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Scaling up a tech company is a notoriously tricky undertaking. Founders who started out working closely with each other and a small group of carefully-selected early hires are suddenly confronted with the combined challenges of taking on dozens of new people, building the technology infrastructure and – very probably – raising considerable amounts of money. There are psychological hurdles too. The founder who starts off as lord of all that he or she surveys will have to learn to delegate not only responsibility but also a degree of power to incoming departments heads and may also face the trauma of moving sideways to make way for an experienced CEO. For many company owners it is a journey without maps.
Enter Tech Nation – an organisation established to promote networking among entrepreneurs, while also offering a range of programs designed to help founders overcome the challenges of rapid growth. The scale up period is specifically addressed through a program dubbed Upscale. Just about to take on its fourth cohort of entrepreneurs, it is essentially designed to help scaleup businesses accelerate their growth plan. As such, it offers workshops, networking opportunities and access to “scale coaches,” drawn from the ranks of experienced entrepreneurs and VCs.
That’s all well and good for those companies – Pockit, Trussle, Bloom & Wild and Paddle being recent examples - who secure a place on the program. But as an organisation set up by Government to serve technology businesses across the UK – Tech Nation has a remit to provide support for the many not the few. Thus, the organisation is seeking to make the thoughts of its coaches and industry experts available to a much wider group of founders through the publication of its first book.
“We were aware that the number of startups invited onto upscale every year will always – of necessity – be a tiny fraction of the new digital companies out there,” says Tech Nation Chief Executive Gerard Grech. “So, the team came up with the the idea of having an Upscale writer in residence to attend the sessions, hear the topics that most preoccupied founders on the program, and turn the results into a book.”
A Writer in Residence
The writer in residence is a familiar concept. Indeed, you’ll find one in institutions ranging from prisons to airports, but embedding a writer within a community of entrepreneurs and coaches created its own problems. The author, James Silver attended sessions but as Grech acknowledges, the presence of journalist initially put participants on their guard. Put simply, when it came to some of the trickier corners of growing a company – hiring, firing, admitting mistakes – some participants were less than eager to share their thoughts openly, with a writer in the room. So things became a little bit more formal. Follow up interviews were arranged, not only with Tech Nation’s scale coaches, but with a wider community of successful British Entrepreneurs and investors.
Tech Nation hopes the resulting book – which dropped through my letterbox a couple of weeks before Christmas – successfully captures the the themes of Upscale.
So what does that mean in practice? Well, what you get is a collection of themed interviews across three sections – namely People (hiring and culture issues); Company (broadly, creating a corporate strategy); and Funding. Each of these sections is broken up into interview-based chapters that look, in-depth, at specific issues.For instance, the People section explores issues such as hiring and firing, building a talent brand, the myths around culture and the fact that skilled technologists don’t always make the best managers. Flick through to the Company section and various coaches offer their thoughts on customer care, choosing markets wisely, key metrics and opening overseas offices. Rather than being a “how to” guide, in which a writer or entrepreneur sets out best practice from a unified perspective, Upscale offers a collection of insights from individuals drawing on their personal experience. It’s a format that lends itself to dealing with some of the more difficult corners of running a business.
Does this succeed in providing the broader business community with a flavor of the Upscale initiative? Well, it’s probably true to say that book can never capture the kind of one-to-one interaction that a founder might get from talking directly to a mentor or coach. But what it does do is pull together the experience of dozens of coaches and advisers who collectively cover of many of the issues raised and discussed during Upscale itself.
But here’s the thing. According to my copy, the book is a limited edition of 500. That in itself will limit its reach of a book that it meant to be speaking to a wider audience of founders.
December 29, 2018 at 05:17AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs