Starting a business? Tech entrepreneurs share their 9 tips for success

Starting a business is hard, particularly in the tech industry. We asked some of the most successful UK tech entrepreneurs for advice

Yet, for every Raspberry Pi, Skyscanner or Huddle, there are plenty more that don't succeed. A report from the RSA Group suggested at least half of new businesses don't survive past five years, and three-quarters of venture-backed firms don't return investor capital, according to Harvard Business School research.

That doesn't stop thousands of people from trying each year, though. "Tech entrepreneurs are entering one of the most exciting industries around," said Marko Balabanovic, innovation director at government-backed startup supporter Digital Catapult. "In 2014, 581,173 businesses registered with Companies House, while 98% of digital companies analysed in Tech City UK's recent report were small businesses. This also means competition is frenzied and it takes a lot of determination to bring products or services to market. No road to success is smooth there will be hurdles, but they can be overcome."

You'll need a good idea, the skills and wherewithal to make it happen, and plenty of luck. To make the road to startup success a little easier to traverse, we asked several leading British tech entrepreneurs to share their advice. Here's what it takes to find success from those who have made it.

1. Know who's in charge

Divide power, said Sara Murray, co-founder and CEO of home-care tech firm Buddi, arguing that 50-50 partnerships "don't work". She added: "Make it 51-49, because one day you'll need the extra vote."

Make sure the chain of command is clear, both internally and legally. "Seek legal advice from the start and have a clean structure," said Serge Didenko, co-founder of modular smartwatch startup Blocks. "Don't obsess over details, but try to find a lawyer friend or a firm that can help you structure correctly."

2. Start early

Blocks' Didenko agrees. "Just do it," he said. "It's all about starting hands-on. If you wait for everything to be perfect, you're never going to start. The perfect idea will come to you when you're working on another idea. The perfect co-founder will come when you've already started working on it. Start doing something and then refine it."

And that means starting young if that's still possible. "Do it early," said Debbie Wosskow, founder of Love Home Swap, the travel home-swapping site. "Starting my first business at 25 meant I had nothing to lose."

3. Find the right people

Co-founder and president of collaboration-software firm Huddle, Alastair Mitchell, said finding the right staff is the "classic struggle" for startups. "You need a team of people who can deliver the expertise, and who are the top of their field, whether it's development, sales or marketing," he said. "A truly successful team should also be full of founders, of people who when they do something will do it better than you could, rather than doing what they're told. It's really exceptional, but it makes the difference between an okay business and a great business."

What does he look for when hiring? "People who think big, who are motivated and who have the entrepreneurial instinct," Mitchell said. "In my questioning, I'm looking for almost the rough edges the things on their rsum that look different or reveal an inner drive."

The company culture your staff create can be the difference between success and failure, added Jon Reynolds, co-founder and CEO of the virtual-keyboard firm SwiftKey. "One of the most important things I've learned along the way is the impact of the people that you surround yourself with and the company culture that you cultivate together," he said. "From the beginning, we've found that investing in great people is one of the best ways to grow the company and increase our chances of success."

4. Do what you love

It's more fun that way, he said, and while that may sound flippant, Upton points out that it's easier to "sustain the work level" if you enjoy what you're doing. "Most startup companies fail but one of the things that makes a difference is the work rate that the people who have started the company can sustain," he said. "It's much easier to sustain a high work rate if you believe in what you're doing. I don't know many people who can sustain a high work rate because of the prospect of a big payday."

5. Take your holidays

Starting a business isn't a three-month effort you'll be at it for years, so pace yourself. While many startups appear to become an overnight success, that doesn't normally happen straight away, said Huddle's Mitchell. "Anyone who wants to pursue a startup in the industry needs to be prepared to make a holistic long-term commitment," he said. "It doesn't matter if you're the founder, president or the CEO, you have to be in it for the long haul and you have to manage yourself, your health, and your family life. That's why I coach founders who are currently on this journey to encourage them to find a balance in their own lives. They need to learn how to manage the pressure and expectations they place on themselves."

Finding that work-life balance means you'll need to cede control. "Entrepreneurs become the bottleneck to growth because they struggle to delegate," said Buddi's Murray. "You have to learn to let people do things you know you could do better."

Blippar co-founder Jess Butcher agreed, saying learning how to delegate "took me far too long, aided only by having a baby and an enforced period of time out of the business!" 

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