Jiva Technology

8 things I’ve learnt about starting a technology business

Lists are popular all year round, but especially so nearing Christmas, so I thought it was a good time to reflect on some of the obvious and not so obvious things that I’ve picked up from my involvement with start-up companies over the past ten years.

1. People are very important.
It’s a truism that, ‘getting the right people on the bus’ is important for all companies, but large companies will almost certainly have a bunch of makeweights. In a start-up, they can be deadly – you are literally better off not hiring than bad hiring. You want people who can argue constructively, be relied upon to get on with things, they need honesty (particularly about their limitations) and integrity; be open communicators, good at spotting problems and suggesting workarounds. Preferably low ego and almost willfully happy to accept ambiguity. The sort of people that would have made good early settlers.

2. Acquire the ability to raise money.
This is a skill you need to have or acquire in abundance, particularly if you want to base your company outside of the USA. To my mind, one of the biggest competitive advantage inherent in the US economy is the way that it almost runs like a giant American Idol/X Factor for start ups. Money and expertise are constantly recycled in a way that seemingly doesn’t happen in Europe. It’s a big challenge for the economies of Europe and one that I hope gets resolved soon.

3. Problems come in batches.
And those batches keep coming. If you are likely to bend under the pressure, start-ups just aren’t for you. Period.

4. Adopt a Barbel Strategy with Problems.
Start-ups are all about solving problems, ranging from the original high level concept down through to the nitty gritty details of the final customer solution. You can’t sweat every single problem that comes up or you’d never get your product or service out the door. I view the range of problems like a Barbel and give more weight to the two ends: make sure you work through your original concept incredibly thoroughly so that it’s not just your fantasy and then develop a healthy obsession about the minutiae of the final solution.

5. Luck.
Make sure you have plenty of it. Once you become rich and famous, you can claim it was down to brilliant strategy and faultless execution, but in the meantime, there were 234 million websites created last year, so on the basis of probability, some of those are going to get it really right.

6. Stick to solving a problem.
Find a real problem. Solve it. All other things being equal, you will have created something of value. Trying to follow fashion or surf a ‘hot new wave’ is a fool’s errand.

7. Having done it before really helps.
I never understood why people used to say it was a good thing to have a few failed start-ups under your belt. Now I do – you know the points where it starts to get tricky… and you’re prepared.

8. You’re flying a glider, not a 747.
Boeing built a lot of great technology to let you fly along a beautiful Great Circle to your exact destination as decided before you took off. A glider pilot has to tack backwards and forwards, finding thermals to gain height before they head in the right direction. They may never get to where they were heading. The view’s probably better though. Start-ups are gliders, big corporates are 747’s.

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