Why Brexit Would Destroy UK Tech


Two major events are happening in the British tech industry this week – the EU referendum and London Tech Week. Of course, the possibility of Brexit becoming reality has been a hot topic within the opening speeches at London Tech Week, and the statements and statistics put forward have served to strengthen my belief that remaining in the EU is the best option for UK start-ups.


The UK is the home of the Unicorn

London Tech Week launched with a keynote speech from Gordon Innes, CEO of London & Partners, in which he stated that “London has become the best city in the world to create and scale tech companies”, and backed this up with figures showing that over $10bn has been invested in London’s tech sector.

London has built a reputation as a global tech hub through innovation and applying the productive benefits of technological advances to other areas of production – such as disability and medical aids, emission reduction and innovative building materials. My concern is that, in leaving the EU, London’s tech start-ups will lose access to many of the factors driving this success.

Currently, Europe is leading the way in producing sustainable start-ups, with European tech companies being valued at 18 times their revenue generation, in stark contrast to the US tech companies, which are valued at an average of 46 times their revenue generation. According to GP Bullhound’s Annual European Unicorns Report, Europe is currently home to 47 billion-dollar digital start-ups – a majority of which (18) are based in London – showing that London truly is the home of the Unicorn Start-up.


Brexit would likely destroy London’s ‘Tech Hub’ status.

I am not alone in this opinion, either. Many leading tech businesses have put their names to letters urging the UK to remain a member of the EU. The UK heads of IBM, Microsoft and SAP joined 32 other business leaders in signing an open letter, whilst are among 1,280 business leaders to have signed another and hundreds of tech start-ups and entrepreneurs have signed a separate letter. Former Google Chrome Marketing UK head and founder of the Sup App, Richard Pleeth also shares my sentiments, alongside 87% of Tech London Advocates, as does the highly respected entrepreneur Richard Branson:


This does not mean that voting to remain within the EU will mean that there will be no change to the British tech industry, however. Both potential results will trigger change within laws and regulations and tech companies – both start-ups and established businesses alike, will have to make rapid changes in order to keep up. But it is glaringly obvious that a ‘remain’ outcome is less likely to destroy Britain’s technology-driven capital and will mean less disruption for businesses overall.

If Britain was not in the EU, every stage of the process – from Business Development through to invoicing clients – would have been much harder for my business ‘E-tale’. Doing business in Europe and essentially exporting software was easy. We took this for granted until we began working in regions like Russia and Brazil where the level of paperwork and tax info required is out of hand! Brazil have various import taxes that make it really hard for an international supplier to be competitive, whilst Russia is less about the tax and more about the paperwork needed to ever get paid.

The admin costs of just finding out what the trading rules are outside Europe and the US is a cost that most start-ups are unable to bare. However, trading in the European Union was almost exactly like trading in the UK – sharing many of the same regulations and requirements and making understanding the whole process much simpler. In addition to this, having a strong European client base was a huge factor when E-tale was purchased by ChannelAdvisor in 2014.

I am not saying that I would have dismissed the thought of starting a business outside of the European Union, just that it would have been a lot harder, arduous and more expensive to do so. The opportunities for expansion and innovation would have been severely limited by not having access to EU markets and regulations.

For medium to large businesses, the impact of a Brexit result will be damaging, but will not be as devastating as the effects it will have on start-ups and entrepreneurs. New businesses and those still in the planning phase will be left stranded, lost and in need of severe guidance, should Thursday’s result see the UK leave the EU. A Brexit result would severely restrict, and in some cases destroy, those businesses currently starting up in London’s many tech hubs.

Rockstar UFC employee Conor McGregor

How To Handle Rockstar Employees

Conor McGregor, the mixed martial artist, has almost single-handedly moved the UFC into the mainstream. For three years the young fighter from Dublin has dazzled crowds with his wit, fighting skills and a striking ability to predict what will happen in the octagon. He has been the biggest star of UFC, but in recent months the relationship has not been a harmonious one. McGregor has struggled under the notoriously tight control of the UFC. The latest stand-off between the two saw McGregor refusing to attend a scheduled press conference and promotional event. The UFC responded by removing McGregor from UFC 200, and for a while McGregor claimed to have retired. While McGregor has withdrawn his threatened retirement, the situation appears far from over. What is clear is that this is a case of egos getting bruised. McGregor is the rockstar of the UFC. He is the one crowds pay to see, and he has started to think that he is bigger than the UFC. This rockstar syndrome isn’t unique to sport. It frequently occurs in companies as well. Rockstar employees can bring in bring fantastic results, but if you don’t handle them right. They can be a nightmare to manage.

