On August 10th we held the latest of our expert mentoring sessions as part of Entrepreneur Academe 2016. In previous sessions we’ve looked at launching and scaling a business and at everything related to sales and marketing. This month we looked at issues related to technology, from building tech to hiring tech talent and taking advantage of tech hacks.

As ever, we kicked off the session with a panel discussion: a fascinating Q&A with a great panel: tech entrepreneur Lauren Hine; UK Broadband COO Ros Singleton; tech investor Man-Sze Li, Andrew Fletcher, Director TR Labs; Consultant Matt Mower and Sarah Drinkwater, Head of Google Campus. We then followed up with topic-specific breakouts looking at four key areas: aligning tech with business objectives; hiring and managing tech; tech hacks; tech trends.

We covered a huge amount of ground in three hours, so it’s impossible to relate the entire afternoon, but here are some of themes that came through strongly:

  • The technology must address real problems for the customer – never lose sight of this!
  • Identify the opportunity and then the way to test it. Paper prototyping can be a good way to do this, and in general, iterative testing of your service/product when you still have a small user base is vital. Google for Entrepreneurs has an excellent series of videos on prototyping. Look up the hashtag #begintoday.
  • Technology problems are very often in fact human problems: a misunderstanding of the value proposition, a lack of customer focus, a lack of validation and so on.
  • Impact Mapping is a great way to ensure alignment between technology function and business aims. See also Rob Fitzpatrick’s The Mum Test.
  • Connecting tech teams with customers can be tricky, but it can have real value. All too often techies are brought into a project once it’s already been agreed and even scoped.
  • As companies scale, the lean and agile principles that made the company a successful startup begin to wither: they should be refreshed over over and over (for more on this see Eric Reis’ The Lean Startup).
  • As companies grow, they almost inevitably develop silos – one of these of course being a tech silo. Try to build projects that work across these.
  • The issue of remote dev teams is of course a thorny one and we had some disagreement here. Some felt that they’d had excellent work delivered by offshore tech teams, but others were having difficulty in coordinating them. In general it’s good to track what your devs are delivering on a daily basis and to have at least weekly progress reviews with all the team; tools to help with this include Trello, Slack and Basecamp. Nonetheless, there was a consensus that at its heart, every project needs a developer that really cares – about their reputation, the intellectual challenge and about the product itself.
  • If you’re working with and collecting data, it’s advisable to start a project with a clear schema.
  • Other resources: Udacity provides free access to dev talent, among other things, and Foundrs has a scheme for sharing spare developer talent.
  • Finally, tech trends to look out for included Internet of Things, wearables, data visualisation and of course AI.

In September we’ll be looking at funding options for startups and what investors look for. In the meantime, thanks to all our panellists and other mentors who attended the session.