The serial founder Benjamin Southworth on guiding startups to business: — Keep it simple, stupid, and be more f*cking American
For the past three years, Benjamin Southworth has joined the traveling Angel Challenge team when they have gone to cities in pursuit of helping startups grow.
Introducing Benjamin Southworth, there is nothing quite like listing his experience with the various startup ecosystems: He’s the co-founder of 3-beards, Unicorn Hunt, Peace and Love, One Deck, and KalamIT. He has been in startups for 20 years as a part of the Cambridge, London, and Amsterdam startup scenes. And during the two decades of building ecosystems — company by company — he has also spent some time working for the government.
I spent 12 months as a deputy CEO of TechCity who helped encourage policies to encourage investment and entrepreneurship. I’m currently consulting to Expectation State, and I work with the Tunisian Government on the digitalisation of Governance (e-gov).
Adding to the long list of competence and experience Southworth has, there’s his involvement in guiding startups that have joined the Fundraising For Startups program (formerly Growth Challenge) at Angel Challenge. For three years, he has accompanied the Angel Challenge team on their journey to several Norwegian cities — building the entrepreneurial spirit in all of them.
It’s fascinating to not only explore your beautiful country, but also to see the diversity of ideas, talent and opportunity across Norway. Each year seems to bring a brighter future for the young entrepreneurs of Norway, with the learnings and teachings of Angel Challenge creating greater and greater entrepreneurs and investors.
As a part of the traveling Angel Challenge team, Southworth’s main role is to help the startups communicate better and to distil their ideas into easily understandable phrases that capture the attention of investors.
I also help them explain the return of investment to a naturally cautious investment environment. If I had one piece of advice, it would be “keep it simple, stupid, and be more f*cking American” — by which I mean, don’t be afraid of sharing your idea, nor it’s potential when talking to investors. Don’t over complicate things: Investment takes time, and there’s lots of time to talk about the details, but in a short pitch you should share the vision, the market, your achievements, and what you need to get to the next stage in your business.
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Picking up the looking glass
Southworth is well aware of the investment opportunities among startups — he has after all listened to approximately 3000 startup pitches during his time in the innovative communities. So what is an investment opportunity? According to Southworth, any company is an investment opportunity —but whether or not a startup gets an investment is entirely upon the risk appetite of the investor.
There were some very promising startups with some very intriguing and potentially lucrative business models. For anyone thinking about investing in the Norwegian scene, I’d certainly recommend looking at the Angel Challenge program as a great way into the investment scene, and a great way to see a wide collection of startups across a variety of sectors.
Southworth is known for being rather strict in his verdict of startups. And leaned back in his chair at Fundraising For Startups a few weeks ago, he gave his advice and verdict on what the startups should do, and what they were doing. For Norwegian startups unsure of themselves, their surroundings, and the other participants, receiving tricky questions was probably not very comfortable. The cultural way of things in Norway is usually more gentle and with well-rounded edges. But according to Southworth, he has grown softer recently (which he says is because he’s gotten a pet dog).
Comparing the Norwegian and the British startup ecosystems, he says there still are some adjustments to be made before Norwegian entrepreneurs can innovate with as much ease as the British.
I think the Norwegian scene is where the UK was circa 10 years ago, there’s a need for some adjustments within the government policies around tax advantages for investors and entrepreneurs that the Norwegian government could learn from the UK. However, in terms of marketing and scaling your business, much can remain the same.
Competitive and aggressive — an attitude by design
His recommendation for startups is to be aware of the landscape when attempting to get into new markets. Even the smallest of details can make a great difference culturally. Like, how does style and design make a mark upon people’s attitudes?
Norwegian style and design is always delightful, however, of course, the market in the UK is much more competitive and aggressive.
As for where the Norwegian startup scene is heading, Southworth is a firm believer that we’ll take a route similar to the one Britain once took. So if we “hang in there”, we’ll soon enough see the rise of a more multi-faceted ecosystem — but we have to give it our energy, effort, and time.
I’ve been coming to Norway for 3 years with Angel Challenge, and have seen how quickly the scene has evolved, and grown. Each year there are more startups, more entrepreneurs and more investors, this is hugely encouraging as it shows that the traditional mindset of investing, and of getting a job are changing, and moving towards a more familiar pattern that I’ve seen happen in London over the last eleven years and Amsterdam in the last five. Keep going and you’ll be a world class ecosystem within in two years!
And as with all great things worth having, they won’t come to you easily. Which is why building a multi-faceted, inspirational and truly diverse ecosystem will take a lot from all of us, if it is going to give anything back. But knowing where we are heading should be an encouragement in itself — and also a reminder: Do your best, in every sense — and build a company that is made to last.