Startup Summit 2021 – My Reflections 

To the joy of everyone in the start-up/entrepreneurial community, the 28th of September saw the return of the annual Start-Up Summit (SUS) – and what a pleasure it was to get back to in-person networking. Whilst this was a hybrid event, with the first 4 days taking place online, from the discussions I had with other attendees, it was clear that everyone was looking forward to meeting peers and other members of the start-up community for some face-to-face knowledge exchange.

The quality of discussion at SUS and the helpful insights offered up by not just the speakers, but the attendees was excellent. It was clear that almost 2 years of Microsoft Teams calls has led to much pent-up ideas, and a new level of energy and enthusiasm within the start-up ecosystem.

Here, I share some of the key take-aways from the discussions and speakers present at the event.

Panel Discussion

The panel discussion between Lynsey Taylor of Sharktower, Elizabeth Fairley of our valued and purpose-driven client Talking Medicines, Andrew Holloway of Johnston Carmichael – hosted by Bruce Walker; CEO of FutureX, provided much in the way of food for thought, for those in the initial seed funding round, of financing a new business venture.

The panel discussion was centred around some of the tips and tricks the participants had learned, after 10 years of building and growing start-up businesses, with many of the tips on the topic of fundraising. For all participants, though, it was clear that the main priority was their people; how to attract, develop and retain them.

One are of fundraising explored at length was on that of budgeting and planning. Andrew explained how often it’s the case that a successful fundraise is a ‘badge of honour’ for start-ups; however, the real test of whether or not a fundraise has been successful, is what is then done with that money, and how much of it is left over after exit. For this reason, it’s imperative that founders have a clear and robust plan, making room for any unexpected expenses before they commit to an investor. In Lynsey’s words “always ask for a bit more than you think you’ll need”!

The Speakers

First, we heard from Chris van der Kuyl CBE – Founder and Chairperson of 4J Studios; a well-known games development company based in Dundee. Chris spoke at length about investor attitudes towards start-ups, and how founders can best position themselves to make the most out of fund raises. One message in particular came across loud and clear: that the opinion of an investor is not necessarily the opinion of all investors. Different investors will look for different signs of potential success; their views vary greatly, and so should founders not find success with an investor, it should not necessarily be taken that their idea is a bad one; so don’t let this hold you back!

Next, was the idea of pivoting – how your business should respond if your idea or approach isn’t quite working as intended. When confronted with such a situation – business owners must take a pragmatic approach; be humble and reflect when things aren’t quite going as expected. Reflect, and be ready to change in response to the problem.

Lastly, Chris spoke about the CVS model – confidence, vision and substance. These are the 3 key ingredients which are aligned across all successful entrepreneurs Chris has worked alongside through his career. They have the confidence to sell their product/service; they have a compelling vision of where they’d like to take that product/service; and their product/service has real substance – IE, it makes a tangible, positive difference to the lives of the user. Also included within the substance category is an ability to plan, and effectively execute the routine tasks required for success – it’s often too easy to be caught up in the ‘big picture’ without giving equal energy, time and attention to individual, day-to-day deliverables.

After Chris had spoken, attendees were treated to a talk by Michael Welch, founder of online tyre company, BlackCircles. In his interview, Michael spoke about capability, and the importance of building a mentally healthy team. “I’d rather have a really talented person and an average idea, than a really good idea and an average person” was one quote which stood out in particular; highlighting the importance of talent attraction and development.

A member of the audience presented Michael with a question which has caused many small business owners to become unstuck! The question of ‘when to let go’: “how do you know when you’re managing/leading too many people on your own?” It’s so important to be able to give time and attention to direct reports through regular, motivational 121 processes. Michael’s response was spot-on; saying that it’s important to give your managers the space and freedom they need to manage and lead in their own way, whilst at the same time being able to maintain the unique identity of the company’s culture. Not only does this make for clearer, more consistent communication between managers and employees, but it facilitates the building of the manager/employee relationship.

Finally, we had the pleasure of hearing from Susan Aktemel, who took us through the journey of establishing and growing Homes for Good. It’s clear that from the very beginning, Susan had built Homes for Good to be values and purpose-led. One of the clearest messages of the day was Susan’s response to a situation in which she had to turn down an opportunity to grow her business, because the opportunity did not fit with her own values, or the values of Homes for Good.

Host: “Have you ever walked away from an opportunity because it didn’t align with your values?”

Susan: “All the time”.

This simple yet effective approach to developing a company culture cannot be understated. By simply being who you are, and leading by your own values, the journey on which you take your employees and customers becomes authentic – the business lives its values, not because those values contribute to a desired brand image or were thought-up in a focus group by marketeers. The business lives those values because that’s genuinely what those within the business believe in. By living your values, hiring according to values, and being authentic in the way we make decisions, companies and their staff find themselves referring to company values as a means to guide their decision-making, less.

We here at Purpose HR can truly relate to this approach to developing values. We strive to be purpose-driven, and we advise our clients on the same – to make people decisions primarily on the basis of values alignment. Do this, and all else will fall into place. Please get in touch with our experienced team if you would like any additional advice or support for your business on developing, articulating and embedding your values framework and culture into your workplace and HR strategy.