Recent data from PitchBook shows Liverpool has the lowest median startup valuation of any city in the UK at just £1.22 million. In part that’s a reflection of how young the city’s startup scene is, compared to cities like Oxford and Cambridge where many companies are further along in their growth journey. But for investors, I believe this represents something else – an opportunity to find high-quality, fast-growing companies at a more favourable multiple than are available in the Golden Triangle.
I think it’s safe to say I know a thing or two when it comes to Liverpool startups. I’ve been around the block a few times, starting out my career in economic development focused on the impact of digital transformation on SMEs, before moving into incubation, acceleration and financing of startups.
This is what led me to Capital Enterprise. I had engaged with Deputy CEO Darren Balcombe and some of the other team members previously, helping OneTech deliver a collaboration with Baltic Ventures in Liverpool City Region. I enjoy tech and I am passionate about economic development – so working on things which marry them together seems like a no-brainer for me.
There’s a lot of advice out there for first-time startup founders, much of it inevitably geared towards those starting up in the biggest hubs. Founding a company in a place like Liverpool is a bit different for a number of reasons. For one thing, the pool of investors in the north of England tends to be a bit smaller, mainly comprising EIS/SEIS managers who like to see a bit more traction than many early stage founders have when they first approach. For another, the pool of potential co-founders and early hires is smaller – and that’s why a big part of my own strategy as an angel investor is identifying founders from unconventional backgrounds with the drive to launch their first company.
Here are my top three pieces of advice for aspiring founders in Liverpool:
1) You’ll need to go global from Day 1. Look to the incredible startup scene in Stockholm for inspiration – as the capital of country with just 10 million people, Swedish founders know they will have to serve an international market. As a northern founder, your first customers may not be in the north or even in London. You need to make sure you are building something that people want – but those people might not necessarily be local to you.
2) Don’t play fast and loose with your equity. Founders typically have the odds stacked against them in investment discussions and can feel desperate for money – but don’t let that cause you to not do due diligence about the investors you’re bringing onboard. A bad investor can scuttle your future growth, investment and exit plans.
3) Hire fast. Fire faster. People will deliberate for long periods of time when it comes to hiring people, particularly at the early stages of a business. Yet, they are much slower when it comes to parting ways with individuals who are not performing or who do not fit. These delays and disruptions eventually add up and can derail a business.
There has never been a better time to start a startup, despite the gloomy warnings about the economy. Good businesses which solve real problems will always do well – and it’s exciting to be working at an organisation like Capital Enterprise that provides the right tools and education to so many budding entrepreneurs starting out on that journey.