Interviews

The 10 British businesses that came of age during 2014

20 min read

19 January 2015

Former editor

With enterprise and innovation now dominating the British economy, we look at the ten companies that really stood out during the last year.

From alternative finance to cycling apparel, 2014 saw some incredible companies grow in a range of diverse sectors. To give you a flavour, we’ve selected our favourites and spoken to a member of the founding team at each.

Funding Circle

Sector: Alternative finance

In one sentence: Part of the growing crowdfunding phenomenon, Funding Circle has created an online platform matching businesses in need of debt finance with consumer lenders looking to get a better return on savings.

Founder(s): Samir Desai, James Meekings and Andrew Mullinger

From the horses mouth: James Meekings said: “It has been a successful year for Funding Circle. We are now one of the largest sources of finance to businesses on a net basis, having helped over 7,000 businesses borrow more than £450m since launching four and a half years ago. We have also begun to gain the support and trust of the wider financial services world, having partnered with Santander and PwC.

“Small house builders, who continue to struggle to access finance via traditional means, can now borrow through Funding Circle. More than £25m was lent to property developers in six months alone. Larger investors have also begun to lend to small businesses via the marketplace – notably our recent deal with KLS Diversified Asset Management, a US fixed income specialist, who will lend £132m. 

“Next year has the potential to be even more exciting. Our plan is to continue to welcome a wider range of investors, which will allow us to help thousands more businesses access finance and create a sustainable marketplace for the long term. Marketplace lending is triggering a global revolution in the way small businesses access finance, and is on track to become an indispensable part of the economy.”

Read more about Funding Circle:

Secret Escapes

Sector: Travel

In one sentence: Secret Escapes has built a service around our preference to book holidays and short trips online, giving members access to exclusive offers for luxury hotels and holidays.

Founder(s): Alex Saint, Tom Valentine and Troy Collins

From the horse’s mouth: Tom Valentine said: “It’s difficult to pin-point what the standout moments of 2014 were for us. Some hugely important milestones were hit – worldwide membership reached 10m and we were able to say we had not only sold a million room-nights in total, but also sent a million people on their own secret escapes. 

“Growth also came along in other ways too. In 2014, we made three company acquisitions – JustBook (Germany) in January, Travelist (Poland) in June and My City Venue (UK) in July – as well as launching our model in three new countries – Norway, Denmark and the US. All very exciting. We also hit the one million fan mark on Facebook, which has become a great, and very busy, community for us.”

Read more about Secret Escapes:

Graze

Sector: Food and drinks

In one sentence: To subscribing customers ranging from office works to stay at home mums, Graze sends tailored snack boxes containing the likes of nuts, seeds, fruit and baked goods.

Founder(s): Ben Jones, Graham Bosher, Tom Newton, Edd Read, Tom Percival, Neil Thompson and Brendan Kay 

From the horse’s mouth: CEO Anthony Fletcher said: “2014 has seen graze.com evolve into a successful international business. Since launching in America in December 2013, we have grown to over £50m in revenue and, by December 2014, had achieved a US run rate of over £20m – something that usually takes top tech companies two to three years to do. 

“Seeing the positive effect that our product is having on peoples lives is another high point – we recently received a letter from a girl suffering from dietary issues who used graze boxes to rediscover her love of food. This is something we are very proud of and something that motivates us to continue delivering a fantastic product.”

Read more about Graze:

JUST EAT

Sector: Restaurant

In one sentence: Started when two Danish ventures came together, JUST EAT brings takeaway establishments together on one platform allowing restaurants without online presence to access a wider group of customers.

Founder(s): Christian Frismodt

From the horse’s mouth: UK MD Graham Corfield said: “2014 has been a great year for JUST EAT. We’ve further cemented our clear leadership position in the UK, generating growth for the 22,500+ restaurants we work with across the country.

“But we’re not stopping there. Running any small business is tough and few sectors are as competitive as the takeaway restaurant industry in the UK. Visiting our restuarant partners around the country I can see how owners are constantly working to up their game to increase their customers. 

“That’s why we’re keeping our foot on the gas and are always thinking about three things: how we can improve the customer journey, help our restaurant partners become more efficient and ultimately drive growth across the sector. 

“As a result, we’ve invested significantly in our offering this year. We’ve made strategic acquisitions with the purchase of Meal2Go, an online takeaway firm with market leading EPOS technology, and Orogo, an innovative collection only app. We’ve also further developed our technology offer with JUST EAT Orderpoint and JUST EAT Orderpad, enabling JUST EAT’s partner restaurants to handle multiple orders simultaneously – saving time and increasing efficiencies. We’re looking forward to 2015 and will be continuing to innovate to deliver great service for our takeaway restaurants and great takeaways for our customers.”

Read more about JUST EAT:

Rapha


Sector:
 Cycling apparel

In one sentence: With the rise in popularity of cycling, both in and out of cities, Rapha has developed a premium line of cycling clothing – supplying the likes of Team Sky – as well as rolling out its cafes.

Founder(s): Simon Mottram and Luke Scheybeler

From the horse’s mouth: Simon Mottram said: “July 2014 marked Rapha’s ten year anniversary, solidifying the company’s place in cycling culture. As a brand, Rapha are most proud of the role we’ve played in helping to increase the popularity of the sport with team partnerships and events, which is also the crux of our success: we love the sport, and everything we do is rooted in our commitment to road cycling. 

“With multiple new Rapha Cycle Club locations increasing our bricks-and-mortar retail presence in Asia, Europe and the US, as well as exciting design collaborations and technical advancements in clothing, 2015 will see Rapha continue on its mission to make road cycling the most popular sport in the world.”

Read on to find out who else made the top ten.