OK, firstly I know what it is like being on both sides of the table. I have been the rockstar employee giving my company a hard time, and I have managed rockstars who have given me a hard time. The problem with rockstars is they typically work really hard. Rockstar employees like McGregor can be tempted to think “Why am I the only person who works this hard?”. That’s not all, they usually create huge results for the company. In Conor McGregor’s mind he goes above and beyond the call of duty to promote fights. He does talk shows, radio, TV; he creates buzz on social media and his unique character is a huge draw for the fans. So when the pendulum swings the other way he expects more grace than others, and not every company will do that.

When a rockstar is making huge revenue for your business, everyone is happy, but this can quickly go wrong. If a company is too heavily reliant on one person to deliver results, the company is only as strong as that individual. So if the rockstar disengages and leaves the company, it can greatly reduce the value of your business, or even put the whole business at risk.
The company is always bigger than the egos that work there. This includes the board members, and even the CEO. When clients choose to work with a company it’s not just the rockstar they deal with. They interact with many parts of the business that are equally as important as the initial sale. So when McGregor says that he has made $400m for the UFC, he is ignoring the symbiotic relationship they both have. He can’t afford to forget that there had to be a UFC for him to gain the fame that he has.

Rockstar employees like Conor McGregor can be great for your business, but they are not bigger than your business. As a manager you should want every employee to reach the same performance level as the rockstar, but still to act as part of your team. For that to happen you must create an environment where every employee can perform at their best, feels appreciated, and makes a valuable contribution. You must inspire your employees and give them the tools they need to succeed.


Rockstars take risks

Part of being a rockstar is a refusal to play it safe. Rockstars have big egos, they like to push the limits of possibility and aren’t afraid to take risks. They don’t follow best practices, they create best practice. All the time they are getting results that’s great, but what happens when a rockstar employee fails? Failure is a normal part of life. Every employee gets it wrong sometimes, but when it’s a rockstar employee that slips up they will probably get it wrong in a big way. As their manager you have got to allow that to happen, and make sure that your company is not so dependent on one individual that their failure brings down the company. No-one likes failure, but if your employees are too afraid to take risks then your company is never going to be at the forefront of innovation.

If you want to manage rockstars then you have to deal with their egos. You must put in the effort to keep them focused and engaged with your business, so you can reap the rewards without letting them lose sight of the bigger picture. Here are three key ways you can keep your rockstar employees engaged, and working for the benefit of the whole company.

1. Continual Learning

No-one likes repeating the same tasks over and over. The ability to grow, learn more, and develop new skills is essential for employee motivation yet sadly many managers miss this point. More than 90% of employees learn more when they discover solutions themselves, but on 25% of executives believe that employees learn independently. Find ways to make sure they are constantly challenged. If your rockstar isn’t being challenged they are likely to disengage and look for the challenges they need elsewhere.

One of the biggest turn-offs for rockstar employees are managers who dictate the answers to problems, rather than helping employees to discover the solution for themselves. Any attempt to micro-manage a rockstar is likely to end in disaster, this is what sparked McGregor’s rebellion against the UFC promotional machine. The entire standoff could have been avoided if Dana White had presented McGregor with a choice, or even just the perception of choice. Pushing a rockstar into a corner so that they feel pressured to act in a certain way rarely goes well.

2. Strong Communication

Take time for one-on-one meetings with your rockstar employees. Provide regular feedback on their activities, and be specific. Rockstar employees need to know what they are doing well, and where their performance could be improved. Provide them with enough information so that their positive performance can be replicated, and the negative aspects of their performance improved. It’s important that they understand how their task fits into the wider company context. They may be a great employee, but they are not the whole company. They are part of a wider team, and for a company to be successful everyone needs to understand their role, and work together to achieve success. None of us know what may have been said in private, but what played out in public clearly demonstrated that McGregor and the UFC don’t view their respective positions the same way. McGregor understands that he is a huge draw on any fight card, but he also needs to recognise that without the UFC he wouldn’t be the huge draw that he is. He is popular because he is a part of the UFC machine, not independently of it.

