13.04.2021

Whatever you do, don’t go it alone. The power is in the collaboration.

Guest blog by Vicky Young, COO business mix Limited

Being part of a growing company is extremely rewarding and exhilarating but it’s also isolating, relentless, consuming and tends to disturb the concept of 8 hours sleep a night.

The famous quote is that the art of the entrepreneur is “creating something from nothing” and whilst that’s certainly true, surely then the second big start-up ‘truth’ is that entrepreneurism is also the art of lurching from one significant challenge to the next.  With a smile on your face. 

Regardless of global pandemics and the like, opportunity navigation and problem management are what Founder’s and Start-Up C-Suite members need to be comfortable with from the start. 

So, to help (with the challenge management… not the lack of sleep I’m afraid) business mix exists to help make growing your company simpler and we’re collaborating with the lovely peeps @mynexus, condensing thoughts and advice based on the collective experience of our extensive network of industry experts, partners and our own C-Suite lessons, into something you can digest over a tea/coffee/beer and apply to your own growing company, safe in the knowledge that you don’t have to do this alone. 

In fact, let me tell you now, you’ll be better off if you don’t try to do it alone – getting help could be the best thing you ever do as an entrepreneur.  business mix has a lesson that we work really hard to impart on our client base of growth companies; ‘time is short and it’s the only thing you absolutely cannot get more of.  Therefore, do only those things you can do yourself and collaborate with others to do everything else’.  Think about that for a moment.  As a Founder, chances are it’s you that has brought the idea, the invention, the passion, the energy, the vision and very likely the finances, to the company.  Whilst that’s amazing, you need to really focus on just those things and let others bring their skills and experience to bear.  Play to your strengths is a well-known phrase, but the reality is, it’s really hard to put that into practice because it means giving up some control and – let’s all be honest here – Founders tend to want to be in control of their business baby.  

I understand completely.  It’s perfectly normal and rational to want to hold onto the reins and do all the jobs yourself, but it’s simple not sustainable.  When your client base/revenues/marketing interest etc. increases, one person can’t possibly be responsible for finances, business development, marketing, supply chain, operations, service model, client satisfaction, delivery, communications and the rest.  You need to leverage the capability, skills, and experience of people you can feel confident in and who add real value.  Of course, you can recruit permanent employees and, over time this is a sound strategy, but when you’re growing, taking the risk with a new hire, spending the time on recruitment, and investing financially in a monthly salary, insurance, desk and pension contributions can be overwhelming.  But not hiring still leaves you with a resourcing problem.  

Short-term, interim practical support, access to trusted, affordable advice on tap and skills and experience that ‘hires its replacement’ might just be the solution to bridge that gap.

This approach can do many things for your business, but for you as Founder’s, it can be the pressure value that we know is needed in startup and scaling companies.  It can allow Founders specifically the space to refocus in on what’s important to them, their vision and what they wanted out of setting up the company in the first place.  It can provide a confidential, impartial space to voice those inner fears that Founders don’t want to (or can’t) share with their families, friends, staff, investors, permanent advisors etc., which can provide a massive relief.  And it can also give Founder’s confidence that they’ve got highly skilled, vastly experienced people on their team, adding value to their company from day-1.

Whilst more companies need to innovate not just inside their business model, Founder’s really need to adopt a different approach to the glamorization of entrepreneurship where it becomes some sort of badge of honor to do everything yourself.  Not sustainable, not cool, and very relevant having just come from the back of one of most stressful years for businesses in a generation.

‘Founder Protection’ is a module that we’re seeing more and more sales traction on at business mix, as it taps directly into the need of Founder’s to protect their energy, vision, and sanity when everyone wants their piece of them.  When was the last time you asked yourself if the tanks were empty, or if you were still headed where you set out to get to?

The most attractive, permanent hires that are available to you will be looking at the business cultures around them and using this as one of their deciding factors on where to take a position; this means that if you want to attract (and retain) top talent, thinking about work life balance, working culture and practices needs to be bumped up your to-do list.

Embarking on a relationship with an interim service provider that can grow with you, benefits the wider business too.  Being able to tap into some HR advice for an hour, having someone run a one-off GDPR audit to give you confidence you’re within regulation, leaning on an experienced COO to pick up some of the ‘doing’ involved in running the business for a few months, or cherry picking from a range of expertise to exactly fit your needs, means you only get what you need, when you need it and don’t waste your time, energy and cash on the wrong things.

