“The first time I asked for product feedback, I got death threats”: November’s Croydon Tech City

By - Monday 23rd November, 2015

#Croydon #TechCity co-founder Jonny Rose reports back from last week’s gathering of startups and CEOs

November’s Croydon Tech City event saw nearly one hundred software developers, creatives and venture capitalists decamp at the partially-finished Matthews Yard ‘Backyard’ workspace, for another evening of inspirational tech startup talks.

The evening kicked off with a CTC first: a ‘fireside chat’ with Tech London Advocates founder and angel investor, Russ Shaw.

Photo by Fluid4Sight, used with permisison.

Despite being a high-flying executive (Russ was famously behind the multi-million pound deal that saw the Millennium Dome renamed ‘The O2’), the entrepreneurial lessons that put him in good stead were from a much less rarefied time: namely cleaning toilets to earn his keep as a sixteen year old in Phoenix, Arizona.

It was whilst working this most humbling of summer jobs that Russ learnt the mechanics of balancing the books, winning new business, and the merits of delivering a service well. It was from then that he went on to make a career in financial services, telecommunications, and ultimately angel investing in technology.

The budding (and actual) CEOs in the room learnt that the top job isn’t always as cushy as it seems: Russ took us through the torture of having to fire your board (“I had to hold the phone from my ear for an hour as he shouted at me”), understanding the finer point of venture capital (“Make sure that you understand the importance of ‘liquidity preferences’”), and rammed home the importance of getting to know your investors and their agendas.

By contrast, second speaker Nafisa Bakkar – founder of social ecommerce platform Amaliah – was at the beginning of her career (the product has only been ‘live’ for three weeks!), but already showed much of the same wisdom as Russ.

Photo by Fluid4Sight, used with permission.

Bakkar’s talk was filled with useful and practical advice helpfully split into DOs and DON’Ts. The audience was told “DON’T get a developer, learn to code: it will take six months and do a lifetime of good”, “DON’T be idea obsessed: look at market size and if you’re going to solve a problem”, “DON’T outsource your development: as a founder you need to understand the technical underpinning of your product”.

More positively, Bakkar advised that the audience “DO get a mentor – people are always willing, just ask”. It was wonderful to hear that Alex Depledge – a two-time Croydon Tech City speaker, and founder of Hassle (recently acquired by Helpling for €32m) – is Bakkar’s mentor. Bakkar’s advice on mentorship was particularly instructive – I particularly liked when she said that a mentor does not have to be in your industry (tech or fashion, in this case) as someone from outside can look more objectively at your product.

Fantastically, Amaliah has been accepted into the world-famous Ignite accelerator (formerly home to Croydon Tech City startup Chew.TV), and by the end of her talk there was no doubt that Bakkar will absolutely relish the experience and do great things when she’s there.

The final speaker of the night was Jesse Lozano, CEO of Pi-Top – a Raspberry Pi laptop that you can build yourself.

Jesse took us through the highs and lows of the hardware startup journey. It turns out that doing hardware is no joke (“If you want to do hardware make sure that you really want to do hardware – it will consume you”). The founder journey is a lonely one, even when you finally get a co-founder involved (“Make sure that you hire people that you would also want to be friends with”). There are so many parts to a hardware product that can go wrong, not just at design phase but also during the logistics (“Don’t outsource production – make sure that you’re involved every step of way. Meet the suppliers”).

Photo by Fluid4Sight, used with permission.

Iterating and improving hardware products relies on lots and lots and lots of user testing and getting test versions of your product into people’s hands at tradeshow events. Feedback can often be harsh (“The first time I solicited feedback I got death threats”), but there are acknowledge milestones on the iteration journey (“Crowdfunding is the final hurdle to validation”).

The Pi-Top team have been great supporters of Croydon Tech City – most recently they took the time to demo at our Future Tech City event for two hundred Croydon school children. If you want to support a fantastic startup and get your son, niece or grandchild a cool Christmas gift, then head over and buy Pi-Top’s next release – the pi-topCEED.

Join Croydon Tech City for their final event of the year on Thursday 17th December, 7pm at Matthews Yard. Free, all welcome, to attend please register here.

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose is a committed Christian who has lived in the Croydon area for nearly twenty years. He is an active participant in his local community, serving at Grace Vineyard Church and organising Purley Breakfast Club, and was ranked "Croydon's 37th most powerful person" by the Croydon Advertiser (much to his amusement). He owns a lead generation company. He is the Head of Content at marketing technology company Idio, the founder of the Croydon Tech City movement, a LinkedIn coach, and creator of Croydon's first fashion label, Croydon Vs The World. Working on Instagram training and a Linkedin lead generation service. Views are his own, but it would be best for all concerned if you shared them. Please send your fanmail to: jonnyrose1 (at) gmail (dot) com

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