Inspirational UK co-founders and how they make it work

Written by Anna King

#startups #co-founder

We've all read about the famous founder partnerships from the US, whether it's Sergey and Larry from Google, the Steves from Apple, or Bill and Paul from Microsoft. But how many can you name from this side of the pond?

That's why we wanted to take this opportunity to highlight some of the most successful UK based co-founders of the last few years. Here we take a closer look at how they make it work, providing inspiration for you on finding and building a successful co-founder relationship:

Transferwise – Kristo Käärmann and Taavet Hinrikus

Inspirational UK co-founders and how they make it work

As with many of the best business ideas, Transferwise came about due to a genuine issue faced by its founders. Working between London and their home country of Estonia, Käärmann and Hinrikus frequently faced exorbitant bank charges when transferring money from one currency to another. Having met through friends, the pair set up a private arrangement where Hinrikus would transfer money directly into Käärmann's account, as he was paid in Euros – and Käärmann would do the same in return. They quickly realised this was a service that lots of people could benefit from and within just a few years Transferwise has become one of London's few unicorns, valued at $1bn in 2015 and with customers sending £800m per month via the service. The co-founders say the key to their partnership is being clear about responsibilities, with Käärmann commenting: "I do product, engineering, banking, compliance, operations, customer service, and Taavet does press, marketing, lots of work with customers, front-end product, lots of work on the international side, finance, investors. That's been the same pretty much since the beginning."

Unruly – Sarah Wood, Scott Button and Matt Cooke

Inspirational UK co-founders and how they make it work

This trio of co-founders were jointly inspired by the rapid growth of the internet and particularly video in the early 2000s. With their shared passion, they embarked on a couple of smaller ventures, eatmyhamster.com and the Viral Video Chart, before landing on their massively successful video ad tech business, Unruly. Rapid growth followed and Unruly now leads the market, with a £90m acquisition by NewsCorp in 2015. Despite the sale, the business is still run as an independent entity with the three founders determined to build a billion-dollar enterprise! They've previously talked about the importance of having the right co-founders when starting a business, with Button explaining: "Founding things solo is very hard, particularly if you lack certain areas of experience. But having the wrong co-founders is one of the things that can go badly wrong."

Brew Dog – James Watt and Martin Dickie

Inspirational UK co-founders and how they make it work

It's hard to miss this Scottish duo, with PR stunts that include; projecting themselves naked onto the House of Commons, driving a tank past the Bank of England and most recently changing their names to Elvis to avoid a lawsuit from the Elvis Presley Estate. Friends since school, Dickie and Watt started their beer brewing business just 10 years ago in 2007, while Watt was working as a deep-sea fisherman and Dickie as a whiskey distiller. Frustrated with the lack of interesting and hoppy beers on the market, they were determined to go all out on both flavour and controversy, launching beers with names such as The End of History, Punk IPA and Speedball. Their attention-grabbing tactics were a hit, paving the way for an empire of 47 bars and bottle shops, exports to 55 countries and becoming the UK's 10th fastest growing private business. And again, the secret to their partnership is sticking to what they're good at, with Watt commenting: "James oversees the company and leads the direction of all the sales, marketing and bars, whereas I'll work with a team of 60 guys here to make sure we're getting the beers out. It works really well."

Notonthehighstreet.com – Holly Tucker and Sophie Cornish

Inspirational UK co-founders and how they make it work

The two founders of Notonthehighstreet met while working together at Publicis and bonded over their love of craft products produced by small, local businesses. Realising there was no online outlet for their products, they came up with the idea for an online marketplace, developing the business from the kitchen table back in 2006. The site was an instant hit and is now home to over 5,000 small local producers and more than 200,000 products. The pair were also awarded MBEs for services to small business and enterprise in 2013. When asked what makes the partnership work, Sophie has explained that it's about a balance of skills and personalities: "Holly is bold, fearless and unafraid to reach for the stars, whereas I'm careful and thoughtful, so we bring out the best in each other".

For more on co-founders, check out our blogs on the value of having a co-founder and how to find one.

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