When the going gets tough, entrepreneurs get going

Thousands of new businesses are setting up during the pandemic, a new report has revealed. 'How Startsups Can Kickstart The Economy', published by law-firm, Harper James Solicitors, details how 41,620 more incorporations happened in the first quarter of 2020 than in the first quarter of 2012. This represents an increase of almost a third (32.5%).

Harper James Solicitors, which supports SMEs from startup to scale-up, has helped many open their doors during the pandemic.

Here five of those businesses share their stories - and tips for succeeding.

Econscia

"Every global market has had a giant impact and small players like us can open doors to businesses which might otherwise have remained closed." - Ed Maclean, Co-founder, Econscia.

Econscia are a London-based tech startup who specialise in analytics, founded in May by Ed Maclean and Cyrus Shamfard. They build tools to help businesses better understand the environmental impact their products have on the world around us.

Why did you decide to launch at a time where there was so much uncertainty?

Starting a business has always been a goal, but it had been a lot more long-term. My Co-founder and I were in the same position: I was on furlough and his consulting business had taken a big hit. That initial finance cushion was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime chance to have the space to start something.

We're in our 20s and the crash in 2007 was one of the first times we both began to take notice of the wider economy and how it affected people's lives. It looks to me like we are likely to see similarly large shocks every ten years. So now is a good time to try and build up something which lasts!

What has been the biggest opportunity about launching a new business in 2020?

I'd say that this is actually a good time to be developing a new service. Every global market has had a giant impact and small players like us can open doors to businesses which might otherwise have remained closed.

As a B2B business In a growth economy, you have to work hard to try to divert attention from the business-as-usual growth activities which companies think are working well for them. They don't see any reason to investigate other services.

When everybody's idea of how their industry operates has been thrown out of the window, or income has suddenly dried up, people are much more willing to go to the marketplace to investigate solutions.

In what areas are legal services important to you as a new business founder?

As a B2B vendor, especially a small unproven firm, it's critical that you can show your credibility to potential customers and protect both of you against risks. Harper James has been a key part of this so far through contracting and we expect to use this a lot more.

We are also investing in startup governance (a board, a chair) to make sure we can maximise our efforts and grow as people: Harper James has helped a lot with the execution aspect of these pieces.

Where do you hope to be in a year’s time as a business?

There are a lot of other players in our market, so we need to find a repeatable, unique proposition. For a software company, it will take 2-5 years to get to profit and 5-10 years to win exponentially, so we are patient.

In one year, success would look like a growing pipeline of opportunities with some early products being used by hopefully paying customers.

What advice would you have for anyone considering launching a new business?

Focusing 100% on a problem you are solving for a customer is always key. It can be a tiny problem for a lot of people, or a big problem for a huge range of people. There's a huge difference between what people say they do and what they actually end up doing, too: we are still figuring this out. Try to be the expert in something and leverage that.

Pick a good team to go on the road with and focus on continuous improvement. We are still in the early days with all of these aspects.

Planned Chaos

"Small businesses are the lifeblood of an economy. We need innovative founders to employ the creative talents of labour." - Michele Incendiario, Founder, Planned Chaos

Michele Incendiario is in the process of setting up his new venture, Planned Chaos. The business will specialise in selling mother and baby products. They will be opening their first store in London before the end of the year.

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced launching a new business in 2020?

We emigrated recently from South Africa and believe there’s an opportunity for growth even during these uncertain times. The biggest challenge has been uncertainty. We can’t make plans to grow and move forward. We have less control over our business risk, as most of it is coming from external factors.

What has been the biggest opportunity you’ve experienced starting your new business this year?

I think we have a little more freedom to try new ideas and shape new business models. As an example, working from home in the past was seen as a luxury: now it is a necessity for some. Where we might have followed a tried and tested path with a new business, we now face the prospect that some change has to be factored in to find a level of success.

In what areas are legal services important to you as a new business founder?

When it comes to forming and operating a business, it’s always prudent to have a good legal representation. It gives certainty to the business model and operations structure that you would like to employ.

From formation or advice on structure of the company, to lease negotiations, supplier and staff contracts, an expert legal opinion helps set a more certain course for a business’s direction.

I have found the advice I have received has provided clarity on certain aspects of our contract negotiations. This way I can focus on my core business and not on the fine print.

Where do you hope to be in a year’s time as a business?

In this climate it is best to keep it simple yet achievable. In a year from now, I would love to have a smooth-running business that is able to serve our customers, remunerate our employees equitably and lay the foundation for future growth and expansion opportunities. All this while still trying to achieve a work-life balance with my family.

What advice would you have for anyone considering launching a new business?

I believe the risks of opening a business have always been high. Especially if this is your first business. So my advice would be the same as if there were no pandemic: do your research.

Ask questions of those who know. Don’t overextend your financial commitment. Be patient. Have passion. Stay committed. Now is a good time to build solid foundations so that you able to reap bigger rewards in the future.

What message would you like to send to the government about the support they need to provide for small businesses and startups?

