Ed-Tech: A review of Croydon Tech City’s February event

By - Thursday 19th March, 2015

Croydon Tech City returned to the 3Space Croydon Hub for a night looking at ed-tech startups. 3Space’s own Lucinda Stewart reports

Photo by Fluid4Sight, used with permission.

I am hugely inspired by the charities, non-profits and startups who work from our 3Space hub here in Croydon. It’s then always a pleasure to host the Croydon Tech City events, as it further proves what an amazingly passionate and creative bunch of people the Croydon community are. February’s Tech City event looked at some fantastic ed-tech startups, following their journeys setting up their current businesses. Each speaker really focused on their journey to where they are now instead of mercilessly plugging their product (which can sometimes happen – and I imagine is very tempting when you’re talking about how you’re getting on with your awesome business idea). Because of this, the whole evening was a refreshing glimpse into how passion, hard work, a bit of luck and bucket loads of dedication can really make your startup fly.

Vivi Friedgut.
Photo by Fluid4Sight, used with permission.

First up was Vivi Friedgut. The former private banker set the bar, giving a passionate and honest insight into her journey setting up Blackbullion – a financial education tool that enables people to become ‘money smarter’ so they can take control of their finances.

She challenged the audience to get out there and pursue every opportunity, be it random conversations, tweets, meetings – indeed she told of how she got her first break from tenaciously stalking a key-player in the field, and waiting for her in the lobby of the Park Lane Hotel.

She encouraged budding entrepreneurs to “follow the baby” when it comes to the direction of the startup. Rather than forcing the business to go places it shouldn’t, by following the natural development in the early stages, it can take the product to places you wouldn’t have imagined, but are all the more better for it. She told us to ‘hire your weaknesses’ – as she is a businesswoman, she hired people to develop the ‘tech’ side of things. In doing this, it enabled her to focus on what she is good at, saving valuable time and funds. She also spoke of the importance of recognising that it’s good to have a break every now and then. Through recharging the batteries and finding new inspiration, it stops burnout and enables you to come back with more energy to continue to drive the business. This, along with her boundless energy has evidently worked well for her, and Blackbullion has gone from strength to strength.

“If a crazy girl on her own can start a business with very little money and affect hundreds and thousands of people, you can too”

Stefan Kiryazov (left).
Photo by Fluid4Sight, used with permission.

Next was the uber cool Stefan Kiryazov, founder of Lexicum – a platform that helps people learning languages to remember every word and develop a rich vocabulary quickly. Starting with a spectacularly gruesome photo of a cow being born as a visual representation of setting up in business, Stefan set the tone for what was another highly entertaining and inspiring talk. As with many startup experiences, his was a slightly bumpy journey which involved a failed first startup, and a cautionary tale on raising money (that borrowing is not necessarily the best option – when his first startup failed, he had rather a lot of debt). He told of how important it is to be able to dedicate yourself to your business completely, and never lose your passion or else you stop loving your product, and it will fail. He also spoke of how useful it was to have a co-founder: as start-ups are inherently risky, in having a co-founder you share the risk, but also the reward.

“Luck, talent, idea, perseverance – my thesis: if you have at least two of these, you will likely succeed”

Stefan went on to point out that every experience can have its benefits, and even a stint working for the public sector inspired him to try setting up another (albeit for him this was because it was “so soul-crushingly boring” he set up a startup to make up for the time lost)! He went on to suggest that whilst London has the components to create collaboration between entrepreneurs, money and academia, more needs to be done – in San Francisco, there’s more fluidity between the three, which has helped immensely in developing and sustaining products. His tales of his trips to the Silicon Valley also touched on some of the more ridiculous image-focussed tech startups over the pond, who see it as important to have tanks and swimming pools in order to feed the brand of their product. It turned out the actual product didn’t live up to the hype. The lesson: to work on creating a spectacular product, then bring in the swimming pool…

Paul Sinnett from Code Club gave us an update on the progression of Code Club in Croydon, and reached out for more people to get involved. As ever, it was really great to hear from such a brilliant project and hear of its developments in inspiring the young people of Croydon to learn to code.

Michael Willmott.
Photo by Fluid4Sight, used with permission. 

Michael Willmott rounded up the evening with Knodium’s journey so far. Knodium is a network for students and teachers to form groups of learning outside of the institutes. Likened by one member of the audience as “the next Steve Jobs”, Michael delivered a calm but nevertheless passionate insight into his journey to become the Co-Founder. He said how for him it was important to “never stop thinking about the problem you’re trying to solve” and to remain focussed on what the product is looking to do. He also suggested the importance of finding ways to fail fast in order to test your assumptions, as it can save you realising further down the line that the product is heading in the wrong direction, creating something no-one needs or wants.

“Always go and talk to your customers, no matter how small you are”

He spoke quite refreshingly of the importance of pacing yourself. There’s a culture and often a lot of pressure for a startup to move and develop fast, but in doing this often results in mistakes. Michael highlighted the importance of finding the balance between making a decision quickly which will take the product to new levels and rushing something that will cause huge problems further down the line.

With such passionate and enthusiastic speakers, there was so much to take from the evening. Everyone was unashamedly individual, different in their style and journeys, but all very inspiring people. All in all, this was a great second event of the year which hopefully sets the tone for future events to come.

The next Croydon Tech City event takes place on Thursday 19th March at 7:30pm at 3Space, Croydon. To attend, please sign up here.

Lucinda Stewart

Lucinda Stewart

Lucinda is a project manager for 3Space's Croydon hub - a charity which takes under-utilised commercial space and lets other charities, non-profit organisations and start-ups use the space for free. Although only in Croydon for just over a year now in the, she would say she is a complete Croydon convert, & loves having a wander and getting to know the locals.

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