Lifting the lid on Scale Up

Our 2019 class report back

Four ambitious founders explain how our Barclays Scale Up UK Programme helped accelerate their ambitions for growth.

  • Zipusin

    Zipusin founder Kate Bell explains how Scale Up UK helped give her the confidence to write a new chapter for her clothing business.

    How did you start Zipusin?

    Zipusin came about when I was pregnant six years ago. I had a really nice jacket and I didn’t want to buy a maternity coat that would only last me a short period of time. I spent some time searching online, thinking that there must be something else out there to expand my own jacket, but there wasn’t anything. So I put pen to paper to create a jacket expander panel that would allow you to expand your own jacket rather than buy a maternity coat.

    Every time I went out wearing it, several parents would stop me and ask ‘where did you get that from?’ Having run a marketing business before I kind of knew that I was on to something with it, so I went away and came up with the brand.

    I found someone who could make them to order – a lovely little old lady in her garage who could do batches of ten a time on her sewing machine – and off I went. It was only after about six months of doing that when I got invited to pitch to a major high-street retailer. I kind of assumed that it would be ‘oh, that’s a lovely idea, but come back when you’ve got a real business’ but they said they wanted it on the shelf.

    When was this?

    This was in September 2015, which is when I received my first big order from the high street retailer. Initially they were talking about getting the product on their shelves by January 2016, but the little old lady in her garage couldn’t meet the order quantity, so I had to look at manufacturing options on a much larger scale. 

    It wasn’t until the following winter that they finally went into stores. In terms of marketing, it just erupted on social media and was relatively organic – mums shared our posts and became advocates of the brand. As a result of the demand we decided to launch the product on to a global retail platform. The majority of our products are now purchased outside of UK.

    How did the Barclays Scale Up Programme help?

    I had banked with Barclays for my other businesses, so it was a no-brainer to stay with them for Zipusin. The support they have offered me has been great and following a nomination from my High Growth and Entrepreneurs Relationship Manager, I ended up winning the Barclays Entrepreneur of the Year award for the South East in 2017. As part of winning the award I was offered a scholarship. 

    I must admit, at first I was sceptical. I’m one person running two businesses, so the idea of actually being away for any period of time is terrifying. But the more information I got about the programme, the more I thought maybe now is the time to start looking at things from a different angle. 

    My High Growth and Entrepreneurs Relationship Manager said it would be a really good way of taking back control given the rapid growth I had experienced.

    How did the programme work out for you?

    It’s incredible how much has changed in my mind – you wouldn’t believe just spending six days in the classroom could make so much of a difference. I feel like the blinkers have been taken off and that I’ve been given a whole level of new information about how to manage the growth of a company, and also the ability to look forward and build a business with an exit strategy. 

    Before this, it was more about building something that was profitable enough and could pay the mortgage. But to have somebody sit down with me and say ‘you’ve actually got to think much bigger than that, these are the possibilities and this is how you can plan for and achieve this’ has been a revelation.

    I remember saying to one of the lecturers that you don’t know what you don’t know until you know it .

    I hadn’t realised there was so much that I didn’t know about the planning of a strategy for a business. Having taken the time to get to know the business and look at the strategy and the growth potential, it feels like I have set a path and that reaching a goal at the end is now inevitable.

  • The Anfield Wrap

    The leadership team behind The Anfield Wrap – a podcast that reports on Liverpool football – talk about how they’re closing in on their ambition to become a true sports media organisation.

    The Anfield Wrap Podcast started as a simple podcast in 2011. How did you get from there to where you are today?

    Neil Atkinson (CEO of The Anfield Wrap): By the summer of 2014 we had a hugely successful podcast that wasn’t monetised in any sort of substantial way. The idea was to give the fans more of what they wanted – which was podcasts – so in March of 2015 we launched a full subscription service that’s grown relatively quickly. It started off with just four of us full time and then quite quickly we managed to improve that and by the time we started the Scale Up Programme we had ten full-time members of staff.

    We were beginning to get better and better and stronger and stronger, with an increasing number of partnerships. We had enough subscribers paying £5 a month to subsidise a full-time team of ten along with our own office and studio.

    You’d already established a growth plan. Did being part of the programme change or hone that thinking?

    John Gibbons (Head of Partnerships at The Anfield Wrap): I think for me it was the process of thinking out each step on the way and the resources they’re going to take up – the idea of thinking ‘yes we can do that, but who is it you’re asking to do it and at the expense of what?’ was really useful to me, because there’s a capability within the company to do anything, but you can’t do everything. So it was that process of thinking about each step and who would be involved and how much of their time it would take – I think was really useful.

