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Plusnet Pioneers

3 things that keep founders awake at night – and how to deal with them

Founders behind bright UK start-ups candidly reveal the challenges they face in finding new customers, funding their business, and building a team…

Ever feel like you’re ‘winging it’ to make your start-up business a success? Well, the good news is you’re not alone.

From sourcing investment to marketing on a tight budget, the process of getting a start-up off the ground and maintaining a solid growth rate can be a challenge for even the most successful start-up entrepreneurs.

Thrust into a new world of leadership, logistics, and tasked with leveraging a new brand, start-up founders are constantly having to think on their feet and come up with answers, even when – as one entrepreneur told us – they “don’t know what the answers actually are”, leading to many a sleepless night.

This is what a group of start-up founders revealed at a roundtable discussion last month. In partnership with business broadband and phone provider Plusnet, we gathered them to develop Plusnet Pioneers, an exciting programme of events, content and mentoring, with the commitment to give small business owners the answers to big questions.

The founder discussion

Having identified marketing, securing funding, and talent as the three areas where start-ups need the most help, our assembled group of outstanding UK start-up CEOs talked candidly about the key issues that keep them awake at night.

While the group we assembled [read their biographies here] cover a range of industries, from and food and drink to retail and gaming, the challenges they have faced – and continue to overcome – are shared.

View a brief snapshot of the discussion below, or go straight to the first talking point on marketing challenges here.

Marketing and finding new customers

“What I find really hard is to know when to keep pushing, because it might take six months to understand a [marketing] channel and get it to work, and when to call it a day. I’ve found that traditional start-up knowledge of running a lot of quick experiments doesn’t always answer that question.” – Daniel van Binsbergen, Lexoo

“I didn’t know much about digital marketing when we first started out so we hired someone, who also turned out not to know a lot about digital marketing either. The problem is not knowing what you need so early on so you’re asking the wrong questions and you’re not getting results.” – Nelson Sivalingam, Hownow/Wonderush

Raising finance, valuations, and managing cashflow

“There was one moment where we had £2,000 left in the company account so I stopped all marketing spend, everything. We got through it but it was still the most stressful week of my life and I didn’t know how we were going to get over it.” – Daniel van Binsbergen, Lexoo.

“The interesting thing about venture capital is that you assume they’re there to take big risky bets, but I’ve often found some VCs are quite risk averse.” – Tushar Agarwal, Hubble

 “Raising venture money changes how you run your business. It’s not a natural step, you know you’ve got to really weigh it up. It changes how you manage your team, how you manage your trajectory. If you’ve got into [running a business] because you really enjoy what you’re doing then once you’re in it, you’ve got to go out and be in it. There’s also an over emphasis on valuation as a topic. When the valuation conversation comes too early with your start-up, it could go wrong.”- Nelson Sivalingam, Hownow/Wonderush

Click here to view the full discussion on funding challenges for start-up CEOs.

Finding, keeping and managing staff

“I think what really keeps me up at night is firstly are we challenging our guys enough? If we get generalists that are amazing and entrepreneurial, is the business growing enough for them and when it’s growing, can we find the right position for them?”Mike Bandar, Turn Partners

“I’ve found that the challenge is that in the first couple of years you hire relatively junior people as that’s all you can afford. We’ve got some relatively inexperienced people to manage a large retail account; when do you train them or when do you bring someone in to work above them?” – Pip Murray, Pip & Nut

“Every person that works for us is different and prefers a different management style – what works for one doesn’t work for the other. My background is in head office retail and there it’s very driven. Now we’re in the start-up world you have to get a different mix of people in and I’ve found management really difficult.”- Luke Barlow, Netduma

“We still haven’t got over the hurdle of hiring. We’re very nervous. The weight of responsibility of a permanent salary is really daunting for me. We’re currently getting around this issue through an outsourcing model which works for us because of its flexible nature as our company is still very new and still growing.”- Gem Misa, Cauli Rice

 “I think the most important thing with recruiting for me is to get the top guy right. He or she has got to be switched on enough, right for the business and right for the team and then they’ll take the work off your shoulders. I’ve had management people who are the wrong person, the wrong fit.”– Andy Logan, Vape Emporium

Click here to view the full discussion on staffing challenges for start-up CEOs.

Views were expressed at a roundtable discussion held as part of the Plusnet Pioneers programme, a stimulating series of events, content, and mentoring created by business broadband provider Plusnet to help small businesses looking to grow. To find out more about Plusnet Pioneers and to book a free place at one of our exclusive events, go to


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