This is what’s needed to make the UK a global start-up powerhouse

Early-stage companies, particularly those in tech, are thriving but can the UK's tech scene ever really compete with Silicon Valley? Doug Barnes explores

When it comes to technical innovation, few countries match the UK’s success.

Despite its modest size, the UK has become an international hotbed for young businesses. Last year, more tech start-ups went public or were acquired in the UK than in any other country – except the US.

British tech companies raised over £6.7bn in investment in 2016 – more than the rest of Europe combined. Because of this status, PwC has now placed London top of its Cities of Opportunity list for the second time.

Success stories, such as Softbank’s acquisition of ARM and Travelers’ recent acquisition of Simply Business, attest to this status but the UK must now look to strengthen its position.

To help aspiring entrepreneurs understand what is needed to make the UK a global start-up powerhouse, here are a few top tips and recommendations…

Start-up founders need to be bold

Looking at the numerous successful start-ups that have appeared in the UK in recent years, there is a common attitude that reveals itself – a daring attitude, a belief that to be bold and to take chances is key to making it.

These companies are not intimidated by the success and stature of Silicon Valley, but instead confront it with courageous, and often unconventional, solutions.

Take Deliveroo as an example. Founded less than five years ago, the brand has become a household name, and currently operates in over 84 cities. Deliveroo realised that by using software to apply a creative, digital solution to an existing market (i.e. food delivery), it could improve the customer experience.

See more: Will Shu – from banker to Deliveroo founder

This attitude is not limited to Deliveroo, but is instead endemic of the attitude harboured by many UK start-ups in recent years.

Fintech start-up Monzo is on a similar path. The company’s tagline, ‘it’s time for a new kind of bank’, is symptomatic of the attitude that has made it a success with a large proportion of its operations running through mobile applications.

Until recently, the idea of such an unconventional bank gaining a UK banking licence would have seemed implausible. Yet this April, Monzo’s licencing restrictions were lifted and the bank can now offer its customers a current account.

See more: Monzo – one of the UK’s top new businesses

For start-ups in the UK to continue this trend it is crucial that you adopt a similar stance when working on improving the customer experience.

Start-up founders need to be heard

Communication is key – this is no antiquated statement.

In fact, in today’s age, communication is essential to how businesses engage with their customers and is continuing to evolve and shape the way in which companies do business.

Many of today’s biggest success stories, such as Uber and WhatsApp, have put communication at the very heart of their business. In an increasingly digital age the importance of this cannot be understated because, only by communicating, can emerging start-ups hope to drive meaningful interactions with customers.

Today’s digitally-savvy consumers increasingly expect communications to be both instant and secure across a range of channels and mediums; be that their smartphone, telephone, laptop or tablet.

There was a time, however, where even the most established and well-oiled of companies would struggle to offer both instant and secure communications – let alone over various different channels. Today the cloud has changed this.

Young companies here in the UK must realise that they do not need huge budgets and lengthy timelines to be successful. By working closely with developers, companies can create flexible and responsive interfaces to effectively engage their customers.

Start-up founders need to be adaptive

Being heard by customers is one thing, but listening to them, and being able to act on what you hear, is a different ball game.

Thanks to a shift in the way in which disruptive, software-heavy technology is being viewed here in the UK, there is more room than ever before for companies to adapt and adopt the latest in tech.

Speaking of its recent £400 million acquisition of Simply Business, for example, Alan Schnitzer, Travelers’ CEO, explained that “technology and innovation [are] driving customer preferences and expectation.” Schnitzer argues advancing a company’s digital agenda to better serve customers is “a key strategic priority.”

More and more frequently, established companies are appreciating the importance of agility and innovation.

As the Simply Business deal attests, this new outlook has come at a time when UK start-up acquisitions continue to grow.

This has happened not by coincidence, but rather because of a recurring theme amongst several of these companies; they have recognised the power of the cloud to help them be not only be adaptive, but to be disruptive.

By tapping into the cloud, UK start-ups grant themselves the flexibility to not improve the customer experience, but to improve the customer experience again and again – without the need for a complete overhaul. For potential investors, this is an eye-catching proposition.

The growing opportunity for start-ups

In a world of ever-changing and increasing customer demand, the UK has become the ideal home for start-ups. It is, for example, the only G8 economy with a Tech Nation Visa; making it possible for start-ups to hire the best tech talent from around the world.

Meanwhile, the British government continues to offer generous tax cuts for new businesses.

By nurturing its start-up talent, the UK has promoted a culture of exploration and experimentation which has made it the perfect environment for founders a place where they can not only work, but can do so with freedom and creativity.

By continuing to nurture this culture, young start-ups within UK and its ‘Silicon Roundabout’ area have a growing opportunity to become as big and as bold as anything to come out of the Silicon Valley thus far.

Doug Barnes is sales director, EMEA, of Twilio Inc.

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