How I Did It - I Left Accountancy To Found My Own Startup

7 Min Read

In our How I Did It Series, we profile entrepreneurs who we admire at Solid State Group, especially those who’ve made the leap from corporate life to founding their own businesses, or go above and beyond to support London’s tech industry.

Who better to give a crash course to the London startup scene than the bearded king of Silicon Roundabout Joe Scarboro.

As one third of the legendary 3beards Joe served London’s techpreneurs with informative events and decent beer, and eventually spun out Unicorn Hunt, a startup jobs board which 3beards successfully exited last year. Now he’s COO of The Bot Platform and Founder of Touchpaper which facilitates collaboration between corporates and startups. He did all this after a sensible career in corporate accountancy.

Here’s how he did it.

Let’s set the context, how have you ended up here?

It was a long and winding path, I qualified as an accountant and I did a variety of ‘normal’ jobs including a CFO role in the oil industry. Along the way I worked as a Financial Controller for a startup and got a taste of startup life there, which meant of course I wanted to do it again! On leaving the oil industry I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so started going to lots of startup events e.g. Silicon Drinkabout which is a Friday night gathering of startup and tech professionals. I ended up becoming an organiser of the event and joined the other organisers to become 3beards.

We did lots of things like startup demo events, art hackathons, internal hackathons for corporates and more. I also did some consulting utilising lean methodologies which was a nice departure from the regimented finance stuff that I’d done before - all skills I’m using in my COO role now.

Being the master of your own destiny is great, but also brings mental baggage, so do all you can while still in a job to validate your business and your own interest

Has founding Touchpaper given you any advice for corporates who work with startups, and for corporate leavers considering setting up a business?

For corporate leavers looking to start their own business, you must start doing something which tests how much you like your idea before you quit your current role. It’s important to avoid the hyperbole of entrepreneurship - it’s really hard, so you need to be really certain about what you’re doing!

Being the master of your own destiny is great, but also brings mental baggage, so do all you can while still in a job to validate your business and your own interest. Quite simply, if you’re not purpose-driven and in it for the long-haul, you won’t get very far.

Then, think about what type of business you want to run, is it a lifestyle business, a one-person-consultancy or is it raising millions of dollars? You don’t have to create a rapid growth company to be successful.

Exciting areas in London tech right now? Where should people look to get inspired?

The interesting areas are the ones which are past the hype. For example, people are bored of blockchain and are getting bored of hearing about AI too, that’s because there’s a mismatch between expectation and reality. Once these technologies produce applications that people can understand the benefit of for them personally, then people will be interested again.

What skills from your corporate life do you rely heavily on now?

You can’t run a large organisation without process and procedure. In a small company you can know who’s doing what at any time, and move work around. When it’s 50-100 people however, a founder won’t even know everyone’s name and there needs to be process and procedures.

First time founders or long time founders hate how that sounds, they hate the necessity of HR departments and health and safety and all that goes with being responsible for your employees. But especially with areas like fintech, you won’t get off the ground without data privacy policies and regulatory understanding. Working in large organisations gave me that exposure and understanding.

What makes a startup tech team stand out for you?

It’s the attitude and energy that the team creates. For example, The Bot Platform are used to working with large clients so they over-index compared to a normal startup in terms of the platform’s resilience. They’re dedicated to making sure the platform is robust and minimise any downtime, as well as provide our clients with excellent service – usually going above and beyond to make client happy.

You’ve exited a business, Unicorn Hunt. For the recent founder who’s fighting twenty client fires and racked by doubt, who’s hoping one day to make an exit like yours, what did that feel like?

Relief! Selling a company can be a long legal process and usually comes with a lot of negotiation. You need to have a lot of perseverance and deep reserves of energy to get it done.

an old acquaintance said to me “I’m so thankful that you advised me against joining a startup”

Final nuggets of wisdom?

At a recent event, an old acquaintance said to me “I’m so thankful that you advised me against joining a startup”. I’d given him my thoughts about a business he’d been thinking of leaving his job for a long time ago, and he’d been able to work out that it wasn’t the right business for him. There are two lessons that spring to mind – firstly, don’t be afraid to talk to people about what you’re thinking of doing, even if they don’t have specific knowledge about the area, just sharing your thought with someone will help you understand the situation better. Secondly, always be prepared to listen to people and help if you can, without expectation of anything in return – “paying it forward” in the startup ecosystem is hugely important, the more of us that do it, the better the ecosystem becomes.