When we started Young Guns in 2003, the fresh-faced entrepreneurs we packed into a small sweat-box of an Islington studio had businesses with bags of potential.
Today, some of those businesses – or those built by that group of entrepreneurs – are major international market leaders. Year after year others have followed and together they form an elite band who have revolutionised business, disrupted markets, and built some of the UK’s most successful businesses.
Take a look at that group in 2003 and you’ll see what I mean. Innocent Drinks became Europe’s largest smoothie company. Firebox.com founder Michael Acton Smith later created Moshi Monsters, a global phenomenon obsessed over by children in more than 150 countries. Agent Provocateur is one of the most recognised lingerie brands.
Nails Inc. has emporiums up and down the country and its own branded cosmetics. Currencies Direct, now Azibo Group, was this year invited to join the World Economic Forum’s exclusive Global Growth Companies Community. Warmup is the world’s best selling electric underfloor heating brand. Printing.com is one of the UK’s most successful franchise businesses. And there are many more besides.
Just as in 2003 when we stated that these businesses were the future of UK enterprise, we can say it again. The Young Guns Class of 2012 has the distinction of being our 10th. This means that at least 300 companies started by British entrepreneurs, or those founding their businesses in this country, have been chosen to join our exclusive club.
Those who made it in have every right to feel special. We consider a number of factors before making our final selection. Age is clearly the most important criterion. You won’t find anyone in our 2012 list born before July 1 1976.
But ‘youth’ alone only gets you so far. We analyse financials – past, current and projected, funding, client lists, awards, uniqueness, employee numbers, business and career track records. There’s no guarantee that our final choices will become the market leader or even survive the year, but look at the alumni and you have answers galore.
For now though, let’s consider this year’s group in greater detail. Despite the relative youth of the businesses, the 30 companies named here already employ in excess of 1,000 people, which, if all things were equal, would mean more than 30 members of staff per business. This alone shows why the government has encouraged support of Britain’s ‘gazelles’.
Understandably, given the fledgling status of a handful of the companies we name each year, financials for some were either negligible or not disclosed. Nevertheless, for those in a position to share, annual revenues already exceed £7m on average – and that’s when we exclude Rajesh Agrawal’s Rational FX, purely because its £473m turnover skews the figures.
Another remarkable thing about this group is the international nature of the businesses we’ve chosen; so many are already operating fairly extensively in territories beyond the UK. Indeed, three newly minted Young Guns had to leave our Kensington Roof Gardens event immediately after having their photos taken to hop on planes to America. Once a frontier too far for many British companies, it’s now as much a stomping ground as other counties in the UK.
Masabi, Mydestination.com, DuoFertility, onefinestay, Hailo, and Whipcar are among those companies already trading in the US, while MediaMath has its headquarters there and came to our attention largely because it was generating revenues of more than $100m already. Meanwhile, others, such as TransferWise, SwiftKey, Secret Escapes, and Rational FX, are international by their very nature.
With 19 of this year’s group backed by angel or venture capital money, such rapid expansion is less surprising. Between the Class of 2012, more than £80m has been raised, a figure swollen after making our selection by Tom Valentine’s Secret Escapes securing £8m from Index, Atlas and Octopus Ventures, stellar names in the venture capital community.
On the flip side of that, it’s equally striking that 11 have been entirely self-funded, growing serious revenues without the need to relinquish equity. What all this shows is there’s no single way to grow a successful business. We commend them all – and welcome them to the Young Guns family.
Words: Ian Wallis