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Entrepreneur Country – learning from the best

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending Ariadne Capital’s bi-annual Entrepreneur Country Conference.  It was a fantastic day.  The morning was packed full of valuable advice and experience from some top entrepreneurs including Sir Paul Judge, Schroder Income Growth Fund, Roman Stanek, Good Data Corp, Glen Manchester, Founder and CEO of Thunderhead, Ed Wray, CEO of Betfair and Gerry Ford, Founder and CEO of Caffè Nero.  Events like this are real nourishment for entrepreneurs and an important way of staying focused on what makes a successful business.

The highlights for me were the sessions by Glen Manchester and Ed Wray. One of the things that really stood out was the general optimism in the room. While no-one was saying that the current situation is easy for anyone, the consensus was that this is a good time to be starting out in business – assuming the business was a sound one. If you can create a successful business or if you can keep your head above water during the next 2 years, you can be confident that you have a robust business.

Here are a few nuggets from the sessions from Ed Wray and Glen Manchester. Firstly Ed believes that while we are going into a deep recession, we are not going to have a 1930’s style depression. And while there is never a bad time to start a business, his view was that this is a good time and that entrepreneurs are going to pull us out of the recession. Not the banks, not the governement, not big corporates – entrepreneurs.

Both Ed and Glen built there companies in difficult times in their industries.  Ed Wray created Betfair at the height of the dotcom boom (and was not able to get funding) and Glen Manchester created Thunderhead while technology businesses were still very unpopular – spending 2 years developing the Thunderbird platform.  They both were able to build and grow their businesses despite tough times.

Ed Wray – CEO of Betfair

Ed Wray is the founder and CEO of Betfair a profitable and debt-free company with annual revenues exceeding £180 million.

Here are some of the highlights, perspectives and advice from Glen’s session.

The businesses that are built and created over the next two years are going to be the businesses of the future – they will be the ones that are Built to Last.

Advice for getting funding: It’s going to be difficult to raise money – so entrepreneurs will need to be realistic about their business valuation. Currently people are totally focused on how much of their business they are going to give away but in reality they need to be focused on how much their share is going to be worth (note: ie do you want 100% of nothing or 40% of a lot!)

Cashflow is going to be critical and many companies will need to have capital to get through the next 2 years.

The investment process is going to take longer as Venture Capitalists and private investors become more careful about where they put their money.

General advice

  1. Build a business for yourself.  The time for flipping businesses is over.   Great business is about creating long term sustainable value, not how quickly can I get out.
  2. Businesses are taking less and less time to reach $1bn turnover.  It took General Electric 100 years, it took Google just 7.  This is good news for entrepreneurs.
  3. We’re going to see a lot of change in the way things are done in the next two year
  4. Run your business well and every thing else will follow

Glen Manchester – CEO of Thunderhead

Glen Manchester is the CEO and founder of Thunderhead, which was recently awarded the fastest growing technology company in Europe by Deloitte.

Glen began his session with a powerful analogy comparing the story of the three little pigs with building a business.  If you want to keep the wolf from getting in, build a house of bricks.  Be smart and build to last.

Some nuggets from Glen

  • The recession demands a change of approach and new processes to make firms more competitive
  • Experience accumulates – everything you do educates you – even if you don’t have qualifications
  • This is a good time to start a business because the the competition are going to be blocking and tackling to survive
  • Keeping your costs down is going to be the key over the next two years
  • Protect the integrity of your brand – know your own value
  • Keep a really tight reign on your profit and loss – it’s going to be critical

It was easy to see why Glen has created such a successful business.  As he was speaking, his confidence in his product, his brand and his strategy really shone through.  He is very focused on profit and keeps an eye on the bottom line all the time.  This close control has been a big part of his success.  He is also very passionate about his team and is a great believer in the old adage that you should hire people that are smarter than yourself.  You can find out more about Glen and Thunderhead on their website.

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