The age of the entrepreneur: how Covid-19 triggered a start-up boom
The global pandemic has been an unprecedented crisis for business. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) nearly 400,000 UK companies closed in 2020 and it is predicted a further 250,000 will fold this year. However, one positive trend from the crisis has been a surge in new businesses.
In the UK alone, more than 400,000 start-ups were formed in 2020 and the increase has also been seen in the US, France, Germany and Japan. So just what does it take to launch a successful enterprise? We spoke to the founders of four UK-based start-ups about the life and lessons of an entrepreneur.
Paul Wickers founded Huggg, a gifting platform for businesses, in 2017. For him, being resourceful and having the support of friends and family have been key.
“I spotted a gap in the market for creating a new type of gifting flow while I was doing research for a piece of work that I was undertaking in my finance days. The idea stuck with me and I just had to run with it. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned since starting the business has been to follow my gut – if you don’t you’ll end up in trouble. You need to be able and willing to learn new things and be resourceful, particularly when you’re up against it.
“I’ve also found that hiring well is essential, everything else is academic if you don’t have a good team around you. And linked to that I’d say make sure that you have the support from those closest to you, because they will be forced to live it with you and be your ultimate source of comfort when the inevitable tricky times arrive.”
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned since starting the business has been to follow my gut – if you don’t you’ll end up in trouble. You need to be able and willing to learn new things and be resourceful, particularly when you’re up against it.
Tony Xu founded Perfocal, the UK’s leading on-demand photography service with a network of more than 1,500 professional photographers. As a semi-professional photographer himself, he was looking for more gigs and knew there was a gap in the market to bring tech to the industry. But he’s had to learn other skills along the way.
“Having an idea is great but it’s the execution that matters. My advice for other people would be not to be overly protective of your ideas – share them with friends and family first and validate them as much as you can.
“Having a strong team is also essential so hire wisely and fire quickly. You’ll need to be willing to learn anything, any time and above all you’ll have to be resilient – it’s a bumpy journey.”
I would say one of the most important skills you need as an entrepreneur is self-management. In the beginning literally every problem across every function has to be dealt with by you.
Greg Aubert is Founder and Director of Healthy Yeti, a plant-based health products brand that promises quality ingredients, environmentally-considered packaging and donation of a percentage of sales to a related grassroots sustainability organisation. Greg’s own personal experience of the health products industry inspired him to launch the business in 2020.
“I would say one of the most important skills you need as an entrepreneur is self-management. In the beginning literally every problem across every function has to be dealt with by you. Very few things are actually rocket science and I've found it useful to be able to take something I have some knowledge or experience in and adapt it to provide an anchor in what would otherwise be unchartered waters. But the real challenge is the sheer volume of tasks. While it's tempting to slog huge hours it has to be sustainable and burning out will rarely be a long-term strategy.
“The other key things are patience and persistence. When you are prepared to play the long-game, you stack the odds very heavily in your favour.”
The boom in start-ups is a very interesting phenomenon and it is largely due to globalisation. Now, whether you have a simple idea or a very complicated one, you can take it to a worldwide clientele – in theory you can reach eight billion people.
Tom Dewhurst has founded not one, but two businesses, learning essential lessons along the way. In 2015 he created Ordoo, an app to save time ordering and paying for coffee, lunch and drinks. Having sold the technology to an investor he has since launched Growth Division, partnering with companies along their journey to find a scalable route to market.
“I can't stress how important it is to do your customer research before building a product. I rushed into building an app, with only a nod towards some basic customer surveys. I think an entrepreneur needs to immerse themselves in their customer's problems and really understand every little detail.
“As for advice, I’d say be prepared for the challenge. Starting a business is a huge undertaking that will define your life and identity. It will take twice as long and cost twice as much as you're planning for. That being said, it gives you an unparalleled sense of achievement and pride.”
The core skill an entrepreneur should have is a commitment to purpose. Many people have an idea for a business but don’t have the drive, commitment and empathy to make it happen.
The University of London’s Global MBA offers an Entrepreneurship and Innovation pathway, specifically designed to support anyone wanting to launch their own business. You will study topics including ‘Entrepreneurial finance and private equity’, ‘Innovation and change’ and ‘Venture capital and entrepreneurship’.
Dr Dimitrios Koufopoulos, Visiting Professor with the School of Law at Queen Mary’s University of London, is Programme Director for the Global MBA. He said:
“The boom in start-ups is a very interesting phenomenon and it is largely due to globalisation. Now, whether you have a simple idea or a very complicated one, you can take it to a worldwide clientele – in theory you can reach eight billion people. The stakes are high and the potential revenue is vast.
“Our Entrepreneurship and Innovation specialism is designed to develop the core skills you will need when launching your own venture – from how to finance and manage a new business to how to bring continuous innovation. Beyond that, I would say the core skill an entrepreneur should have is a commitment to purpose. Many people have an idea for a business but don’t have the drive, commitment and empathy to make it happen.”
Find out how the Global MBA could support your entrepreneurial ambitions and launch your new career.
With special thanks to the contributors to this article:
Paul Wickers, www.huggg.me
Tony Xu, www.perfocal.com
Greg Aubert, healthy-yeti.com
Tom Dewhurst, growth-division.com