A decade of supporting high growth businesses


This year marks Winning Pitch’s tenth anniversary of being in business. The very reason I founded our organisation was to provide the tools to create, build and support individuals get the most from themselves and their companies. To achieve our mission it was imperative that Winning Pitch demonstrated an authenticity that could never be challenged, in other words we practiced what we preach. Ten years on, I am very proud to announce that we have worked with some 6,000 companies. Those we have supported over the past two years have grown 4 times the rate of GDP, the average change achieved in net worth, following Winning Pitch help is 335.5%, their balance sheet value has also increased by more than £181.96m. Impact on local economies is so satisfying to observe, Winning Pitch assistance has delivered approximately 5,000 new jobs. As a business we have reached revenues in excess of £10M and over 100 full time employees across the North and rest of UK. These impacts are testament to our core beliefs of authenticity, trusted adviser and an ability to deliver.

There is no finishing line in business and complacency is a danger zone that every entrepreneur should avoid entering into. After a decade of passionately supporting the entrepreneurial business, we ourselves have moved up a gear in terms of our growth plans and ambitions. Helped by a £2.5M investment last year, I am delighted to announce a new look Winning Pitch – one that’s aims to deepen even further our profile and brand in the SME growth space. Growth SMEs are going to be even more important to local, regional and national economies over the next decade; they are the job generators, the source of innovation, graduate jobs and foreign earnings. I want Winning Pitch to be at the heart of making these businesses succeed – with clarity of vision, superior propositions, strong leadership and teams, an ability to live in the customers world as well good housekeeping and financial strategy and control, everything is possible.

I want to carry on supporting individuals to grow and helping the next generation of stars to accelerate their performance and win. More specifically, we want to give more attention to those companies that can scale their operation. These are the businesses with global potential, they become bedrocks of local economies by delivering jobs, this in turn helps communities to prosper and thrive. We will be placing increased emphasis on this unique set of companies, whose business support needs are more sophisticated and complex to deliver.

I look forward to another ten years of innovation and obsessive focus on unlocking entrepreneurial ambition. We will continue to build and expand the Winning Pitch entrepreneurial community by giving courageous individuals the trusted guidance they need to achieve both profitable growth and a business they can be proud of.

Spinouts – Scaling Up


This blog was written for Spinouts UK Quarterly Journal 2015. You can join their distribution list by emailing research@ycf.co.uk

Most spinout companies from universities have the ambition to be companies of scale. If they are to win significant investment at an early stage, they will need to demonstrate that they have a ‘road map’ to enable them to establish a strong position in their chosen market.

However, this ‘road map’ passes through different stages, each of which places different demands on the company founders. Initially, the spinout founders will be immensely relieved to have completed the spinout process itself, with the knotty issues of IP ownership, and the relationship of the academic founders with the university. The next stage is generally one of spending (on prototypes, clinical trials, and other proofs of technology) rather than selling. As a very broad generalisation, academics in spinout companies are more comfortable with the ongoing research and development (which is in many ways similar to their academic work) than in market analysis, recruitment and team building, or the management of premises, financial records, and all the other administrative tasks which are essential to get a startup company on its feet.

The next stage is growth. For all young companies, whether spinouts or not, there are natural barriers to growth. Winning Pitch identifies the most important of these as the emotional cost and the financial cost.

The emotional cost to the individuals involved is usually manifested in self imposed pressure, and in the uncertainty that demands resilience and mental toughness to keep going when the inevitable road blocks are presented.

A scale up company is defined as one that grows its employee or turnover at a rate of 20 per cent per annum over a three-year period, and the financial costs of doing this can rack up very quickly – the cost of recruiting new talent, and of raising finance, professional fees, new premises, IT infrastructure and administrative costs can shoot through the roof. Costs must be controlled and the execution of a growth plan needs to be effectively choreographed – clear roles need to be defined, people need to be accountable for delivering on their tasks. Very rarely can growth be achieved without impacting on profitability.

This is why the majority of the 500,000 of last year’s new startups will never go on to employ one person never mind 10, and also why over 99% of UK firms employ fewer than 50 people. Very often it’s the financial cost of growth that holds individuals back.

