Tech Start-ups – Creating the Right Balance between Technical and Commercial Talent

Published: 12 May 2014

Not a day has gone by this year without some form of publicity regarding the significant growth of UK’s tech start-up hubs: Tech City, Silicon Fen, Croydon Tech City, Tech Hub Manchester and White Bear Yard to name a few. These hubs, conceived to mentor and support new tech start-ups, are creating a solid platform for start-ups to succeed.

What with the economy steadily recovering after a five year bruising, tech entrepreneurs are now racing to create the next best technology innovations. The route to success however is littered with obstacles. A pivotal example is the challenge of obtaining funding. Those who have achieved funding have been creative and have embraced newer channels to market including crowdfunding, pitch events and social media. Twitter provides the freedom to contact anyone, including investors, and is the only place where one has equality with everyone else.

This exciting industry is rapidly luring technology talent away from corporates, SMEs and universities. Such talent is willing to take a risk more than ever before, preferring to operate in more innovative, entrepreneurial, agile and flexible working environments. The most telling trend however is their willingness to agree on equity and not bonus.

We must commend the industry and this tremendous activity, however it is worth the stark reminder that 90% of tech start-ups have historically failed. There are numerous reasons for such failings; the most prolific was the gross overvaluation of stocks, which annihilated the dot com boom in 2001. Other reasons included the lack of product uniqueness and weak business plans.

There is now another potential reason looming. With such a proliferation of technical gurus and ‘creatives’ flocking to these tech start-ups, there is a risk that entrepreneurs can overlook other key components in their operating models, jeopardising their dreams of becoming the next Facebook or WhatsApp. These are:

  • Leadership: as the start-up grows, so does the requirement for mature, commercial and strategic leadership. Dynamic management of an agile and creative workforce is both exciting and challenging, and fundamental to its success.
  • Commercialising the product: creating a mobile/tablet app is exciting and sexy, but worth nothing with a lack of go-to-market, sales & marketing strategy. The need to hire more than just technical gurus is critical. Product managers, salesmen and marketeers are just as crucial.
  • Adaptability: the ability to move nimbly and adapt to constant moving markets is critical. Anticipating and acting on changing market conditions before anyone else is a critical asset to have in the armoury.

We must continue to encourage and inspire the UK’s technology talent and provide the best environments for innovation to take place. However, entrepreneurs should not be hood winked that technologists are the be all and end all; commercial talent still remains a significant key to success.

James Blackwood is a Consultant in the Technology Practice at Berwick Partners. He specialises in recruiting commercial talent in the Technology industry.

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