Loaf

Sector: Furniture

In one sentence: Starting initially with beds, Loaf now sells a wide range of furniture through its digital and store presence – with home ware and additional units adding to its offering.

Founder(s): Charlie Marshall

From the horse’s mouth: Charlie Marshall said: “This year we’ve made the important transition from a small to a medium-sized company. Despite our rapid growth, the priority has been to keep the magic and integrity that Loaf was built on. We’ve been working hard at nurturing our company culture to stay true to our open, personal and friendly approach.

“We have a bi-monthly company catch up here at Loaf HQ called the ‘Mobble’. Over an evening, all Loafers (aka employees) come together to share our experiences and plans, and we have a good time doing it. I feel proud to see all of these amazing people under one roof, with a team double the size of what it was a year ago. The great atmosphere at the Mobbles is a marker that everything within the company is synching well and that our whole ‘loafing’ ethos is running throughout the business. Getting the culture right is a really difficult thing to do and it’s very satisfying when it works. We’re creating a brilliant platform upon which to grow Loaf into a £100m business over the next few years.”

Read more about Loaf:

Metcalfe’s Food Company

Sector: Food and drink

In one sentence: Set up by the founder of Pret A Manger and Robert Jakobi, Metcalfe’s has created a range of snacks ranging from popcorn to crisps – as well as operating the itsu chain of food sites.

Founder(s): Julian Metcalfe and Robert Jakobi

From the horse’s mouth: Robert Jackobi said: “”For the first time in 20 years the grocery market has fallen into decline. However, there is increasing pressure on retailers to offer healthier alternatives in snacking and we are lucky to be such a category with growing demand. 

“Good fortune may play a part but so does calculated risk taking. We spend large sum of money trialling our new itsu crystal noodle [cup] range to ensure it ticked all the boxes of convenience, health and restaurant quality taste. We only take such risks when we believe we have a ‘game changing’ product that can challenge the market.

“We are most proud of our fast growth. In December 2014, Metcalfe’s Food Company were ranked at number four in the Sunday Times Fast Track 100.

“Metcalfe’s Food Company reported growth in annual sales of 201 per cent over the last three years. This was the first time that a food and drink company has ever appeared in the top five and reflects Metcalfe’s Food Company’s position as the fastest growing privately-owned food and drink company in the UK.”

Read more about Metcalfe’s:

Tangle Teezer

Sector: Hair care

In one sentence: As the origin of many great businesses, Tangle Teezer was set up to provide a better alternative to the conventional hairbrush and now has a range of products being sold to a variety of overseas markets.

Founder(s): Shaun Pulfrey

From the horse’s mouth: CEO Matt Lumb said: “Using disruptive technology, Tangle Teezer created an entirely new category in the haircare industry when it launched in 2007. It is now the world’s best-selling detangling hairbrush with twelve brushes being sold every minute in 67 countries around the world. 

“Sales have doubled year-on-year since launch, with 2014 seeing us finally surpass the two million pound month on more than one occasion. At the start of 2014 we were fortunate enough to win our second Queen’s Award for Enterprise in two years; this most recent one being for International Trade. 

“In November 2014 we also won Best Growth Business at the fiercely competitive National Business Awards as well as being voted Best SME at the European Supply Chain Excellence Awards. 

“During 2014 staff numbers increased from 15 to 23 and, to date, we haven’t had a single resignation. UK manufacturing capacity was increased throughout the year and we relocated our logistics operation from a 2,000 sq ft basement to a 40,000 sq ft state-of-the-art distribution centre and in doing so reduced order lead times from four weeks to four days. After being ranked the 19th fastest growing privately owned company in the UK in 2013, we were also very proud to make the Sunday Times Fast Track 100 League Table for the second consecutive year at the end of 2014.”

Read more about Tangle Teezer:

Zoopla

Sector: Property

In one sentence: Zoopla is a property portal, focusing on the residential market, providing sold house prices, area trends/statistics and current value estimates – set up by the team behind LOVEFiLM.

Founder(s): Alex Chesterman and Simon Kain

From the horse’s mouth: Alex Chesterman said: “In 2014 we successfully completed an IPO whilst continuing to grow the business and set a series of records across the business. 

“We have grown our user audience to record levels as more consumers than ever used our platform to search for properties and research the property market. User visits to our websites and mobile applications increased by 33 per cent over the year, with mobile devices now accounting for over 57 per cent of total user visits, as consumers engaged with our services at work, at home and on the move. 

“We provided record levels of exposure and enquiries to our members with over 29m leads generated from our platform over the year, an increase of 12 per cent. Over the past 12 months 40,000 individual home sellers used the ZPG valuation tool to contact local agents about selling their home, equating to around £150m of potential fees for ZPG members.

“We have grown our member base by over 5 per cent over the past 12 months and seen average revenue per member increase by 18 per cent during the period.”

Read more about Zoopla:

First Utility


Sector:
 Energy

In one sentence: Taking on the big six energy firms, First Utility does not generate electricity – rather purchase it from international markets and then encourage consumers to switch from other suppliers.

Founder(s): Mark Daeche, Darren Braham and Marcus Citron

From the horse’s mouth: CEO Ian McCaig said: “I truly believe that 2014 represented a turning point in the energy industry. In the course of the year, First Utility passed the 1m customer account milestone (more than doubling in size) and since its small beginnings has collectively saved its customers more than £100m on their energy bills.  

“The independent energy providers as a group also passed 10 per cent market share, notable because as recently as three years ago the incumbents still held 99 per cent of the market. First Utility led the industry in reducing switching times for customers and reduced its prices on almost a monthly basis.  

“It does feel like things are moving in the right direction, but there’s a long way to go: 40 per cent of households have never, ever switched and with the average saving being more than £200 when people switch to us we’ll be even more motivated to get our message across to the public.”

Read more about First Utility: