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by Andy McCartney, Technical Director and Start-up Lead, Microsoft
“I came straight out of university with the idea of building my own software company - which I did – and earned the fantastic starting salary of £50 per week (this is only 16 years ago). I made all the mistakes you could possibly think of, but learned from those experiences and took the knowledge I gained to build companies that traded globally and worked with all the major tech giants.
The main thing I learnt during this journey is the only person that’s going to get you across the finish line is yourself andan amazing team to support you when all is going wrong and also who are there to celebrate all the amazing milestones, however large or small, that are proof you’re making progress. But there were lots of other things I learned along the way too, so I thought I’d share them and see if they help anyone in a similar situation. Here are my 8 tips for building a successful start-up…
1. Spend your cash wisely, especially at first.When you’re first starting out money is very tight and you have to spend wisely as you don’t have the luxury of being able to get too much wrong financially. The keywords to watch for are “free” and “Good Money” investment.
2. Build a team with mutual passion. The team that work with you getting your idea of the ground are not instantly COO’s or CTO’s, they’re the people who will do whatever it takes to get the idea out the door. They’re the ones who are prepared to eat cheaply and not sleep much, they must live it with you. You’ll have plenty of time to create HR policies and holiday systems when you’ve earned your first million.
3. Milk the platforms. Make sure you contact the companies that you are hoping to integrate your technology into. You’ll get some nice surprise when you find out the kind of support some of them provide – there are some fantastic programmes to lighten the load around technology costs. A great example of this is BizSpark which allows you not only free use of Microsoft technology but will absorb the costs of cloud development and will get you talking to the right people within Microsoft, so that when you’re finally finished developing your awesome technology you can have more advanced conversations.
4. Take all the Government support you can get.Don’t forget the Government is not the enemy. Especially in the UK there’s a wealth of support you can access through local and national initiatives i.e. UKTI, INI, etc.
5. Don’t be intimidated by investors.Taking on the right investors is hugely critical and it’s inevitable if you need cash (seed funding) to support the business until it can generate cash of its own, or until it is ready for further investments. If you choose the wrong investor they can take control of you and your team’s dream and drive it in completely the wrong direction which never ends well! Remember it’s your company and your vision that started the company, investors are there to advise not drive the company.
6. Invest in Execs.Finally, now you have some money – but where do you spend it? This is the time to get some executives into the mix. I always found that promotion within the team was the best option – not only does it reward the hard work your core team put in but also means you can bring in support to replace the roles that you’ve just promoted from. Make sure to take the money and spend it wisely on making sure you get the most exposure for the technology and the team. This is where a great board of advisors comes into play. If you bring in the right people as advisors they’ll have their own black book of contacts that can give you that exposure. Make sure you manage your advisors – just like investors, making sure they don’t drive the company, they are to advise. However the more they’re bought into the dream and made to feel special the more they’ll give back, not just by giving you great advice but telling the world about your awesome technology.
7. Relax and have fun with marketing.Try not to follow the pack, lead it. There are many smart and clever ways to promote your company, think outside the box. Some of the best ideas come from the team over a chilled out beer and nachos.
8. Embrace your mistakes. Never be afraid to get it wrong – and you will - just make sure that the team around you believe in what you’re trying to achieve. Stay humble but excited, it’s an incredible journey, but like all journeys there are always bumps in the road.