Interview with Tom Butterworth, Managing Director of Early Stage Banking at Silicon Valley Bank UK

For more than 35 years, Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) has helped innovative companies and their investors move bold ideas forward, fast. SVB is a key partner to the innovation economy providing targeted financial services and expertise with commercial banking and lending services to help address the unique needs of innovators increase their probability of success.

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How have you adapted during the pandemic?


I think like everyone, early in the pandemic there was an awful lot of uncertainty and concerns on how it would play out. Over the following months, I think those that work in the tech and innovation sector were able to adapt to a fully remote working environment – a lot of the preconceived challenges around teams working remotely turned out to be false and, like many of our clients, SVB quickly and successfully adapted. From a personal point of view, I have one year old and three year old daughters at home and, although challenging, they have provided respite from the pandemic, especially during the lockdowns.

There have been some silver linings and, in addition to being able to spend more time with my family, the remote environment has made it far easier to speak to my network as scheduling a video call is so much easier than meeting in person. We have continued to hire at a record pace adding almost 80 new hires since the start of the pandemic and almost all of these have not been to our office or been met face to face, which would have been unthinkable with the previous, established way of hiring. That said, I and many of us do miss the human interaction and I look forward to spending time with my colleagues and clients when we’re able to – I think we will move to a far more flexible working environment where the office is more of a hub for collaboration, in person client meetings and events, but for the majority of work we have demonstrated that it can be successfully completed remotely.

All of that said, we are incredibly fortunate that the industry we operate in has weathered the storm of the pandemic in the way it has, but we are fully aware that many other industries, sectors and individuals have faced huge challenges with real-world consequences.



What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs? 


  1. Despite the challenges of COVID, 2021 is still a great time to start or develop a startup. The barriers to setting up a company have never been lower – you really can build a company from a laptop, carry out some experiments and get your first customers for a magnitude less than it would have cost just a few years ago. There is a record amount of investor capital across the UK and Europe looking for high potential companies. Talent is critical to any startups success and although there is fierce competition, the transfer to remote working means you can hire from a wider and more diverse talent pool – if you’re based in London and are going to embrace remote/flexible working, you can hire talent from anywhere in the UK.
  1. Burn the ship” – the established way of working with entire teams commuting to a single office and working 9am-5pm (not that any startup founder works 9am-5pm!) has gone, forever. Embrace this change as a startup and you could have an edge on more established competition.
  1. Be a student of your industry/vertical – you need to know it intimately; every competitor (not just the UK market), every adjacent company, your potential customer base and be able to articulate what problem you’re solving, why your company is different and what the durable competitive advantage is (your secret sauce!). Never stop learning – you should be the subject matter expert on your business/sector.
  1. Built, build, build your network (but make it real and relevant; having a thousand random connections on LinkedIn is not a network) even before you start your company – not enough founders do this. Map out the key people you need to know – industry experts, advisors, potential investors, incubators, accelerators, potential future hires and attend relevant events/meetups and make connections; you could meet your co-founder at one of these. Have a system to manage your network – some of the most successful founders I know meticulously track future talent and potential investors. Ask (politely) for small segments of peoples time – the new environment supports this; it is far easier to get someone to agree to a 10min zoom call than travel for a 30min coffee meeting.
  1. If you are raising money – do your research! This will quickly become a full-time job and although raising money sounds like an exciting, fun experience, the reality is that, in the vast majority of cases, it takes far longer than expected and rather than opening a bottle of champagne when the round closes, the founder is just relieved it is all over and they can go back to giving the company 100% of their focus. So you cannot afford to waste time – you need to do due diligence on the investors; where are they on their fund cycle? Are they actively investing at the moment? Have they made any similar investments? Do they write cheques of the size you’re looking for? Will they add value? You should ask for references from other founders before taking any money – this could be a 10+ year relationship so it’s important you go into it eyes open.
  1. Get your house in order – when you start to get some tractions and things are taking off, invest in the right service providers (bank, law firm, accountants) who can support you for the length of your journey; this will pay off in the long run and it is far easier and more cost effective to get this right early in your journey than make changes and unravel issues when you’re a later stage company.

    What can we expect to see from SVB in the future?


    We are very focused on continuing to do what we do best in supporting innovators, investors and the innovation market. Through being a market-leading partner within the innovation economy we expect to grow our market share in the UK and Europe adding additional exciting innovation clients across our expansive network.