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Muse: a Rocking Example of a British Scale-up Business

Muse: a Rocking Example of a British Scale-up Business

over 1 year ago by Steve Twinley


Ok, I am going to start this article with a shameless gloat. This time tomorrow my wife and I will be heading up to London to watch Muse at London Stadium. MUSE! One of the greatest bands on the planet, starting the UK leg of their world tour in front of 80,000 screaming fans (me being one of them, obviously).

Now, this article isn’t just about me telling you about my weekend plans (though I am feeling rather smug). One of the reasons I am so excited is because the first and last time I saw Muse live was when they supported Feeder at the Portsmouth Pyramids Centre in 1999. Twenty years ago, Muse had just started out and hadn’t even released their debut album Showbiz yet. I had never heard of them; nor apparently had anyone else in the sparse crowd. This was during the phase of Muse when everyone labelled them “Radiohead-meets-Nirvana”; and it was clear to see why. I liked them. I didn’t love them; but there was definitely something about them that made them stand out – mostly Matt Bellamy’s voice, which certainly made a good first impression. But at the very beginning, their idea was merely the seed of something with the potential of growing shoots.

I am excited because the last time I saw Muse on stage it was in a crowd of 200 people (at most); and they have now scaled to the heights of being one of the biggest bands in the world, selling out cities in every continent. And yet…and this is the point…they haven’t changed the core idea of what Muse is all about. It is still 3 guys playing amazing rock music. Admittedly there are lasers, stage props, a huge light show and all sorts of weird and wonderful things I’ve not witnessed yet; but the music is still written, recorded and performed by the same 3 friends from Teignmouth. And the essence of the band is exactly the same as it started.

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Muse are the true definition of a “scale-up” business. They started out with the seed of an idea, and have gradually developed that idea without any radical changes. They have kept the same logo, and allowed their brand to expand and become better and better known over the years. When they started gigging they would have been their own roadies; and outside of the band they would have had a Manager, perhaps someone standing behind the Merch desk, and little else. Fast forward to 2019, and Muse have over 100 dedicated people co-ordinating all aspects of their sound, lighting, visual effects, logistics, bookings, merchandise, PR, security, finance, IT, marketing, social media…not to mention any additional 3rd party companies to whom they will outsource certain specialist functions.

This got me thinking about the clients for whom we recruit. At Next Phase we work with a number of Biotech / Biopharma businesses, where “scaling up” and “scalability” are terms that are banded around as much as discussions of Brexit and flexible office space.

Every single Biotech business starts with an idea. It could be an idea that one person has whilst poring over a petri dish as they work on their PhD. It could be concept that is developed by a small group of individuals who have been in industry for a while and stumble upon something totally unexpected. This is no different to 3 boys from Devon, Matt, Chris and Dom, deciding one day that they want to make some noise in a garage, covering Nirvana songs.

We tend to recruit for businesses who are about to embark on a period of expansion, usually in tandem with receiving investment from a VC or some other source. Because, of course, you can have the best scientific idea in the world; but if you do not have the funds, the PR, the labs or production facilities, the clinical know-how, the logistical capabilities, or the people to shout about it, your idea will never get out of the lab.

One of the many challenges that Biotech, Rare Disease, MedTech or Gene Therapy businesses face is that they are run by brilliant Scientists, but may not know how to really grow a company that is not only commercially viable but also has a solid Quality infrastructure that is genuinely scalable. Over the last few years, there has been a major shift in the UK to becoming one of the most exciting places in the world for Biotech innovation. Mainstream Pharma still exists, of course; but where a lot of established medications can be made tremendously cheaper in China, India and elsewhere, the UK has become a place of ideas for personalised medicine and advanced therapies. This means that new businesses are starting up all the time, all of them based on a core idea that could take off. Is there really much difference between this and kids deciding to start a band?

When you are working in partnership with a business, and you have one or two day-to-day contacts, remember that behind these people will be a whole infrastructure of other people – many of whom will never be noticed or acknowledged by the outside world - and a whole history of that business starting out simply as an idea. When I see Muse tomorrow (did I mention that I was going to see them tomorrow?), the men on the stage are the rock stars; but backstage there is an enormous team who have worked together to produce the show, get everything from A to B, and ensure that it runs smoothly.

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Scalability is absolutely the most important feature of a growing Scientific business. At some point, the owners of that business will need to start handing over the reigns of operational management to an expanding team of people who can take it to the next level, whilst preserving the original ethos of the business and ensuring that the company culture develops in a way that embraces change with a positive mindset. This isn’t easy! Getting a solid QMS from the outset is, similarly, crucial, as is ensuring the you have the right IT setup for centralising your data. At Next Phase we are well-connected to teams of people who specialise in taking companies to the next level, and we are no strangers to the challenges that business owners face. We are always excited to hear of the biggest success stories, and the companies who find ways to navigate these challenges with innovation and great ideas. When people get it right, and grow to a stature that is equivalent to watching Muse in a stadium, it truly is a wonderful thing to see.

Right – where are my gig shoes...?