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Steps To Success: Startup Tips From A Serial Entrepreneur

Scott Taylor is not yet 30 but has already been involved in a whole host of successful startup ventures, most recently as CEO of learner driver app, miDrive. Such is his pedigree, Forbes named him one of their 30 Under 30 bright young entrepreneurs, leaders, and innovators. We caught up with the man, who started his first business aged 15, to learn about his extensive insights on startups and the steps to success. 

 

How did you start out in business?
I started my first business aged 15 from my bedroom. I was drawn to the online world due to the minimal startup costs.

I also found it hugely appealing that anyone could create something online, and, if it stuck a chord, it could reach millions of people within a matter of hours.

It was a more level playing field, and you didn’t need to have tonnes of cash to get started. Creativity and innovation gave you the edge, not your network.

 

Would you say you’ve always been entrepreneurially minded?
For sure, even before starting my first company, I was always selling stuff in school and thinking of problems to solve.

 

Could you tell us about your various business projects over the years?
Sure, I’ll batch them together into the various stages of my life. From 15 – 19 I started and sold a bunch of lifestyle businesses. These were businesses that I operated as a single founder, using outside contractors, building up revenues and then selling. I think I had around seven or eight successful exits during this time.

Ages 19-21 I worked in finance. I was at the investment bank, Morgan Stanley, then I did some time as a Research Analyst at a hedge fund.

Finally, I figured out that finance wasn’t for me, and if I was starting businesses at age 15, it was most likely what I enjoyed and was good at.

Ages 21 – 23, I joined a startup as COO. It ultimately failed. Shortly after, I joined a cloud storage business as Chief Product Officer. We ended up selling that business. Following that I was recruited as CEO of miDrive. During the last phase I also held a number of advisory roles and sat on a number of boards, most notably EC1 Capital, Virgin Start-Up, and Simba Sleep.

 

Can you tell us about miDrive? How did the idea come about?
miDrive was incubated by Holiday Extras, a large tech company based in Kent. One of their team, Matt, suggested the idea to his boss. His boss pitched it to the wider board, and they approved.

They built some prototypes and launched a trial version. Early metrics were successful so Holiday Extras kept investing time and effort. Eventually there were 12-13 people working on the concept and the management team decided it was time to spin it out as its own entity. That’s when I joined as CEO.

From joining to my exit, we raised an additional £4m from external investors, completely refreshed the business model and vision, grew the revenues to over £1m ARR (and growing fast), had over 350k downloads of our theory app, amongst other achievements.

 

Scott helped to raise $4.8 million for driver learner app, miDrive

 

What are the challenges you face joining a startup and trying to get it off the ground?
Actually, this would be a good time to talk about my latest startup, Downright. The challenges are mostly the same for companies in their infancy.

First, you need to focus, even before funding. It’s always challenging to focus on one specific problem. It’s easy (and hard not to fall into the trap) to try and solve everything for everybody, but then you run the very real risk of launching a mediocre product that doesn’t really solve anything. 

Second, creating a compelling story. As an entrepreneur or co-founder, you need to be great at telling stories. You’ll be convincing everyone from your family, to investors, to early employees why you started the company, why now is a great time, etc.

Third, securing funding. It’s a competitive market out there; yes, there is more funding available to entrepreneurs than ever before, as well as structured accelerator programmes, meaning that startups are a valid career direction for a lot of people. But that doesn’t mean it is going to be easy to secure funding, furthermore, you always have to remember that nine out of ten startups fail.

 

Where do you find your time being spent as a startup?
During the first few months of a startup it’s all about validation and talking with customers. Fundamentally you need to be building something people want.

The only way you know you are doing that is by building a bare bones version, putting it in the hands of eventual users, gathering feedback and iterating.

Furthermore, it’s about networking and partnerships. Shortcuts to growth are rooted in partnerships.

If you can partner with someone who will help you access their customer base, it can drastically shortcut your learning curve – ultimately saving you a tonne of cash.

You’ve been involved in a number of mobile app startups. What are the top three bits of advice you’d give to someone looking to develop and launch an app?
1. Make sure you’re solving a real problem.
2. Most apps fail, build a real business below it.
3. Understand the unit economics.

 

During your time with miDrive, you helped to raise $4.8 million for the company. What advice and steps to follow would you suggest to other startups looking to raise funds?
You need to establish your financial model and deck, then circulate around friends and family. This will help you to get ‘warm introductions’ through people you know. Make sure you understand the landscape and pitch to investors you think it will resonate with.

Ultimately it’s a numbers game; venture capitalists are not oracles and many have turned down participating in investment rounds of startups, which then went on to become $1bn+ startups. Not everyone will see the potential.

 

After the initial startup phasee, what are the key challenges you face going forward?
I find there are two challenges you will often face. The first is people. It’s increasingly hard to find and retain talent; millennials are difficult to manage.

The second challenge is maintaining focus. Just the same as before, when you’re very early in your startup’s life, once you have cash in the bank, there is the temptation to try and build out more and more features. Andrew Chen has written a really interesting article on this and why many mobile app startups are failing.

 

Scott Taylor is a successful web entrepreneur. You can follow Scott on Twitter @ScottTaylor

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