Britain is a great place to be an entrepreneur and people are more worried about a Corbyn-led Labour government than Brexit, according to Ricky Knox, serial entrepreneur and founder of Tandem Bank, who spoke to us about doing business in the UK.
It has become a lot easier to become an entrepreneur in the UK, and the opportunity has transformed for the tech sector, according to Ricky Knox, founder of Tandem Bank. “When I was starting out, in 2003, two people from 800 in my MBA went on to start their own companies; by 2013, I was speaking to MBA classes where half the class wants to go there,” said Knox.
In the days and years before he added academic study to business acumen, Knox was a venture capitalist, an occupation that, in 1999 UK, meant offering court to ex-market traders who were driven by caught the opportunity of selling stuff like oranges online. It was a different world and a far cry from the glamour of becoming an entrepreneur in his US homeland since the last 1990s. “It was simply not the done thing in the UK,” said Knox.
What changed? To some extent, the answer was a slow and perhaps inevitable adoption of US practices, but there was also a technology kicker that accompanied the about-face. At a social level, there were a whole load of supportive structure and “endless amounts of entrepreneur support networks; there’s even a super serious Whatsapp group with 400 people in it where people give you really serious answers,” according to Knox.
“Then there are accelerators, which were a source of amazement when they first started,” said Knox. “Basically, it used to be all about start-ups being overcharged for secretarial services, and legal services, which were overcharged in return for equity. Now there is good office space and all the services you need, and someone else, say a bank, pays for it. There is now a pattern and a way to do these things.”
That way of doing things has emerged in the UK over the last three to five years, coinciding with the widespread introduction of The Cloud and the designation of dial-up modem services to the nostalgia box. “You don’t need to buy £10,000 worth of Microsoft licences, and new coding languages mean that, with a two-week coding course, you could start building your own app,” said Knox.
Ironically, this influx of technology has also been at the heart of an increase in the role of the private banker in the world of the tech savvy. While start-ups would have quite likely popped into local bank branches for small business advice from a branch manager or even a personal banker, this fleet of advisers have been ostensibly replaced by widgets. People with a project need a hand to hold, not a multi-layered cash machine, especially those programmed with bells and whistles rather than reliability.
Tired, but not tired of Brexit, Knox notes that he will have to obtain a European banking licence and watch the tech talent congregating in the UK seep away into new, safe European homes.
He is aware, however, that Brexit, whatever it holds, barely computes in relation to the fear of a change in government. “There was a Conservative Party poll that says that even if there was a massive recession, the party members would still want to carry out Brexit. The only thing that would make them reconsider would be if Jeremy Corbyn came into power." said Knox.
But do not be distracted; keep your eyes on Knox. Political shenanigans have not diverted him from the potential of new technology, particularly blockchain, and he is a watcher of tokens and all things crypto. “The technology underlying them is pretty revolutionary and will be a huge part of our technology future,” he said. “Bitcoin is going to be the 1.0 of this revolution.”
Within the realm of challenges Tandem has as a regulated bank, “we will be doing something interesting as soon as we have sorted out the regulatory basis for this new technology”.