I think this is an across the board message - certainty in uncertain times pays dividends. Small business are the lifeblood of an economy. We need innovative founders to employ the creative talents of labour. All businesses need policy certainty with as little red tape as possible. If we open, we are open; if we closed for a period, we are closed.

Financial support is important, but if it’s too onerous to access or too complicated to understand, it’s an own goal. And while the focus on business support is important, if your customers don’t know that you will be in business, this could be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Tubr

"Grow a thick skin and think: I can." - Dash Tabor, Founder, Tubr

Dash Tabor was so fed up with her daily crowded commute on the London Tube, that she developed an app to try and combat the problem. Before the end of this year, the tech entrepreneur hopes Tubr will be live and helping thousands of travellers enjoy a better journey.

The app works by telling people when the best time to travel is. Dash founded the company just before the country went into lockdown in March.

What inspired you to start your business?

Living in London depends on public transport. Pre-COVID, more often than not, I found travelling by Underground to be very uncomfortable. I dreaded my commute most days, so I started to wonder why isn’t data solving this problem for us? Why isn’t there an app for that? I decided 2020 was my year to make this happen and started market research in January, when the world first turned upside down.

By March I realised the app was now a necessity to encourage people back onto public transport and not just a nice thing which helped avoid an uncomfortable morning commute. I registered the company in April 2020.

What has been the biggest challenge about launching a new venture in 2020?

Virtual networking! I’ve had to get really creative about how I meet people and build relationships. In the beginning I had great responses on LinkedIn, but now with so many people looking for jobs, starting businesses and working from home, I’ve found that access to the right people has got even harder.

Previously, I would offer to buy someone a coffee or a beer in exchange for an hour of their time. Now, with everything being virtual, I have to find more compelling reasons why someone would want to spend an hour on just another video call with me. Building relationships is harder as conversations tend to be very topic-focused. That in turn which makes follow-up trickier on a personal level.

What has been the biggest opportunity about starting a new business?

I have found that the people I am able to engage with are flexible about when they can communicate, because we’re all working from home. My schedule is a lot more flexible as well and I’m not as locked into the normal work hours. I can run my company from just about anywhere, which has allowed me to spend more time with family, while also smashing out the workload.

In what areas are legal services important to you as a new business founder?

I waited to get legal advice and now I have a list a mile long that needs to be addressed. I don’t want to do anything that impacts my business later down the road. I want to ensure that I’m setting strong foundations for the future.

I searched high and low before I finally decided to contract with Harper James. Legal is expensive and I wanted to make sure I went with an agency that gave me the most bang for my buck! Harper James’ Enterprise Plan is unique in the market and is a great opportunity for me to have exactly the right level of support.

Where do you hope to be in a year’s time as a business?

In a year I hope to have secured enough funding to increase the speed of delivery of the next phase of the market, have hired my staff full-time and have expanded to other cities across the UK and maybe even the world.

What advice would you have for anyone considering starting a new business?

Grow a thick skin and remember that imposter syndrome is real. I know I’m tough but I still give myself pep talks multiple times a day.

Also, more pandemic-focused: even with a great team, get used to being alone. Meeting up is hard for many reasons you wouldn’t even expect, like finding a location! Video calls will never replace physical human interaction. For a large part of the hours in your day, you’ll be sat alone in front of a computer hoping someone somewhere reads your message, email, post and likes it enough to write something back.

What message would you like to send to the government, about the support they need to provide for small businesses and startups?

Don’t dismiss the little people, the startups with incredible drive, the people who are innovative and can help you out of this mess! Don’t forget to look up and don’t be too busy to stop and realise there could be another better way. The people who will find themselves on top at the end of this will be those who are able to adapt and change with the times.

Avid Transcription Results

‘If you have a brilliant idea, you’re passionate, you’re hungry, you want to pursue it, then go for it.’ - Charlotte Zhao, Co-founder, Avid Transcription Results.

Charlotte Zao launched her audio learning platform, Avid Transcription Results, in May. Born out of her own experiences learning English, the founder is now looking forward to growing her business as we move in 2021.

What’s the story behind your business?

It came into being unbeknown to me at first. I began audio learning when I was 12, because I had no option at the time, when I was learning English. It turned out to be immensely productive. Later on in life I used the same technique, to teach myself coding. 

Before building Avid, I co-founded a non-profit organisation called Codebar. We teach underrepresented members coding for free. It’s grown organically all over the world to a membership of 15,000.

What has been the biggest challenge about launching a new business in 2020?

Business relationships have become so much more remote. A lot of conversations we have with creators who are based internationally, would have been virtual anyway. I really like meeting people in person and as a team.

During the pandemic, we haven’t been able to do so. I think in many ways we’re in a very fortunate position that we have the luxury of experimentation. We’re able to try things and make sure we find that perfect product market fit. We know our mission is to promote audio learning but there are so many different ways to achieve it.

Has the pandemic thrown up any advantages for your business which you did not anticipate when you launched?

