Dr Rebecca Harding is founder, CEO and driving force behind Delta Economics, a market intelligence and research-led economics consultancy, founded on the principle that economic research should make a commercial difference to business.
Dr Harding has been an adviser to several governments, written almost 200 articles on economic issues, and held senior posts in leading academic, think-tank and corporate organisations, including London Business School, Deloitte, the Work Foundation and the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor.
Q: When did you set up the business and why?
A: I set Delta Economics up in 2006 and joined it fully in 2008. I saw a gap in the market for research between the academic work that I had done in universities and the purely commercial research I did in large corporates. I felt that economics and economic research really needed to be made interesting and useful to a business environment and used as a bespoke tool to help improve business understanding of growth markets and opportunities
Q: How did you fund the venture?
A: In the first instance through small scale project work and personal resources.
Q: Did you have any great concerns when starting the business or were you confident from the start that you could be successful?
A: For any entrepreneur, success is non-negotiable. You invest so much of your personal time, emotion, money and reputation in your business that it cannot fail because you have too much to lose. That doesn’t mean that you don’t worry about whether it will succeed – of course you do – but your measure of success doesn't change. At the beginning it’s about having enough money to pay the bills, then it’s about having enough to take on a few people, then it’s about having enough to grow the business. Your definition of success at each stage is different.
Q: What are the biggest challenges you have faced so far?
A: I’d be lying if I didn’t say cashflow, finding the next big client and getting the business on to a stable footing have been important challenges but the market for ideas and research is a really competitive one and there is a risk that Delta Economics could be seen as just another economics consultancy. So the biggest challenge has really been to differentiate what we do in terms of research for our clients from the mass of data and insight providers that are out there.
Q: How have you set about marketing Delta Economics?
A: We have always had a relatively good press profile, but we’ve never advertised. Delta Economics has grown entirely through personal networks and our reputation for high quality and leading edge research.
Q: Delta Economics has employees working across Europe and in India as well as the UK, how easy was it to expand the business globally?
A: In a sense, this has been the easiest part of what we have done. Being international from the outset means that you run a diverse and exciting team with ideas and perspectives from all corners of the globe. This is how our clients operate so it has to be how we operate too. We still use tools like Skype for communicating – it’s amazing how easy it is to manage people across time zones if you approach the problem with a flexible attitude. For example, you have to be willing to speak to people out of “work” hours, but most entrepreneurs think about business 24/7 anyway so this really isn’t a problem.
Q: How can the research and analysis complied by Delta Economics help inform start-ups and small businesses?
A: We have models that identify where key international opportunities in sectors and countries are, we understand the difficulties of operating abroad and have a survey that identifies the challenges and opportunities that start-ups and smaller businesses face. This gives us a unique market insight into the process of starting and building a successful business.
Q: What do you think the biggest challenges are facing start-ups in the current economic climate?
A: It would be easy to say access to finance but there are sources of equity finance out there that are more readily available and have fewer strings attached than orthodox bank-based finance. However, our research suggests that access to finance is actually only a problem for about 1/6th of businesses. I’d say the bigger challenge is to be sufficiently flexible to be able to go where there are opportunities without losing your overall sense of direction of travel; entrepreneurs naturally see opportunities in the face of adversity but following those things through strategically is difficult.
Q: What would you say are the most important characteristics that an individual must possess in order to be a success in business?
A: Determination to succeed, a tough outer shell combined with high emotional intelligence and sticking power.
Q: If you could give future entrepreneurs three pieces of advice, what would they be?
- Adapt: if you have seen an opportunity it will be unique and you should do it. As you grow, the way of exploiting that opportunity will change and you need to be flexible and adapt to the way in which opportunities present themselves.
- Make sure you know where you are trying to get to: this sounds stupid but you will be given so much advice along the way, much of which will be contradictory, some of which will be helpful and all of which will distract you. In the end, you are the boss and you carry the can for the choices you make so a sense of purpose is vital.
- Trust people: family, friends and colleagues all have a stake in your success, even if it’s not a financial one so make sure you trust them to support you. Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely business and trust is vital to stop that loneliness from becoming overwhelming.
Q: Do you both find it hard to switch off/leave your work at the office?
A: Yes! My partner says that I have two topics of conversation: Delta Economics and the economy!
Q: What are your plans for the business moving forward?
A: To expand our international reach, take on more clients in the financial and professional services sector and to be seen as a leading source of market and economic insight and data for large and small businesses alike.