analysis

UK startups call for change

Caroline Baldwin

The UK government and IT startups need to change if they are to emulate successful businesses in the US, according to startups gathered at the recent Web Summit in Dublin.

Computer Weekly asked startups attending the event how the government could help startups as well as how they can help themselves.

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If startups could change government policy what would they do to improve the UK startup culture?

“Buy British and install a new spirit of innovation in government. The government is looking at startups as an export and employment opportunity. They're encouraging hi-tech jobs rather than how to change the government and the country," said John Newton, CTO and founder at Alfresco, an open source document management and collaboration startup. 

"Compare to the US where they look at startups to solve particular problems in innovative ways. "

10 tips from Michael Acton Smith, CEO of Mind Candy

1. Make beautiful mistakes - there's nothing wrong with screwing up and learning valuable lessons. Fail fast and often.

2. The main thing is to keep focused.

3. What's your story? An emotional story is sometimes better than statistics and data.

4. Dream big. "If you can dream it, you can do it" - Walt Disney.

5. Say "yes" to parties. Events, conferences, dinners. Don't spend all day behind your desk. And don't treat them like networking events - get to know a person first.

6. Work hard and be nice to people. We sometimes lose the "people" but. But business is judge about people.

7. "Stay hungry, stay foolish" - Steve Jobs. You've got to be passionate, dive in deep and become obsessive. Have coffee with anyone related to your industry.

8. Trust your instincts. Some people dismiss their gut feelings as mumbo jumbo, but there's scientific research to prove it.

9. Keep it simple. The best products are super simple. Apple products can be picked up by a two-year old or your grandma.

10. Ask for forgiveness not permission. The best entrepreneurs are hustlers. Don't take no for an answer.

Morgan Pierce, CEO at Referstar, which provides social  technology for referral recruitment, said: "The Prime Minister has repeatedly stressed that the UK is not competitive on a global scale, especially in the technology sector. What is the equivalent of Facebook, Google, IBM or EMC in the UK? 

"As soon as a UK CEO is successful on a global scale they inevitably end up working for a major American company. Case in point is Angela Ahrendts from Burberry, who recently jumped ship to Apple which, even as the world's most valued company, is willing to take a risk to drive its business forwards. 

“To improve a startup culture, you have to acknowledge and embrace those who are willing to take a risk. So I'd urge the Prime Minister to pay more attention to entrepreneurs and force big businesses to get involved in vetting start-ups. Additionally, a nurturing programme that matches or partners startup companies would be hugely beneficial in providing growing businesses with a potential reference site. If the company has a good product and can deliver it, it will prosper quickly with this small push in the right direction.”

Charley Radcliffe, product developing director at On Scroll, which provides viewable impressions for online advertising, said startups need to better understand what support is available to them. 

“With the funding schemes like the SEIS (Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme) last year, there's free money, but people don't know about it. It's an amazing opportunity and the average person needs to know if you want to give it a shot,” he said.

Graeme Bodys, CEO at NooQ, a social collaboration tool, said startups need government support to help them become confident enough to take risks.

“If a business fails, the government should ensure that the startup doesn’t receive a bad credit rating. They keep saying 'it's ok to fail' - so prove it," he said.

Meanwhile Akihiro Tsuchiya, founder of Streamhub, which provides real-time analytics for the media industry, said immigration rules need to be changed to give startups access to the right skills at the right price: “Talent availability is really important, but in the UK and EU talent is more expensive and it's difficult to find. There are very smart non-EU people, but immigration and visas stand in the way.”

But it is not just the government that has to change, Computer Weekly asked: What’s the top tip you would give a startup about to engage in the first conversation with a CIO of a potential customer?

Newton at Alfresco said startups need to understand a CIO’s language: "You need to be able to make that connection.”

Pierce at Referstar said you only get one chance with a CIO so make the best of it: “Try to articulate the value proposition of your business in one sentence and from the CIO’s perspective. You only have one shot, so put yourself in the shoes of the CIO.”

Bodys at NooQ said the one chance you get is likely to be short: “Prepare your pitch and know who you’re speaking to, and why they'd want to buy it. Make sure you can explain your business in 30 seconds.”

Tsuchiya at Streamhub said it is vital to know your customer inside out: "Research the person and make sure you deliver value and communicate from the customer's point of view. Research the CIO - what particular area are they interested in, what are they tweeting about, what are their latest articles?”


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