“How to go from startup to stardom?” This was the key question posed by Xavier Rolet, CEO of the London Stock Exchange, at a recent event hosted by the New Entrepreneurs Foundation.
For some particularly ardent champions of entrepreneurship this question itself borders on heresy; how could he possibly have the temerity to suggest that “startups” and “stardom” are not, in fact, intrinsically one and the same thing?
However, far from demeaning the impact and the importance of startups to the UK economy today, Rolet’s question reflects the indisputable fact that somewhere along an entrepreneur’s journey from the Eureka moment to a ten or eleven figure valuation through acquisition or IPO, too many UK companies fall by the wayside while their foreign counterparts storm ahead.
It’s a relatively well-accepted truth, but one which Rolet hammered home by reminding the audience that of the 100 most successful large companies in the world, one solitary company is European based. California alone is responsible for sixteen of them.
So, what’s the issue? What is it that leads to such a stark disparity between our two countries? For Rolet, it’s something that’s rooted in the very culture of the UK:
“here, you make £200-300m as an entrepreneur and think ‘Wow, I never thought I would even make £10m!”.
This restricted mindset leads to UK entrepreneurs on their journey to stardom being tempted by the siren call of a generous buy-out offer, often from an American company, rather than strapping themselves to the mast and sailing through to Rolet’s promised land of true stardom only inhabited by the truly successful global companies.
Take Facebook as an example – one has to wonder, given the statistics, whether a British Entrepreneur would have shown the same gall as Zuckerburg in turning down so many offers for his early stage company, including the notorious $1bn offer from Yahoo.
As a case in point, while Google’s acquisition of Deepmind for $400m was rightly celebrated as their largest European acquisition yet, contrast that with their largest recent US purchase – a staggering $3.2bn on Nest – and it suddenly doesn’t look quite as noteworthy.
In essence, it seems that the UK needs to redefine what it really considers to be business stardom, to reset the level of ambition which underpins an entrepreneur’s plans, and add another zero or two to their financial aspirations.
Positively for those of us trying to make that very journey ourselves, Rolet clearly believes there is no reason why this can’t be the case if today’s entrepreneurs can be instilled with a renewed level of ambition,
“I think the UK is getting there. There is truly a revolution happening. Soon, we’ll have some of the UK’s Googles and Microsofts actually buying up companies elsewhere”.
Citing the sheer number of people in the country who today view entrepreneurship as a genuine career choice, it’s clear that Rolet believes that the momentum towards this cultural shift in the UK is not far off. Inspired by his words, there was a clear optimism throughout the room that, if harnessed correctly, this can inspire a new, reinvigorated generation of UK entrepreneurs who can go onto forge genuinely change-making globally leading companies, and ensure that a few more British names can finally join take their place in the nirvana of true ‘startup stardom’.