He’s a rising star of the Leeds tech scene with a sensor business that is gaining a foothold in various industries.
Aged 24, Hark founder and CEO Jordan Appleson is a shining example of what the younger generation of entrepreneurs can achieve with drive, ambition and talent.
Hark, founded in 2016, is working with one of the UK’s leading supermarkets and moving into the energy and manufacturing sectors. Yet Appleson is open about the pressures that starting up and running a business bring.
He told BusinessCloud’s Entrepreneurs 2.0 lunchtime event on Tuesday that it had seriously affected his sleeping patterns. All the speakers had been included in BusinessCloud’s 35 under 35 list or our ‘ones to watch’ list of up-and-coming entrepreneurs.
“The reason I don’t want to sleep is not because I’m not tired – it’s because I’m afraid to wake up the next day,” he told the 80-strong crowd at UKFast’s headquarters in Manchester.
“It’s physically stressful, but it’s mainly the mental side of it. You’re tired, you might have had a great day but you can’t enjoy it because you’re exhausted mentally.”
The feeling is familiar to fellow panellist Jamie Jackson, founder of Two Jay.
Jackson left school with no formal qualifications but his aptitude for technology was such that he was able to pay for his driving lessons by building a website for his instructor. It was his first attempt at building a site and is still online 18 years later.
However he put off the idea of starting his own business until he broke his arm playing ice hockey, giving him more time on his side projects.
“I was always really scared of taking that leap and running a business,” he said. “I always had full-time jobs and did bits on the side for about 10 years. I made more money in those six months than I had in the previous two years.”
Jackson took the plunge and launched his eCommerce business in 2011 – but the following success almost led him to a breakdown.
“I was working so many hours, until very early in the morning, and it was putting me under a lot of pressure,” he said.
Jackson would often work 16-18 hours and would panic if his mobile phone battery ran out in case the office needed him. He admitted that even during holidays he would set aside hours to find Wi-Fi and check his emails.
“It was the most pressure I’ve been under in my life,” he said. “I thought to myself: ‘If I don’t step back from this now I’m going to physically kill myself’.”
Jackson said he couldn’t stop himself doing everyone else’s job until he invested in some big name hires, which has been transformational. The business now employs nearly 60 staff across sites in Sheffield, Manchester and India. He’s planning to open up a base in New York and is happier to delegate.
The young entrepreneurs agreed that finding help in co-founders and employees was crucial to both good mental health and business growth.
“If you want to scale and have that big business mindset then getting as many people around you as possible is crucial,” said Michael Lawes, director of BizzleIt.
Along with co-founder Jordan Ryan Madeley, the company provides software solutions to high street retailers, giving them the power to grow rather than flounder in the online retail surge.
Lawes, a natural entrepreneur whose previous business saw him sell gold-plated handsets and gadgets, had always approached new business ideas on his own.
“I always wanted to work for myself up until we met,” he said of his business partner Madeley, who provides technical direction in the background whilst Lawes remains the public sales face.
The business, which was founded in 2014, is enrolled in business mentorship programme Tech Manchester.
“We work really well together. He knows things that I don’t know and vice versa. I know a couple of other businesses that have looked for a tech partner, and because they are so rare, it’s easy to jump in with someone who you might not know that well.”
He advised: “If you want to scale and have that big business mind-set, then getting as many people around you as possible is crucial.”
Sean Brown, founder and CEO at Mercarto, also spoke of the advantages of having a technical business partner – but of a different type.
Brown’s business helps people to build a free eCommerce store and sell their products. Described as a “one stop shop, for setting up shop”, the entrepreneur went into partnership with UKFast CEO and co-founder Lawrence Jones.
“Working with Lawrence gives you access to a technical co-founder and his technical team who are very good,” Brown said.
“You’ve also got the PR team; the guys who do sound and video, who you can plug into quite easily, and then you’ve got access to the great facilities and Tech Manchester.
“Because we have access to these resources, we don’t spend anything.”
The company, of which Brown and Jones are joint shareholders, was a unique opportunity for the 28-year-old entrepreneur, whose previous venture Hatch, an influencer marketing platform, was acquired by Social Chain.
“[Jones] is not a traditional investment opportunity like a Series A,” he said. “It’s a business partnership. It was quite a unique opportunity for us.”
Other speakers at the event included Mike Anderson, CEO of Padoq; Chloe Barrett, founder and CEO of DigiDentistry; Muhammad Asim, CEO of Arro Money; Carl Ellis, director of H&E Inventions; Natasha Guerra, CEO of Runway East; Dr James Gupta, founder and CEO of Synap; and Tom Pickersgill, founder and CEO of Broadstone.