Startup Stories

Peak CEO: “The biggest thing you feel as a founder is that the buck stops with you”

scaling, Startup stories, Manchester, Upscale 3.0, Mid Stage

Kane FultonKane Fulton, February 1, 2018

This article was originally posted on the Tech North website.

Manchester-based Peak impressed our Northern Stars judges back in 2015, emerging as one of the pitching competition’s 10 winners. It went on to secure a  £1m funding round a year later, expanding its home and international teams in the process, and has now landed a place on the 37-strong cohort of companies on Tech City’s 2018 Upscale programme.

Peak – which counts Astra Zeneca, Morrisons and The Economist magazine among its clients – brings together together data from various sources allowing businesses to make better-informed strategy decisions without the need to hire expensive analysts and data scientists.

Richard Potter, the company’s co-founder and CEO, sees scaling as something of a plate-spinning challenge – and one that founders have to experience to understand. We caught up with Potter at the Upscale 3.0 launch event to find out more.

What is your biggest scaling challenge?

Scaling both the sales and the commercial sides of the business. Growing your customer base while growing your team places a huge strain on the organisation. Keeping the quality high while doing all of that, staying on top of everything, is definitely the hardest thing.

Why did you apply to Upscale?

For two reasons: the first was the promise of helping our entire team skill up and get lots of advice and guidance on how they can improve as managers and leaders in business, which is important.
The second was to build out our own business network and get to know a lot of other UK tech businesses who are at the same stage. We also want to get our name out there – PR kind of stuff. It’s nice to get recognition that the team has worked really hard for this – it’s good fun for everyone.

What would you like to learn on the programme?

I think the biggest thing you feel as a founder in a business that’s at our stage is that, while it’s not lonely, the buck stops with you. I’m not sure that anybody who hasn’t gone through scaling really gets it, so to have other people you can talk to who have gone through the same challenges is quite valuable.

“The biggest thing you feel as a founder in a business that’s at our stage is that, while it’s not lonely, the buck stops with you. I’m not sure that anybody who hasn’t gone through scaling really gets it.”

How do you think the experience will be different to your time on Northern Stars?

Northern Stars came at a very different time for us. We were just launching the service that we run and hadn’t had all the learnings that we have now. We had a team of 10 with a lot of those being contractors, so it was completely different.

We launched Northern Stars as a PR vehicle and a way to meet investors, businesses and drum up enthusiasm for Peak. Now that we’re a lot more established and down the track, it’s going to be a lot more about how do we improve as a business – it’s not just about the PR and positivity that comes with being on the program.

Like many of the companies on Northern Stars which were at that very early stage, we were basically trying to frantically learn how to do our jobs. I learnt a lot from advisors at Tech North such as (Investment Manager) James Bedford and others who could advise us on the world of investment and financing. I’m expecting a lot more of that on Upscale.

Are there any scaling challenges particular to companies in the North?

It sounds a bit petty, but the train fares and the Wi-fi coverage on the trains are a particular bugbear for me. To get to London for a 10:30am meeting is considered peak time and about 180 quid. If I need to get back in the evening to do something in Manchester it can result in up to £380 for a round trip – I could fly to New York and back for that! And the Wi-fi would be better.

What are your thoughts on HS2?

I do believe that HS2 is worthwhile. I think it could be branded better – call it a bullet train like they do in Japan and people would love it – and it should probably go east to west before it goes north to south. If you’re going to invest that much in public infrastructure, you could take a lot of that money and subsidise train fares for younger businesses.

What has pleasantly surprised you about scaling?

People buy into what you’re trying to do. I’ve worked in bigger businesses previously where people want to knock you down, but everyone wants us to succeed – I love that. Everything seems hard, but it’s not insurmountably so – a lot of the time it’s about volume and how much you have to put in. The relentlessness of it makes things hard, but a lot of the problems you’re trying to solve aren’t. Hard work gets you there.

“I think HS2 could be branded better – call it a bullet train like they do in Japan and people would love it – and it should probably go east to west before it goes north to south.”

What’s it like being a tech company in Manchester?

Manchester’s a great place that works for us – I can’t think of a better place to have your HQ. Our staff have a good work-life balance, with younger members of the team living in the city and older ones on the outskirts.

We get great talent and people for a lot less than you could if you were in London, for example. But that wasn’t why we started here – that was because we live here. It’s so easy to get to London, Scotland and the Midlands, and we can easily catch flights to go to our offices in Jaipur and the US. The only thing I’d grumble about are the train fares!