Last Tuesday we held the third of the expert panel sessions for this year’s Entrepreneur Academe, the mentoring programme we run in partnership with the City of London. Called “BUILD”, the session considered all aspects of technology for tech and tech-enabled businesses.

The first half of the afternoon consisted of a highly engaging Q&A with our hugely experienced panel: Diana Paredes (CEO & Co-Founder at Suade), Dave Weller (Chief Enterprise Architect at Thomson Reuters) Dominic Falcao (Manager Imperial Create Lab at Imperial Innovations), Lauren Hine (CEO & Co-Founder at Zealify), Jacqui Taylor (CEO & Founder, FlyingBinary), Matt Mower (Consulting Technologist & CTO) and Juliana Meyer (CEO & Founder, SupaPass). It was great to see 3 of last year’s EA cohort – Juliana, Lauren and Samiya – returning this year as experts and mentors.

Juliana Meyer, Supapass

Juliana Meyer, Supapass

Samiya Parvez, Andiamo

Samiya Parvez, Andiamo

Lauren Hine, Zealify

Lauren Hine, Zealify

The opening discussion was around the thorny topic of outsourcing tech, and on the related issue of not having a technical co-founder. The key points that emerged were:

  • Don’t make lack of tech expertise part of your story! Specifically, develop a credible tech story that you own as a founder.
  • Teach yourself the basics – Juliana recalled being holed up in a library surrounded by manuals and text books teaching herself the skills she needed to launch a MVP of SupaPass with no previous coding skills. Lauren built Zealify’s MVP in WordPress.
  • A CTO is less important if your business is technology-enabled, rather than selling technology.
  • Get a technology advisor, especially to help with your tech road map and with hiring. Don’t get tied into an outsourced tech solution – work with established, preferably open technologies.

We then turned to the subject of finding, recruiting and incentivising tech talent. The key points here were:

  • Look outside the well-trodden areas and sectors (eg. try standard job boards, look overseas, try UK cities outside London and the South East and consider employees of big companies who might be looking for a side project).
  • Understand what you need; this is where learning the basics comes into its own, eg do you need a developer or do you need a technology strategist?
  • Ask not just what a technologist can give you, but what you can offer them. The key might be about offering a challenge which is often a greater driver for techies than pure remuneration.
  • On the flip side, don’t be driven by the needs of a dev; ask what attributes you need, rather than building a service around what they can offer.
  • On the subject of what to pay technologists, there was some disagreement, although a consensus emerged that a start up shouldn’t offer more than £400 p/d and that it’s worth talking to other founders and CEOs about their rates.
  • Finally, when recruiting talent, ask what they like about your business; this will give you a real feel for whether they understand what you’re trying to achieve and whether they’re the right fit.

We then discussed the protection of technology:

  • Filing patents is almost certainly not the answer: it’s expensive and time consuming to file in the first place and even more expensive to defend patents. They may well be a red herring (patents are notoriously tricky in “soft” technology spaces) and your idea will now be open to others to see, leading us on to the next point…
  • Execute fast and execute well; first mover advantage is key here.
  • Remember that developers like to contribute to open source projects, so this might undermine your ambitions to have any proprietary tech (echoing the point above about what drives devs).
  • We also discussed integrating technology with that of corporate customers. The consensus here is that IT departments are now a lot less conservative when it comes to incorporating third party SAAS applications, but that there are still serious issues around data protection, scalability and robustness.

In the second half of the afternoon we had a speed mentoring session, allowing our entrepreneurs to talk one-on-one with the panellists and with the other brilliant mentors who’d joined us for the afternoon: Helen Thevenot, Christopher Hughes and SenthilKumar Mani from Thomson Reuters; Linn-Marita Senn and Mel Pittas from hayesmacIntyre; Roberta Draper from Kingsley Napley; Gillian Davis from Ustwo; Shefali Roy from Stripe; Melissa di Donato from Salesforce, Simon ThorpeGhilaine Chan, Jolyn Teoh, Li Li Long, Louise Beaumont, Samiya Parvez (one of last year’s cohort) and Kerri McKechnie.

A great afternoon all round, then. Next month we’ll be back at the City Business Library for the last of this year’s expert sessions, looking at professional services; the details are on our LinkedIn group.

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