Bev is one of the UK's leading experts on business start up, scale up and financing. She’s been CEO of YTKO since 2000 and as part of its social mission, YTKO has helped over 30,000 entrepreneurs and businesses, and helped them to raise over £65million in finance. She started the Outset Foundation in 2013 and is currently running the programme for start ups in Waltham Forest. Bev also has a CBE for services to enterprise.
Hive Collective : Tell us a bit about your businesses
Bev Hurley: YTKO Group has a commercial side, working mostly with established businesses helping them to develop business growth, sales and marketing strategies, and access finance, and several non-profit companies which now form the bulk of its work, tendering for and delivering a wide range of business support programmes. This range from pre-start to high growth, with specialist support for supply chains, construction SMEs, creative industries and others.
We’re very proud of our track record on diversity and equality, with over half our clients being women, and also that we have almost achieved our 2020 mission. This is to support the growth of over 20,000 UK businesses, access over £50m of finance, and create 10,000 new jobs for the UK economy. First two milestones already achieved!
HC: What did you do before you worked for yourself?
BH: I’ve mostly run my own businesses all my life, but my first career (for 6 years) was working for a housing association in Inner London, managing a significant modernisation programme and updating the whole operating model. At 25 I set up my first company, based on property conversion and redevelopment, then had 6 years in Canada including working at a gold mine and being part of the team who successfully introduced the worlds first non-unionised mine. Back to the UK I did a management buyout of a small creative tech business, set up a mediation company and co-founded an interior design business prior to joining YTKO as CEO in 2000.
HC: What was your first business and what was the catalyst for starting it?
BH: The catalyst for the property business was that I couldn’t progress any further within the housing association, as there was only the CEO role. I had done my professional housing management qualifications, knew a lot about buildings, and had a creative flair for redesigning space, so it seemed a natural step.
“Women undercapitalised their businesses by over 30% compared to men. Undercapitalisation can cause significant problems in getting to market and gaining traction”
HC: What are your views about growing organically verses accessing funding?
BH: It all depends on how far you want to grow and your ambition for the company - how big and over what timescale. If you plan a significant business - ie hiring people, and creating a company which you can either sell (to staff or externally) and achieve a return on all your efforts, or which you can step back from but it provides you with a good income, then you will absolutely will need to have some sort of finance in place.
This could be an overdraft facility to allow you the time for new staff to come up to speed and start delivering, working capital to invest in marketing or equipment, or for those with larger ambitions (e.g. £10million + business), you’ll need some significant debt or equity to allow you to scale. If this is you, (and it isn’t for many) then you need to get comfortable with diluting your shareholding in order to create a bigger cake.
At the other end, if you want to remain a sole trader/one man band/micro business, then you may be able to achieve the levels of income you want through organic growth, if there is a clear market need for your services and you’ve got some good distinguishing points against the competition so that you can generate the profits needed to reinvest.
HC: What is the best way to access finance when you are a small startup?
BH: 90% of all startups who start with finance borrow from friends and family and/or use their own savings - but many start up with very little finance; a gender issue is also clear in this respect - women undercapitalised their businesses by over 30% compared to men.
Undercapitalisation can cause significant problems in getting to market and gaining traction. If you have no or poor credit history, then the government’s Start Up Loan scheme should be able to help. Other routes to consider, especially if you are B2C, are crowdfunding (debt or equity), because of the ability to reach a wide mass of people with small amounts of money.
HC: What do you think has been key to your success?
BH: Determination, resilience, a constant focus on unaddressed market needs and gaps, innovation, being open to learning, getting comfortable with risk, finding great people and empowering them to do what they are great at, leading from behind as well as from the front.
HC: How are things different these days and where should small businesses focus their time?
BH: The massive enabling impact of technology across all aspects of work and life has been the biggest change - my first business was before fax machines came in and everything was done on typewriters, manually and by post!! Most young entrepreneurs now wouldn’t have a clue what a fax machine was - but it started the business revolution in terms of speed of communication.
Small businesses, then and even more so now, when we can all find a wealth of buying options online, must stay relentlessly focused on understanding their prospective customer needs and wants in as much detail as possible, and attracting and satisfying them better than the competition.
HC: What do you think is the future of self-employment?
BH: Self-employment is continuing to grow, not just formally as registered sole traders and freelancers, but also through the rapid rise of the gig economy - and who knows what the impact of Brexit will be on the self-employment situation. Unfortunately, the UK business survival rate is still pretty shocking - only just over 40% are still alive after 5 years. But I think many people will always be compelled to follow their dreams (or out of simple financial necessity to have some income beyond benefits), and at least have a go at being their own boss, with all the highs and lows, freedoms and challenges that come with it. Having a vibrant, entrepreneurial country is essential, and the UK is the easiest place to start a business - my only hope would be that new entrepreneurs really try to educate themselves in just how challenging the commercial world can be and prepare better for that before they actually start.
HC: Thanks for sharing so much with us Bev.
You can find out more about YTKO