk and nominate those who they believe deserve recognition for their achievements (from 1 October 2013 to 30 September 2014). The closing date for nominations is 9 May 2014.

There are 3 award categories in particular that the Fast Growth Companies team will be looking forward to assessing again: The "international tech star of the year", "tech growth business of the year" and "tech innovation of the year" awards.

The best part of our involvement will be that we will get to meet and interview a number of the nominees to hear their stories and report back to the independent judging panel, who meet in October.

Full awards list:

  • tech innovation of the year award
  • tech journalist of the year award
  • private equity deal of the year award
  • best use of tech in the digital economy award
  • international tech star of the year award
  • tech achievement of the year award
  • tech growth business of the year award
  • tech personality of the year award
  • tech company of the year award




You can follow @UKtech_awards #tech14 on twitter to stay up to date.

The winners of the UK Tech Awards will be announced at a gala dinner on Wednesday 12 November 2014 in London.

Brian Henderson:
Read profile | Contact by email | Tel: +44 (0)20 7804 9018

18 February 2014

The UK's fastest growing tech company: We meet Titus Sharpe, CEO of MVF

By Brian Henderson

Global Customer Acquisition business MVF recently entered the PwC sponsored UK Tech awards which aim to shine a light on the stars of the UK technology industry.  They were also ranked number one in the Sunday Times Tech Track 100 and were recognised as the fastest growth earnings technology business in Europe by GB Bullhound’s Media Momentum Awards.  Brian Henderson leader of our Fast Growth Companies team caught up with Founder and serial entrepreneur Titus Sharpe in North London as he was about to give a presentation to the House of Commons for the “Ready for Business” initiative. We were interested to find out what is behind the company’s outstanding growth over recent years and how his previous experiences have helped him build a successful group of companies today.


Titus thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to meet with us. You have started four businesses now with a core group of your co-founders and friends.  What do you think are the challenges or benefits of working with friends?

When I set up the first business I got a lot of friends involved; Jules Hopkinson, Tom Morgan, Simon Venturi and I have been working together for near on 15 years.  There is a lot of trust between the management team and there’s a sort of innate nature of knowing what peoples’ strengths and weaknesses are that just occurs naturally.  It is great to introduce new skilled people into the company that add different talents and knowledge, and it’s also good to have some variety.  At MVF it’s more than just the founders. We have 15 quite senior people who I have worked with at previous start-ups.  The major benefit is that they are up and running before you start, you don’t have to spend time establishing all those processes and getting to know each other. It is quite common practice in Silicon Valley to “hunt in packs.” I think it’s a wonderful concept and I will continue to use the same approach through however many businesses I set up in my career.  Many people become my friends through work, but if it is the other way round you have to draw boundaries. What happens at work is work. I still want to be your friend on the outside!  I’d advise you to draw that line before you start working together.

In your first venture, you set up the social network Oxbridge Life in 1999 (some four years before Facebook).  Is there any advice you would give yourself if you could go back and do it all again?

We created a social networking site for Oxford and Cambridge universities and reached about 20,000 people.  I realise now that there was no way we could have built something as big as Facebook without large amounts of Venture Capital funding and a great investment of time.  We had some funding but it was not very substantial and, though we saw huge growth potential in the business, we didn’t really know what the business model was.  If I could give myself some advice then it would be to have faith.  In hindsight we should have gone bigger and longer on that one, and if I’d had more faith and a longer term vision who knows what we would have created.  We ended up selling to a recruitment company who wanted to access Oxford & Cambridge educated people, but that was a good thing as it gave us the opportunity to go on to fund other things. 

UK Companies are often criticised for selling out to big businesses, a trend which it is argued is unlikely to allow us to produce the next Google or Facebook in the UK. What were your drivers for selling one of your later ventures, Approved Index to Reed Elsevier in 2008?

I think as an entrepreneur it’s a great experience to go through a trade sale.  Having a reasonable degree of liquidity gives you a lot of strength and opens opportunities in the future.  We were four years into our business and were still growing, but if someone walks in the door and wants to buy your business, you owe it to your shareholders to consider it, unless you see heaps of growth potential or it’s way too early.

I got to work in a large corporate environment and it was brilliant. I worked with lots of other Reed businesses and learnt a lot about big on-line B2B businesses, but I decided that the corporate world was not for me and decided to take some time off with the arrival of my first child, but that didn’t last long!

