Guest Post: Thanks, UK Government, for NOT helping me build my startup

This guest post was written by Azeem Azhar, founder of Viewsflow.

Viewsflow is building what it describes as an “expertise platform” and has launched a consumer business aggregator, built on this platform. You can read more from Azeem on Twitter.]

We are a fast growing tech company with a deep product backlog, high growth on our core Web and email offerings and an overwhelming desire to invest in our customer understanding and in our technology. As with all the startups Techcrunch covers, we are working at full tilt. Any slack that appears (ha!) goes into customer understanding and technology investments we need to support that.

A lot of people have helped us in our journey to build the world’s database of professional expertise. To name but a few, by their twitter handles: @robinklein, @rayyans, @nauiokaspark, @wdavc, @eileentso, @quixotic, @moia, @umairh, @aainslie, @harikunzru, @julien51, @philiphotchkiss, to name but a few.

And I thought it might be worth accounting for Her Majesty’s Government’s help in our entrepreneurial journey, in the form of this missive.

  • Education: Of our (extended team) of eight, I am the only one educated in the UK. And then my degree (PPE at Oxford) is of tangential relevance. The others, whether on the development, product management or knowledge engineering side, have been educated in Europe, Canada, US and Australia.
  • Company support: HMGs input so far has been to send me constant reminders to file my 363, now threatening to strike us off the company record. Yep, we’re a 13 month old company with £6k in revenues, and you want my 363 already? Should I spend time filing it ahead of working out the global licensing agreement framework with X Megacorp? Or reviewing the latest release candidate of our iPhone app? Or indeed writing this blog post?
  • Taxation: HMG has also been kind enough to pester us with VAT returns every quarter. From a cashflow standpoint this is fine because I have a few refunds, but in reality that puny cashflow doesn’t matter a jot to our business right now. And anyway, you sent me a cheque rather than making a direct bank transfer, because obviously waiting in a queue is the best use of my time.
  • EIS: thanks for the EIS relief, although I have to confess that less than 10% of the capital we raised was eligible for EIS relief. The paperwork is absurdly complicated both for submission and for the forms themselves. Why make it this complex, when it could be simple and allow me to spend more time on–I don’t know–talking to lead customers.
  • Employee options: Yep. It’s really important to incentivise employees. And thank god one of my cofounders had trained as a solicitor. And we still had to iterate the forms for the EMI three times.
  • Enterprise finance guarantee: To misquote Carrie Fisher, ‘You can put up the website for it, but you sure as hell can’t get the banks to lend’

Where did you help? (Credit where it is due)

  • You mishandled regulation of the financial services which allowed for a runaway risk culture resulting in a massive financial & economic implosion in 2007. Watching this culture of satisfaction implode and wake us out of our reverie, prompted me to pull together what is now Viewsflow.
  • You created the conditions that make it really tough for entrepreneurs to raise capital in the UK, which has worked in our favour. (Be greedy when fearful, etc).
  • You joined the EU which has allowed me to access some awesome talent in Europe. And your former colonies have given me access to some brilliant Canadians and Australians.

But what about EIS, I hear you say?

  • EIS is a nice bonus. A definite nice to have, and certainly helpful for some of our current and future shareholders. But I am looking at our funding needs over the next three years and I can comfortably say that EIS is in most scenarios not going to be a deciding factor in our success.

What could you have done?

  • Eliminate the byzantine paperwork and filing requirements. Make it simple, not as a government employee considers simple, but as a kick-ass user experience designer considers simple.
  • Allow me to accrue my filings to some later date in the future, when we are successful or when we’re in administration. Technology businesses have binary outcomes. There is no happy middle.
  • Generally stay out the way.

What I can say is that you have lived up to my expectations of you. I expected you to be troublesome, problematic, unempathic and a general PITA. You haven’t disappointed.