What does this mean for academics spinning out a new company from a university?

The main point to recognise is that no one entrepreneur can build a business alone – it takes a team, combining the different skills needed to grow the business. The second point to recognise is that as the team grows, different leadership challenges emerge as the culture of the business evolves. At Winning Pitch we refer to the ‘growth staircase’, with different challenges as the number of staff increases. When the company reaches 7-12 people, the entrepreneur has become an ‘entrepreneurial social worker’. At 25 or more people, the business culture becomes ‘the team vs. the mob’. With 50 or more staff, the business needs to evolve towards a corporate culture, where processes need to be standardised and continually improved, with less scope for individual innovation. Individuals who can take a company through all these stages are rare indeed, and academic entrepreneurs do well to realise that at some stage in the company’s development, the business will be best served if the reins are handed over to others with practical experience of running a large and growing company.

8 Essential ingredients of a high growth mindset


The issue of what constitutes a high growth entrepreneurial mindset is one that has fascinated me for years. We saw in yesterday’s press that 50% of new start ups fail within five years, a recent report from leading accountants MazarsHow to be a stand out SME – showed that very few SMEs grow beyond the micro stage (10 staff). Across Europe, 92% of companies have fewer than 10 employees. Surely not all of these entrepreneurs fail to have a business model that lacks the potential to scale – there must be other issues that lead to what is almost a shopkeeper mentality. My frustration is that I see day in day out companies with massive potential, however the founders often fail to recognise that, with more motivation, much greater value could be created for themselves stakeholders and their family’s. So what holds them back? It’s their pedestrian mindset – If they only had more fire in their belly!

Whilst I would never encourage a business owner to go for growth, if they genuinely did not want it, my experience is that many do want to achieve more – I would say its more than 70% do. My conclusion is the wrong state of mind holds too many entrepreneurs back from greater thingstheir mindset is not tuned into the reality of what it takes to grow. Having a great business idea and tight control over key functions and processes is only part of the success equation. It’s also about having a high performing mental attitude. Mindset is a hugely complex area with many constituent parts. Here is my simple view on the top 8 ingredients that deliver a high growth, high performance mindset:

Desire and intention – every action flows from genuine desire and personal intention. I want to grow my business is easy to say but hard to do. Desire is observed when entrepreneurs practice the 20% thinking and 80% doing rule. Growth entrepreneurs talk about what they have done not what they are going to do. Strong personal intentions create a performance culture mindset and go the extra mile mentality.

Sell, Sell, Sell – every successful entrepreneur knows that without a sale, there is no business, period. Thomas Edison, said I don’t invent anything I can’t sell, how true. I am constantly amazed at how many businesses are started on the basis of an idea with no attention paid to customers or does anyone want to buy this? Selling is not a dirty word; great entrepreneurs are great sales people – get comfortable with it!

Mental resilience – an ability to cope with the random nature of business supported by an ability to get back up when the chips are down is one of the most defining traits of a winner’s mindset.

Self-awareness –there is no way one person can do it all, winners create an effective team and call on the support of others. The inability of a founder/entrepreneur to recognise their own failings will inevitably lead to slow growth. Better decisions are made when entrepreneurs actively encourage trusted team members to contribute and to input to debate. Accelerated growth only happens when the founder starts to let go of parts of the business.

Creativity – the invisible force that drives innovation and ultimately creates a fantastic culture – it also underpins a positive memorable customer experience. Great entrepreneurs have an ability to embrace ambiguity, they are curious, they experiment with new ideas, and they take action. New sales ultimately result.

Self- belief – If you believe you can, you can, if you believe you cant then you’re correct. A belief in ones ability is a good starting point for any growth entrepreneur. Growing a business can be very tough, along the ways critics emerge who drain enthusiasm and energy. Successful entrepreneurs have an ability to close off to negative energy. Very often in a growth business such negativity emerges from the market place and scarily from staff. BYC – Believe You Can.

