All tech startups or any business for that matter starts with an idea in someone’s head.
Where do you get ideas from?
Ideas come to our heads day and night relentlessly. 99.99% of them do not last the next 5 mins. They will be replaced by another idea. But those that stick around or keep coming back over and over tend to bug us, forcing some of us to do something about them.
But not all ideas are worth pursuing
How do you know that the idea you have can turn into a viable tech startup? First you need to develop that idea further. But how? Here are some steps you could take:
Speak to your friends, family or anyone who would listen to the idea.
Start researching online and find out who else had the same idea and how they took the idea to the market.
Based on speaking to others and research, is the idea strong enough for you to spend more time on it? Or should it be binned? Only you will know the answer.
Ideas that led to my tech startup career
I have been setting up, growing, failing and exiting tech startups since 2004. Let’s explore the idea stage of some of these tech startups.
edocr.com (2007) – YouTube for documents. I saw the success of Flickr and YouTube, which introduced collaboration around pictures and videos respectively. Slideshare which offered the same around Slides started to gain significant traction in late 2006 and early 2007. I was a lover of white papers and case studies. Why couldn’t we do the same to the boring documents? Could we build a collaborative environment around documents (pdfs)? Web 2.0 was the thing in 2007. I discussed this with Rhys Jones, CEO of Accountis, who was one of the main competitors of my first tech startup, ebdex, at Open Coffee Manchester, an event I held in Manchester in March 2007. The next month, I teamed up with Rhys and brought in two other friends to start building the product.
Deal Lite (2019) – Crunchbase for the UK. In order to rebuilt the Techcelerate network, I knew we needed intelligence about the tech startup market in the UK including the fastest-growing tech startups and investors backing them. So in May 2018, I started to collect details of successful fundraisings by UK tech startups. And it was a matter of time, before I started building Deal Lite the web application.
Unfortunately, my startup career did not start with an idea and bouncing it back and forth for several months before executing it. In 2004, after I handed over the last Executive MBA report at Manchester Business School, I joined a London based tech startup as an investor employee, investing £50,000 into creating a new division. Unfortunately, I withheld the investment after joining when I discovered a deep black hole, which eventually resulted in the company going into voluntary liquidation.
I took the concept forward by launching my first tech startup, ebdex, which attempted to build an Electronic Invoicing Presentment and Payment (EIPP) exchange. I burnt all my savings over the next 2 years and ended up shutting it just after securing £250k debt finance.
“FormScore, is derived from a tool that was given to me by a therapist, many years ago, as a means of tracking how I feel about my mental wellbeing, using a score out of 10. This tool has been invaluable to me over the years in helping build up the literacy as to what is driving my mental health. In 2019 as a campaigner, I decided to start publishing my score on my email signature and LinkedIn profile on a daily basis. The reaction to this was staggering, with people showing support, curiosity, and connection, facilitated by this very simple way of describing how we are feeling.
The reaction inspired me to organically evolve this simple tool into a mobile application that facilitates connection, based on our score. That’s when FormScore was born. The app helps us keep track of our form, connect with trusted colleagues, friends, or family members, and have visibility of each other’s scores. This works as a gentle nudge to connect with each other, celebrate when we are riding high, be there when they are feeling low, and should be needed, encourage them to seek professional support.”
According to James Garner, CEO of Sticky who joined our Clubhouse event on Monday the 22nd Feb 2021 to speak about his founder and investment journey,
“Building companies at the intersection of physical and digital was always my thing. The acute obsession with zero marginal costs from seed investors made me realise that making something physical was in fact an edge – the kind of ‘obvious in hindsight’ company that seed investors would consider too risky – but actually a very defensible edge if successful. It’s easy to forget an app or a website (see MySpace, Bebo), but much less a million physical stickers.
The pivotal moment came with Apple enabling ‘background NFC’ on their flagship iPhone in 2019. This unlocked the truly transactional nature of Sticky today on iOS that had been available on Android for years. I already knew there was a unicorn-to-be at the physical-digital intersection because the problem space is just so huge – imagine saving 5 minutes every time you ordered food or drink or an hour per health and safety check? Imagine making the world a genuinely safer place? I built the first ‘Sticky app’ by hand implementing the things I knew truly transactional physical-digital flows would need: instant payment (e.g. via Apple Pay) and login-less state between taps. Even these were hard to get right without making the consumer experience painful, and if a developer didn’t find it trivial then the rest of the world didn’t stand a chance. So by combining a huge problem space (too difficult to make good physical-digital experiences) with a new technology (background NFC) Sticky was born. Just one problem remained: how would we get people to use our NFC implementation over any other? Simple: we made the stickers the same size and shape so they’re a mark of trust, and called them stickies.”
The idea that led to the creation of SkilledUp Life
How did I come up with the idea to create SkilledUp Life? What process did I go through to validate the idea?
In March 2020, the UK government introduced a furloughed scheme, as the Covid-19 pandemic started to spread throughout the UK and the world, where 80% of the monthly salary up to a limit was paid by the Government for any employee furloughed by an employer. Under the scheme, the furloughed were not allowed to work for their employers.
At the same time, pilot projects that were scheduled to go ahead of Techcelerate tech startups stopped overnight. Customers stopped buying. Our tech startups were starting to get nervous. What could they do? How would they survive? No one knew what the future held and how long the virus would last. We all knew one day life would return to normalcy. But how were we to survive in the meantime?
During a chat with one of our Tech Startups, I had the idea of bringing the two parties together, the furloughed and tech startups. This was on 1st April 2020. By 7th of April, the predecessor to SkilledUp Life, Furloughed Life was up and running. On 2nd April 2020, I called up the Techcelerate community to bounce off the idea before setting up the two-sided market place.
We ran this as a not-for-profit project. On 31st July 2020, we closed down Furloughed Life and handed over the revenue we made less payment fees to NHS Charities. On 1st August 2020, we started SkilledUp Life as a for-profit initiative.
Due to my length of time in the tech startup world, I know how to develop an idea and take it to the market. Still, there is no guarantee of success, as proven with UnifiedVU, from 2014 to 2017. But what if you have no previous tech startup experience, do not have savings to burn and do not have a large network of family and friends to call upon? Where do you go to validate your idea beyond your small network?
We can assemble a team of Volunteers from SkilledUp Life to validate your idea. Keep an eye out for the next blog post (Step 2) where I explain how to extract the problem you are going to solve from the idea you had.
People who have been made redundant or have taken voluntary redundancy have skyrocketed
It's time to Upskill
The world no longer has 9 to 5 jobs for everyone. Opportunities are increasingly being replaced by advanced automation. Increase your chances of relevance in the future by gaining real experience by helping a tech startup.
Anyone can benefit from SkilledUp Life as long as you are 18+. You can undertake a project or a task remotely alongside higher education, internships and employment or contracting.
Please note you cannot earn financially or benefit from a taxable gain (benefit in kind).