Tech City UK CEO, Gerard Grech on the three areas UK tech startups must get right to improve their chances of success.
While British entrepreneurship is at a generational high point, a lot of startups don’t make it. For many of the founders I meet as CEO of Tech City UK, that risk is what drives them.
While there is, of course, no advice that can guarantee success for all entrepreneurs wrestling with the relatively low success rate, I have found that the following things are essential.
Mental toughness and giving it all: Stay positive, work hard and tell people you’re killing it. It’s simple, right? Wrong. Mental toughness is fundamental to the success of your business and not always easy to maintain. Being resourceful and efficient are crucial.
Ask yourself: how do I use the tools available to maximise efficiency so that daily operations don’t take up my creative and strategic thinking time? How can I stay focused on what I do best? This will leave you better able to deal with what’s thrown your way, especially when it comes to reporting to investors and the board.
Use digital technologies to help you and your team. The latest tech tools can manage internal communications, expenses, analytics and key performance indicator tracking among many other things. Clever use of these platforms can help you run a slick machine so your team’s time and talent can be spent on scaling your business.
Connect with the startup community: At the beginning at least, entrepreneurship can be lonely. OK, so you don’t have a boss breathing down your neck, you can work at your most productive hours, and you have creative freedom. But going it alone can also make for a solitary existence. Human interaction is vital.
At the early stage of your business as you’re optimising the foundations, grabbing a coffee with a like-minded individual when a pitch hasn’t gone to plan, or meeting for drinks with a helpful ear when the product team didn’t deliver on time, will keep you sane. You need to vent, with people who are in the same boat — but you have to make time for it actively.
Think about joining a co-working space. Many digital startups are based in open-plan offices that offer a collaborative spirit and sense of community. Working until midnight when your payment infrastructure has crashed and having someone across the aisle that has had the same experience is not only a business lifeline, it’s a human lifeline.
Central Working, Whitechapel, East London.
Mentoring can also be an enormous help. It’s completely normal in the digital world to ask someone to be your mentor. An experienced mentor can help you hone your pitch, approach investors, connect you to a customer base and lots more. Also, being connected into the community helps you hire faster and more effectively due to the peer-to-peer advice you can get access to. Try the recently launched Smartup.io app for inspiration.
Of course, you’ll need to be plugged in to the community in the first place to find that coveted mentor. And when you’ve been round the block a few times, you can become a mentor yourself — it’s part of the “pay it forward” mentality. Which is why I would recommend Founders Pledge — a new platform through which tech and digital founders commit to donate a least 2 per cent of their personal proceeds to charity following an exit.
Think globally and communicate clearly: Be crystal clear about your product or service. I’ve been to many events where I’ve watched excruciating pitches from between my fingers. The person may have built an earth-shattering product or service, but if they can’t tell someone about it in three compelling sentences, they’re not going to succeed.
Be an evangelist for your idea; present it with passion. Practice your 13-second elevator pitch until it rolls off the tongue, like a beautiful sonnet.
The same goes for internal communication. It’s your business, and you are the human personification of it at all times. Your staff must be on message and able to understand the offering from back to front. Remember, the public face of your brand is the entire perception of your brand, so presenting it in the most thought-provoking and flawlessly appealing way can immeasurably improve the performance of your business and help secure the vital funding you need to scale.
On that note, when raising startup cash, think big. Many people have a tendency to undersell their ideas or compromise their vision. If your idea is solid, and you believe in it wholeheartedly, investors will flock.
For more: Gerard Grech talks UK tech leadership with our friends at The Drum.
First Published in the FT (Financial Times Ltd: June 30th, 2015).