Back in January, myself (@petewht) and Bethan Vincent (@BethanVincent) were honored to host the first-ever Product Hunt Yorkshire meetup, meeting makers, entrepreneurs, and innovators from across the region.
To get to know everyone, we ran a workshop with an ambitious goal - to find the top blockers to startup growth in 2020 and find solutions.
What surprised us most was that these blockers were commonplace, irrespective of sector.
Startups from recruitment, property, and legal sectors were present, along with people from the government and large companies.
Despite coming from radically different industries and companies, all experienced the same problems.
It's no secret that the UK is experiencing a talent shortage.
Accenture estimates this skills gap could cost the UK economy £141 billion in GDP growth by 2028, with Brexit set to worsen this.
Worst still, companies in Yorkshire must also compete against the attractiveness of London. Despite having some of the most prestigious universities in the UK in Yorkshire, many talented graduates leave in search of job opportunities and higher salaries.
This makes it difficult for tech companies in Yorkshire to find and retain talented developers.
We identified three key areas to solve the problem - recruitment, training and attractiveness of the Yorkshire region.
All companies in the workshop shared that they have significantly changed their recruitment strategies to find the right talent, in the right location, at the right price.
By working with local universities and colleges, some companies found they could get talent and convince them to stay in Yorkshire after their studies.
Others had worked on their brand story, aiming to tell a more convincing story to potential candidates. Some focused on an ambitious vision whereas others focused on building a more inclusive and attractive working environment, with perks such as remote working, flexible hours and self-development budgets.
Some had innovated their own recruitment technology, building an anonymous recruitment process to try and hire more underrepresented talent. Beth talked about this at Lead Developer London back in 2019.
Some larger companies started training programs to nurture their talent, but the startups in the group were concerned at the cost of running a program.
All companies agreed that working with the local and national government to shape training programs and school circulumns is essential.
Despite lower costs of living and improved quality of life versus London, Yorkshire still isn't an #1 choice for new tech talent.
We identified several key issues:
- Quality of transport, making commuting difficult
- Small hubs, making switching jobs in niche sectors difficult without relocating
- Branding - Yorkshire isn't known as a place for tech innovation
According to Data Commons for UK Tech, there was over £100m invested in Leeds based technology companies in 2018, making Leeds the leading Northern city for tech investment.
This seems impressive until you learn that London attracted £3.8bn.
This funding gap is a significant problem, preventing tech innovation in the Yorkshire area.
Our workshop participants noted:
- There is a lack of early-stage VC funds across the UK, making getting initial seed funding incredibly difficult. Many companies present had used private funds or business loans to start their businesses.
- Some investors are not tech-savvy and are unwilling to take risks on early-stage tech investments. The government should make efforts to educate and incentivize risk beyond the current Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme.
- Lack of investor networks in the North of England
Not all blockers are on a regional level and are common to all founders and companies.
In the early stages of building a startup, founders shared that they tried to do everything themselves, failing to grow until they decided to delegate.
This sends us back to the recruitment problems outlined earlier, where finding the required talent to delegate to can be difficult.
In established companies and startups, it can be impossible to decide what to do next.
Suggestions for how to prioritize were mostly quantitative, with a focus on key performance indicators (KPIs). Some companies have broken these down further into quarterly goals.
Another interesting issue was how to prioritize whilst leaving room for experimentation and risks. 1 startup employee shared that their company allowed anyone to suggest a new initiative once a quarter, which was then voted on.
The more established companies in the group struggled with being allowed to experiment.
Despite experiments having the potential to unlock new growth, pressure from stakeholders to focus on initiatives that could show a measurable return was high.
Without a change in company culture, this is difficult to correct.
We hope this article inspires Yorkshire makers, entrepreneurs, and innovators to work through these blockers and unlock new growth.
We'll be running another Product Hunt event in the coming weeks.