Posted on July 16, 2018 by staff

Tech needs more chocolate fountains


That’s right, I said it: the UK tech sector needs more chocolate fountains. I’m not talking about supplying tech events up and down the nation with indulgent desserts, I’m referring to a delicious metaphorical one.

Every tech founder who succeeds or, arguably, who fails, has a story to tell, and in launching themselves back into the entrepreneurial pool, they give back to the ecosystem and make it stronger and more sustainable.

We are starting to see a generation of successful UK entrepreneurs dive back into the start-up ecosystem, whether as investors, mentors or as the (co-)founder of a new venture. This is where the exciting stuff starts happening.

Yes, we’ve had plenty of successful serial entrepreneurs, and yes, some VC funds are already led by tech founders, but it’s too few and far between, and many active investors over the last 10 years don’t have a tech background, despite investing heavily in the sector.

The Americans have been lucky to experience this phenomenon throughout the last 30 years, from Microsoft’s IPO in 1986, through to Google’s IPO in 2004, both of which created many multi-millionaires on paper overnight.

The best example of this may be the sale of PayPal to eBay in 2002 for $1.5 billion, which spawned the so-called ‘PayPal Mafia’. And what did they do with their new-found fortunes? They re-invested the funds, and crucially, their experiences, into new businesses, either their own or that of another up-and-coming entrepreneur.

Look around Silicon Valley and you can see the consequences: Elon Musk (Tesla Motors), Peter Thiel (Palantir), Dave McClure (500 Startups) and Roelof Botha (Sequoia Capital) are all members who have gone on to become major players on the global tech stage.

In the UK, we’re seeing some real superstars with clout doing a similar thing: David Buttress, the co-founder and former CEO of Just Eat is now a partner at London/Israel VC firm 83North. Richard Reed, the co-founder of innocent drinks, has gone on to set up JamJar Investments, a UK fund backing consumer brands such as Graze and Deliveroo.

Finally, Alex Depledge, having sold her cleaning startup to a European competitor in 2015, is jumping back into the entrepreneurship scene with BuildPath, and is often seen speaking publicly about the lessons she learnt from her first venture.

Crucially, the battle scars and medals that these entrepreneurs bring to the advisory space are exactly what the next generation of tech founders need to see.

There has been a line drawn in the sand between what is affectionately called ‘smart’ and ‘dumb’ money, and increasingly, I am seeing founders desperate to work with investors and mentors that can provide more than funding: they want a strengthened network, a top team around them, and most importantly, wisdom and guidance on their board.

There is no substitute for learning through your experiences and failures, but I always say that ‘To be the best, you have to learn from the best’, and it’s fair to say that these founders and their peers are exactly that.

I can’t wait to see what the ‘chocolate fountain effect’ has in store for us over the next decade.

  • Aine McTiernan’s Twitter handle is @ainemct