But how do you know when it’s the right time to get support in?  Get in what you can when you can.  What do I mean by that?  Start small, find someone you like and trust and then choose something small and specific to ask for advice on, or to action and go from there.  Think of it as a mid-morning coffee date with a hot new prospect.  I wouldn’t recommend proposing marriage in the initial conversations with someone new, but going for coffee, then out for drinks, perhaps then dinner… you get the picture.  It’s about building a collaborative relationship with someone who can continue to support you as you scale.

Whilst time is the one definitive that you absolutely cannot get any more of, money comes a close second in things Founders keep a close eye on.  Whether you’re bootstrapping, angel funded or closing on a Series A, it always feels like there is never enough money, so what you do spend it on needs to provide value and some. 

Download the business mix Growth Playbook
Download the business mix growth playbook

A great sports tech client of ours has been with us since the start, having been connected at the Mass Challenge Accelerator back in 2016.  Having worked with them continuously over the past four years, their company valuation has gone from £2m to £25m and they are just closing out a successful Series A raise for further international expansion.  Whilst they have an incredible team and a solid product and proposition, they have also taken both our guidance and practical help across numerous areas of expertise (communications, Chairmanship, Interim COO, People Services and more) and we couldn’t be prouder to be part of their growth journey.  As the strapline says, the power is in the collaboration.

Whilst they paid for the external services, they also saved themselves the expense of some dubious hires, the opportunity cost of doing it themselves, were able to take off the shelf services on a ‘needs only’ basis and were able to obtain experienced support that they simply couldn’t have afforded on a permanent basis.

Because this company have been with business mix from the start, there is the mutual trust and understanding that comes with growing up together.  But how do you know if the advisors and support around you are the right ones?  That’s a hard one to answer, because individuals trust different things in relationships, but if you can be the version of yourself that goes to the pub with your friends (I know, I know…. but one day soon!) with your advisors and suppliers, then I’d say you are on the right tracks.  I’ve been successful in winning multiple client accounts over the years because I’ve just been myself – people like talking to other people, not the ‘face of the company’.  

Ask around from people you already know and trust to see if they can make any recommendations, ask for existing client referrals, and most definitely do your due diligence on companies, but always trust your gut instinct, it’s rarely wrong and I’m frequently frustrated by how seldom business owners listen to it. 

With over twenty years in corporate life in various change management roles behind me, I know that the rules, process, and procedure that support all things business operations are my friends.  I know what you’re thinking… ‘she sounds like someone I definitely want to go to the pub with!’ right? but bear with me.  Without them, change anarchy reigns, everyone gets nowhere fast without achieving very much at all, clients are disappointed, team’s loose enthusiasm and all whilst emptying the coffers of all available funds.

The very same is true for startups and scaling companies – a spotlight on sexy product technology, or glamorous marketing takes focus away from the (perceived) everyday tasks of operations, but without ops, you don’t have a business – you simply have a great idea or invention.  business mix Limited was set up specifically to support growing companies operationally (although we do have a wonderful set of Partners that can work on sexy tech or marketing if that’s what you’re looking for).  

To date, business mix have taken 7 global advisory positions, across 11 regions and 15 sectors, supported over £100m worth of investment raise, helped upwards of 500 startup and scaling companies with their growth journeys and directly increased the value of over 25 clients (25 might not sound like many, but our clients tend to keep coming back time and again, which keeps us more than busy).

If it takes a village to raise a child, then it takes a small town to scale a company and business mix is perfectly placed with proven tools, products, and advice, to help yours.  Whatever your size (we’re nothing if not inclusive here), we have a product at a price point for you to access what you need, be it an hour’s advice or a 6 month interim (or anything in between), then get in touch and let’s talk.

We understand your pain you see.  We’ve been there, done it before and got the proverbial t-shirt.  Our wide network has years (literally decades and decades in some cases!) of relevant experience in a wide range of skills and we know how to apply them to your start-up problem or opportunity.

To nicely book end then, whatever you do, don’t go it alone.  Without being intentionally rude, Entrepreneurs are lying when they tell you they’re self-made – they’re not, they have a team behind them making them look good.

Remembering that time is the one thing that you absolutely cannot get any more of, short-term, interim practical support, access to trusted, affordable advice on tap and skills and experience that ‘hires its replacement’ might just be the answer that pushes you to your next level.  

The power is in the collaboration.


Vicky Young is COO of business mix, catalysing corporate sustainability through innovation and collaboration