The surprising facts we found by analysing 100 founders behind some of UK’s most successful start-ups.
Much is written about the UK’s burgeoning start-up scene, however few have focused on the people behind the companies. For this article we have crunched the data on 100 founders of the most prominent UK start-ups (defined as having raised more than £20m of capital in the last ten years from some of the leading VC funds). Let's dig in.
Our founder panel
Defining a successful start-up is non-trivial so to simplify things we have chosen VC funding as a proxy. For the panel, we selected 100 founders that have raised more than $20m of venture capital over the course of the company's lifetime and that are based in the UK.
Previous work experience
"Finance dominates the UK start-up scene with 25% of the founders having worked at a financial services institution immediately prior to starting their company"
Finance was the single biggest feeder category perhaps reflecting the underlying concentration of London’s (and as a result UK's) talent pool and the thriving local Fintech ecosystem, which has generated the likes of True Layer, Starling Bank, Paysend and Monzo.
Within Finance, the sample was well-balanced between retail banking, investment banking and broader insurance and financial services companies. Venture Capital (and PE), surprisingly generated almost no founders, being very underrepresented in this sample. Within Big Tech, Facebook and Google were the most common feeders, generating 6 founders jointly.
Having been a founder of another start-up previously also contributes significantly to the success - 19% of the sample had worked on another venture previously.
Age at founding
"The average UK founder was 32 years old when starting their company"
Innovation may seems like a young persons game, however wisdom and industry experience seem to count as well. The average founder in our data set was 32 years old (median of 30), which goes to dispel the common stereotype of university drop-outs starting VC-backed companies. Although 20s was the most common time to start a company (45% of the sample) the average is higher due to the heavy skew and long tail to the right of median. As seen on the chart below, there is a significant number of founders who started their businesses in their 40s (and even 50s) and subsequently achieved success.
"42% of British-born founders studied at Oxbridge"
The significant non-British presence in the sample results in a very long tail of universities that are local to the countries that the founders came from. When selecting for British-born founders only, the concentration in Oxford and Cambridge increases significantly with almost half (42%) of the sample coming from those two Universities. Much has been written and said about the dynamics and unfair concentration within the UK academic establishment, but we found this dynamic to be particularly staggering.
Gender of the founders
"93% of the 100 founders were male"
Now, we knew this metric was going to be bad, but even our cynical minds were shocked by these findings. Only 7% of the sample size were female, leaving a massive discrepancy between the gender balance in the founder community and as a result in senior executive ranks of these companies as they scale and become corporations.
Nationality / Country of Origin
"Russia and USA were the 2nd and 3rd most common countries of origin"
Although Britain generated 57% of the sample, the unexpected outlier in our analysis was Russia, which narrowly beat America for the second most common country at 7% of the population. The most famous example of this is Revolut, which was started by Nik Storonsky and Vladyslav Yatsenko, who met during their time at Credit Suisse in London. Germany came at a close third with 5% of the founder sample, followed by other European countries.
While pulling this analysis we were amazed at just how hard it was to pin-point the national identity of the founders. Spending parts of their life in more than two countries was such a common occurrence that we struggled to definitively state nationality for c. 15% of the sample pool (in which case we used the location of undergraduate degree or high school as a proxy).