Posted: Mon 1st Jan 2021
Wow. What a day it was on Saturday. StartUp 2021 brought together thousands of entrepreneurs, small business experts and aspiring founders - many of whom shared invaluable insights, advice and stories.
These 15 highlights really stood out for me - not just because they're so hard-hitting, but because they're all things you can action right now. It's time to dive in…
Enterprise Nation founder Emma Jones kicked off StartUp2021 by addressing the question on almost everyone's lips: is now a crazy time to launch a business? The answer was an emphatic "no".
"There is so much help and support available," she said. "The government is helping with furlough schemes and kickstart programs. We're running programmes with Amazon, Uber and Facebook that have helped small businesses keep trading over the last 10 months."
"Starting a business is the most incredible journey you can have in life, but you definitely need friends along the way. We have an incredible community of over 12,000 advisers. They're the beating heart of our platform. Embrace their support."
Emma Mills-Sheffield, the founder of purpose-driven consultancy Mindsetup, began her session by admitting that she's "obsessed with productivity" - which she said had only intensified during the uncertainty of lockdown.
"People thought that hard work would make us productive," she explained, "but actually it's a balance of hard work and time off, sleep, healthy eating and exercise.
"It's always about being intentional - so when we're working, we're really working. When we have time off, we're not beating ourselves up for not working, and definitely not checking emails. Think what it is that you need to do, and what you want to do, and then start to segment things. Get a perspective on your situation."
Paul Scully MP, the minister for small business, said that, despite the ongoing uncertainty, there are "huge opportunities" out there. "We've just signed a trade deal with Japan. Asia is such an exciting market at the moment, and there's a huge appetite for British expertise and brands. If you're not exporting, we'd encourage you to start - that's what's going to make our economy grow."
The minister also had some words of encouragement for anyone considering starting a business in 2021: "Go for it. Having a thing you're passionate about is always the best way to start a business. It's not about how you can make money quickly. Do you have a solution to a pertinent problem? We saw with the last recession how people set up their own businesses. It's a great way to look for uptakes in the market, as long as we in government can provide the support that small businesses need."
Jonathan Aslin, whose company Intsilo Limited helps small businesses take advantage of the green economy, explained that, when you start a business, don't just think about how you can make enough money.
"Consider the environmental impact of what you're doing," he said. "Find your purpose and align it with wider climate and sustainability goals. B Corp UK will assess the environmental and social credentials of any company - have a look at it, and then do the best you can.
"There is a climate emergency, but there's also widespread intent to resolve it. This is a business opportunity for a start-ups - if they do their homework. Join in or get left behind."
Julian Hearn, the founder of 'complete food' brand Huel, shared some fascinating insights (despite his laptop camera not working) on when, and how, to raise money. "Typically, people try to raise money too soon," he said. "Bootstrap as much as you can - you'll retain control for longer. When we took money, so many people were approaching us. If you grow a business quickly, they will find you. The majority of it stays in the bank, which means that if an opportunity comes along, we can take it. If a problem comes our way, we can deal with it. It's an insurance policy. The best time to raise money is when you don't need it."
Justin also shared his secret to start-up success: "I've never written a business plan in my life," he explained. "I think a vision is much more important. I believe in a concept of 1,000 true fans - if you make something that people love rather than like, you're going to be successful."
Sallee Poinsette-Nash, founder of people-brand agency Brandable & Co, gave a powerful talk on how to stop underselling yourself. "Within everything is a learning experience," she said. "Learning is more valuable than winning as every situation teaches you something. This is your life, so don't be afraid to be yourself. We've been conditioned to be 'professional'. It's far more rewarding - both commercially and on a human level - to be yourself."
She also had some wise words on what will bring new customers in: "Your story is what's going to captivate people. It's not what you do, it's the way do it," Sallee said. "20 people will do the same task in 20 ways. That's the pull around who you are and what makes you different."
Global diversity, equity & inclusion consultant Sonya Barlow explained how important it is to embed diversity and inclusivity early on in your business's journey. "Big companies now realise that their founding teams look the same, their senior management teams look the same, and it will cost them a lot to rectify," she said. "They'd rather spend that money on social media marketing, for example. So lay the right foundations from the outset.
