Jess Butcher is one of the cofounders of Blippar, a visual discovery and augmented reality app launched in 2011. The company has since gone from one London office to 11 offices in locations across the US, Turkey, India, Singapore and Japan. Earlier this year the company raised $99 million US dollars from Malaysian sovereign wealth fund Khazanah Nasional and Qualcomm Ventures.
Butcher now wants to use the wealth experience gained over five years of building and expanding a startup to help others follow in her footsteps, recently becoming a mentor for Tech City's programme Upscale, which promises to help 30 promising startups begin to scale up their businesses.
She spoke to Techworld about what makes a good startup mentor and advice for startups hoping to expand rapidly (our questions in bold).
What made you decide to be a mentor?
I feel passionately about early-stage startups and the need to get more promising young British businesses to scale-up stage, competing better globally.
What make a good startup mentor in your view?
Someone who listens, asks the right questions and encourages the right sense of prioritisation to quickly accelerate a startup's fortunes. They may not know all the answers or fully understand the intricacies of every business they work with but they have had enough experience to advise on typical pitfalls and give logistical advice common to all rapid growth businesses - plus can act as a softer adviser on some of the personal challenges of entrepreneurship - having 'been there and done that' and experienced many of the challenges that are common to most fast-growth businesses.
What does 'scaling up' mean to you?
To me, this means a business which continues to grow at a rapid rate but is moving out of the less structured 'all hands on deck', passionate 'build' stage (where they're creating something from scratch, building a market and a brand for themselves) into a more structured, hierarchical organisation where scaleable processes and rigorous focus are required. The challenges become very different - particularly around funding, culture and personnel and territorial expansion - plus more costly and damaging when it goes wrong!
What are the main challenges when scaling up a startup?
As above. Errors become more costly and time-consuming, burning through vital investment cash (when taken). Finding the right people to scale your business appropriately is critical - good managers (as opposed to the very good 'do-ers' you might have focused on when starting up); plus good investors, advisors and mentors, ideally who've been there and done that.
What are the main risks to avoid?
Getting your core market right before expanding territorially too quickly. Not paying enough attention to culture as you grow. Staying true to your big vision and not getting diverted by enticing short term opportunities or curve balls. Complacency and not raising your ambition and vision rapidly enough again to ensure you're always stretching yourselves and aiming five steps higher.
What practical advice can you give to startups considering the process?
Start to build your network now with individuals who have successfully scaled businesses. Keep tapping into this network and rotate questions and challenges you might have around them. Sign up to all and any scale-up events you might see advertised - they can be a great source of illumination. Project your organisation chart one to two years forward, ensuring your manage team expectations as to how they might progress within your fast-growth business - dissatisfaction and politics could creep in without this transparency. Appoint good professional service advisors - from lawyers to accountants or PR firms (take recommendations from other entrepreneurs here).
Do you have any good examples of UK startups that have successfully scaled up?
I think TechCity has done a pretty good job of identifying these already within their Upscale and Future50 groups! I tend to follow the bigger tech consumer platform businesses that have scaled well internationally such as Skyscanner, Fanduel, Swiftkey etc - but there are many other great examples within the TechCity alumni pool - across a range of sectors. British technology businesses are starting to do tremendously well on the international scene and it's incumbent on them to share their knowledge and experience amongst the up and coming entrepreneurial ranks to ensure we enjoy many more international success stories!
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