Building tech success

Tech City UK, the government-backed support programme for digital businesses, rolled into Edinburgh last week to present its annual Tech Nation report on the health of the tech economy and the companies who make it up from Dundee to Exeter and 28 other city tech hubs that lie in between.

The usual suspects from Scotland's tech scene were in attendance at CodeBase - Informatics Ventures, CodeClan, the Scottish Government's digital team and a smattering of startup founders including the CEO of Krotos, a University of Edinburgh technology spin-out who build audio software that creates imaginary creature noises for Hollywood blockbusters like Avengers and The Jungle Book

Orfeas Boteas, the CEO and founder of Krotos, hails from Greece and like many of our startup founders in Scotland is a non-UK national.  Brexit was a common theme in the pre-event chat and a few people in the gathering expressed disappointment at opening another excellent report from the Tech City UK team to see a picture of Theresa May and a foreword from the Right Honourable MP for Maidenhead stating how committed the UK Government is to supporting our most promising young tech companies.  

Before another CEO of a fast-growing Scottish tech company had the chance to fully explain his view that a lower valued currency boosting exports will not make up for a post-Brexit talent drain, Tech City UK CEO Gerard Grech was already up on stage taking us through the overall UK findings and how Scotland fits into the equation.  

While it was no great surprise to hear how well we're doing in all things digital, backed up by strong numbers on jobs growth, average wages and economic impact, the really interesting bit for me was when the panel began talking about what has made Edinburgh such a hotbed of startup activity and is punching above its weight in producing tech unicorns like Skyscanner and FanDuel - 14 of the UK's 18 tech unicorns are in London to give an idea of how successful we've been here in Scotland.  

One of the panelists suggested we have "good people" at the heart of our ecosystem; people who give back to the earlier stage companies and founders by providing mentoring and other forms of support including, in the case of Skyscanner, monthly access to their legal team.  

One of FanDuel's co-founders has seven rule of thumb tips for startup founders that I know have inspired many of the next generation of wanabee tech stars in Scotland: one, get back on your bike and keep pedalling; two, pick your founders well and be willing to pivot around them; three, put processes in place for when your startup starts to scale; four, hire people who can adapt as the organisation changes; five, adopt a "lean startup" culture; six, don't be afraid to fail, and: seven, don't fall in love with your product to the extent that you're not willing to tear it up and start again.  

I consider myself hugely fortunate to have advised classic Scottish startups like Blackcircles.com and Skyscanner for a number of years - very probably during the most exciting times when everything was still shiny and new and there was a true startup culture - and also a bunch of the next generation of startups who have followed in their golden wake.  Whether you are the UK's number one online tyre retailer, the world's second largest travel search site or a relative minnow struggling to break into markets and get your story told in the media, there are some unwritten rules of PR to help companies get ahead of the curve. 

As a startup or more mature tech company, you need a newsworthy story.  When healthtech startup Snap40 CEO and founder, Chris McCann, announced his last funding round the story revolved around not only the fact that the round was the largest ever angel investment into a Scottish startup but also that Chris left his medicine degree to make his entrepreneurial leap.  If you're light on newsworthiness, find a way to tap into trending industry news.  

In spite of Twitter's fading fortunes, the journalist world remains firmly fixed in tweet land so remember to follow and engage with the reporters you'd like to cover your own new, shiny thing.