Q&A with Duncan Down, Deloitte for the UK Technology Fast 50 campaign

What are the Fast 50 awards, can you tell us a bit about them?

We are now in our 21st year of the Fast 50 awards. The awards are focussed on identifying and recognising the 50 fastest growing technology companies in the UK, based on revenue growth over the last four years. We seek entries from across the UK, and the top 50 entrants are then invited to our awards dinner in November.  Alongside the awards, we run a survey of entrants focused on topical themes – this year we will be looking specifically at growth and diversity. 

 

What is your current job role and what does it entail?

I am a partner in Deloitte’s transaction services team, based in Reading. My day to day work involves carrying out due diligence on potential transactions for buyers, sellers or banks, to support their investment decisions. I work extensively with technology clients, as well as with private equity investors. As part of what I do, I get to see great businesses on a daily basis and interact with business owners and operators moving onto the next stage in their growth plans.

 

Technology is constantly changing and advancing, what is the one technology subsector that most excites you?

It’s a struggle to choose one, so I’ll pick two:

 

  • Internet of Things (IOT) – this is a fascinating sector which is experiencing rapid growth, addressing consumer and B2B markets, and in use across both tech and telco. To date, growth in IOT has been primarily B2B (for example telematics, security cameras, smart meters), but B2C is coming apace as Original Equipment Manufacturer’s start to build programmable sims into their products. This will be game-changing in the impact it could make - think medical devices or monitors connected to phones, connected to doctors - rather than intelligent fridges that will re-order your milk…at least for now.
  • Adtech – the online advertising ecosystem is huge. There are endless places to advertise, a vast amounts of data which helps to inform decisions, a quick speed of delivery of adverts and real-time information to support ROI assessment. It’s a sector that is expected to continue growing at pace, and this growth, in turn, attracts interest from financial investors.

 

In the current competitive environment, what can UK tech start-ups do to scale up as quickly as possible?

First off you need to have a great product/idea. Scaling it is then dependent on how you’re going to go to market and how replicable the product is cross-border.

Other potential limiting factors start-ups need to deal with to scale quickly are:

  • Management team - Ideally you would invest as soon as possible in key management (finance, sales, technology). Cash can be a constraint here, so sometimes a more agile approach is needed (contractors / part time roles / external support) to get the right skills round the table. The CFO and CEO are roles which are non-negotiable, and in the case of the CFO, having a safe pair of hands leading finance is important to support relationships with funders/investors
  • Funding can be a limiting factor, depending on the working capital dynamic
  • Talent can also be a constraint, people increasingly need to think more globally in their talent agenda. Even in the early stages of business, it’s not uncommon to consider teams in Eastern Europe or South Africa to allow for more rapid scaling of capability.

 

Other than London, where else in the UK is best placed for start-up tech companies?

 

We have increasingly seen tech communities established in Reading, the wider Thames Valley, Manchester, Bristol and Edinburgh, as well as outstanding tech incubators in Oxford and Cambridge. With the diverse means of communication we have, it is important to consider your location’s access to skilled labour and a business community.

This includes other start-ups/business owners/experienced chairmen and NEDs, but also an adviser community (accountants, lawyers, banks etc) who understand your sector and can support you through the various challenges you face as you grow. It is of course also important to ensure you have proximity to your end market.

 

What are the challenges facing UK tech start-ups?

Two key factors are access to talent and access to funding. From a talent perspective, there’s a high level of competition for skilled people, and companies are increasingly looking to recruit at an earlier stage to secure good people. Diversity in the workforce also remains on the agenda.

Companies need access to funding for initial development and then for growth. Through this period they often need to invest in developing and launching new products, as well as building out the management team to ensure they have the right skills and experience to drive the business forward. 

 

If you could give one piece of advice to a tech start up in the UK, what would it be?

The start-ups that fly are those who:

  • Solve a problem
  • Disrupt their market
  • Are agile
  • Continue to innovate and refine

I would say maintaining long term focus and ambition are key, as well as acting with speed in the here and now. It is essential to have the right board as well as some input and challenge from people not involved in the day to day running of the business.

 

What do you look for when deciding which entrants make it into the Deloitte Fast 50?

There is no subjectivity in evaluating entrants to the Fast 50. It is an objective assessment of revenue growth over a four year period. We’re therefore looking for fast growing businesses, of the likes of previous winners Deliveroo and Skyscanner. However, supersonic growth is not a pre-requisite to entering – by being part of the programme we include you in the survey and subsequent Fast 50 report.

One thing we do insist on is that the entrants are UK-headquartered and UK owned and are technology companies, which we define as a company that:

  • Manufactures a technology related product
  • Devotes a significant proportion of operating revenues to research and development of technology
  • Is technology intensive, or uses its own unique technology to solve problems

 

Why should readers enter the Deloitte UK Technology Fast 50 awards?

The Deloitte UK Technology Fast 50 is a great opportunity for ambitious technology companies to demonstrate the success they have had so far. It’s a chance to be recognised for the great success of your company and it’s highly regarded by customers, suppliers and employees. The award programme has been running for 21 years, and has seen previous winners that are now £1bn+ organisations. It is also an opportunity to not only reflect on your success, but to share views and perspectives from business leaders across the tech sector.

The UK technology sector is in rude health and continues to be one that attracts huge interest from investors. I look forward to seeing the quality and diversity that this year’s applicants bring.

 

For full details on the Deloitte UK Technology Fast 50 and the entry form please visit: www.fast50.co.uk

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