A talk at the Sifted Summit 2022

What next for unicorns and soonicorns: the coming of age of reputation

For anyone in B2B, industry events can be an incredibly effective platform to both drive brand awareness and spark commercial opportunities and intelligence gathering. The best events have great minds and key sector players converging under one roof. Networking gives everyone a rush of excitement and a shot of creativity, and there’s a general effervescence that is hard, if not impossible, to recreate in a hybrid environment.

We’ve been involved this year with several of the big events for telco, fintech, advertising & marketing – as well as numerous smaller, more precisely targeted events. Between London, Amsterdam, New York, Lisbon, Paris, Barcelona and Madrid, Babel has logged up a fair amount of mileage this year.

The Sifted Summit – the new kid on the block

But one of my favourite events this year has been a newcomer to the world – the Sifted Summit. Based right here in London, and claiming the accolade for “startup event of the year” (although Web Summit might have a thing or two to say about that) Sifted is the only platform exclusively, and obsessively, focused on startups.

Attended by 2,000 founders, startup operators, and investors and bringing over 150 speakers to four stages over two days, Sifted’s Summit is a prime habitat for that rare and admired beast – the tech unicorn.

As the two days of the event were unfolding in early October, the energy and effervescence were very much at a high – optimism, resolution and ambition were practically palpable.

Shifting tides

But reading between the lines, it was also clear that startup and scaleup founders are aware that the days of relatively easy, spectacular raises are, for now, on hold: I heard words such as “reputation”, “sustainability” and “profitability” a lot more than I heard “hypergrowth” or “raises”.

Fintech players are consolidating their operations, and few are looking to raise at this unfavourable time unless they absolutely must. Most VCs, apparently, have done internal financing rounds and backed up their portfolio to have run rates of at least 24 months. However, acquisitions are very much on the table. Especially for US investors, the UK and Europe are very attractive targets; the strong US dollar means that Europe and the UK are bargain territory.

Reputations and stories

Several speakers from deep tech businesses had a similar unifying thought – that for them it’s critical to be (or become) a persuasive storyteller if they are to succeed at gaining investment and back-up. As deep tech tends to be more about creating new markets entirely, rather than disrupting existing ones, deep tech also means deep risk – convincing investors involves explaining the risks, and how they are to be mitigated.

And, after a golden age of fintech, is it health tech’s time to shine? With funding rounds holding stable in the sector, they might be one of the winners of the global economic headwinds next year – as are climate tech businesses, very much the flavour of the month.

The common thread across sectors, however, was the importance of reputation. For startup founders, the journey has never been easy, but now the age of cheap money is closing and it will be increasingly important to tell their stories knowledgeably, consistently and effectively.  

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