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I’ve recently begun a search to find 100 of the best UK startups for Firebox100, a £2.5m fund my company is creating. The goal is to support business, generate jobs and navigate the early stages of growth. So, what better time to commit some thoughts on the key traits of a world beating business at this critical early stage. I hope it’s also useful for any entrepreneurs in the UK or elsewhere.
1: A brilliant idea whose time has come.
When I see the proposals that have come in to me personally over the years, and to the FB100 applications site in particular (http://firebox100.ideasquares.com), the truly great ideas leap off the screen, and you “get” them immediately. Then as the seconds pass and you check out more about the company, the care and attention to detail becomes apparent, which demonstrates the people behind it have real intent. The complete package, as every investor knows is difficult to identify, but you know it when you see it.
2: A Determined Founder.
Starting businesses is hard, and that is why most sane people stay in a cozy corporate job. Founder entrepreneurs are made of different stuff, and once again you can sense when they have taken the plunge because a degree of freedom and excitement is there for those that know, to see. Being successful in a business is another matter. The really good entrepreneurs have a steely determination about them you can see in their eyes. It betrays an understanding, after this early stage, that this is going to be a long, hard road. With the excitement and fun will come pain, heartache, long nights, difficult days, broken relationships, and months and years of tough, hard yards. This world is not for the fainthearted and I want to spot the winners. If you can make it all they way the rewards can be fabulous.
3: Progress, Traction, Sales.
I’m not looking for ideas still on the drawing board. Showing your business is already alive speaks volumes about your intent. You will have already established a limited company, sought out SEIS Certification in preparation for early stage investment, have created an identity, and above all you’ll already be hunting down your first customers. I’m looking for evidence of relationships established, sales complete, deals pending, partnerships on the horizon. It’s obvious to me that the hunger and laser focused vision is present when sales are already dropping, sometimes even before the product itself is fully polished. If you’re not there yet, keep going and check in next time around.
You might be the first among equals, the sole founder or co-founder, but you will not get much further until you have a team around you. The beginnings of that team is already visible. If you have a co-founder, you are more than twice as likely to succeed. If you have chosen people that compliment your skills, that are better than you are in key roles and responsibilities, thats a great start. Excellent candidates will have thought through who they will hire when the funds, traction and sales permits them to do so. If you have a mentor with at least 20 years experience under their belt, or better still a non-exec who is prepared to stand by you and hold you to account – you are on your way.
5: Unshakeable belief.
We’ve done determination, this is different. I’ve been called a lot of things during my time as entrepreneur, and “delusional” was one that really stuck in my throat – at first. After a while I saw delusion as a necessary trait for the truly committed. During your time as boss, you will be criticised, ridiculed, attacked, embarrassed and humiliated, even among those who’s opinions you cherish. If you don’t possess a deep rooted desire and profound understanding in your ability to get the job done, you will not possess the tool you need to cope in the really dark moments, which will come as sure as night follows day. Delusion is defined as “a belief held with strong conviction despite superior evidence to the contrary”. The politest people will think you are nuts. Delusion, among entrepreneurs is not a “nice to have”, its absolutely vital.
The plan and the numbers.
The hard stuff. If you progress through pre-selection, and if you want to progress at all in startups, you will have to present a word perfect document of no more than 5 pages that explains your vision clearly, and reflects everything professional about the business. You must also be prepared to commit to paper the recent past, present and future 3 years in figures.
Go for it!
I hope I have given you the tools and maybe some inspiration to apply to Firebox100, or else to set up on your own. Entrepreneurs are the bedrock of business and I wish you every success. On reading this you might also feel entrepreneurship is not for you. That’s OK. There’s always a “real job” out there.
Have fun, and good luck.
Firebox100 Candidates – check out http://firebox100.ideasquares.com for all the details you need to post an application.