It looks like I succumbed to the lure of an invitation from Techcelerate to attend a mini-conference. How did that happen?
So, years on, back at a tech pitch and business networking event. Feeling the buzz. With four start-ups behind me, one sold, one died, one left behind in India, one in safe hands, I feel I actually have something to contribute here. Nice to find some other survivors of WebMission 2008 here as well. (It will be hard to resist trying to sell them the advantages of PAYE Umbrella services as a way to gear up their start-ups with a flexible workforce, but I will try.)
Nimble – a small / fast / light contact management system to deliver more sales. Talking intelligently about driving sales force co-ordination without massive capital investment and training. Also talking sense about Globalisation. Don’t go exclusive, select partners carefully, be fair and open to local partners, have multi-language support (at least “EFIGS” – English, French, Italian, German and Spanish) from the get-go. Sound advice. Even sounder: work out whether you want or need to be global first. You might prefer to let the next owners do that, and the potential growth will attract them. Social media may make you look global, even if you are not. Going direct needs massive capital, and really is not a growth path except for the most highly invested or profitable startups.
Google Campus – just five months old in London, this is providing a superb “open source” building that provides nesting and nurturing space for UK and visiting startups. The density of mentors, money, services, talent and bandwidth clearly has a real impact, and the massive level of PR support probably helps as well. Two events a day on the premises ensures there is real momentum and force behind technology and creativity in London now. In many ways this merely ‘instantiates’ the Google philosophy of ‘hangouts’, and makes it clear to me that the Campus is so much more than a building.
My takeaway from Google: serendipity has a major part to play in success. You need to ensure you can have those “moments of revelation”. I think that they need to have some links that help them build their interim workforces as well!
IBM – hardly a start-up now, being 100 years old. Now they are really into encouraging innovation, Smarter Planet and supporting the use of I3 to improve human lives. It appears to have dawned on them just three years ago that they needed partnerships with start-ups through their Global Entrepreneur programme. You get support, networked, and real brain power; IBM gets you to consider their technology as parts of your solution. Sounds reasonable. Having seen the real benefits from programmes run by Sun and Microsoft over the last few years, I think every large corporate should be supporting innovative companies like this.
Springboard – a 13 week programme to accelerate and launch start-ups with a deep pool of mentors, product designers, PR and pitching support. While I adore the principle of accelerators, I have seen as many done wrong as I have seen done right. I’m old enough to remember some of the horrors discussed at ‘First Tuesday’. There is a charging process, and the deal appears to be 6% of Founder Shares for a tiny amount of cash and a large (£150,000?) of support and services. Given that the most significant limiting factor of early stage companies is management bandwidth, the addition of brains and leverage at an early stage can really make a difference. They seem like good guys. For me, the real issue will be whether the much smaller UK market can support something that strives to be a Y-Combinator. 60 million customers in the UK, 350 million in the USA; that really makes a difference. Working with big brands (Coke, Clear Channel, etc) and being alongside things like Seedcamp, Tech Hub and Google Campus seems like a smart early move, as does having a base within the prestigious, state of the art Hauser Forum created by The University of Cambridge.
Passion Capital – with famous founders and lots of resources they have already made an impression on the start-up world, at least for internet companies. Now investing small (Seed) rounds in two companies a month (ish), it would be wise to keep and eye on them if you are a tech or internet entrepreneur. What turns them on? Smart Founders, speed of execution, passion, rapid results. Before you knock on the door, sort out your core Founder team, a convincing demo, and your growth plan. They match that with a really rapid funding process, priding themselves on really quick “yes” or “no” decision.
So, those were the main speakers. There were some lawyers, accountants, and VCs in the room as well, but that, as they say is under my hat.
Summary of the day – Speed of evolution is now considerably faster than in 2009, and the money has got smarter (and leaner) for start-ups. Dumb ideas are getting killed faster, good ones are scaled faster, investors are differentiating faster, pivots are happening faster, it is all about being very big.
Discussion of the day – Freemium v. Pay on sign up v. credit card details & bill later is still a hot topic. The fact it is not agreed is a clear sign that the wider market place will support a range of business models, and any entrepreneur needs to keep their options wide open.
Hot tip of the day – having seen it in use, I am going to swap to using Grammarly.com for all our outbound documents. It checks for plagiarism, grammar and content and is multi-lingual.