Many entrepreneurs seek angel investors right from the get-go and that certainly makes sense for some businesses.
An investor brings with them not just cash to accelerate growth but often a wealth of experience which can help you avoid the mistakes that many will make in the early weeks and months. On the flip-side it also means giving up some control over the business’s direction.
“Running your own business is a great thing to do,” he tells me. “It’s obviously easy for me to say that now because I’ve been doing it for a while and it’s gone reasonably well, but that my starting point – I didn’t want to work for other people.”
Back in 1996 he launched the company, which makes high quality upmarket ready meals, using his own savings.
“In the early stages of starting a business, I think you have a choice about how you do it, and it’s a pretty binary choice,” he says. “You can either find some other people’s money and try to start up from a good solid base, in terms of funding, resources and people and go from there. And many fantastic businesses start like that – but what that does mean is that ownership is diluted from the off. Or you can do it the way I did it.”
Almost twenty years later the company, which employs more than 200 people and has a turnover of over £20m, he has still not taken on equity funding.
“I thought, I want it to be my business. I don’t want to involve external people,” he says. “I’ll learn from my mistakes as I go. I’ll beg, borrow – although not steal. Live a little hand-to-mouth for a while and do it the hard graft way.
“Which does mean things move a little more slowly – especially in the early years. But I also think it’s great because you really learn from the bottom about what running a business is all about.
“That stands me in great stead today. I’ve got a fantastic team of people who I work with, but at some point along the way I’ve done every single one of their jobs and I find that really useful.”
Though he has maintained ownership of the company, Bigham brought on a new person to take over the role as CEO. He continues to play a key role in the company and says he’s deeply involved with recipe development, maintaining the business’s culture and building the team and is chairman of the board – but says he doesn’t like job titles.
“I have a great guy, Tom, and he does have a job title,” he says. “He runs the business day-to-day and he does a much better job than I ever did.”
He says that handing over control is a hard thing to do but is sometimes, though not always, in the best interest of the business.
“In my life I come across a lot of people who set up their own businesses and I always bang the drum saying ‘just hand it over to someone else,’” he says. “You might have a couple of false starts but it does mean you will end up with a better business.”
Related: There is more to life than equity
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