3. Praise (Publicly)

When your rockstar does good work don’t be afraid to commend them publicly. Many managers make the mistake of assuming that rewards should be primarily financial. No employee is going to reject a financial reward but for most rockstars that’s not the motivation that drives them. They want to achieve. They want to make a difference, and by publicly recognising their efforts you are more likely to retain them in your company. Both Dana White and the UFC have publicly recognised McGregor’s talent and appeal, but he clearly feels this doesn’t goes far enough. He is refusing back down, and continues to test his position. The UFC will need to find a compromise solution if they want to move forward.
Finally, you have to work on your own performance. Leading an organisation with one or more rockstars isn’t easy. If you want an easy life look for a company with mediocre employees that is prepared to tread-water forever. Rockstar employees encourage those around them to constantly improve their own performance level. That includes their managers. Learning to manage rockstars effectively should keep you at the top of your game, and ready for anything.

My experience at the Techpreneur Expo

This post is about my experience of the talks I held from a jam-packed two days at the Techpreneur Expo in London at Kensington Olympia. The event was part of the 34th Business Show, which showcases hundreds of business over the two days, some of those are startups, and that’s what really interested me about the event. My ‘start, scale and sell’ masterclass was a sell-out event.


Each day I had six one-hour sessions on ranging topics, I began the day at 11 am with a talk on ‘Evaluating your idea’. This session focused on knowing if your idea was a winning idea; I was able to speak about my own experiences in the starting up stage and how I created my own ideas.


At 12 pm, I held a session on ‘From start-up to scale-up’. This was when I had a chance to speak about how I achieved making my start-up into a fully-fledged business and more importantly preventing things from breaking.


The 1 pm session was on booking meetings, how to get in front of the big companies even if you don’t have the budget to do so. I was in this position myself, not so long ago and I love sharing my experiences on this, so hopefully my knowledge can help others.


The next session at 2 pm was on ‘the competition’, I think it’s important that you can speak to your competition but remain credible at the same time. From my experience, I was talking about some of the bigger companies I had personally dealt with, but I am hoping my advice can be taken out of context and be applied to any competition circumstances.


The sessions at 3 pm and 4 pm were on selling your company; I mainly spoke about when and why you should sell and then preparing for the process. I only sold my start-up ‘E-Tale’ in 2014, so the process is still very memorable.


The day was a huge success, especially seeing as it was my first speaking engagement of this type; I must admit I was a bit nervous at the beginning of the day! I was hoping to get lots of feedback from the event, as I am writing a book and hoping the tips will help me in the process


I also got asked a few questions throughout the day; it was great to see lots of people were so interested in the talks and wanted to know more.


I would love to hear if you attended the Techpreneur expo or the Business Show, especially if you attended one of my sessions! Leave a comment below, I love to hear feedback!

Start, Scale and Sell Masterclass – 3rd/4th December 2015

Earlier this year I was luckily invited to speak at the ‘Techpreneur Expo’ this coming December. The Techpreneur Expo is part of the 34th Business Show, which showcases other key speakers. The speakers include motivational speakers and business leaders, such as Touker Suleyman from the BBC show Dragons Den.

My masterclass will have the following itinerary across both days:

•    11:00 – Evaluating your Idea – How to know if you are onto a winner!

•    12:00 – From Start-up to Scale-up – Preparing for the big time.

•    13:00 – Booking Meetings – How to get in front of big companies without a big budget.

•    14:00 – The Competition – How to speak about the competition and remain credible.

•    15:00 – Selling Your Company – Part 1 – When should you sell your company.

•    16:00 – Selling Your Company – Part 2 – How to prepare for Due Diligence.

Having created and successfully sold a start-up in the tech sector, I am hopeful that I can share some of my learnings in the hope this will help others do the same. The masterclass sessions will very much be a workshop and I will be open to ANY questions on the day. I think this event should really be a great networking opportunity for everyone involved, including me! I always love to hear others ideas and hope I can help in some way, as I know how difficult the startup world can be.

Important information:

Date: 3rd and 4th December 2015.

Time: First masterclass at 11 am and run every hour until 4 pm on both days!

Price: FREE but you must register!

Location: Olympia London (Not far from Kensington Olympia station).