When I tell someone that I run a young tech company, I always get the same reaction. That slight recoil as they get their head around the fact that I don’t conform to the stereotype (or prejudice, by another name).
First, I’m often wearing a smart shirt. The Zuck’s now famous t-shirt and hoodie approach has become uniform in our industry and, while I don’t have anything against that, I find it easier to sell things to people when I’m looking smart.
Second, I’m middle aged and running a high growth tech company. It’s okay. It feels like an admission one might make at counselling, but I’m really fine with it.
Third, our fledgling firm (which is spreading its wings around the world, by the way) is headquartered in Basingstoke. Yes that’s right, 50 miles south west of Silicon Roundabout and a place with only a mainstream latte selection. Why? It’s cheaper and it works. All our HQ needs is four walls, enough desks and a meeting room. If I can get that at a good price in a high-rise off the M3, instead of squashing beanbags into a Shoreditch loft, great. That gives me more money to spend on making my product better.
There is a serious point to be made here. I believe a lot of company leaders can become too embroiled in culture at the expense of the growth of their business. Everyone wants to be an entrepreneur nowadays, which is a good thing because it means people are exercising their right to be creative and independent.
However, I believe founding teams, particularly at tech startups, sometimes don’t question the reasons behind filling their carefully distressed office with free food and table football tables. Retention? Maybe, but I felt our staff would rather be paid more than flick a tiny ball around while eating a street burrito.
There are, of course, reasons behind this culture developing. The bright young things that were shaping the early days of Silicon Valley liked wearing jeans and had to work in a garage, because that’s all they could afford. They made the best of the situation. It was a counter-culture that railed against the corporate ideal of the time, discarding perceived business wisdom to achieve their company goals. Their sole focus was on making technology that worked.
This is something that I would urge young businesses to do nowadays. In a world that puts high growth tech companies on a pedestal, I think we have become distracted by the gloss. This is the world of celebrity startup founders: are we guilty of being dazzled by the bright lights?
Under pressure to manufacture a company culture, founders sometimes expend time and money trying to be a startup, rather than actually being one. This is entirely understandable, as it can help hire talent. However, it often detracts resource from the one thing that is more important than all others: product.
Realise this, and everything else will fall into place. Once you have belief in your product, it shines through your entire business like a beacon for talent, investors and, most importantly, customers.
Ironically, this mentality is far truer to the startup ethos than any of the accompanying sideshow. Garages are dark and uncomfortable, but they are an excellent place to focus on building stuff that works, cheaply. Figure this one out, and the culture will take care of itself.