    Emma Johnson (Head of Ops at The Anfield Wrap): From my point of view, the marketing module specifically. I found it really enlightening. And for us I think it has definitely changed the way we look at marketing in terms of spend.

    Craig Hannon (Head of Marketing at The Anfield Wrap): The whole module was good in terms of reinforcing the things that we had done well, and giving us new things that we could add to that. I also enjoyed, even more so, the wider business model work because these were things I’ve never studied and never thought about. It actually inspired me to learn more outside of the course in terms of the wider business and leadership in general.

    Emma: I think one of the things that The Anfield Wrap isn’t great at is giving itself thinking time, because a lot of our work focuses on football matches and creating content around them. We’ve 150 to 160 contributors that we’ve got to get in. It’s a busy place, so the opportunity to take time out to join the dots was definitely welcome. I think everyone would agree with that.

    Craig: Absolutely. I think the thing about stepping back to look at the bigger picture is something that I found myself thinking more and more about. Instead of looking towards the next game it’s more like thinking about the next three, six, twelve months. I’ve been thinking more strategically ever since.

    Do you think the fact that you were all part of Scale Up together helped?

    Neil: Very much so. I think that’s been a massive strength of the programme and that’s something I recommend to any company going. In terms of the growth journey, there can’t be enough of you taking part because. For a small-to-medium sized business like us, I think people being able to understand what the bigger picture is, what the purpose of it is, is always very, very important.

    If you’re doing something that has some sort of missionary zeal about it, which we do to a certain extent, I think if people are left shrouded and unsure as to why X, Y or Z is important, it’s difficult, so the more people that understand the steps along the way the better.

    John: I think there’s nothing worse than going on a course or programme, then coming back and feeling like you have to sell it to the rest of the business. They’re looking at you like you’re mad, while you’re trying to remember the clever things that someone else said, so it can get a bit frustrating. If you’re all there in the room together, you’re all listening together.

    That’s not necessarily to say so you’re agreeing with each other, or even agreeing with the person who’s delivering the information, but there will be things that you can all get from the day and you can all discuss it together and pull together one or two action points based on it. There have been times on other courses I’ve been on that have left me feeling energised, but it’s difficult to get that across in an effective way, which has been frustrating.

    Craig: On the way home from the course we felt energised every time.

    It feels like quite a few of the ideas from the group came from the travelling back – inspired by something said, or something that was learned.

  • Merlin Cinemas

    Merlin Cinemas CEO Geoff Greaves has big plans for the future and enjoyed putting them to the test on the programme.

    How does the Merlin Cinemas business model work?

    We look to provide cinemas in towns where other operators are not usually interested – they’re smaller locations, very often coastal. We have some bigger sites, but we prefer to be a real part of a smaller community. We don’t really want to go cheek by jowl with other big operators, we’re not in it for that – we want to be a key part of the local leisure environment in a smaller town.

    How did you get started?

    I managed to buy my very first cinema off a company just before it went into receivership – the (really run down) Savoy in Penzance. That was in June 1990 and from then on really it’s been a growth story. Now we’ve got 18 cinema sites, of which 16 are currently trading. Along the way renovating, modernising and turning them into multi screens, adding bars and adding restaurants, we’ve gone from a single screen cinema in Penzance to 300 employees across the group.

    How did the Scale Up Programme help?

    We bank with Barclays and they asked us if we wanted to go along and hear a bit about the project. We won the South West Scale up Award at the 2017 Barclays Entrepreneur Awards for being one of the most dynamic companies in the south west last year, so we actually came as part of winning that award.

    What did you get out of Scale Up?

    It was a chance to refresh and see what some of the modern business practices and ideas are, and to really examine how I was interacting with my team in terms of team development and leadership, and that proved really interesting.

    Our coach certainly stretched us – he definitely understood our business and made us examine things in a bit of a different way.

    He was challenging, sometimes quite critical, of the way we’ve first presented things, so it was a really useful exercise in terms of saying ‘you need to sharpen this up a little bit’.

    What specifically helped your business?

    Absolutely. We were asked to produce a project report on one aspect of the business, and we first decided to look at our loyalty card: Movie Magic. It’s got 60,000 card holders, so it’s quite substantial, and we were thinking it might be the perfect thing to shake up. But the more we looked at it as part of the programme, doing the exercises around changing the price for example, the more we realised that we shouldn’t touch it. Why mess with the goose that laid the golden egg? 

