Ian Merricks’ career evolved into venture capital. Starting in the music industry in the 90s, he has been an entrepreneur, an investor, and has now launched VenturePath, the membership community for UK tech entrepreneurs. But the community also reflects the evolution of startups, and Ian joined the TFN podcast to discuss both his background and how VenturePath will help the UK’s tech ecosystem.
Listen to the full interview only on TFN Podcast Network.
An impressive starting cast
VenturePath boasted an impressive line-up at launch. Backed by White Horse Capital and with over a hundred founder members — including the entrepreneurs behind successes like Gophr and Newsflare — participants represent £5 billion in growth capital, and include fifteen of the UK’s top-tier venture investors. Its purpose is simple, to support the growth of UK tech. And Merricks is drawing on his decades of experience.
Starting with music businesses and even radio stations in the 90s, Merricks’ first experience with venture was with a digital media business he exited in 2007. “I learned a lot as an entrepreneur,” he says, “but one of the things that really bugged me was how difficult it had become to understand how to grow a business: how to raise money at different stages and from different types of investors.”
He went on to spend over a decade trying to solve that problem, working with over 1,000 startups, helping them get their businesses market-ready, and then investor-ready. Delivering training programmes, he helped the companies he worked with secure £1 billion in investment.
“That’s led us to this new initiative: VenturePath,” he told us. “The goal is that you can give all the training, access to experts and access to investment, but on demand. Rather than being forced into a six-week or twelve-week programme, or expensive paid consultancy, it’s all just available on demand.”
Merricks almost views VenturePath as the next stage of the tech funding evolution. “The work we set out to do to support startups ten-plus years ago has now been done,” he says. “There are lots of places to get support as an early-stage business, and there are lot and lots of pre-seed and seed funds that are very open and inclusive in their approach.” And that had meant Merricks was approaching things differently, working more at Series A and Series B stages. “It becomes much more technical as companies scale. And so, that’s where we’re now focusing VenturePath, on companies that are typically between £1 and 5 million plus revenue.”
More than just a network
The importance of networks is well-known within the tech sector, but VenturePath seeks to be more than just an undirected network. “We’ve got hundreds of domain specialists and professionals who know exactly the area they can add value,” Merricks told us. “It means we can offer companies and entrepreneurs in our community access to vetted introductions. So, these aren’t like Googling a sales consultant. This is ‘which sales consultant has helped another business like mine grow very well.’”
VenturePath also helps startups overcome the difficulties many face because they do not have ready-made networks to leverage. Something which is important to Merricks, given his experience. “I grew up in a Midlands industrial overflow town as the youngest of six in a single parent family,” he recalled, “and so understanding what London-based venture capitalists with Oxbridge education were thinking was absolutely alien to me.”
VenturePath membership may be limited, but it is inclusive and accepting applications. “It’s an exclusive club, from a life stage, from a sector, and from a revenue perspective, but we want the people involved to be from as broad and diverse a background and base as possible.” It means for founders who might otherwise find it hard to secure funding, once in VenturePath, “you’ve got this community built around you that is able to fast-track you through all the things that otherwise might only be a very available to people who are from that world.”
The secrets to success?
Merricks recognises that VenturePath comes at a time when tech may look perilous. After a year of seemingly constant lay-offs, other sectors might appear a more secure option. However, Merricks is confident that the right companies with the right approach will continue to thrive. He believes that companies must understand the market. “When they’re saying ‘we’re close to the market, we’ve got the ear of our customers, we’re listening to them, we know what they want, we know how we can build it,’ that takes quite a lot of risk out of the investment decision.”
Indeed, for Merricks, it is a fundamental for any business, whatever the economic climate. And even with the perception of difficult conditions, Merricks notes that it remains much easier to find success today than when he was starting. “You didn’t ever introduce yourself at a party as ‘an entrepreneur’, you’d say ‘I work in this area,’” he recalled, but now, thanks to initiatives like VenturePath, “for founders starting a business, now, it’s less tough than it’s ever been before. You can tap into and access support, and get inspiration for your business and insight into your business from entrepreneurs on demand.”