Navigating the VC Landscape – The ScaleUp Accelerator

For tech entrepreneurs, raising venture capital (VC) funding is an important decision which can fuel growth ambitions quickly.  This decision often entails embarking on a difficult and time-consuming process, albeit one that plays a crucial part in scaling your business.  Whether you are exploring if VC funding may be the best next step or actively seeking this route, getting inside the VC mindset is essential as you make the step change from seed to Series A.  Navigating the VC landscape, learning what VCs are looking for, understanding which ones are the best fit for your business and perfecting your investor proposition is all part of The ScaleUp Accelerator’s intensive support provided for ambitious founders.  From making VC introductions to structuring and closing rounds, the programme draws on The Accelerator Network and partner White Horse Capital’s active relationships with hundreds of VCs and experience raising £350m+ in Series A and B funding.

Weekly ‘VC Voices’

To help founders get the investor’s perspective, the programme features weekly ‘VC Voice’ sessions, direct from the UK’s leading VCs. Notable names include Amadeus, the longest established VC in the UK, Calculus, Foresight, Guinness Asset Management, Maersk, Mercia, Octopus, and Smedvig have recently participated.  Each VC Voice session shares valuable insights and interaction on what they are looking for in investment prospects, and in particular, their perspective on specific and key weekly topics, such as team development or forecasting sales. The cohort come away with actionable tips to implement into their pitch decks and financial models, and strengthen their investor proposition.  The VCs point out what they would like to see more of and pitfalls to avoid, reflecting their experience reviewing countless pitches.  In addition to weekly VC Voice sessions, the programme brings together panel discussions highlighting the intricacies and differences of VCs, VCTs (Venture Capital Trusts) and family offices amongst other investor types.

Virtual Investor Event – VC Funds

After six intensive weeks, companies get the chance to pitch to the investors they met throughout the sessions – and many more!  40 VCs attended our virtual investor event, including Guinness Asset Management, Albion, Beringea, Calculus, Foresight, Mercia, Nauta, and Octopus. The switch to virtual has its perks! We’re able to track VC interest for each of the pitches which allows us to ensure an effective and immediate follow up.

Exposure to VCs and Preparation

Our alumni tell us the key to The ScaleUp Accelerator’s (78% raise) success derives from how the programme helps founders understand how investors think, perfecting their investor proposition and accessing our network of investors.  The rigour of the programme to ensure founders stay on top of their key documents such as pitch deck, business plan, financial model and due diligence is ‘sometime painful, but extremely helpful’ as mentioned by the founder of a cybersecurity scaleup that graduated the spring 2020 cohort. This is what enables investor discussions to move forward from the initial interest stage after the virtual pitch event to follow-on conversations.

The ScaleUp Accelerator’s 6 week sprints programme, is the prelude to the 6-12 months marathon which makes up the real journey needed to close a Series A round.  Our programme mentors and VC experts, Ian Merricks and Duncan Knight, aim to help founders cross that finish line as smoothly, quickly and successfully as possible to enter that next exciting chapter of scaleup growth!

As a founder, 7 simple steps to help you hire better people

I’ve met many founders in my time working with tech startups and scaleups and they share one thing in common. They know they won’t be able to build a great business without finding great people. They know the team they build will make the difference to their chances of creating a truly valuable business. You and your founding team are the reason that people will join, much more so than the tech you’re using or how fancy your office is. But although all founders start with the intent of bringing on board great talent, there’s often a big difference in their execution. Perhaps you can be a bit too keen to get the hiring moving without thinking about how you will get the best hires. So if you know you’ll need to get your hiring right, or if it’s an area that isn’t quite living up to your expectations, then here’s some advice on how to improve results.
Alan sharing how ‘Not Having the Right Team’ is the third top reason for startup failure with The ScaleUp Accelerator April cohort

Be transparent

We see many candidates excitedly join a scaleup, knowing that they will face hurdles and willing to help the growth, but quickly become despondent and leave because of a lack of transparency about the state of play. Convey your passion about your business but don’t let that turn into false promises and mean you hide from the challenges this new hire might face. Next time you’re sitting down to interview people for a role, write down the top 3 challenges that the person interviewing is going to face. Ask them how they feel about each of those hurdles, and be honest with them about your concerns the business in overcoming them.

Act with empathy

Don’t have just one perspective (i.e., yours!) when you’re thinking about your hiring plan, running the risk that you meet great people but fail to engage with them. How much are you thinking about the person who’s being hired and what they care about? How well does the time you spend interviewing reflect that it’s a two-way process? To help with this, start off each interview by asking the candidate what questions they have and what they most want to know. Answer those questions of course, but if the same ones keep coming up then think about how you could provide some of answers in your attraction process, for example, in the job description or in your careers section.

Develop an employer brand

What is it about your business that you can shout about? Even if it’s a small team right now, amplify what they say about why they enjoy their work, and you can create a big impact on your ability to attract great talent. Developing an employer brand is a huge topic that will have to wait till another time. But what you can do right now is get some content on your website and social media that shows people why they might want to work for you and your startup. Make sure you think WIIFM – what’s in it for me (me being them, not you!)

Evaluate your candidate experience

6 hour technical tests, lengthy jargon filled job descriptions, taking 2 weeks from final interview to making an offer, a slapdash onboarding process – these are all things that will lose you great people. Building on the empathy you’re demonstrating, build a hiring process that is built with the candidate in mind. A practical tip here – map out how long your hiring process actually does take, or if it’s a new process then realistically how long it will take. Make sure that’s something that you are transparent with candidates on, to avoid implying you’ll be done in days when the reality is weeks.

Focus on inclusion and diversity

It’s so easy to start with the traditional career paths when thinking about who we need to hire, but there is a real risk this leads to a lack of diversity. PR issues aside this will damage your ability to grow and adapt in the future. Be inclusive by design, considering how you can be flexible in your hiring process, to allow all great candidates to firstly participate and secondly to shine How could you do this? Before you launch into recruiting for a role agree your evaluation criteria for shortlisting. This could help avoid deciding who to progress based on familiarity and similarity to what you already have.

Gain feedback

Finding great people is tough and even when you do secure or lose someone it might not be obvious how it happened, but I guarantee your process will have had an impact in some way., Talk to and survey the people that come through your hiring process, asking them where you made a positive and a negative impact. Talk to trusted recruiters who should be able to give you some feedback on the market and what your peers are doing.

Review your hiring process

There’s a lot of value in reviewing your overall recruitment process, working out where you’re securing and losing people. We’ve had great success helped run a diagnostic process with companies, evaluating each stage to see how effective it is. This creates opportunities to improve your chances of attracting and securing great talent, converting your effort to results. I’m happy to share how we’ve helped companies review their process and how this might help you. But in the meantime, plan and reflect on your hiring strategy, rather than simply dive straight in and hope for the best. And:
  • Act with transparency and integrity
  • Focus on creating an inclusive candidate experience
  • Articular your story and vision clearly to future employees
  • And reflect, learn and improve what you do.
We see plenty of great candidates go to meet with great tech startups and scaleups, but the result isn’t always what either side had hoped for. Get the above areas right as a founder, and you’ll find the talent you need to grow the business you want.