If most of the UK’s startups are being led by people described in the Guardian’s article from an anonymous startup employee, I think that’s something to be celebrated, rather than criticised. As Steve Jobs famously said: “Here’s to the crazy ones … they push the human race forward.”
Our experience of entrepreneurs certainly doesn’t chime with that of the author. We deal with new and growing businesses every day, and the founders are overwhelmingly rational, competent and highly experienced. Sure, this can often go hand in hand with a mindset that others find hard to follow. Entrepreneurs are not fond of abiding by the rules, but it’s this bravery, creativity and energy that enables them to challenge convention successfully. And on the whole, this is rooted in the urge to change the world for the better in some way.
Far from being rudderless or narcissistic, most entrepreneurs are driven by a clear vision and solid purpose.
The founders we help to raise finance to grow are more likely to be in their late 30s, rather than 20-something hipsters. Many come from senior roles in financial services, consultancy or technology, and are equipped with the strategic and leadership skills that are pivotal to success in any industry. Many already have an expert understanding of the field – Ajan Reginald of biotech firm Celixir, for example, was previously global head of emerging technologies at healthcare company Roche.
We’re also seeing more second-time entrepreneurs pitching on our platform, such as Tom Bloomfield who launched challenger bank Monzo after co-founding GoCardless or Alex Zivoder who raised £4m for fintech innovator goHenry, after scaling companies like Expedia, viagogo and Lynda.com.
Startup founders have to be a little bit crazy to see things differently, chuck in a well-paid job and embrace uncertainty and sacrifice. And it’s a tough position to be in. Entrepreneurs need courage and determination to take risks, be creative and solve difficult problems – and this may sometimes manifest itself in behaviour that could be seen as impulsive or frantic. But this should be embraced, not knocked. It’s hard starting a business, very hard; there’s nowhere to hide and it takes a special type of person to do it.
If an entrepreneur lacks experience in the industry they’re launching into, or is a first-time entrepreneur, the best way to channel that energy in an effective way is to surround themselves with an expert team. Making mistakes is not something that should be seen as a negative – if you’re not making mistakes, you’re not taking risks, and changing the status quo is impossible without doing that.
Jane Ni Dhulchaointigh, founder of Sugru, developed the mouldable glue she invented with the help of two retired scientists. She learned advanced chemistry from scratch and took six years and more than 5,000 experiments to perfect the product. Brave, tenacious and – I’m sure she won’t mind me saying – wonderfully crazy too.
Moreover, new businesses should be unapologetic about hiring young people. Many would hire experienced employees if they could afford to, but that often isn’t an option. There’s nothing wrong with nurturing and empowering young people to progress and develop. As the business matures, this will create the foundation of a strong, diverse leadership culture – at Crowdcube we have an ex-intern sitting on the management team alongside someone from Google, who joined us later.
Creating a culture in which new enterprise can flourish means not leaving everything to the steady, risk-averse “adults”. Entrepreneurs won’t get everything right all the time. But maybe taking a shot, getting it wrong and reacting quickly is better than being ultra-conservative or overly precise.
Perfection is often described as the enemy of progress; well, entrepreneurs are gloriously imperfect, even the most celebrated ones. But they undeniably move us forward and change the world we live in. We should respect those who give it a crack. Without the creativity they bring and the impact they make, life would be quickly squeezed out of the UK’s business environment.