I’ve spent a fair bit of time over the past five or ten years chatting with and sometimes mentoring dozens of technology start-ups as well as established SMEs, in and around England, Germany, Nigeria, Korea, Israel and India. I’ve noticed common threads in most discussions in which I’ve participated and overheard – and common, shared knowledge in response to those discussions – that should be of value to most anyone looking to plan and then take their technical idea forward as a business. So, here is the first set, in no particular order:
On geography: While “Silicon Roundabout” in London’s Shoreditch does have a vibrant start up culture (not to mention focus from the Press and the Government) the tech start-up scene and culture exists and extends beyond east London to the rest of that country, and pretty much every other country around the world: this might be the right place but it isn’t the only place)
On Apps: Businesses may need an app but an app is not necessarily the basis for a business. Yes, I am aware of the serious price tags we’ve seen for apps over recent years – and yours could be next…
On the Start-up ‘Scene:’ Network and take advantage of the culture but don’t let the culture take advantage of you: pitching events, investor seminars, tech sessions and events can consume vast amounts of energy some of which might be better expended on the actual business
On Technical Resources: If you are not technical and you need a technical co-founder, the only advantage is that your first priority is crystal clear: without that resource you do not have a business. While it may be comforting to realise that many of your peers share the same problem, they are competing with you to find a rare thing: the elusive entrepreneurial techie who loves your idea as much as you do
1st Corollary: the average skilled techie can find employment and generate revenue so your offer of “sweat equity” might not fit their needs
2nd Corollary: those skilled techies who are entrepreneurial often have their own ideas
On Predators: back to the “scene”, beware of the predators… an ecosystem of business and individuals whose sole goal is to provide advice and services (ranging from patents and other legal to financial, mentoring and other business advice, start-up in a box kits or developers for hire, not to mention Incubators, Accelerators and providers of office space)… all for a fee and sometimes including a little piece of your equity. Do the research, speak to others at the events you attend: you may need and get some real value for money but a little research might go a long way
On Advertising as a Primary Revenue Stream: Products and businesses with monetisation plans hinged solely around advertising revenue or with success defined only by market share projections are not as attractive to investor as you may first think
On Investors: Investors are looking to make money: do the research on line (where there are vast amounts of war stories and lessons to be learned) and take advantage of the culture: at tech-focused business and social events you are never much more than an arm’s length from successes, failures and a whole raft of near-misses. (I also always suggest that, if you haven’t seen it before, several episodes of the Dragon’s Den should figure as part of your preparation before presenting a plan which asks for an investment in your business)
On Pitching: Not everyone wants to hear your pitch or product description immediately on meeting
1st Corollary: Many of those whom you meet will not have read this and assume that you want nothing more than to hear every single detail
2nd Corollary: you need to be able to describe your business in twenty-five words, more or less: if you can’t get the point across succinctly, how can you expect them to get it?
On Challenging your own Plans: While planning is probably the most important of all activities in starting your business, I am also convinced that the next most important is to challenge and question that plan to find and fix any weaknesses… better than the investor asking a hard question for which you weren’t prepared.
On ICOs versus Seed Funding: Conveniently we have an article here on the site that address just that question in some detail.
It might be interesting to note that while most of what we’ve just covered is targeted at the start-up space, it is not at all dissimilar to the growth-hacking advice I provide to my clients running successful enterprises, small to large.