Top of the Pops: BusinessZone's year in hits!

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iStock_Romolo Tavani
Francois Badenhorst
Deputy editor
BusinessZone and UK Business Forums
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It’s a big compliment to our many contributors that when we collated this retrospective, BusinessZone’s managing editor, Chris, was flummoxed by the quality of our many articles. Having sat down and parsed through it, too, I’m inclined to agree.

What makes our content great is that so much of it is written by real entrepreneurs and investors. The content is honest, sober, and fully immersed in the grind. It’s an authenticity that no journalist, writer, consultant or guru could attain by themselves.

We’re proud of the content we produce here, too. But we’re humbled by the generosity of all our contributors who take time out of their lives to contribute their frank perspectives.

So to celebrate, here are some of the pieces we’ve published this year.

Please enjoy!

1. When I invest in startups it’s 99% the team and 1% the idea

Raj Dhonata, as a pre-seed investor, has very little to go on. The idea he’s potentially investing in is just a phantom inhabiting an entrepreneur’s head.

So how does he pick a winner? As this headline suggests, Dhonata looks for the cues provided by the people carrying the idea.

The question, says Dhonata, is what steps has the person taken to facilitate their idea’s success?

2. What losing three co-founders taught me about hiring

Raj Dhonata’s focus on people ties in nicely with this piece by Kevin Holler.

“Building a founding team is arguably the most crucial and difficult task every founder must face,” writes Holler. “Selecting your co-founders, and subsequently your first key hires, is a fine art that takes careful thought and consideration.”

This isn’t a lecture, though. Holler’s point is couched in failure: hiring failures, relationship failures. The lesson is there to be learned.

3. How Lovehoney cleaned up in sex toys and grew to £60m turnover

Lovehoney’s success is typified by the picture they sent us to accompany our article. The company is not interested in the pornographic sheen of the testosterone-fuelled sex industry.

Instead, the company has built an empire from celebrating sex’s ordinariness. Founded by an odd couple,  a former journo and a some-time music producer, Lovehoney is a deeply human business.

And what started as a punt, as the one founder says in the article, has now become a streamlined, professional enterprise.

Lovehoney’s lesson isn’t just about seizing on a good idea - but the mundane, everyday consolidation that needs to follow it.

4. Welcome to the fourth industrial revolution

The robots are coming. We know that: driverless cars, AI assistants, IBM’s Watson co-writing songs.

No longer consigned to pages of sci-fi, the question is now how can startups successfully leverage our era of machine learning?

It will be by understanding what our current levels of AI is and isn’t. Entrepreneurs must understand that it’s about asking the right questions and tying these developments back to human customers.

If that doesn’t sound easy, well, that’s because it isn’t.

5. Fake jets, incubator blood baths and how we made our first billion

That headline, though! It does capture the turbulent climb of Craig Gooding and Doug Stevenson’s company Vibrant Media.

Founded a week before the .com collapse, the two men tunnelled their business into existence through sheer force of will.

Constantly on the cusp of failure, Gooding’s account is a validation of getting out there and just doing it. Reflecting on Vibrant’s spell in an incubator, Gooding writes that his cohorts focused on “building pretty business plan and trying to get the fonts on their logos right.

“We just created our first server farm out of PCs strung together (they weren’t even servers) and just started selling digital ads.”

6. This is the difference between an employee and an entrepreneur

“Wrong”. That’s Stephen Newton’s abrupt response to the popular glamorous perception of what an entrepreneur is.

“Being an entrepreneur is about so much more than working flexibly, the clothes you wear and setting up a limited company. You can be entrepreneurial and innovative (and I would encourage you to be!), but that doesn’t make you an entrepreneur.

“You can wear a t-shirt and jeans every day as you work from the comfort of your home, but your clothing is irrelevant and it certainly doesn’t make you an entrepreneur.”

Consider this Newton’s manifesto on what it takes to be an entrepreneur. Do you have what it takes?

“Being an entrepreneur is a state of mind,” Newton writes. “And it’s a state of mind that not everyone possesses. Some employees may think they’re entrepreneurs, but the reality is that they’re not - and they’re unlikely ever to be.”

7. The lost generation of entrepreneurs: if not the EU, then who?

Ah, a nice bit of Brexit; the socio-political thunderbolt that will divide Christmas dinner tables for years to come.

For a time this past summer, our identities were defined by leave or remain and the nasty stereotypes each side created for the other.

This article was an attempt to understand what it all meant for the our readers. The EU, for all its flaws, was a generous source of startup finance.

And, now, if Brexit means Brexit, what happens to those generous subsidies?

8. Leaders vs. managers (and why you need both in your business)

As Chris Shaw points out here, our inherent distaste for ‘managers’ is even built into the literal meaning of the word: a person responsible for controlling or administering an organization or group of staff.

“The key word here is ‘controlling’,” writes Shaw. “How appealing is the prospect of being ‘controlled’ to you?”

The nasty manager is contrasted in business thinking with ‘the leader’. “The leader is increasingly represented as the antithesis of a manager, the people’s champion. Someone who will put the needs of the people first and can inspire them to greatness,” writes Shaw.

Is this view simplistic, though? Yes, says Shaw, because the relationship between managers and leaders is a symbiotic one. The one needs the other.

9. From startup to scale-up: real growth can’t come from taking the easy way

You probably know ‘the struggle’ that Rhys Photis is talking about in this article.

“Naturally every startup encounters challenges. Your product turns out to have costly flaws. Your cash runs low and your venture capitalist tells you fundraising seems unlikely,” writes Photis. “A loyal customer threatens to leave you. A key employee walks away. All these challenges increase in number and impact as the business grows.”

Here’s the chapter and verse: it ain’t ever going to be easy. And, as Photis explains, doing away with that belief will set you up for success.

10. Mark Mason: What I got right when I sold up and exited Mubaloo

The Bristol businessman Mark Mason isn’t one for protracted exits. “I think every entrepreneur has some element of the business growth journey they most enjoy,” he says.

Mason has now completed two successful exits, and he’s learned that it’s a somewhat philosophical enterprise. “There’s a lot to be said for some self-reflection along the way, so you really understand what you like best in business.

“In my case, I know I don’t want to run a 400-person company. My happiest times in both businesses were that stage when you have five to seven people in the team and you are developing out the proposition in a meaningful way and landing good customers.”

Find your sweet spot, says Mason, mark it and when the time comes, don’t hesitate: shoot.

11. Pitch perfect: Resolver's journey from The Pitch to Series A funding

“We were making money, but we weren’t making enough to cover the bills. So I had the choice: I could buckle down and, in the nicest sense of the word, run a lifestyle business, or build a global business.”

That, in essence, is the choice that faced 2015’s winner of The Pitch. James Walker’s choice: he wants to conquer the world.

For that, he needed funding. A funding rookie, Walker managed to exact a tidy sum of £2.8m from his Series A round. For a man as ambitious as him, the bureaucratic hoops weren’t always fun.

“These things always take a lot longer than you think,” says Walker. “The people that we raised from, we’d been talking to, probably, for 12-15 months. When we first walked into their offices, we hadn’t gone to raise money. It was for them to get to know us.”

That’s our hits for the year 2016. We’d like to thank you, the reader, for joining us. What are you looking forward to next year? And what would you like to read from us? Leave a comment below.

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