If you missed our event on the highs and lows of scaling a startup, we’ve got all the highlights for you here.
We were joined by two Plexal members who have successfully scaled their businesses. Michael Hudson bootstrapped Bitstocks when he founded it and now has a team of 27 people helping him to educate people about Bitcoin and grow his media house.
And James Draper is the CEO of in-game advertising platform Bidstack, which has grown from a small startup to an international scaleup that trades on the London Stock Exchange (and now takes up an entire floor at Plexal!).
Here are some of the main takeaways from our virtual discussion…
Bitstocks was founded years before the cryptocurrency boom, but when interest started to explode Michael chose to take a cautious approach and not allow the company to be blown off-course.
“The crypto boom placed a lot of stress on the business that we weren’t ready for. It’s very easy to become googly-eyed over the money but at that point we had some really crucial decisions to make that would affect our brand. We used it as an opportunity to stand back and define what we wanted our mission to be.”
That mission is crystal clear for Michael now: he wants to cut through the noise and misinformation to demystify cryptocurrency and help people understand the underlying technology.
And while Bidstack has around 60 people in its team now, at one point CEO James had to reduce the size of his regional team and restructure the business: “I had to make the difficult decision to shrink back down to the core, and then start scaling up the team again,” he said.
Bidstack positioned itself as being the home for digital out of home advertising before spotting an opportunity to take the lead when it comes to monetising games with in-game native advertising. A defining moment that helped James make this shift was Bidstack’s deal with Sports Interactive:
“After our meeting I was absolutely jubilant, but I was trying to keep a poker face until I got out of the building and around the corner. It felt like the company was reborn, and the decision to pivot was the best one we’ve made. I knew there was an opportunity and I could clearly see the role we would play as a media company and how the data within ads could be used.”
Michael chose to grow more slowly rather than accept investment like other crypto startups he said were “planned on the back of a crisp packet” but were receiving huge funding nevertheless. Instead, Bitstocks has been playing the long game:
“There were times when we really needed the money but I wanted to build something game-changing that fixes some of the core issues in the financial sector and explore how the underlying technology can help make businesses more transparent. Other players were going down the ICO route to make money quickly but I knew it was a matter of time before the regulators caught up with them.”
That being said, it’s equally important to seek enough investment to fuel your growth when you need it so cashflow doesn’t become a constant distraction. James shared his experience of chasing funding early on: “At one point we were raising money from individuals on a month-to-month basis and we’d go through the month not knowing how to pay the bills.”
Michael takes the culture of his company seriously and gets to the heart of what a person’s drivers are before bringing them into his close-knit team. He told us:
“I have 27 employees but I see them as 27 human beings. So I refuse to have an HR department – I don’t believe in treating human beings as resources. Before hiring someone I always make a point of asking them what they would do if money was no object. I want to create an environment where my team feel it’s OK to have passions outside of work and just be themselves.”
A big thank you to both our panelists! And be sure to check out some of our upcoming events at plexal.com/events