By Matthew Cushen
We’ve been running the UK’s largest seed funding competition for 12 months. Each month we have been carefully picking one business, from around 100 entries, to qualify for a £150,000 equity investment. After 12 monthly competitions to find the brightest consumer ideas, this month we are extending the scope of the ‘Start-Up Series’. We are still after products and services consumers buy, but we are now open for products and services that businesses buy. The Series is still not encouraging the likes of biotech, infrastructure or public services. Whether consumer or business, we are after entrepreneurs that want to build a brand and have the ability to communicate it in a compelling way.
By broadening to ‘B2B’ start-ups we are hoping to avoid the painful situation we have had over the last year – not being able to further explore and support some interesting businesses just because of an arbitrary distinction that we came up with in a fit of narrow mindedness.
We do believe that the secret of marketing a successful B2B business is often much the same as getting the word out for a consumer business:
Some of my favourite examples of these capabilities are from business brands.
Viking Direct might not be the most exciting brand, but I have always been struck by how well they understand their customer. Look at the promotions they run and you will see they are laser focused to appeal to whoever has responsibility for ordering stationery and then unpacking the delivery. They are price competitive but not price aggressive in a way that will appeal to whoever is paying the bills. Instead they run promotions for free gifts – such as a tub of Quality Street that can be shared around the salesfloor or a plant to brighten up the office. They are tapping into the motivation and loyalty of the decision maker, not the eventual payer.
Zero is a sexier brand – and quite remarkable given that they sell accounting services. They have very successfully taken an unexciting service that businesses use and pay for because they are compelled to do so and have constructed a story and product that makes financial accounting something you look forward to. Like many emerging business service brands, they have deliberately used brand communications and product design cues from the consumer world – for example, the user experience that we have come to expect and demand from our personal tech – and applied that to a business offer.
Whilst there are of course differences between growing a business versus a consumer brand there is much more that they have in common than not. My business partner, Paul, and I have made many investments in B2B businesses, so we are looking forward to making our first business to business investment from our Start-Up Series Fund and to helping it grow.