“Running a business is incredibly rewarding but also incredibly challenging,” says Charlotte Quince. “We wanted to create a club that would celebrate founders.”
The club in question – FEBE – has made its presence felt by publishing a league table of United Kingdom’s 100 fastest-growing founder-led companies. Focusing on businesses that are at least three years old, profitable, and ringing up sales of between £3 million and £200 million, the list aims to highlight the progress of businesses that are not only growing but also well established enough to have some real traction in their chosen markets. To qualify for inclusion, a founder must still be involved in the day to running of the venture.
But what do tables of this sort actually tell us? Arguably, they can never be anything more than a snapshot of entrepreneurial activity at any particular time. And given that all early-stage businesses are different in terms of the markets they address and the challenges they face, is it useful or informative to rank diverse companies – albeit at a broadly similar stage of development – according to their compound annual growth rates? When I caught up with Charlotte Quince, I was keen to find out more about the thinking behind the report.
Quince and her co-founder John Maffioli started FEBE with the intention of creating a club through which founders could meet, interact and learn from each other’s experiences. Rather than simply being all about networking, the ambition was also to create a well of of online content – essentially founder stories – that would provide inspiration and instruction to others. The Growth 100 list is part of the content mix.
As Quince explains, the publication of the league table ties in with the mission to highlight the work of founders across a range of sectors. “It is all about identifying those founders who have succeeded in creating fast-growth businesses,” she says. In addition, FEBE has also selected a further 20 companies that do not quite meet the performance criteria for inclusion in the top 100. “They are companies that also have amazing stories to tell,” she adds.
The list was compiled using information supplied by companies augmented by publicly available financial data. But does it tell us anything we didn’t already know about Britain’s entrepreneur economy?
Well, arguably it provides a reminder that writers like me can often get a bit too hung up on the tech-driven sectors that are often identified as “hot” by VCs.
It’s certainly true that the company in the number one position (Clear Junction) is payment services business sitting very firmly in the fintech camp. Elsewhere in the top ten, you’ll find Tripledot Studios ( a mobile games developer), medical equipment supplier Microdot, and thermal energy storage business Sunamp. All, in one way and another, falling into the tech camp.
Equally, though, the fastest growers also include lingerie retailer, Lounge Underwear, outdoor clothing brand, Passenger Clothing, food manufacturer, Skinny Food Co and construction contractor, Glencar Construction. Around one-third of the companies in the list as a whole are in the consumer goods market.
Importantly, the list is not completely dominated by Britain’s tech hubs, such as London, Manchester, Cambridge and Bristol. The businesses that have made it into the list hail from just about every corner of Britain.
Quince agrees that the range of companies on display is diverse. “It’s not just about tech, there are businesses in sectors such as consumer goods and entertainment that are doing amazing things,” she says.
More Than A List
OK, so that’s heartening to know, but does Growth 100 offer anything more than a list to browse through in a quiet moment before moving on to other things. Quince says it shouldn’t be seen in isolation. “We didn’t want it to be just a list,” says Quince. “For us, the list was a portal to a lot of other things. We want to build a community around it.”
In practice, that means that many of the founders whose companies are included in the rankings have also contributed their stories to the FEBE website. The accompanying content includes Julian hearn of Huel explaing how his company hit £100 million sales in six years; Aron Gelbard of Bloom & Wild on the importance of “care” and Nick Wheeler of the Charles Tyrwhitt clothing business offering seven tips for growth. That’s just a flavor. There are many more case founder contributions on tap.
With offline events planned, the hope is that businesses across sectors will help peers address common problems and challenges. Quince says these include adapting to Brexit, creating and maintaining a growth culture, and knowing when to bring in new managers as a company grows.
Will FEBE succeed in creating a hub that both informs entrepreneurs and celebrates entrepreurship? Well it’s early days, but the site has already garnered support from a wide range of prominent founders.