Since the pandemic, our work has gone virtual. We’ve been able to work with people who sometimes wouldn’t be able to attend in-person workshops and that has been really rewarding. We intend to continue promoting our virtual workshops going forward. 

Where do you hope to be in a year’s time as a business and what advice would you give others?

We hope to have found our product market fit. That’s the key for us. If you have a brilliant idea, you’re passionate, you’re hungry, you want to pursue it, then go for it.

HomeWerk

"This current climate is filled with enough doubt and uncertainty, so you need to wholeheartedly believe in the problem you’re solving. The world is changing quicker than ever and necessity drives innovation." - Nathan Svirsky, Co-founder, Homewerk

Working from home has become the norm for most of us this year. But how do you keep remote-working teams connected, happy and invested in the job they are doing? HomeWerk provides the answer.

Founders Nathan Svirsky and Dan Strang created the platform after a contact at Facebook asked them to come up with a way to help keep their remote-working staff better connected.

What is the idea behind HomeWerk?

The problem that HomeWerk helps to solve is something that we experienced well before we launched in April. Having previously managed remote teams, the challenge of keeping up regular team-building activities has always proved problematic, time-consuming and inconsistent.

The real lightbulb moment came when Facebook, who were existing clients of ours, got in touch and asked us to come up with some ideas to help keep their newly-remote staff connected on a weekly basis. The realisation that Facebook, one of the biggest companies in the world, and us, a tiny startup in comparison, shared the same problems, made it clear that there was an opportunity to help the thousands of companies in between.

What has been the biggest opportunity about launching a new business in 2020?

We’re building a product which instantly solves a huge problem for lots of people. There’s no denying that the current climate has really taken a toll on our collective mental health, and severely heightened feelings of isolation.

Early signs are showing that what we’re doing at HomeWerk is performing well towards helping to quell these issues dramatically. It’s been amazing to get such good validation of our idea, and the continued feedback has been essential to understanding what works and doesn’t work for our users. 

In what areas are legal services important to you as a new business founder?

Although we’re still very much at the beginning of our journey, it’s important that we’re always thinking about the long-term future of the business. Starting a business from scratch is stressful enough, so making sure that we’re building it on watertight legal foundations is a top priority. For example, one of the first hurdles we faced was setting up an agreement which would allow five of the founders to all have an equal share in the business.

However, we needed this agreement to be flexible if the company or our own career paths changed. Harper James was able to very quickly take something which was complex and deliver a swift solution which allowed us to invest in our business with confidence. Now that we’re raising our first round of investment, it’s crucial that the agreements and structures put in place provide a high level of trust and clarity between us and our investors.

Where do you hope to be in a year’s time as a business?

Whenever anyone talks about their working from home tech stacks, we’ll be there as an essential tool for automating remote employee happiness management. Weekly team-building, birthday gifts and anniversary celebrations will no longer be something which requires time and effort to do consistently. 

What advice would you have for anyone considering starting a new business?

You’ve actually picked a great time: the world is changing more quickly than ever and necessity drives innovation. Whatever you do, it’s important that from the start you own your decision and get rid of any excuses holding you back. This current climate is filled with enough doubt and uncertainty as it is, so you need to wholeheartedly believe in the problem you’re solving.

Seek out people who can help early in the journey and do your best to absorb as much information from them as possible. Leverage the fact that many people are excited by the prospect of being part of the early stages of startup and willing to help if you ask! 

What message would you like to send to the government about the support they need to provide for small businesses and startups?

First off, we need better access to cash or loans to secure cash flow for at least a six-month period of time. This could be guaranteed through small business loans directly by the Department of Trade and Industry, or by banks. The criteria should be that it’s not based on past performance, as most new businesses do not have a track record to satisfy a traditional bank loan. 

Secondly, I’d ask for VAT, NI, pension and other employment costs to be cut for the next six months, while it’s uncertain how the business activity will be affected by COVID restrictions. The government should also support and encourage recruitment of staff through grants which can go towards training them and allow us to hire more people.

Lastly, to help usher in the future of work, the government should help to support companies make it easier for their employees to work from home. For example, subsidised desks, office chairs, lumbar support, would go a long way to making the experience more enjoyable and healthier for us all.

Also, did you know that the UK ranks 34th out of 207 countries for WiFi speed? There are definitely some improvements needed to help make working from home more efficient. 

Find out more information here.

Startup Details

Startup Details

TOTAL FUNDING AMOUNT
CB RANK (COMPANY)

Harpers James Solicitors

Harper James is a full-service national commercial law firm with offices in London, Sheffield, Birmingham, and Cambridge.

Their solicitors provide expert corporate legal advice for businesses in the UK. Harper James provides expert business legal services from partner level lawyers, but at affordable prices for startups, SMEs and other businesses. The majority of their lawyers have previously worked for a top 100 UK law firm or in-house at large international businesses.

  • Headquarters Regions
    Sheffield, UK
  • Founded Date
    Sep 5, 2011
  • Founders
    Toby Harper
  • Operating Status
    Active
  • Number of Employees
    11-50