I agree that we haven’t had an uber global tech giant appearing in London, but we’ve had some pretty decent  ones all the same. I am really encouraged that there are lots of leading companies gaining significant profile such as Betfair and Moshi Monsters, where the UK is leading the way.

In a move that echoes the founders of Bebo, you recently bought Approved Index back.  How does that feel?

From an emotional perspective, it is really nice to have it back as it was my first big trade sale and it enabled me to do a lot of things I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.  However from a business perspective it is really exciting as well. I love that brand and it’s nice to have the opportunity to grow it further. Regardless of my personal feelings, strategically and financially it makes sense.

In the Technology space, the ability to scale and grow your company remains key for creating value and gaining recognition.  How has MVF achieved such impressive organic growth?

We have focused on sectors with an international outlook and international clients within that.  Having a client you can take from the UK, France or Germany and internationalising them has been really great for us. Additional focus on fast growth industry sectors has also been important. For example, the solar industry and international transport and logistics market have both been very good for us. 

Looking to the future, 2013 has been a really transformational year for you, but where do you see the business going over the next 5 years?

MVF is going to be a global powerhouse in customer acquisition. We are planning two overseas offices and some new sector launches. When you look historically at our growth we’ve always pretty much achieved what we set out to do year on year and there is no reason this can’t continue.  We have long term plans, but strategically we like to adapt to what we’ve learnt as we go along and to pivot each division as necessary.

We are also focusing on a couple of new markets which are really exciting. We’ve just launched movehub.com which is a site to help and support people looking to move abroad. At any one time 16% of the world’s population wants to move country so it’s a huge potential market.  I’m very excited about data driven content like this. The best example of an existing company that has built a successful data driven site is TripAdvisor. People use their data to make strategic decisions about holidays and hotels and we want to do exactly the same and provide the same service for people looking to move abroad.

We mentioned the US earlier - what’s your perspective on how the entrepreneurial space in the UK differs from the US?

I think there is definitely more depth to the entrepreneur community over there.  I’d say about 10 years ago in the UK there were only a handful of entrepreneurs investing in the sector. I think now there are more people achieving good exits and as a result have deeper pockets to invest in the next generation. We’re still about 10 years behind the US though. I have just invested in a business which was started by someone who used to work with me and I’m currently contemplating another investment, so I’m kind of creating my own ecosystem of start-ups within my sector.

What do you think stops the UK from creating that big iconic tech business?

In the US it’s easier to raise larger sums of funding, but equally investors are quick to pull out if it’s not working.  There is a culture of “go big” and “fail fast”.  I think that’s lacking a little here in the UK. My advice would be set yourself a deadline and spend as much money as possible trying to achieve things as quickly as you can, but also know when to move on so you don’t waste time.

I think therefore it’s a combination of entrepreneurial ambition and investor ambition. Those two things need to be aligned.  We have a good engineering base here and we are starting to get there, but you need to build confidence and building a global powerhouse takes time. In the US they have already done that. They had Atari back in the day and they have had a lot of global success through a whole host of great Tech businesses since.

There is a lot of positive focus on London and the UK as a centre of excellence what is your perception?

There are some pretty meaningful tech centres in Europe; Berlin, Stockholm and Tel Aviv are probably the other most exciting hubs. In the Nordics, the decline of Nokia has sparked a number of entrepreneurs and new companies.  Germany has some great media organisations and a pretty good VC infrastructure and tech and engineering is in its DNA.  London though, has some clear advantages; it beats New York in terms of the number of languages spoken which is very beneficial for us and I think the history of the Commonwealth is helpful to some extent as it promotes good business links. From an international perspective, London and the UK is a phenomenal place to do business.

MVF is based in Kentish Town, do you think it matters where you are based in London? Shoreditch seems to be getting a lot of attention!

It is very hard to measure serendipity, but occasionally you meet people just by networking in your local area. But I don’t think we have been penalised being in North London. There is a great East London scene, but we get great local resources here and we also get cheaper rents than you do in East London, so maybe it’s been advantageous. 


You are off to the Commons later today is there anything that the UK Government could be doing differently to support growing tech businesses?

I think there could be some really interesting policies to promote or support the hiring of young people, whether by means of a grant or through other incentives to support training. I think that demographic is sometimes overlooked but it can add a lot of value and knowledge to businesses or the economy. 

