Making the move from employee to entrepreneur

  1. Kat Haylock

    Kat Haylock Community Editor Staff Member

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    Since moving on from his two year stint as the editor of UK Business Forums, Chris Goodfellow has been busy. He’s co-founded a business events company, completed a management buyout and is due to host his first event this spring – oh, and he’s expecting his first child, too. Here's what he's learnt so far.

    Since acquiring startup event The Pitch from our previous employer Sift – who runs UK Business Forums – late last year, I’ve learnt a lot of lessons about what it’s like to move from employee to entrepreneur.

    While working on UKBF and our old site BusinessZone, I met many entrepreneurs who grew small ideas into million pound businesses. Running The Pitch – a free programme of educational business events, culminating in a live pitching competition – always fit neatly into that. It was hard not to feel the itch to venture out into the startup world. In work, we discussed business ideas, brainstormed possibilities and even registered the odd domain name.

    I knew that before we made the jump we needed to rigorously test whatever idea we chose: to understand whether we were solving a problem that people cared about. Taking on The Pitch was a natural opportunity, because we know the event's been a success with delegates and sponsors. We also knew the opportunities for additional focus and freedom that a management buy out (MBO) would create. Being part of a medium-sized business provides support, but it also slows decision making.

    Think carefully about your co-founder

    The forums are full of stories about people who entered into business partnerships, only to run into problems when disagreements surface or someone wants out. Working with my co-founder, Yiuwin Tsang, for several years (he was my line manager at Sift) before starting up really helped. We understand each other's strengths and weaknesses, and how our skill sets work together.

    Perhaps more importantly, the relationship has been through stressful periods and know we can argue without falling out. It’s difficult to build a business, and knowing you can depend on your co-founder is incredibly valuable.

    My advice is to spend time discussing what kind of business you want to build, your personal financial and family circumstances, and what your end game is. These factors will impact the level of risk the venture takes, its structure and culture.

    It’s worth codifying these positions in a shareholders agreement. This won’t include broader aspects like culture, but it does include important ‘what ifs’, like someone wanting to leave the business, how shares will be issued and any significant conflicts. Our lawyer provided a simple questionnaire and produced a document from this.  

    Negotiating a management buyout

    The MBO took time and patience. The original discussion resulted in a short list of requirements for the deal, but when both parties' lawyers were introduced, the paperwork quickly became onerous and it took time to understand the implications of the detail.

    It's crucial to stay on really good terms with your employer throughout this kind of negotiation. You need to balance the needs of the business with any protections they may want, not to mention discussing the price.

    Take advantage of the startup momentum

    It’s amazing to see the way our friends and peers have reacted to the news. There’s been a fantastic level of support in making introductions, doing favours and general good wishes.

    Get out and meet as many people as you can when you start up. It’s not always clear what you’re going to get out of these initial meetings and usually it’s downright surprising what you do. The flip side is you need to give as much value as you can to the people in your network.

    This was a crucial part of getting Propel by Deloitte back as headline sponsors for The Pitch this year. The deal couldn’t have happened without the strength of relationships between the two teams.

    Looking to the future

    The groundwork has been laid for our first events, and it’s looking pretty spectacular. We’ve managed to build a roster of award-winning judges, are close to securing new partners, have re-launched the website and opened for applications in the few months since the MBO. It’s been hectic and there were a lot of new skills we needed to learn, but it’s been worth it.

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