Entrepreneurs transforming the UK’s tech scene, one startup at a time

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As rewarding as entrepreneurship can be, it’s also taxing from time to time. Building a company from the ground up requires a willingness (dare we say, a fondness) for occasionally putting in 12-plus-hour workdays, as well as tapping into inner wells of perseverance.

At the same time, building a business is undoubtedly a thrill ride — and some people truly seem to get hooked on it. “Serial entrepreneurs” know the ins and outs of startup life like the back of their hand, and they have an innate talent for turning ideas into thriving organisations.

The annual Sunday Times Hiscox Tech Track 100 celebrates entrepreneurial individuals and businesses that embody a spirit of innovation in the tech world. Below are five UK-based entrepreneurs from the list whose names you should know. 

Clive Jackson, founder and CEO of Victor

Clive Jackson is the founder and CEO of Victor, a marketplace for on-demand private jet charters —and no stranger to the world of entrepreneurship. He’s no stranger to the Sunday Times Hiscox Tech Track 100, either. Victor is Jackson’s 14th company and 2017 marks his sixth inclusion on the list. Over the course of more than two decades, Jackson has been at the forefront of the digital revolution, working closely with entities ranging from luxury brands to financial services to media companies. 

Victor is certainly aptly named: The organization has seen a great deal of victory in its nascent years. The company has garnered around $45 million USD in funding, and is on track to exceed ambitious revenue goals for next year.

Image: Clive jackson

Prior to founding Victor, Jackson started the digital agency Global Beach, which provides design and web services to brands like Hewlett Packard, Jaguar, and Unilever. The company, which Jackson started with just one other person, today boasts about 145 staff spread across New York, London, and Los Angeles. In 2001, Jackson spun out Autotorq, which provides bespoke marketing services to automotive organisations and dealers in 26 countries.

“What really makes me tick is the excitement of seeing how you can change industries and businesses — seeing how value can be shifted from established players on the value chain to other parties almost overnight, if you know how to disrupt,” says Jackson. “Fourteen companies in, and I still get a real kick out of getting out of bed in the morning […] and thinking, today is the day I’m going to make a real change.”

Marc Biles, founder and CEO of Ratio 

Marc Biles got his entrepreneurial start while working in a somewhat unlikely role: As an agent in a call centre. When this first side gig proved successful, Biles was offered a full-time job as a special projects director at venture firm The Richmond Group.

Over the next decade, Biles launched 13 brands for the company. He developed a particular attachment to one of these concepts — Ratio, a software company that builds products for making complex, archaic markets simpler and more efficient — and ended up taking the helm as the company’s CEO. Outside of Richmond Group, Biles has launched another three organisations with cofounder Tara Flynn.

Image: Marc biles

“The most rewarding thing about being in this line of work is when you come up with a solution to a problem for your customers, you test it, and it works,” says Biles. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s your first customer or your 10,000th customer — seeing it work is an incredible thing.”

Dana Tobak, founder and managing director of Hyperoptic 

Dana Tobak has earned a reputation as the “first lady” of broadband for her work redefining connectivity in the UK. In 2005, the ISP that Tobak cofounded — Be Unlimited — provided customers with record-breaking broadband speeds (24Mb) and served as a catalyst to move the entire market forward.

Image: dana tobak

Then in 2011, Tobak cofounded Hyperoptic, the UK’s largest residential gigabit broadband provider, and the region’s first fibre broadband provider. Hyperoptic offers customers symmetrical gigabit services powered by the company’s dedicated Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network. In July, Hyperoptic received a £100 million investment (in addition to the £75 million of previously secured funding) to accelerate its ambitious goals. Hyperoptic’s full fibre broadband is currently available in 28 cities in the UK, and the company plans to extend its services to five million homes by 2025.

“We are proud to have created a network of gigabit cities where residents can live and work without connectivity constraints,” says Tobak in a recent Hyperoptic press release. To accomplish this, Tobak says she’s placed an emphasis on celebrating milestones. “We review our progress against key stats with the entire company once a quarter,” she says. “It’s always a morale boost for people to see how their hard work has paid off and to remember how far we’ve come. 

Richard Theo, founder of ActiveQuote.com

Richard Theo has founded or cofounded six businesses throughout his career, and he’s played a material role at the ground level at each organisation. Though every project has been unique — he’s founded companies ranging from conveyor belt sushi restaurants in Wales to innovative insurance brands — he’s learned valuable lessons from each endeavor.

People, he says, present the biggest asset as well as the biggest challenge for entrepreneurs. 

“Surrounding yourself with the right people can be both hugely rewarding and an enormous challenge,” he says. “There’s no doubt that good people are essential to the success of any organisation, and there is nothing more important to me than building a talented, well-rewarded, and motivated team of people who can support, guide and, most importantly, challenge.” 

Image: richard theo

At the same time, Theo explains that managing people is one of the most time-consuming elements of the entrepreneurship puzzle.

“The most rewarding thing about entrepreneurship is being in control of your own destiny and the pride that comes from seeing people benefit from the product or service you have innovated,” says Theo.

Giles Palmer, founder and CEO of BrandWatch

When Giles Palmer was growing up in the UK, “entrepreneurialism wasn’t as much of a ‘thing'” as it is today, he says. As a result, at the start of Palmer’s career, he felt “institutionalised” and, quite frankly, a bit bored. 

In the midst of brokering a business deal at one of his early full-time jobs, Palmer realised that entrepreneurship might present interesting — and potentially lucrative — possibilities. Shortly afterward, he decided to pursue a more off-the-beaten-path career.

While Palmer’s first forays into entrepreneurship hit a few snags — his first concept was for a perfume and cosmetics company that never truly took off — he was hooked on the lifestyle nonetheless. 

Image: Giles Palmer

“I loved the freedom and the fact that everything was day to day. And I thought, ‘I just can’t go back into corporate life.’ It completely changed my world,” he says. To date, Palmer has been involved with three different companies at the ground level. The most recent is BrandWatch, a social listening platform that connects brands with market opportunities.

“The thing that I don’t think many people talk about is seeing the impact that you — that the company you’re building — has on other people’s lives. Watching a 23-year-old [employee] go from being shy and talented to an extraordinary, valuable 29-year-old professional who is confident and successful [is] a huge privilege,” he says. “I feel that my company has played some part in allowing that person to fulfill their potential. So, that is the most rewarding part.”

For entrepreneurs who are just finding their footing, it’s worth examining the twists and turns of fellow founders’ career paths. These five individuals exemplify the qualities it takes to find success in today’s challenging startup ecosystem — and they’re leaving impressive footsteps for future leaders to follow.


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