In addition, there’s a lot of pressure at the moment on immigration and I worry about that from a business perspective. There’s just not enough British Tech talent around, whereas there’s some phenomenal talent coming from overseas. If the UK wants to maintain its competitive edge when it comes to technology, we’re going to have to hire technologists from overseas to meet our short term needs.  Obviously we need to stimulate the development of home grown talent and there is some great progress in that area. But we need more Tech graduates coming out of British schools and universities for sure. 

Have you had difficulties recruiting the people you need?

It’s difficult but I think it just takes longer. You can find really good people but there are not vast numbers of them and their skills, particularly in the digital marketing space, are very much in demand which means salaries are going through the roof!

A lot of my clients that are struggling to get the right resources find themselves competing not just with large US businesses that are coming and setting up offices in London, but also with, for example, large retailers who need their own in-house Tech teams to support their e-commerce businesses. Once you find the right people, how do you keep them?

When you think about what people want in their lives, salary is just part of it.  It provides comfort and certainty, but I try and create a culture where people have growth potential in what they are doing. There’s a whole lot of other stuff that’s innate to humans as social beings you need to focus on. I like to “Gamify” the work place, making sure there are lots of awards, prizes and milestones for people to meet and be rewarded for.  I want the team to be as collegiate as possible and promote more of a family atmosphere at work.

Also being named fastest growing company on Tech Track was phenomenal for us. Everyone can tell their family and friends we were in the Times!  It really makes them proud to work for MVF and elevates the company in the minds of their peers. 

That’s a really positive note on which to end – thanks again for your time Titus and we look forward to continuing to watch the growth and success of MVF.


Brian Henderson:
Read profile | Contact by email | Tel: +44 (0)20 7804 9018

16 December 2013

Tech City or Tech Britain? Tech City and Tech Britain?

By Brian Henderson

TCN_13Nov_019_sThis was the key question in a recent round table which we sponsored with Tech City News, but is also a talking point amongst my clients and contacts. Does it actually matter as long as the UK is in the spotlight and we are celebrating the successes of our entrepreneurial economy? You can read the full write up in new print edition of Tech City News which was launched on Wednesday 11 December, but here's a quick summary of my take on it....

In my opinion, London is the greatest city in the world. It seems obvious then that London's Tech community has received the lion's share of headlines, new business start-ups and arguably investment in the last three years. This has happened not just because of the Tech City initiative, but because of the unique combination and concentration of talent, innovation and support which has been gathering for at least 5-6 years in a London Tech community that evolved organically.

However, in my role I’ve also seen the work that my colleagues around the UK have been doing with similar businesses outside London. Including Scotland, Cambridge and the M4 corridor. London as a symbol is iconic, but entrepreneurship and talent is clearly UK wide.

Tech entrepreneurs in Britain are often criticised for not thinking big enough. My challenge to that is that, certainly in the last 6 years, those entrepreneurs have often been programmed to think about exit as a sale of their business once they’re on a growth trajectory towards a good valuation, but maybe before full scale and potential has been achieved. Companies look to the US not just for growth and scaling opportunities, but for potential acquirers and perhaps it's that mind-set that has until now frustrated our potential to incubate a more significant number of large independent Tech companies.

Happily though, seasons change. I’m lucky to work with a number of brilliantly innovative fast growing companies whose outlook is different.

Order your copy here

Brian Henderson:
Read profile | Contact by email | Tel: +44 (0)20 7804 9018

06 December 2013

The Autumn Statement for fast growth companies

By Natalie Langley

In the run up to the Autumn statement I read a few articles on the subject of what the Chancellor should do to help SMEs and fast growth companies (and I posed that question to a few myself).  The thing that struck me about the responses was that there was a common feel that the Chancellor should do something, but there wasn't a consistent theme as to what that something should be.  There was much praise for EIS and SEIS, and some remarked that widening these reliefs would be welcome, others liked the extension on Entrepreneurs' Relief to shares acquired through an EMI option plan and asked whether that could be widened.  Many talked about non-tax measures such as support for establishing and growing in international markets and the cost of business rates.

So what did we see for fast growth businesses in the statement? Perhaps not a huge amount - but it must of course be remembered that this was billed as an Autumn Statement and not a full Budget. Although there were some fairly detailed Budget-like announcements on measures to tackle tax avoidance. (for more detailed commentary on these please see my colleagues' blogs here).

The business rates measures could be very beneficial to some SMEs and the abolition of employer NICs for under-21 year olds is, as with all measures that reduce the cost of hiring, useful to a certain extent.  There are also extensions to some creative sector specific reliefs.

