Joe Cohen: What is holding Britain back?

Joe Cohen is founder and CEO of Seatwave, the innovative online ticketing business. He launched the company in February 2007, and it’s since become a market leader. Cohen has led three start-ups in the past ten years, and has been building consumer applications and businesses in the US and Europe since the mid-nineties. Before founding Seatwave, he started and ran the international division of, the global leader in online dating. In the build-up to the 2012 Entrepreneurs’ Summit, where Joe Cohen is a key speaker, he shares thoughts on the main agenda points.

How transparent will businesses be in the future in their practices, pricing and values? 
We’re all exposed pretty much all the time and increasingly will be all the time. Those who embrace it will become more favoured by customers, those who don’t will find it increasingly difficult to maintain trust with their customers.

How would you describe the main difference between the US and UK entrepreneurial cultures?

On the whole, the US is more of a hard work culture and the US tends to be more innovative across the board. There is innovation in the UK but it’s more likely to be in limited pockets. In order to build anything great, you have to be able to make mistakes and step on some toes, Americans are less polite and have more self-esteem (whether warranted or not) so tend to be better suited to create new, disruptive, substantial things.

Which other UK firms impress you the most for the scale of their ambition and international vision?

Wonga, Spotify, Dyson, ARM Holdings.

Is it possible, in your experience, to recreate the spirit and energy of a start-up in an established, medium-sized business? (To be a re-start-up?). If so, what does it take?

Unlikely. Unless you have fear of death every day, it’s hard to have the kind of energy required operate this way.

Is data as essential for high-growth businesses as fuel is for cars?

Data is fuel for all businesses today.

The theme of this year’s Real Business Entrepreneurs’ Summit is “the growth challenge”. How confident or otherwise are you that in, say, five years’ time, we will have a rebalanced UK economy, built around a larger proportion of SME businesses with IP ownership and international expansion at their core?

The consumer economy is transitioning to tablet/mobile in the same manner it transitioned from offline to online over the past 20 years. Marketplaces will replace most forms of commerce that we know of today. Both of these shifts create enormous opportunities. UK companies will capture some of this growth but I am not sure how much. There’s a lot of talk about government support of enterprise, which is garbage.  The real issue for the UK is entitlement and expectations. Huge exits of tech companies have created an expectation where kids expect to start up a billion-pound business six months out of university. Nothing worthwhile is given, it all has to be earned.

Joe Cohen will be speaking at the Entrepreneurs’ Summit, held in association with Investec and supported by the CBI, Land Rover and Spring Law, on June 13 at the London InterContinental, Park Lane. 

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