• Home
  • Latest
  • TV
  • Mishcon Academy: Digital Sessions – Back to the Future: Can tech start-ups lead the economic recovery?

Mishcon Academy: Digital Sessions – Back to the Future: Can tech start-ups lead the economic recovery?

Posted on 20 October 2020

Mishcon Academy: Digital Sessions are a series of online events, videos and podcasts looking at the biggest issues faced by businesses and individuals today.

In this session we heard from founders, investors and influencers in the tech start-up world on how early-stage tech businesses are coming out of the crisis, what the landscape looks like and what types of opportunities they can look to embrace.

The panel, chaired by John Spindler, CEO at Capital Enterprise, comprised: Andrew Wolfin, Partner and M:Tech lead at Mishcon de Reya; Sherry Coutu CBE, Founder and Director of Workfinder and Founder and Chairman of Founders4Schools; Sam Hussain, Founder and CEO of Log my Care and Camille Rougié, Founder and CEO of Plural AI.

This live session was held on 6 October 2020. All information was correct at time of recording.

The Mishcon Academy Digital Sessions

Andrew Wolfin

So, good afternoon everyone.  I’m Andrew Wolfin, I’m a Partner in the Corporate Department at Mishcon’s and I run our M:Tech programme for early-stage tech businesses.  Today I’m joined by four impressive names in the start-up ecosystem, which include three Founders of exciting companies currently on our M:Tech programme.  The panel will be discussing how early-stage tech business are coming out of the crisis; what the landscape looks like and what opportunities they can look to embrace.  So, to introduce them today, firstly, our Chair for the session today is John Spindler.  John is the CEO of Capital Enterprise and Co-founder of the London co-investment fund and AI Seed and generally Mr Start-up London.  We’re also thrilled to have Sherry Coutu CBE. serial entrepreneur, founder and angel investor.  She founded M:Tech business Workfinder as well as Founders4Schools and chairs, or has chaired, Founders4Schools, Workfinder, Raspberry Pi, Digital Boost and the ScaleUp Institute.  We’ve also got with us Sam Hussain, the Founder and CEO of M:Tech business Log my Care, a software start-up that aims to digitalise and modernise the social care industry and Camille Rougié is the Co-founder and CEO of M:Tech business Plural AI, an AI fintech start-up providing a knowledge-based search engine for the finance industry which was founded from the prestigious entrepreneur first technology start-up programme.  So, I think without further ado I will pass over to John Spindler.  John. 

John Spindler

Yes welcome everyone.  We are going to talk about obviously the subject matter of the day which is obviously, how are we all coping with Covid?  And I’m going to get everyone of the guys here to basically give a little description of their business, a little bit more what the last six months have been like, the good, the bad, maybe the ugly and what do they think coming out?  Sam, how’s it been since March?

Sam Hussain

A little bit of background about us.  We provide software, app and web-based for social care industry so that’s mostly care homes but also home care agencies.  It’s been a pretty crazy time to be in this industry and also in tech.  There were suddenly things that needed to be entered you know, ways our system could be used to help manage the pandemic which we had to quickly adapt to.  In those first two or three weeks we were just releasing features and pausing other stuff and just focusing on, ‘How can we help our customers survive this really?’

John Spindler

And then going forward, obviously it’s six months now.  How have you got on?

Sam Hussain

Broadly speaking we’ve more than doubled in size in terms of number of customers and that’s partly thankfully because the Government has propped up the social care sector.  So, luckily for us the customer’s still there and the need for systems like ours actually increased in the time. 

John Spindler

On that note, I’m going to go to Sherry and get to her to tell us about her six months’ experience. 

Sherry Coutu

Well, again I sort of span different industries.  If I think about two you know, one of them, Founders4Schools, the schools did not happen any longer and so it’s an events business that puts Founders into schools.  So, that was a… caused a rapid move towards the adoption of technology.  Thinking about Workfinder which starts out by putting students into work places and now it’s all remote work experience places and that was pretty simple because students were already, University students were already used to being mobile.  Digital Boost is another one where we’re retraining adults so that they understand how to use digital tools and I can tell you there’s an incredible desire to use digital tools in order to figure out how to serve your customers online.  On the bad, I think relationships are harder, you know, in the olden world we would wander around, you could read someone’s body language, you could read a thousand things by just looking at how somebody’s sitting at their desk and as a leader/manager I observe people and that helps me know how I can help.  So, that’s harder for me to know how I can help and then I think that’s one of the things that we can do as Founders together is support each other in, ‘Well, what best practice are you discovering?’

John Spindler

Okay.  Let’s go to our last speaker, Camille.  So, Camille tell me about the next six months and what your adventure has been and the things you’ve attempted to do in this time. 