I also look forward to the publication of Small Business: GREAT Ambition which aims to pull together all of the activities across government benefitting small businesses.   Hopefully there will be more to follow...

Natalie Langley:
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24 October 2013

Celebrating an exciting year for the UK tech sector

By Brian Henderson

This year the techMARK awards was given a reboot to reflect the UK technology industry as it is today, by creating the UK Tech Awards.

At last week's nominations panel meeting, chaired by our UK tech leader Jass Sarai, the competition was fierce. In deciding the short-list, they faced a higher quality of participants than ever before, as well as record number of entrants and nominations. On that basis alone, the judges were in agreement that the prospects for the UK tech scene are very exciting indeed.

The three awards categories that interested the Fast Growth companies team the most were the "Innovation of the year", "Emerging star", "Tech growth business of the year" awards.

For the first time ever we asked companies to nominate themselves and go through a rigorous nomination process, and we had the pleasure of meeting some of them as part of the judging process.

I personally interviewed 3 companies and this really helped bring to life their submissions - there's no better way to get a feel for the strategy, culture and excitement in a tech company than by speaking to the Founder who has lived and breathed their vision since start up. I was really impressed with the engagement shown by all the companies and perhaps shouldn't have been surprised to learn how much they all wanted to win!

Widening out the scope of the Awards to allow Fast Growth Private Businesses to be involved has really helped the diversity of the nominees and short list and we look forward to finding out the winners on 20 November.

The short listed nominees are:

tech innovation of the year award Sponsored by Barclays

  • AVEVA Group plc
  • Fidessa Group plc
  • Intelligent Energy Holdings plc
  • Microsaic Systems plc
  • WANdisco plc
  • Wolfson Microelectronics plc

emerging star of the year award Sponsored by Arma Partners

  • Control Circle Ltd
  • Farfetch UK Ltd
  • Ninian Solutions Ltd (Huddle)
  • Mimecast Services Ltd
  • MirriAd Ltd
  • Rosslyn Analytics Ltd

tech growth business of the year award Sponsored by ECI Partners 

  • Acturis Ltd
  • Blinkx plc
  • Fourth Ltd
  • The Foundry Visionmongers Ltd
  • Thomsons Online Benefits Ltd
  • Xaar plc

The full short list for all the other award categories can be found here: http://pwc.blogs.com/press_room/2013/10/uk-tech-awards-2013-shortlist-announced.html

You can also follow @UKtech_awards or #UKtech13 on twitter to stay up to date.

Brian Henderson:
Read profile | Contact by email | Tel: +44 (0)20 7804 9018

18 July 2013

From Nation of shopkeepers to Nation of web entrepreneurs?

By Brian Henderson

In my role, I speak to a lot of people who are passionate about working with entrepreneurs, but have been really impressed by the entrepreneurial spirit shown by two members of my team - one who left us last year to start his own business and another who is seriously weighing up the option to join one of his friends in their start up as a key member of the team. If he is reading this, I am sure the former individual would agree that the transition from a large firm to boot-strapping your own business was a huge challenge, but one that he has relished and enjoyed, even when things didn't go quite to plan.

This got me to thinking how widely this must happen in other organisations and in the population as a whole. You often read press stories about City workers who have given up their long hours to do something less fast paced, but running your own Tech company isn't a 9 to 5 job, so the reward clearly comes from other benefits including thriving on overcoming challenges and having more flexibility.

Napoleon famously referred to the UK as a Nation of shopkeepers, but in 2013 that shop is more likely to be an e-commerce portal being run from home, a shared office or a Tech incubator. Recent statistics showed that more new businesses were started in the Silicon Roundabout area in the last year than in any other area of the UK. This is no fluke given the focus, investment and general buzz around East London as a hub of talent and innovation, but it reinforces the message that the country's entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well and the Tech community is at the heart of that.

Add to this the fact that there has been a 105% increase in the number of graduates who left University in the last year and who chose to work for themselves as freelancers or micro business owners, and this makes me feel very positive that the Tech sector in London and the UK is going to thrive and grow even more in the next few years.

Brian Henderson:
Read profile | Contact by email | Tel: +44 (0)20 7804 9018

16 July 2013

Celebrating the Best of Private Business

By Natalie Langley

I recently had the privilege of helping to run the short list judging session for the 2013 Private Business Awards. It was a great experience and served to reinforce for me a few things that sometimes I overlook in my day to day work.

