This week we have been supporting The Department for Culture, Media & Sport’s campaign #CreateUK, a week long celebration and showcase of the creative industries in the UK.
As a tech startup in the UK, we’re delighted to be amongst a community of fellow creatives who are generating almost £10m every hour for the UK economy!
When asked why we create, many reasons sprang to mind and it reminded us of an article that Paul Brooks (Twile co-founder) wrote to TechCityInsider earlier this year:
“When we first started Twile in 2013, we had dreams and expectations of quick success, exponential growth and big investment. As it turns out, building a startup is a lot more than that. Along with my co-founder Kelly Marsden, I launched the company as part of the first Dotforge accelerator in Sheffield and quickly managed to close a small seed investment round from local angel investors.
We soon found that growing a consumer userbase with a small budget and an early product is not easy. We regularly worked 70-weeks with very little to show for them except a little more understanding and gradually improving product. We managed to maintain the confidence of our investors and they put more money in to two more rounds over the next two years, giving us the runway we needed to experiment, pivot and chase product-market fit. There were many times when we didn’t think we’d last long enough.
Based in Yorkshire, it has been difficult to attract big investment and raise our profile in the tech community. While there are initiatives such as Tech North , to address the challenges faced by entrepreneurs outside of London, the capital is still very much the centre of the UK tech community.
To secure investment, you need to meet as many investors as possible and work to build long term relationships with them, keeping them updated on your progress and successes. With limited budget, it hasn’t been possible for us to travel to London regularly or spend large periods of time there. The fact that everyone involved in the business has young children has made this even more difficult. Of course, there are investors in the North, but from our experience most of them are lacking an understanding of the tech industry, especially web software. For example, it is fairly typical for a consumer app to prioritise growth over revenue at the start, but most investors we have met in the North East, for instance, expect to see a healthy turnover and strong balance sheet before they’ll even glance at the cover of a business plan.
Despite these challenges, our perseverance and hard work is paying off. In 2015 we started to gain recognition as an innovative visualisation tool for the family history market and started to acheive real growth.
We attended the RootsTech conference in Salt Lake City in February and won two of the four innovations awards as part of the innovator showdown competition – returning to the UK with $16,000 in cash and another $10,000 in “in-kind” support. We are looking forward to returning to RootsTech in 2017.
On our return, we learned that we had secured investment and a partnership deal with Findmypast, one of the leading names in family history. This gives us the resources and support we need to grow Twile into a global brand.
In under three years, we have evolved Twile from an early concept into a robust, fully featured product that solves a real problem for our customers. We have made a point of talking to our users as often as possible and we’ve used their input to intelligently prioritise development. We’ve put a huge amount of effort into every phase of the business and we’ve acknowledged our failures as essential steps to success.
If there’s a moral to our story, it’s that our own hard work is going to deliver the results. It’s easy to blame market conditions, geographical location, lack of government support of any other external factors for the failure of a start-up, but we’ve seen a number of early stage businesses (including Twile) succeed in recent years and every one of them has put a lot of effort in to overcome the obstacles they’ve been faced with.
Fortunately, recent investment in the infrastructure for start-ups outside of London is beginning to amplify the hard work that entrepreneurs are willing to put in.
Organisations like Creative England, (who have been hugely supportive in our journey, backing us from the beginning) and Tech North and accelerators like Dot Forge and Ignite are making it easier to start and succeed. If this can be matched by investors with an appetite for opportunities outside of London, I believe we will see many more successful northern startups in the near future.”
The #CreateUK campaign this week reminds us that with hard work we can continue to thrive and take advantage of the new opportunities which are opening up to do business across the world. Why do we create? Because it’s our dream, our passion, our mission to succeed.