Jim Duffy: ‘Start small, stay small’ mindset is holding back Scottish start-ups

To achieve more success with start-up companies, we should 'throw more darts to hit more bullseyes' says Jim Duffy.
To achieve more success with start-up companies, we should 'throw more darts to hit more bullseyes' says Jim Duffy.
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We have to move on from small thinking that halts ambition once a business has reached a certain level says Jim Duffy

As a country, Scotland has more start-up and business support than many others. Think about it … Business Gateway, Scottish Enterprise, HIE, Entrepreneurial Spark, Scottish Institute for Enterprise, WeAreTheFuture, Power of Youth, Scottish Edge, Elevator, ScotlandCanDo, Entrepreneurial Scotland, Codebase, Chambers of Commerce, Women in Business and so many more. We are awash with both public and private support. One would think that with so much help available that we should have hundreds of businesses scaling up to take on the world, raising pots of private finance and attracting talent from abroad.

Not so – as we have an innate problem; an issue that permeates our DNA and holds us back as a nation. It’s either running through our veins from the minute we are born or inculcated into us at school or by our parents’ attitudes. I believe we lack real ambition. When I was young the most ambitious at school were directed into medicine or law. But, as noble as those professions are, they are not moving the dial in how the country truly creates ambition or scalable people. They are now experiencing their own issues.

In the news last month, it was reported that over 500,000 adults want to start a business. That’s great and my mantra has always been: throw more darts at the dartboard and a few more will hit the bullseye. I believe start-ups are great and scale-ups are the icing on the cake. The problem we have as a nation is that of these 500,000, only a tiny percentage will believe they can create something massive, even with all the support that is on hand. They are not fearless enough to want to go BIG. It’s a fact and it’s inked across our foreheads: “Hi, I’m Scottish and I want to create a lifestyle business.” It’s just not good enough.

This leads to me draw a conclusion that either the support and messaging of this provision is not working conterminously with the Scottish ‘start small, stay small’ mindset. And this is the key to opening up economic prosperity. In my opinion, MBAs and fancy business degrees are moribund. It’s time to fix our fixed mindsets and switch everyone on to 4G (or is it 5G now?) thinking.

Mindset is the new black.

And we have to stop feeding in the ‘same old same old’ and start recalibrating how we make our entrepreneurs and, indeed, the whole population – young and old – think and ultimately act. This was echoed at the Entrepreneurial Scotland celebration in Glasgow on Wednesday night with the united call to make Scotland one of the most entrepreneurial nations on earth.

All the support out there starts with the premise that the person seeking it has his or her head wired correctly. Unfortunately, being able to cobble together a business plan or application for Scottish Enterprise support is not translating into the real deal on the other side. We are making too many assumptions that all will be OK and the business starters or business builders have what it takes to get it over the line. Not so. And other countries are making it happen more than us. Wales is more entrepreneurial than Scotland according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Report. Really? What have they been eating?

It’s time to stop and really ask ourselves why we are not producing more successful business builders. With that lack of ambition comes – and I think I’m going to agree with Liam Fox (who’d have thought it?) – a lack of appetite once a business has reached a certain level. I see it in the early stage entrepreneurs who leave our Entrepreneurial Spark programme. They raise between £150,000 and £250,000 in seed investment. Then… nothing. It’s as if they feel they have reached the end goal – the finishing line. Don’t get me wrong, this a great achievement. But, it’s just the start of where they need to go on the snakes and ladders board of business. What causes the blocker from hereon in is the lack of ambition to deal with all the problems that continually present themselves at scale: recruitment, staff on-boarding, finance etc. It’s a story that the Skyscanner team know only too well. This is a mindset shift that moves them into the uncomfortable zone again from the comfort they have been enjoying.

I’m now part of the ScotlandCanDo strategy team. I’m excited about participating. But, if I can add anything to it and impress upon any business starter or builder reading this today, think mindset shift. It’s all about belief, confidence and a new innate ambition that says £1 million is not enough – I’ve got my sights set on my first £10 million, then £50 million.

Good luck to the 500,000 who all want to start. Make sure you don’t think small. When we’ve not long had the supermoon light up our skies, it’s time that Scotland’s businessmen and women embraced a Moonshot Mindset.

lAgitator and disruptor Jim Duffy is Head of #GoDo at Entrepreneurial Spark