    We could have gone off on a tangent within the company, but because we spent so much valuable time looking at it on the Scale Up Programme, getting feedback from the faculty and coach we actually decided to leave it alone. 

    That being the case we decide to change horses and use our time at Scale Up to look at something else. That’s when we fell in love with the idea of bringing an approach to our site selection – of looking for a different style of building in smaller towns where we couldn’t find a disused cinema or something. 

    Given the current retail situation there are a lot of large empty shops in town centres, we decided to do an exercise on seeing how that might work in terms of scaling up into new places. And as we speak, in November, we’ve just completed on a building a few a few days ago. It’s going to be the first of a new breed of Merlin Cinema, and again it was helped by the fact that on Scale Up we had the time to think, and the knowledge around us, to ask new questions and come up with new solutions.

    Was the ability to find some thinking time helpful?

    It was great, having time out of the business. It was stimulating to have that time to get into that headspace without the phone ringing, to actually get on with it and have some of the big thoughts that we wanted to have. It does take you out of the business for a bit, but it puts you into a stimulating place. It’s interesting too, listening to the problems of the others in the cohort. Quite frankly, it doesn’t matter if they’re just a small widget manufacturer or making parts for Boeing engines and airliners – some of the problems that people had were common to all of us and that was really enlightening.

  • Mr

    When Karl Foster and Sam Prior co-founded a small barbershop in Saffron Walden 23 years ago, they didn’t expect to end up running the nation’s largest chain of male hairdressers.

    When did the Mr story begin?

    Sam and I opened our first shop back in 1995 in Saffron Walden, which is actually still there, but it was in 2014 that we rebranded our as shops as Mr (by then we had another two). We met another person who came into the company as a silent partner, because he liked the brand, the look and feel of it, and he thought we were doing with it was working. 

    A big part of his background was in licensing and franchising. He said we could take this to another level – so that was when the proper journey began. We now have 26 shops under the Mr brand, we’ve just opened our first academy and our own proper range of products, which we’re trying to take to the high street as well selling in our own shops and online.

    Is continuing to build the franchise while adding new arms to the business part of the growth plan?

    Absolutely. We opened a lot of shops ourselves to give us a new standing in the market – we’re now the biggest branded barbers in the UK – and now we’re moving on from there. There’s nobody else doing what we’re doing in the same way that we’re doing it.

    Where did our Scale Up Programme come in?

    I’ve been a Barclays customer since I was 16, so for the past 28 years. They’ve been great, and I’ve always run my businesses through them. It was our High Growth Relationship Manager at Barclays who was good enough to take us to the initial taster evening in Cambridge. We had a look and soon realised that the whole programme is about exactly where we are and where we want to be. 

    At the end of the day, Sam and I are barbers – we don’t know anything about getting a business to the next level. Yes, we’ve run very, very small businesses but nothing as big as this is getting, but that’s where we want to be going forward – so for us it was the perfect fit and perfect timing.

    So how did it go – what did you take away from the programme?

    We’ve always said we needed to have systems in place, to get the perfect long term strategy in, and that kind of thing. The thing is, we’ve never got around to doing it, so the insight that we got at Cambridge Judge Business School was absolutely fantastic. We’ve already used a lot of it inside the business and in building our plan. I think a lot of the things covered helped us look at things that were already in the pipeline, but it allowed us to look at it differently and reassess how we approached it. 

    There were other things too – even going down to reassessing the way I talk to people. Personally, I sometimes struggle with communication when I have to go over and over things, I can end up talking to people like a child. That came up on the programme, and I’ve learnt from that personally – it was one of the big things I bought out of it.

    Did you learn anything from other people in the group?

    Absolutely, I think that’s a really good way of doing it. You can take away someone else’s point of view and approach on something, and it might be something you’ve never thought of. I never used to be like that, when I was just walking around the barbers’ chair for 60 hours a week and trying to run three shops I didn’t really listen to anybody else. 

    Now that’s changed and I do like to sit down and have a brainstorm. It’s just really great sitting down with other like-minded people who are trying to take their businesses to the next level. And it’s nice to take yourself out of your own business and meet other people.

    You can help them with ideas, and then when you drop back into own business, you might find yourself thinking ‘actually, we could use that idea ourselves’.

    It’s been a great time for us as a business anyway, to take time out when the three of us inside the business can take time out to look at its future, but to also get other opinions – the ideas of people from the outside looking in –  adds even more, and has made it so special.

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