This week, I got to check out a start-up talk in London called ‘And then the world presents…Re-Boot and Start-Up’.  The speakers included:

Elizabeth Varley, the co-founder of Tech Hub (Mike Butcher is the other co-founder), the Silicon Roundabout incubator, and one of the Wired 100, Wired magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the UK tech scene.

Ian Hogarth, founder of SongKick, a Shoreditch tech company, which managed to secure funding from numerous Silicon Valley heavy weights. He is also the organiser of Silicon Milkroundabout- an event for students to get jobs with start-ups.

And talks by the founders of:

Art Finder – An exciting new concept for discovering, experiencing and sharing art.
Bardowl –  A new and interesting way of experiencing audiobooks on your smartphone.
Caped Koala – A immersive-learning and entertainment company with a passion for creativity in education

The speakers had lots of great insight on starting up a company, after each having gone through the process. The ten things I learned:

1.     Simplify. Your concept should be easy to understand, and should focus on doing one or two things and doing them really well.  Take Pandora, for example.  Thousands of features are not necessary and will probably make users confused and disinclined to use your service.

2.     Consider partnership.  Starting a business on your own can be terrifying.  Grab a buddy!  Make sure you work out the contractual terms and how you will divide responsibility ahead of time.  If you give someone 50% of your business, make sure they are actually and contractually responsible for 50% of the work.

3.     If your start-up isn’t growing, change. Growth is the first and most vital part of creating a successful start-up.  If growth isn’t happening, reconsider your concept and alter your plan of action.

4.     London = untapped market! According to the start-up superstars, there’s a huge untapped market of developers and companies looking for developers, specifically in London.  In the States, especially for those inclined toward the West Coast, most high-flying tech-savvy graduates will flock to the newest, coolest start-ups for job opportunities.  Computer science graduates in the UK don’t yet seem to realise that working for a start-up is an alternative to financial services.

5.     That having been said, there are lots of reasons for start-ups to be based London.  London holds its own as a cultural, artistic, and musical capital of the world.  There’s also less competition for start-ups to get off the ground here than there is in the Valley.  For now, the market for start-ups in London, especially those with cultural or artistic leanings, is promising.

6.      VC backers will demand a large user community.   If you’re expecting VC capital to help build your business, focus on developing a large user community first.  VC firms want to invest in companies that show strong promise of developing and maintaining a large user base.   It may seem like a Catch-22, but users are the key to your capital.

7.   Bootstrapping is hard. The saying goes that if your business plan predicts something will take three months, double that and then double that again to know how long it will actually take.  As a result, bootstrapping it for long periods of time can be strenuous, and in today’s market, borderline impossible.  Don’t rule out creative alternatives, such as having separate sources of income while you’re bootstrapping, or going to America for financing, where capital for start-ups is more plentiful.

8.   You don’t need to be the first one to be the best one. It’s okay to enter a market where competitors have entered before you.  If you can refine your product and make it sharp, there’s no reason why you can’t become the best in your field.

9.     You don’t need to be the best one to be a great one. Just because you’re not Facebook doesn’t mean you can’t be a viable social networking site.  Just because you’re not Ticketmaster doesn’t mean you can’t be a viable events ticket site.  The world is large.  Focus on your target user community and refine what makes you unique.

10.    Keep going. Getting a successful start-up off the ground very rarely happens over night.  Don’t get discouraged, keep going, and keep learning!

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