Clarity – don’t be surprised if you don’t end up at your destination if you don’t know where you are going. Successful entrepreneurs have a vision of what they want to achieve in the marketplace – revenue, profit, market and customers and business model.

Higher purpose – a desire to change a market place, solve a burning issue or address an unfulfilled need is a massive motivator for many entrepreneurs. Higher purpose provides a reason for getting out of bed in the morning. Without a reason, business becomes mundane, passion disappears and people disengage. Personal and business performance suffers. A clearly defined higher purpose and reason instills a desire to serve.

There are many other components but being aware of the above is a great starting point. Create foundations for growth by getting your head.

Sort out your credo


I have seen some fantastic academic work in recent years on leadership – Jim Collins, Stephen Covey and all the other usual names. A plethora of tools, techniques and matrices aimed at helping the ambitious entrepreneur become a better leader. I am guilty of being one of the many individuals to come up with new thinking on how to excel at leading others!

The reality is, it’s so damn difficult pulling everyone in the same direction, getting people to buy into your vision, aligning individual skills with the needs of the business, expecting everyone to be as passionate as the founder – just accept it, no one is ever going to be as passionate as the founder of a business. One thing for sure is that as a company grows, a leader/leaders must develop a rulebook – it should be a concise set of statements that defines – how we do things around here! If an employee does not like the rules – it does not make them a bad person, it just means they don’t belong to the community. Modern management science talks about values and behaviours in my own world I call this a rulebook – golf clubs have them, religious societies have them…and many more. Organisations that have been around for hundreds of years have a rulebook of some description! I can almost hear readers cringing at this phrase.

As companies grow – a rulebook is needed to define what is and what is not acceptable. As a company heads towards 7, 20 and 50 employees the people dynamics change and a “way of doing things” needs to be established – if not you end up with a tribe and not a team.  For me this is one of biggest challenges leaders of growing businesses face – embedding an ethos/philosophy of what is and what is not acceptable.  Managing people, emotions, needs, desires and aspirations, then connecting them with the purpose of a business is so difficult.

Try putting together a rulebook then sharing this with senior managers and staff. Institutionalisation (you may wish to use other words) is a necessary part of creating a long tem sustainable business – a challenge for any leader! Don’t forget you must live by the rule book yourself, if not why should colleagues and staff?

See our company values here >>>

Why did we leave PLUS?


Over the past few weeks I have been asked on many occasions why did our business leave PLUS, the honest answer is because it was a win – lose relationship – us being the losers. The hassle that goes with a public quoted company and the associated paper pushing turned out to be an absolute nightmare. I would seriously suggest to any entrepreneur to seriously look at all options before they go down this route. In my own opinion it’s just a gravy train for the professional services sector that in my own experience add very little value.

If you are going to go down the AIM/PLUS route check out what the appetite is for your type of business amongst investors before you part with any cash, research throughly advisers, negotiate fees, research the investment community – ask for some guarantees. Before you know it you will be being charged £300 an hour. The reality also is that whilst some of the professional service companies say they are interested in SME’s – they are not – you suddenly become fee fodder and a fee filler for over paid FCA types. Maybe I am too trusting – however if someone says they can achieve something then I have no reason to think otherwise.

I should have realised it was the wrong move when one of the senior partners of a so-called adviser spent the whole of a meeting on his mobile – totally disconnected from what was going on , disinterested and disengaged. I think he felt that it was a privilege for me to be in his company. Is that the way to treat a small business owner with a mortgage and three kids ! Well £200K later I have finally told the story! What the process did deliver was a better understanding of who the good guys are in the corporate finance and accounting world – I am happy to share the names of these people with anyone interested.

So what is my message and rant – SME’s be careful of sharp talking professional advisers – who will fleece you! My message to professional advisers – show some humility – be professional and give some advice

Small businesses hold key


You can also view this blog post in today’s (02/08/10) North West Insider: http://bit.ly/bimtAw

The financial giants that drove this country and indeed the global economy into recession are not going to get us out of it. Inward investors to the UK have also become our fair weather friends – in times of global crisis they withdraw back to their homeland or relocate to low-cost locations in eastern and central Europe leaving a void within local economies – the impact being direct job losses and demise of the supporting supply chains.

