The Lessons Learned Before Their Exit That Helped These Entrepreneurs Start Again22 November, 2017 / Articles
Behind every blueprint for a successful startup is an exit strategy, or at least there should be. And as they walk away from one company most successful serial entrepreneurs are already setting out their plans to start again with a new one. What defines them is their ability to take lessons learned from their earlier venture and use them to build an even more successful business.
Oliver Dickinson’s entrepreneurial journey began at the age of 19 when he launched graduate talent platform We Connect Students. Upon his exit from the business he applied the same speed-to-market mentality he had used in the technology sector, this time to disrupt the drinks market.
In 2014, along with university friend Rory Paterson, he launched WOW, which became the first company in Europe to be granted Food Standard Agency (FSA) approval to produce chia seed based drinks.
Dickinson’s exit from We Connect Students had not been a positive experience. Three years after its launch the company had moved to offices in west London and was valued more than £1 million.
“As a bright eyed 21 year old I was constructively ousted by my older, tougher colleagues and my shares diluted in the run up to our probable exit,” he said. “But it was a good learning experience and I’ve subsequently taken great care in building a team with strong foundations of trust.”
The idea for WOW came about after one of Dickinson’s friends in the Royal Marines told him how he had replaced energy drinks with a mixture of water and chia seeds, and felt less tired and more energetic as a result. The entrepreneur tried it for himself and realised he had found the business idea he’d been looking for.
The organic drinks idea was in stark contrast to his earlier venture, but Dickinson drew on that experience to avoid repeating previous mistakes.
He said: “I think that the lack of connection between the two businesses has been one of our strengths, there are no old habits to fall into and we deal with everything with a completely fresh approach. I’ve learned that as a founder the hours you invest in building a team are the most worthwhile. I’ve also learned the importance of getting over ‘founder’s syndrome’ and giving the team the flexibility, confidence and support to grow and flourish.
“It is vital to create an atmosphere which does not condone mistakes but embraces them, for they are usually an indication of fast pace, and work collectively to overcome them.”
The chia seed drinks are now listed with major retailers that include Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, and Harrods, and are being sold in France, Austria and Germany. The company’s current £3 million turnover is forecast to reach £10 million in 2018.
In 2015 Ross Tavendale joined high tech product prototyping shop Ideas Made, merging his own business with them and becoming a partner. Two years later he exited and changed direction to become managing director of fledgling SEO agency Type A .
He said: “I owned 25% of ideas made, but decided to exit as I was growing apathetic to the high tech start up world and wanted to move into a traditional consulting business where I could get my hands dirty and help people grow their business.”
The other reason for the exit, he says, was to make some money. “In spite of approaching a £1 million turnover, there wasn’t actually any room for profit as it was all to be re-invested for growth, growth, growth and speculative technology projects,” he said.
What Tavendale learned from his previous venture is that growth should happen slowly and methodically. He said: “Even when you have cash to burn, it rarely ends well. The old scoping triangle; ‘good, cheap, fast….pick two only’, very much applies. We tried to scale fast and cheap, as a result quality suffers.
“At Type A we now expand to remove pain, not for speculative sales. I also learned that focusing on brand and reputation first instead of sales and marketing is a force multiplier for sales and longevity. Brand trumps all.”
Martin Blinder is founder and CEO of Tictrac, a tech platform that encourages people to live healthier lifestyles and avoid ailments such as Type 2 Diabetes. Before his foray into health, Blinder had an online financial services company from which he exited in timely fashion.
He said: “Our business was based on mortgage demand, which was innately linked to economic market performance. In early 2000, about 24 months in, the market bubble had peaked and was expected to burst. We knew that if a recession hit, we would also likely be hit, so we took the exit. We hadn’t expected it to be that fast, but we were approached by a larger, well-backed company that saw us as a way to leapfrog product development and innovation.”
For his online financial services company, Blinder had developed a system that would mimic the banks’ scoring models and enable people to apply and get pre-approved for a mortgage or personal loan. Blinder realised that a fundamental element of that model would work in a new business.
He said: “While we were a direct to consumer business, we quickly realised that we could scale faster by partnering with companies to reach more users. Using real estate websites for instance, our users would look for their dream home and we would integrate our mortgage search functionality directly into that site.
“At Tictrac we partner with major insurance companies and governments to distribute our connected health platform to their policyholders or citizens to help them live healthier lives and prevent the onset of diseases. We are now working with a number of insurance companies on co-developing products that are linked with our platform.”
Tictrac, which now has a team of 40 employees, operates across Europe, the U.S., Middle East and Asia.