Over the past two decades Deloitte’s Fast 50 programme has celebrated the fastest growing companies in the UK. The world has changed a lot during that time but all winning businesses have consistently shared one enviable trait: they have recorded ultra-rapid growth, often in an uncertain environment.
2017 marked the programme’s 20th anniversary and this year’s winner, Deliveroo, established itself as the fastest-growing company in the history of the competition with an average growth rate of 107,117 %.
Deloitte brought together programme participants, technology leaders and private equity investors for its annual Fast 50 lunch in Edinburgh to recognise the achievements of these businesses and the teams that lead them, including Outplay Entertainment (ranked 11th) and Exsel Group (ranked 27th), which were the two highest ranking Scottish businesses.
At the 2016 lunch we recognised the incredible support available to the tech start-up community in Scotland, whether it be funding, advice, accommodation or education. This year’s lunch focused on the key attributes of a true scale-up technology business from the perspective on an investor. The principal challenge for start-ups is to find a repeatable, scalable business model for their product or service. For scale-ups that challenge is to sustain the growth of their business model.
One recurring trend among winning Fast 50 CEOs over the past 20 years has been striking the balance between the need for profit and growth within their business. At the point of being Fast 50 winners many of the CEOs are at an inflexion point in terms of their priorities – revenue versus profitability. Reconciling a CEO’s growth ambition for the business with a realistic trajectory aligned to the market opportunity is an area that smart investors assess very carefully.
Cost of capital has been low with many businesses receiving financial investment simply to direct at growth alone. Investors of successful scale-up businesses point to those CEOs that have pursued ‘Intelligent Growth’, meaning strategies that have yielded the most value in a sustainable way and surrounded themselves with leadership teams with their fingers on the pulse of the market and a commitment to retaining their star talent.
As well as having a sensible plan for growth, investors highlighted the other things they want to see – and look to avoid – in fast-growing start-ups.
- Set realistic and achievable growth plans
- Find and focus on real and sizable markets only;
- Bring in the best senior talent to help you execute your plan;
- Find the sales model that best aligns with those markets;
- Get the product and market fit right; and
- Use your capital efficiently.
- Expand internationally without optimising your proposition/business model in your domestic market;
- Invest too early in middle management;
- Recruit headcount too quickly, particularly sales heads; and
- Follow fads.
Founders should also carefully consider whether they themselves are the right CEO for the business as it looks to scale-up.
In terms of Fast 50 success, Scotland has punched above its weight over the years in compared to other UK regions. Over the past two decades we have, however, witnessed a growing proportion of start-ups basing themselves in London. In 1998, 11 of the Deloitte Technology Fast 50 winners were from Scotland compared to two in 2017. In contrast London’s share increased from eight to thirty two over the same period.
Investors suggest that the ecosystem in the UK for technology companies is better now that it has ever been. The Tech Nation 2017 report positions the UK as the digital capital of Europe with greater investment, availability of skills and collaboration within ecosystems compared to its peers. In numerical terms, this equated to £28bn of digital tech investment from private equity and venture capital over the past five years (almost two and a half times more than any other European country).
The recently announced £1.1bn City Deal for Edinburgh and South-East Scotland has data-driven innovation at its core and a bold ambition for Edinburgh to be the Data Capital of Europe. This is great news for Scotland and we should seize the opportunity ahead of us.