After a career in management consulting and Financial Services, and having made the bold step of turning an idea into a new business, it’s safe to say the start-up world took me a bit of time to adjust to. Here are a few of the things I’ve learnt along the way.
Location, location, location
We have based ourselves in Old Street which is not far from the City’s banking and Financial Services district that I used to call home – geographically at least. One of the most notable differences is the sheer variety of small ambitious companies in such close proximity. The many small offices and numerous blocks of shared working spaces from the Office Group, WeWork and Google Campus engender a spirit of entrepreneurial community. You can have founder and employees of one company rubbing shoulders and collaborating with multiple other companies in the same coffee shop, building, or even in the same cluster of desks!
Everyone launching a start-up is passionate about what they do and has taken the risk to follow and live a dream. Not every company is well funded, so people give their time in exchange for advice, referrals, opportunities and the like, which incentivises the exchange of ideas and stimulates more innovative thinking.
I had been guilty of wearing a suit and tie on a dress-down day so I was initially a duck out of water in my new relaxed and less “stuffy” start-up environment. I would never have thought that dress codes can be an inhibitor of innovation but I’ve changed my mind. Allowing everyone to feel comfortable in what they wear is a small gesture that enables them to feel comfortable and encourage self-expression and communication. (As you can see from my photo, I still have ‘smart’ days!)
Listen and learn
- Since starting AlgoMe, I have been taken aback by the help and support of my friends and former colleagues that are keen to see us succeed. It’s early days but some of the advice I’ve appreciated the most, and am very happy to share, has been: Fail Fast – don’t be afraid to try new ideas; pivot when things don’t work – decision making doesn’t need to be bureaucratic!
- Collaborate – it is hard enough to succeed as a start-up anyway, so try to work with and partner with other firms rather than compete with them
- Be smart – research the competition and make sure you really do have something different
- Not every idea is a good idea – so don’t be afraid of criticism
- Be Agile – don’t try to deliver the whole master plan on Day 1. The world around you is moving quickly so deliver benefits early and incorporate feedback along the way
- Understand your own strengths and seek help on the weaknesses – mentoring is a great way to plug the gaps
- Think big – not all firms will succeed but the level of innovation I’ve been exposed to is astounding. Rather than tweak around the edges of a problem, start-ups have the freedom to think big – so think BIG
- Be passionate – there’ll be sacrifices ahead so make sure you enjoy the journey
- Relationships – it’s not one way; dedicate time to helping the people who help you – it’s the unwritten rule of start-ups
- Embrace the start-up scene – there’s a myriad of groups on MeetUp, Eventbrite and others, plus communities such as Google Campus and WeWork, so take advantage of the opportunity to expand your networks and get advice
- Team – appreciate the value of working together. It’s cheesy but when you have the right team with the right attitude, it’s amazing what you can achieve in a short time.
And for those of you who’ve not made the jump and still work in the corporate world as well, much of this advice still holds true. Politics and bureaucracy may be common in many large corporates but you don’t need to comply – help fix the issues rather than add to the problem.