This post is the first in a series in which we’re exploring how location has influenced business success across the UK’s 50 biggest cities in the past two years.
Everyone who starts a business dreams of making it big, but most rarely get to see these dreams come true. However, for a select band of UK companies, being in the right place at the right time has enabled them to grow. Of course, it’s not all about luck. Often it’s being able to spot the trend or gap in the existing marketplace that leads to success.
Here are some of the best examples of how young UK companies spotted their moment and grasped the opportunity with both hands.
Founder: Taavet Hinrikus
Date started: 2011
Taavet Hinrikus was the first ever employee of Skype. Tired of losing money when he transferred it between his native Estonia and the UK, he decided to create a company called Transferwise to reduce fees. It’s now been used to move $300 billion around the world.
Hinrikus said: ‘I was regularly transferring money from my savings at home to my new account here. I found that I was losing five per cent of the money each time I moved it.’ Which led him to create a way of moving money without the charges.
Founders: Giles Andrews, James Alexander, Richard Duvall, David Nicholson, Tim Parlett
Date started: 2004
One of the most exciting UK start ups, Zopa started when a group of former London bankers grew tired of bank loan charges. Zopa was set up to match borrowers with lower rate loans with savers looking for high returns. Tech savvy Londoners snapped it up and the since 2005 Zopa has arranged more than £420 million in loans, with over 45,000 active users.
Founder Giles Andrews said: ‘From the outset, we were confident we’d be able to deliver value for customers. But the big unknown was: would we be able to convince people to trust us with their money and to trust strangers with their money? I’m happy we’ve created that trust and delivered on it.’
Founder: Tekin Suleyman
Date started: 2008
Manchester based Crowd.fm is a promotion tool for events, allowing promoters to list events on social media sites, as well as event specific sites. Started in Manchester, it saved users huge amounts of time and as well as generating business, tracks events marketing efficiency.
Crowd.fm described their original aim as to: ‘help you — the event promoter — take your online event promotion to the next level. Because online is very much where it’s at.’
The Painted House
Founder: Clare Bosanquet
Date started: 2012
Based in Wales, the Painted House started as a way to demonstrate how to renovate houses using new paint tools including innovative rollers. Initially started as a local project working with the housing stock in a small Welsh village, it has grown into an international tool.
Founder Clare Bosanquet said: ‘When I stumbled across these paint rollers in a market on Romania I was so excited. I have been using them ever since to bring unloved fabrics and wonky walls back to life.’
Founder: Will Shu
Location: Soho, London
Date started: 2012
Started in 2013, Deliveroo began as a network of 300 freelance drivers delivering takeaway food to customers across London from 750 participating restaurants.
Former hedge fund worker Will Shu had the idea for the business while working in the City, said: ‘When I was transferred from New York to London in 2004, the first think I realised was it’s impossible to get good quality food delivery. I was working really late hours in Canary Wharf and every day I’d end up walking to Chili’s – it was pretty depressing.’ It’s since started operating in several other UK cities.
A Girl Called Jack
Founder: Jack Monroe
Date started: 2012
Tapping into the UK mood of austerity, Jack Monroe, a single mum from Essex started a blog about her efforts to feed her child healthily on a budget of just £10 a week. This really resonated with others in similar positions, growing from a local hit to a national one, on the back of which a company was born.
Jack said: ‘What started as a local politics blog developed into budget food and recipes, which were picked up with interest by the national press as I detailed living with my son on a food budget of just £10 a week due to delays in unemployment benefits, and sometimes they weren’t paid at all. I ended up writing a cookbook for Penguin based on my blog, that was published in February 2014.’
Founder: Crispin Busk
Date started: 2011
Noticing how cheap and nasty traditional noodle snacks in the UK looked, founder Crispin Busk had a vision of a refined but simple alternative. He launched his no additive noodles in 2011 and scored a contract with Harvey Nicks. Since then his product has grown to be stocked in 1500 stores, including three major supermarkets.
Busk outlined his idea as: ‘What you’re doing then is you’re selling something good. You’re not sort of selling ultra-cheap cat food or something like that where the only thing you can say about it is: It’s cheap. You can say it’s got lovely flavours and good this, good that – it’s something which people like.’
Founder: Fraser Doherty
Date started: 2005
15 year old Fraser Doherty learned how to make jam from his Grandma using only whole fruit and no sugar, tapping into a market for less sugary foods. He saw an opportunity to take his product to a bigger market, cooking at weekends and selling it to local shops in Edinburgh. Once big enough, he approached the big supermarkets and soon his products were being sold nationwide.
Talking about how he got started, Doherty said: ‘After doing a lot of research I came up with a way of making jam 100% from fruit. I called it SuperJam and pitched it to Waitrose when I was 16 years old. They later lunched SuperJam in all of their stores around the UK and we have since gone on to sell millions of jars around the world.’
Founders: Nick Robertson, Quentin Griffiths
Date started: 2000
Started as a fashion website in London dedicated to selling clothes seen in the movies and on TV (ASOS stands for As Sees on Screen) they soon spotted a gap for creating an online marketplace for high street and affordable fashion brands. Since forming in 2000 they have grown to be one of the UK’s biggest online fashion retailers.
CEO and founder Nick Robertson described their early success by saying: ‘We were not doing anything different to what women’s magazines have been doing since the beginning of time. We are presenting fashion in the way it has always been presented and the way people like to see it presented – with pictures of people wearing stuff.’
Founders: Russel Hall, Gary Jackson, Terry Runham, Jay Bregman, Caspar Woolley, Ron Zeghibe
Date started: 2011
Ever frustrated by not being able to hail a black cab? Well the guys at Hailo sure were, which is why they created an app to do just that for you. It matches available cabbies to potential fares through the app, starting in London and spreading out to 16 other UK and Irish cities.
It’s CEO Tom Barr describes their USP in the following way: ‘You could be just sitting in your office and use the app and all of a sudden your taxi comes right to you. Go to your destination, the payment taken care of, an e-receipt is sent to you, it’s beautiful. You forget your umbrella there’s a part of the app that will have it returned to you’.