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COVID destroyed many businesses – but was the making of others.

Entrepreneurs who were nimble enough to move with the changing market headwinds – more of a hurricane, really – may have developed a stronger foundation for the next potential extinction-level event.

It all comes down to mindset, says Toby Dixon, exited entrepreneur and founder of lower-mid market private equity business Growth Fund 1.

Dixon founded his recruitment business, Marlin Green, in the wake of the 2008 recession. As CEO he guided it through Brexit then through COVID-19 as non-executive chairman.

Quizzed on what he learned from the three periods, he answers: “That the difference between success and failure is 99% mindset.”

He explains to TechBlast: “Every business hits bumps in the road, and if you’re lucky to have a company that stands the test of time, you will almost certainly experience a downturn or a big event that threatens to upend everything you’ve built.

“I saw the recession as an opportunity. It’s why we set Marlin Green up in 2010, despite being advised not to. There’s less competition and more talent on the market during a downturn.

“I never saw Brexit as a problem. I loved the challenge. It was just another wall we needed to get through where the competition might struggle harder than we would. 

“It created upheaval, but we understood the issues and mitigated against them, fast. We set up an office in Europe, manned by European teams, and supplied local contractors to our clients, wherever they were.

“My advice is to do what you need to do and do it quickly. The longer you do nothing, the more at risk your business will be.”


Dixon says “any business can do well in a growth market”. 

“What tests a company is its ability to survive and thrive when the chips are down. Own it. Don’t expect anyone else to fix it for you. It’s your job,” he advises.

“Businesses built on strong physical (systems, processes and people) and mental foundations will succeed in every type of market.

“Mindset is critical. Keep your head on. Stay focused on the present. Deal with problems quickly and look for opportunities. There are always opportunities.

“Don’t panic. If Plan A needs tweaking, tweak it. But don’t change it. A good plan is always a good plan. Believe in what you do.”

I wanted to be more than a wife and mum

Cocking up A-Levels

Dixon, who grew up in an “uneventful” Oxfordshire village, fell into recruitment after he was left behind by the traditional education-career route.

“I attended a shabby local comp, hated school and cocked up my A-levels,” he says. “That killed my dream of becoming an investment banker or trader. I found out JP Morgan doesn’t take graduates from Bangor University with a BA in Business Studies!

“So I looked for another sector with uncapped big earning potential. That’s why I got into tech recruitment… I loved it.”

Marlin Green quickly established itself as an industry-leading provider of highly skilled, niche technology consultants to in-need clients at short notice anywhere in Europe and beyond.

“Our success resulted from having the right plan and sticking scrupulously to it,” he says. “We hired ambitious graduates who we trained in-house in the Marlin Green method and developed a repeatable operational model we could adopt quickly in any region and produce similar rapid results.

“One recession, Brexit and a pandemic later, we sold the business for £30m+, 11 years to the day after setting up.”

Naimuri founder confirmed for FUEL Manchester

The exit process

The exit process was hard work, he says, but it wasn’t difficult. “It was like a well-planned project. We had COVID in the middle of the negotiations, which was a shock, but we had excellent lawyers, tough advisors, and a really great business full of people who wanted to win.

“Earnouts can be tricky. Many owners don’t make it through theirs. They believe the deal is done once the sale is complete, but it’s only over once you’ve left the business. If you fail to plan your earnout properly, you can lose some of the money from the sale, which would have been millions of pounds to us.

“We ensured we had clarity on what needed to be achieved during the 12 months we stayed on the board of the business and put a plan in place to get there.”

Steve Bartlett’s Flight Fund

Dixon was one of the first investor-advisors on Steve Bartlett’s Flight Fund. He is launching a fund of his own, Growth Fund 1, after driving his wife mad in the 12 months following the completion of his earnout.

Unlike other funds at the lower-mid market that prioritise PE experience, Growth Fund 1 is backed by leading entrepreneurs and supported by a panel of experienced and self-invested advisory members, all with a proven track record of succeeding in business.

Dixon has zero experience in private equity but says this will give him an “unfair advantage”.

Why Steve Bartlett Flight Fund investor is launching own PE fund