Camille Rougié

Actually the fundraising landscape is looking pretty good for start-ups, funnily enough.  Even though it didn’t look like that six months ago.  So, we were… we kind of came into the pandemic… we’re quite a small team and we’re quite lean because we’re still at a very early stage and when the whole pivot thing started we were like, ‘Okay let’s just pause hiring, make sure that we’ve got what we need to survive’.  And so we didn’t suddenly need money but then when the Government announced the Future Fund programme at the turn of the summer, that, my existing investors were actually like, ‘Hey let’s put some more money in.  Let’s take advantage of that’. That was really interesting because that ended up closing a round of funding.  We would have been able to carry on with everything but we would have had to kind of survive and be a lot more, a lot more careful about what we did whereas now we’ve got, we’ve kind of – ended up validating a lot of our assumptions and then we’ve got the hire power to go and hire great people and then that’s another good opportunity is that there are lots of really good people on the market for start-ups and…

Andrew Wolfin

And if you don’t know, John was instrumental in getting the Future Fund approved and… tell us a little bit from your experience about how that’s worked out.  I mean, one of the reasons why I feel quite positive from speaking to so many start-ups is that it does feel that for certain start-ups the landscape in terms of investment, is pretty positive. 

John Spindler

As anyone will tell you in start-ups I think the least important but necessary role, I wrote an initial blog that said we needed a convertible note fund backed by Government to mean companies like Camille’s would not run out of cash until the end of ’21, ’22.  And that inspired basically people to back a single scheme which would basically at the time we called it the Runway fund, it became the Future Fund and lobbying the village business bank, the treasury, speaking to Rishi Sunak and all of that to say that we did not want basically the next six to nine months, for this to be an enormous kind of basically crisis.  The people who are running out of capital in that period who won’t be able to raise any more because the natural thing will be retreat to safety.  And what it has done has basically saved a generation of start-ups, it’s kicked the can down for people like Camille to get more time to get to product market fit.  Obviously, we may have created a problem in ’21, ’22 because we’ll be all out raising capital. 

Andrew Wolfin

Sherry is that because of course you wear so many hats as John said to begin with, on investor and investee side, does that sort of chime with you… well, particularly I was thinking the actual investor side of it?

Sherry Coutu

I think it’s an absolute gift to investors.  It will be like I think you know, a snake swallowing a piano as you try to work this, work this through the system.  You know, there’ll be you know, the next thing we’ll see is they will all need follow-on funding.  Those are good problems to have and it’s better than losing a generation. 

Andrew Wolfin

Tech is a net job creator.  And actually if you help them at this stage in the environment today, one of the big things is that you can get amazing talent.  Obviously, one of the big groups is going to be these young students and young people coming out.  Are you seeing that basically the tech scene is absorbing some of that?  Is it a great route for these people?

Sherry Coutu

Workfinder gets people ready for permanent employment so, it’s pre-permanent employment.  What we’re trying to do is get people who are at University or doing their PhDs a bunch of different internships and different things and if you’re a start-up you know, I’ve often got three or four projects that I want to get done but I don’t have permanent roles.  So, filling non-permanent roles it’s perfect.  It’s a fabulous growth hack for anybody in the early stage in particular.  So yeah no, for us it’s been a blessing, for sure.  Particularly not having to physically go into an office.  For small companies one of the barriers was, ‘Well, we’ve got rented office equipment.  We can’t handle… Where are you going to put 10 people who are going to help us with this project?’ and it’s like, ‘You don’t have to.  We have Zoom.  They’re going to work from their bedrooms’.  You know, I’m working with people right now in Seattle and in Hong Kong you know, they’re doing amazing work and you know, one of them goes to sleep and the other one starts up and when you happen to be awake loads of stuff is coming in and projects are going ahead at an incredible rate. 

John Spindler

Sam, over to you because you have onboarded people in this period. 

Sam Hussain

It has been a lot easier hiring, there’s no two ways about it.  We’ve had just hundreds of applications per role.  It’s completely changed how we, we kind of moved to a very much – obviously remote – but we’ll kind of use screening calls to kind of get that bit, tick box, kind of ticked very early on.  In the people we’d hired before we’d found that was so important to not just hire people that we’re going to get on with but know that they’re going to buy into the vision.  We’ve had to be a lot more conscious of what someone is going to experience in their first few weeks.  It’s normally you pick up a lot of the background and the history of the company and what the company is striving to do and you pick that up in an office by just being there and now we’re having to kind of think about that and have that as another part of you know, another tick box on the onboarding. 

John Spindler

Companies that have got good culture, they have a strong culture with a strong work culture and I’ve found it a lot easier to adapt on those and to onboard on those that don’t. 

Camille Rougié

That’s the only thing that you’ve got left, right?  You don’t have the free coffee and fruit in the office and the fancy digs and stuff like that so, all you’ve got is what ties you to the culture of the company. 

John Spindler

I want to move on a little bit on this issue because it struck me about a week or two ago, even though the vaccine’s here we’re going to still have to have social distancing measures for quite a period of time afterwards.  But this is now getting to be the new normal and I’m wanting to say, what have you adapted? What’s good about this? What has it enabled you to do or are you still going to struggle with the adaption?