Firstly, while my role focuses on London, reading the submissions from businesses across the UK highlighted the amazing levels of innovation and entrepreneurship being demonstrated around the country. It was particularly interesting to note industry patterns across certain areas of the country and how entrepreneurs are growing complementary (and sometimes disruptive!) businesses in these industries.

Secondly our Family Business award showed that while 10 years can sometimes seem like a lifetime in the world of start ups and fast growth companies, it can be a fleeting phase in the lives of some of these multiple generation companies who have shown that they can continue to evolve and grow to remain successful and relevant, sometimes for more than 100 years!

Thirdly the many social enterprises we met during the awards demonstrated how business principles can be successfully transferred to help these activities remain financially sustainable, with the added challenge of determining how they account for "impact" in a meaningful way.

Fourthly, and back to my fast growth company roots, the fascinating new technology coming through in our Technology Innovation of the Year category reinforced the exciting research and development activities currently being undertaken in the UK, although it was a bit of a challenge for me to make sure I understood some of the more complicated technical explanations in the submissions!

Finally I would also like to say how impressed I was by the amount of time and effort our judges had put into reading the submissions, doing further background research into the entrants, pondering their decisions and providing their own industry expertise to the rest of the panel. As very busy people running their own highly successful businesses, the support that they showed to the awards and private business in general was outstanding and I would like to extend a big thank you to them.

Roll on the Awards Dinner on 11 September! 

You can see the full shortlist here: http://www.privatebusinessawards.com/shortlist/

Natalie Langley:
Read profile | Contact by email | Tel: +44 (0) 20 7804 4718

31 May 2013

UK Tech Awards 2013: an opportunity to celebrate growing businesses UK tech sector

Nominations now open - enter today

UK-Tech-AwardsThis week sees the launch of the UK Tech Awards, sponsored by PwC, which celebrates the success, rewards the achievements, and raises the profile of the UK tech community.

By popular demand, the event has evolved from the very successful techMARK Awards, which was held for 13 years and concerned only main market quoted tech companies.

The UK Tech Awards now reflects the contribution all companies make to the industry and includes not only publicly quoted techMARK companies, but also AIM tech companies and fast growing and innovative privately owned tech companies!

Nominations are now open and the organisers invite companies and their advisors to visit www.uktech-awards.co.uk and nominate companies and individuals who they believe deserve recognition for their achievements in the last year.

There are 3 awards in particular for us in the Fast Growth Companies programme to get excited about: The "Emerging star", "Tech growth business of the year" and "Innovation of the year" awards.

If you're a business which operates in the tech sector and you've had a successful year, you can also nominate yourself for an award. Much like the Private Business Awards, the best part of our involvement will be that we now get to meet and interview a number of the nominees to hear their stories before the independent judging panel meet in October.

The winners of the UK Tech Awards will be announced at a dinner to be held at The Royal Lancaster Hotel, London on Wednesday 20 November 2013. You can follow @UKtech_awards | #UKtech13 on twitter to find out more about the event.

Full list of awards

  • tech fund manager of the year award
  • tech analyst of the year award
  • tech innovation of the year award
  • emerging star of the year award
  • tech journalist of the year award
  • tech achievement of the year award
  • tech personality of the year award
  • tech growth business of the year award
  • private equity deal of the year award
  • tech company of the year award

Nominations are open until Friday 6 September 2013.

27 March 2013

Listing in London – the new high growth segment

In February 2013 the London Stock Exchange announced plans to launch the High Growth Segment, a new segment of its Main Market, acknowledging a potential gap in the existing UK landscape and seeking to make our capital markets more attractive and flexible for companies seeking IPO.

The segment is designed for entrepreneurial companies with high growth potential and one of the qualifying criteria is the ability to demonstrate revenue growth of at least 20% year-on-year for the last three years. Importantly, Companies will be able to raise capital whilst retaining up to 90% of their firm’s shares - this contrasts with Companies listed on the Main Market where a 25% free float is normally required and takes the UK closer to the flexibility of NASDAQ where there is no minimum free float requirement.
Companies must be looking to raise at least £30m as part of the flotation, so for smaller companies (those whose Market Capitalisation will be under £300m), a greater proportion of shares potentially needs to be made available.

With IPO markets recovering, a listing becomes an attractive option for companies seeking to raise funds to support business growth and this new segment provides an additional entry point to London’s markets.

For further information on this and other markets, take a look at www.pwc.co.uk/capitalmarkets