"You want to be able to communicate. The one thing founders don't always do is talk to each other. The more we share what our problems are with a diverse group of candidates, the easier it is to get recommendations on how to do things differently."
OLIO co-founder Tessa Clarke has created an app that allows people to share surplus food, with its 2.6 million users having already shared almost 10 million portions of food. Her advice to any start-up building an app? "Find a platform to test your hypothesis. If you can't get people to a Facebook group, then you sure as hell can't get people to use your app. Remember that the start of the race - not the end - is building your app. You'll need to keep budget back to be able to fix bugs further down the line."
Tessa used WhatsApp to test the OLIO idea with a group of 12. "It took about 36 hours but then someone shared half a bag of shallots. That's how it started. The group told us three things - you have to build this, it only has to be a bit better than a WhatsApp group, and 'How can we help?' Armed with that courage and conviction, we invested our life savings into building an app."
Crowdfunder coach Anna Gordon unpacked the "many benefits" that crowdfunding has beyond actual funding. "It's a great way to validate your business idea - you're testing the market," she said.
"You'll get feedback on whether your idea needs tweaking. It's a four-week marketing campaign, too - when you crowdfund, you'll be shouting about your campaign from the rooftops. You'll pick up advocates along the way. And you'll learn plenty of new skills - crowdfunding is hard and there's lots to do. It's essentially running a business for four weeks."
Taimur Ghafoor, a senior accountant at online bookkeeping service Osome, gave an in-depth presentation on how small businesses can adjust and adapt to the post-Brexit era. Aside from his practical advice came a fairly stark warning…
"It's a huge task, basically. If you don't understand the whole system, sending your goods to the EU at the moment could cost you a lot more than you make in returns." We'll let you know when Taimur's presentation is available to view on demand. In the meantime, you can find any help you need via our Brexit Advice Service.
Scarlett V Clark, the founder of female empowerment organisation Smart Girl Tribe, said that she wants to see entrepreneurs start to embrace their personal failures. "You should see failure as data acquisition - the process of your soul trying to speak to you," she said.
"It's telling you what you should be doing, not what you shouldn't. You need to claim your power back. It's only on the other side of your fears that you'll be able to find yourself. I literally talk to my fear inside my head."
Andrew Henderson, managing director of Henderson Accounting Consultants, had a great tip for anyone trying to manage irregular income - which, as an accountant with clients who often only require his services once a year, he certainly has experience of.
"We agree what the fee is up front for the year, and to help us and them manage cashflow, we split this fee across the 12 months. The payments are smaller, but they're regular."
Comet Chukura, the founder of knitwear brand GLOW, referenced trend forecasting company WGSN's conclusion that brands must now operate with a social purpose. "Brands need to have open, honest conversations about their purpose - they need to put it at the core of what they do. Fashion especially has been socially irresponsible for years," she said.
"Now, people have more time to shop properly. Wilful ignorance trips aren't happening. Their pound is a vote in the direction they want to go. Customers are open to the idea of spending more - they know something costs so much because of important factors that make an impact."
Max Smith, the co-founder of Impactful, explained that while there's no right answer on how to become more sustainable, it is important to take action - right now. And it pays, he said, to start by looking at your stakeholders.
"In other words, the people affected by what your business does: customers, suppliers, employees, the local community. List the positive and negative impacts - it'll take an hour, and you'll start to see areas you'll get excited about changing."
"I sent Hopin presentations to every venture capitalist in London. Nobody opened a single email," he said. "Sometimes it takes a warm introduction. Our first investor was a guy I met at an event in London. I asked to show my pitch deck. At the end he said it was super smart, and that he'd invest $50,000.
"He later introduced me to other investors. I'd say 15 to 25% of these introductions resulted in investments. The power of warm introductions makes a huge difference. Soon, we had $300,000 in the business."
_StartUp 2021 may be over, but the conversations it sparked are continuing in the StartUp 2021 Group. Get involved by joining it today.
Missed a session from an Enterprise Nation adviser? Meant to say hello but didn't get the time? Find them here._