Sam Hussain

I mean for us it kind of validated one aspect of our business model which is software that’s going to change a business can be implemented remotely and when I was starting the business everyone was telling me like this sector needs you to go in and physically show people.  I quite deliberately set up the business not like that and was just like, well, let’s see if this works, and so luckily that’s something that’s really been validated is that the trend is towards much more digital interactions than human ones. 

John Spindler

I mean, one of the big problems I’ve got with a lot of my start-ups, especially b2b is top of the funnel products.  How do they reach basic new clients?  And how more importantly, do they establish trust so they will use their product?  How are you tackling that?

Sam Hussain

Trying to generate as much real content as we can like, from our own customers, so it’s not just us speaking it’s videos, testimonials, reviews and having that very authentic feedback.  The more real it is, the more we felt that we’ve been able to get that trust through. 

John Spindler

What were seeing Sherry on this top-of-the-funnel approach?

Sherry Coutu

I think it’s largely the same and I like to go in via influencers and in collaboration with incumbents and co-create things that they need and that their customers need so for me, it’s been the same, you still need to earn the trust, you still need to focus and make the product you know, very, very significantly better.  It’s been easier to get time with people.  Possibly because they’re not commuting and so they’ve got time to think about new innovations.  I think there’s been an improved ability to get to people that you want you know, the decision makers that you want to make decisions. 

Camille Rougié

I think there’s a broader point here which is like there is a trend just more generally that’s less about the chummy relationships and the drinks that you go and there’s kind of a whole host of companies that are very product-led companies and maybe that’s kind of accelerated that a little bit where you can’t really take them out for a drink and your product is going to have to stand on its own.  As a result you kind of have a much more, I guess, authentic, relationship with your customers.  The last thing you want is to really kind of have to hoodwink them and promise them something that it’s not so, you want them to be excited.  You want them to be kind of talking themselves into using the product, not the other way round. 

John Spindler

I want to look at the future now and basically, and you’re all optimists and I want you to kind of inspire people a little bit about the next six months to a year.  What are you seeing in tech?  What’s giving you hope?

Sam Hussain

I mean, if things go super well then it’s sweeping modernisation.  It’s hitting the news a lot more in the NHS, the sort of the rate at which you know, fax machines and things are getting abolished now and the NHS is moving into the 21st Century but I hope that trickles down or is also shared across social care. 

Sherry Coutu

I love some of the things that I’ve seen you know, if I think about Coursera, LinkedIn, Future Learn they are absolutely rising to this challenge of having, helping adults learn how to do stuff very, very differently.  I love that we’re able to have short stackable credentials and we can learn Python over, universally,  I can zip over to Stanford.  I can learn something about machine learning.  I can go over here and I can learn scrum and agile technologies.  I spent a lot of time in Ed-tech.  I spent a lot of time in financial services as well.  I think that the release of talent and the retraining of the talent so that it’s adapted and capable of being absorbed by us start-ups is awesome. 

John Spindler

Are you hiring more people globally from everywhere as…?

Sherry Coutu

We do need the Government to make it a little bit easier for us to employ people in other countries.  That would be a good gift for the Government and the Home Office to give us.  It is still harder than it should be, in particular to employ talent from other countries. 

Camille Rougié

Something that’s been really interesting coming back to some of the points that Sherry made earlier around culture and the fact that you have be, it would have to be a lot more written, a lot more documented, there’s some really interesting trends coming out of, how do you represent and interact with knowledge?  When you can’t share and have a conversation with people, how do you create artefacts that allow people to manipulate and share and represent certain concepts that are very abstract and that you would only be able to get by just mingling with someone?  Learning is going to be a really interesting confirmation and that I think will be sweeping across media, across politics, across business and knowledge work in particular.  So, I find that’s going to be really interesting to see. 

John Spindler

I think it’s going to be fascinating thing, a period of the next six to 12 months.  I mean, tech is by far the best-placed industry to kind of tackle some of these issues. 

Andrew Wolfin

I share your view and that’s why we did this in the first place, which is that there is much about 15:10 about but we’re going to have to leave it there.  So, a big thank you to everyone who attended.  A big thank you in particular to John for facilitating and of course to Camille and Sam and Sherry.  Thank you. 

Sam Hussain

Thank you.  Bye-bye

Sherry Coutu

Thanks a lot. 

Camille Rougié

Bye. 

The Mishcon Academy Digital Sessions

To access advice for businesses that is regularly updated, please visit mishcon.com.

How can we help you?

How can we help you?

Subscribe: I'd like to keep in touch

If your enquiry is urgent please call +44 20 3321 7000

COVID-19 Enquiry

Please enter your first name
Please enter your last name
Please enter your enquiry
Please enter your email address
Please enter your phone number
Please select a contact method

I'm a client

Please enter your first name
Please enter your last name
Please enter your enquiry
Please enter an email address
Please enter your phone number
Please enter a value

I'm looking for advice

Please enter your first name
Please enter your last name
Please enter your enquiry
Please select a department
Please enter your email address
Please enter your phone number
Please select a contact method

Something else

Please enter your first name
Please enter your last name
Please enter your enquiry
Please enter your email address
Please enter your phone number
Please select your contact method of choice