Why are we not putting more emphasis on growing our own talent? The small businesses who have the desire and capability of becoming tomorrow’s regionally and nationally significant businesses.

There is increasing interest in the role that fast-growing businesses play in economic development – quite rightly so! Gazelles, as they are also known, are few and far between, they represent only 5 per cent of business stock in the UK, but they create up to 60 to 70 per cent of new jobs. They bring with them innovation, creativity and graduate jobs, and many are international players. They are pivotal to the future growth of the UK and our regions. They are the regionally significant employers of tomorrow.

It is important to remember that it is the fast-growing companies that will pull us out of recession – not the corporate giants that created economic misery for many individuals and families over the last two years. We must nurture and grow the next generation of ambitious entrepreneurs because they make such a difference.

These gazelle like entrepreneurs are a rare breed and the support needed is quite unique. They often have a strong sales focus, which is fundamental to any business, but they often lack the disciplines that go with growing a team, developing structure and delegating responsibility. Management and organisational support is critical to many of these entrepreneurs – without it, they won’t grow and, at the extreme, the wheels come off and they go out of business.

Without a strong team of thinkers, doers, controllers and sellers, accessing finance becomes a major challenge, as our friends in the financial community always need to be convinced of a strong supportive structure. Why is the new government not getting to this granular level of understanding of business  need – all I here so far is conflicting discussions and debates about complicated structures of delivering support which is offering no value at the coal face.

What has struck me over the past few years is the number of contenders for the accolade of being high growth. Many of them have great propositions but they are failing to reach their full potential. The reasons are varied – they don’t want to take the risk, they might not realise their own potential, or (more often than not) they simply don’t know how to make it happen.

It’s these latter two groups on which we must focus. Any local authority or public sector group interested in creating vibrant economies must place emphasis on assisting such individuals and companies. In the long-term, these entrepreneurs will repay the economy back many times over. A stimulus for change and thinking big needs to be the key message for those with latent, untapped potential. They need to be shown how to:

– Create the right mindset for growth by giving them the tools to cascade a vision into a plan
– Lead and motivate a team to move in the same direction
– Get everyone singing from the same hymn-sheet with values and behaviours that guide staff – “this is how we do things around here”
– Take action: success results from 20 per cent thinking and 80 per cent doing
– Release their passion to live fulfilled and meaningful lives
– Embed innovation in their organisations – from the front door through to staff and the market place
– Recognise that staff are the most important asset of any business – they are more important than customers; if staff are happy so are the customers
– Do away with the fear of selling – so many have this
– Focus on the customer world and deliver outstanding service
– Unlock the potential of their intellectual property – the hot investment topic of the decade
– Build strong partnerships and alliances to reach scale more quickly
– Embed systems and processes that become the dials on the business dash board

Encouraging a philosophy of disciplined entrepreneurship is what makes businesses enjoy long-term sustainable futures. Public sector bodies must play an active role in spotting and supporting these stars of tomorrow.

Investment is all about making choices and taking risk but there is overwhelming evidence to suggest that these fast movers bring added value to the UK. So, going forward, where should public sector invest its cash? In businesses that go nowhere or in those that have a real opportunity to make a difference?

What I would personally like to see is more doing and less talk about what is going to be done to support small businesses. It just strikes me that the powers that be have lost touch with grass roots of what needs to happen at the coal face.

Where is the SME representation?


I read that David Cameron is asking business leaders to help support the Whitehall efficiency drive. The names currently in the hat are Lord Brown, Anthony Habgood and Sir Chris Gent – these are all highly respected and successful people in their fields. However they are corporate men who have earned 7 figure salaries and housed themselves in “big posh big time offices”. Where is the SME entrepreneur representation in this Group? Well my opinion is that if the Government want to see how they can do more with less then visit a few of the 4million entrepreneurs that underpin the economy of our Country – represent 50% of jobs and output – also the vehicle for getting us out of the recession. These are men and women who know only too well  how to save a few quid here and there. Is cost saving part of the mindset of the individuals David Cameron is looking to appoint?