Keeping hold of the startup mentality that made you great in the first place is tricky if success comes fast, but it’s the key to staying at the top, say the country’s best tech entrepreneurs.
Last night’s Tech5 Awards saw Britain’s five fastest growing tech companies battle it out to be named the best, with event booking and ticket purchasing app YPlan emerging as the winner.
Based in London but representing five different nationalities among their directors, the shortlisted companies were enthusiastic about London’s status as a global hub for innovation and ideas.
“In the Valley, everyone’s talking about the same things,” said Alex Klein, the American co-founder of Kano, which aims to get kids building their own computer systems. “London is much more exciting!”
“London has this amazing diversity to draw inspiration from,” agreed Miyon Im, Head of Product at the personalised fashion marketplace site Lyst, and a San Francisco native. “It’s got this amazing access to museums and history and art that it’s hard to find in that concentration anywhere else in the world.”
But, while Britain provides the perfect launching pad for an ambitious tech company, many are unprepared for the realities of scaling up.
“You have to keep the blood flowing through the body and that blood is cash,” explained Klein. “A lot of small companies fail because of success. They have a coronary.”
Keeping hold of your company culture is particularly tough, said Im, because the sense of tenacity and camaraderie that exciting young startups excel at is very difficult to sustain if you start to become stifled by bureaucracy.
“When there’s just 10 of you it’s amazing. You’re tired to the bone, but you feed off each other’s energy,” she said. “As you grow, it’s inevitable that the communication slows down, there are so many meetings, the meetings last longer… when you get to the 50th person, the problem is how to keep up that enthusiasm.”
“In a startup you’re building something like a religion,” joked Klein, explaining that the core team starts out passionate, engaged and all buying into the same vision, but that this risks getting watered down as new people join. The danger, he said, is relying too much on recruiting from the usual suspects when, in fact, “the best people you find are in totally unexpected places.”
While staying true to your vision is key, startups nonetheless need to be flexible in the way they respond to the challenges that come with growth.
“The best entrepreneurs don’t change their vision but they do shape and adapt the way they get there,” advised Vikauskas. “What you learn along the way refines the way you do that!”