SOMETECHFORTHEWEEKEND: Five members of our TechCity100 took to the stage on Digital Shoreditch closing day to deliver their start-up Tech Commandments – using digital tablets, naturally. Julian Blake was among the converted
Startups are by their very nature young. And wisdom doesn’t come naturally to the young, unless they’re gifted or very lucky. So, when young startup folks gather, wisdom must be right up there on the list of stuff they want to take away.
Digital Shoreditch has been one such gathering. For the last two weeks in May, startup people gathered in droves to learn the lessons that could help their businesses grow. From gamers to hackers to money-seekers to brand marketeers, Digital Shoreditch catered for the wisdom-hungry, and itself came of age in this its second year.
A programme that featured 311 speakers was nothing if not ambitious. Event formats encouraged thoughtful discussion rather than one-way promotion. Mostly. The sessions where speakers offered inspiration, rather than a product, were the best.
The festival venue, a circus big top, brought together some of London’s leading digital performers. At the centre of the show was the ringmaster, DS founder Kam Star. He spoke to us about the event earlier in the week – and not for the first time compared it to Austin’s South By South West.
As one of Tech City’s longest-established businesses, TCI publisher C21Media felt more qualified than most to run a session offering up business wisdom. So we asked five of Silicon Roundabout’s most interesting startup leaders – all members of our TechCity100 – to join us in the big top on 1 June and share what they have learned.
Huddle co-founder and CEO Alastair Mitchell is at the helm of one of Tech City’s most exciting startup successes. His firm has become one of the world’s leading online collaboration platforms, and only last week announced that it had completed a $24 million Series C round of funding. Mitchell’s commandments were clear. Focus on your product. Make your customers your champions. Work with the best people. And, “go big or go home”. Huddle’s very name had that last commandment in mind, Mitchell said, knowing the term was common parlance Stateside and that a big fuss was certain before they could keep the name.
Azeem Azhar, founder and CEO of social media trust and influence tool PeerIndex, offered up wisdom drawn from three years of startup growth, as well as years before as a Guardian and Economist journalist. “Aim for success, but plan for failure,” he said. He urged us all to iterate, be agile and “ask why, why, why, why and why” to get to the root of any problem you’re trying to solve.
DittoTV CEO Mike Wilson has been working in digital since the 1980s and has been a technologist and venture capitalist. Today he’s producing content for high-profile clients like the Bank of England, as well as being a business networker extraordinaire. Noting that if it was good enough for God and Moses it was good enough for him, he presented a full complement of 10 commandments, delivered on a series of digital tablets. In among his 10 were price it right, focus on sales and stay at the right scale.
As a startup entrepreneur of less than two years, Simon Willison is definitely at the young end of the startup spectrum compared to one or two “grizzled veterans” on the panel. Lanyrd, his twitter-based events organisation service, was devised while on honeymoon with wife Natalie less than two years ago. But he’s getting wise fast, and his message was succinct. “Ship early, ship often and make it easy to ship,” he said; your product may not be the best, but if you are first to market you’re at a distinct advantage.
Last up was one of Silicon Roundabout’s most admired business leaders – and not least because her business is all about doing good things. Iris Lapinski is the CEO of CDI Europe, which runs the excellent Apps for Good initiative, mentoring schoolchildren to develop their own apps and help bridge the local digital divide. “Make sure the dog eats the dog food,” she said, meaning that you must be sure there’s a real need for what you do and that there’s a real and large market. And, in a lesson that has to apply to all working in the tech space, make sure you know where the “next bounce of the ball” is, because change happens exponentially.
Wise words for the startup faithful.