Spokesman | Tom Wilson

Surveys say half of us have thought about life inside a startup.

Ideas like ‘being your own boss’, ‘building something’ and even ‘making decisions without a powerpoint deck and a steering committee’ all sound pretty seductive.

But most of us have also heard the crushing stats: 9/10 new businesses fail.

At SPOKE we have some battlescars of our own — but we wanted some perspective. So we caught up with SPOKEsman, Tom Wilson.

Tom gave up a career as a corporate lawyer to join Venture Capital fund Seedcamp — and now he’s part of a team reviewing over 2000 new business plans a year, investing in about 40 of those, and supporting them through their first few years.

We asked him what it takes to make the top 10%. And it turns out there’s a recipe!

Here are Tom’s ingredients for your own billion dollar unicorn:

1) A Real Market

“Every startup should be solving a problem people care about. That sounds like a statement of the blindingly obvious — but you’d be amazed how often smart people develop something incredibly clever that no-one has any use for. If you want to build a startup you need a clear idea of the problem you’re solving, and who you are solving it for — right from the get-go”

2) A World-Beating Team

“You’ll hear this over and over again — but good early stage investors back teams, not ideas. Of course the idea is important — but without a good team to execute, it’s nothing. And the reverse is true — if you have a great team, they will find their way to an idea, even if it’s not perfectly refined at the outset. It never is. We look for a combination of attributes, usually spread over a founding team of 2 or 3: the hipster, the hacker and the hustler. Someone with their finger on the pulse, someone to get things done, and someone to make it commercial”

3) A Decent Location

“In theory the web liberated us all to work from couches or coffee shops anywhere in the world. In practice, being plugged into an ecosystem of entrepreneurs is incredibly important. It’s how chance meetings happen. It’s how new clients are found. It’s how great teams are built. We see clustering in the locations you’d expect — the West Coast, obviously — but also London, Berlin, New York… wherever you see startups succeed, more will follow. Starting in or near one of these hubs isn’t essential — but it certainly helps”

4) A Handful of Help

“Of course you’ll need a bit of finance to get something going — but you should also dial in other kinds of support. This might just be a case of picking the right early stage investors. At Seedcamp we don’t write cheques and then sit back — we work hard to build a platform of resources, introductions and advice that support our founders into the long term. Even before you think about fundraising, you can use forums like meetup.com to immerse yourself in the local startup scene and plug into a community that can support you through the challenges ahead.”

5) A Truckload of Resilience

“The brutal truth is that whether you are raising money, or trying to win your first client, you’ll usually hear ‘No’ more often than ‘Yes’. And any startup will visit the brink more often than anyone is comfortable with. So above all else, if you are thinking of taking the plunge, you’ll need a buffer of positivity and optimism to get you through”

6) A Slice of Luck

“In my best Ray Winstone voice: ‘be lucky’. Nothing should diminish the extraordinary hard work and talent it takes to build a successful startup. But everyone talks about those things — and it’s important to remember that behind every winner is a decent slice of luck. It’s not fair, but it’s how the world works!”

And that’s it. That’s all we need! It’s a wonder we’re not billionaires already.

If you’re thinking of the leap, now you’ll be doing it with your eyes open. And if you have a business plan brewing get it in front of the folks at Seedcamp. If nothing else, you’ll get some golden feedback.

Get in touch with Tom @tom_wils or @seedcamp

The Blueprint is published by Spoke London. Trousers that fit, made properly.

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