Could you win a Dragon’s Den style competition at uni, kickstart with funding, then set up your own STEM company? Dr. Angus Webb did just that, and shares his tech startup tips. If you’re thinking of setting up any kind of business, you’ll find some useful insights here!
As part of his student research, Dr Angus Webb developed algorithms that helped Team GB athletes win more medals at the London and Rio olympics. With his own tech startup company Dynamon, he uses the same approach to help transport companies be more efficient.
For haulage companies operating on extremely tight margins, averaging between one and three per cent, fuel savings can make a huge difference to their profits. Dynamon uses data from vehicles and statistics to give hauliers tailored recommendations on vehicle improvements that will help make the greatest fuel savings and reduce CO2 emissions. Low carbon technologies and the efficient use of resource are central to the Government’s Clean Growth Grand Challenge, part of the UK’s modern Industrial Strategy.
How has your STEM startup Dynamon switched things up in the logistics industry?
I could see a much better way of doing things in the logistics industry that would save fuel and reduce CO2 emissions. I started Dynamon to help logistics companies be more efficient. Six years later I have changed the industry I am working in, which is extremely satisfying.
How did you go from being a uni student to being the founder of your own STEM startup?
I have an engineering degree and a PhD. At the end of my PhD I won a Dragons Den-like competition at my university (University of Southampton) which gave me the support to try out my business idea. I was also lucky that the university let me do my day job (researching how to make Olympic swimmers swim faster) and start my business.
This led me to apply to the Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Fellowship which I was extremely lucky to get.
The Fellowship gave me proper business training, mentorship from successful entrepreneurs, and £85,000 to kick-start my business properly. I finished my initial product, a software tool to help logistics companies reduce fuel cost and CO2 emissions by recommending vehicle improvements. With my initial product I secured investment to build a team. Since then my team and me have been working hard to both sell our products and develop new products.
What qualifications did you need to get to where you are today? Do you need a degree?
I have an engineering degree and a PhD. In my case, I think I did my degree and PhD because it was those skills that I learned that enabled me to develop Dynamon and its product.
Were there any ways in which you think your CV stood out from the crowd to get the role?
I didn’t need a CV to start a company. However, I needed a very well thought-out plan to secure the investment that has made it possible.
What have you learned about running a business?
Running a business, I have to make sure many different things are working well and continue to improve in the future:
A business is not a business without a product. Our product is a software tool that helps logistics companies buy the right trucks based on exactly what they need to do. So I need to ensure that our software is really good and that it continues to improve. I need to understand how our product works and exactly what are the best ways to improve it. I then need to make sure my development team are going to do a good job building the improvements.
Sales and Marketing
A business is not a business unless it is selling its product and making money to both survive and to grow. Therefore I am responsible for making sure our sales process is effective and that it continues to improve. I work with a sales team to make sure we have good sales procedures (what we do to sell: phone calls, emails, meetings, presentations, online marketing campaigns) and that they develop and understand a clear plan on making the sales process better in the future. We are always trying to improve our sales and marketing.
A business is not a business without a team of amazing people. I need to make sure everyone is doing their jobs properly and that they are satisfied with their work. I also need to make sure we have the right people and we have enough of them. This means planning to hire new people for the future as our business grows and we need both new skills and more people.
A business is not a business without cash. This is the least fun part of my job but it is the most important. I have to worry about the bank balance and making sure we have enough money to pay the bills, pay the team, and pay the rent.
I also need to predict my future bank balance based on how much I think we are going to sell. I use these predictions to know if we can hire new people to grow the business.
What are the perks of setting up your own tech startup?
Building and running a business is my dream job. I get to be creative and I get to be completely responsible for the destiny of my company. However, I am not sitting on the beach, I am working really hard with an amazing team of people to do this.
What does a typical working day look like? Start with breakfast!
I am a very organised person, and like a routine I can rely on to make sure I’m always in a good physical and mental state to do my job well and to enjoy my life. I always try to get a good night’s sleep – my phone is nowhere near my bedroom! I eat good food. I do a lot of sport in the evenings and weekends.
There is no such thing as a typical working day, but my days can be spending all day in the office talking with the team, working at home doing business admin, or travelling to meet customers all over the world. As a company CEO my job is to make high-quality decisions. Because of that, sometimes it’s important for me to just do nothing and to think about the business.
The bigger picture – why is your role as Dynamo’s CEO important?
A CEO is the most responsible person in a business. They need to make sure all aspects of the business are functioning properly and continue to improve. A good CEO must be a strong leader with amazing focus to make good quality decisions. They must also have the ability to understand a very broad range of things.
Any final thoughts for young people reading this who have their own bright idea for starting a business?
Any hardworking, organised, creative person who likes working with a team of people may find that they could start a new business or lead an existing business. It is a tough job, but if you do it well, it is probably the most rewarding job possible.
See more: Industry strategy – the grand challenges