The common traits that make tech start-ups succeed

There is no point in spending undue time protecting concepts by tying up the inner circle with legal protections when action is by far the best protection.

Getting out there and doing it, not just at the start but repeatedly thinking of how to improve and develop your proposition and achieving commercial traction, is far and away your best protection and disincentive from would-be copycats.

Reputation matters from day one

Few founders of start-ups need to be told to dream big, but as start-ups become early-stage enterprises, with customers, staff and shareholders, doubts can creep in as expectations and responsibilities grow.

The truth is that somewhere between confidence and humility lies a balanced ground that will be attractive to all of your audiences.

Remember there is a huge difference between your company’s promise and its reputation. One is easy and cheap, the other earned and valuable.

How others describe you from the earliest days is empowering and potent, so ask early clients to advocate for you. A strong client testimonial is worth multiples of your own easy promises.

And perhaps, surprisingly, it can also make the client love you more as they profess their advocacy. The impact on your own team goes without saying.

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Build head office slowly

As an early-stage business with growing traction in your market you’ll be tempted to start doing what corporates do … But don’t.

Often the lean core of a business is its greatest strength and founders and early-stage team members learn “head office” skills on the job. In doing so they also form a cultural norm for how head office functions should be done in the future.

Of course, there is technical expertise to be employed at the right time, to manage finance, people and legal processes well, but you should recruit just after the absolute need arises rather than create a cumbersome infrastructure that slows things down more than the value it creates.

Governance lite and try to self-fund

The same applies to governance and shareholder challenges. Bootstrap for as long as you possibly can and keep control, selecting directors who equally understand their fiduciary role and how they can support and empower your mission.

Bringing institutional investors onto the register (and board) too early can change the tempo and even direction of the business, just when you are resourced and ready to shoot for the stars. Often well-selected advisers are far more valuable in sharing their experience, approach and networks.

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Good behaviour makes good business sense

Make every decision with full transparency and openness, understanding the fit with your mission.

There will be inevitable compromises and you should appreciate there may be possible unintended consequences that will need to be managed later.

Although your idea and technology may be top drawer, your humanity and behaviour will be at least as crucial to your success in reaching your market and leading your team. Demonstrate human characteristics of empathy, creativity, interpretation and show care for the planet and society generally.

Tony Davis was a founding director and chairman at Quantium, an adviser and investor in other early-stage tech businesses, and a director of The Smith Family.

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