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London Enterprise Tech meet up: how to crawl, walk, run your business!

You have to give credit to Ian Ellis, the founder of both London and New York’s Enterprise Tech Meetups.

Like many other enterprising grads in Ireland during the 1990’s, Ian found himself working in the Tech industry from an early age, and although he now heads up IT operations at a major international bank, he has remained an influential figure on the Tech start-up scene, capable of attracting many of the more promising Enterprise Tech companies to his events. His ties with the LSE extend to the use of the Wolfson theatre near Holborn station, a cracking little venue which crackles with an intensity that threatens to boil over at times, as myths are debunked and entrenched opinions questioned, were it not for his easy charm and penetrating insight.

Before we began Monday’s event, Edgar A. Whitley briefly addressed the audience to outline a proposal by LSE researchers to use technological developments to improve the way that care data, i.e. data collected about patients from the various places where an individual may receive care and treatment, including GP practices, hospitals and community services, is handled.

This is clearly a sensitive issue, and, although, as Mr Whitley argues, the societal benefits of collecting patient health data are self-evident, and permitted by the Health and Social Care Act of 2012, there are many who may wish to opt out for personal reasons, for example an objection on principle to allowing sensitive personal health to be used by Big Pharma companies to further drug development, as is currently the case. The dynamic consent model provides a user friendly platform whereby patients can select who is permitted to retain their health records, what those records can be used for, and to restrict access to specific records. A classic example of technology being used to provide a solution to a wider social dilemma.

The intro provided good context for Enterprise Tech’s first ever joint presentation, from Big Data analytics specialists Cloudera, and IaaS provider Bigstep.

The blurb on the Bigstep website claims that it’s combination of full hardware performance and cloud flexibility make this “the world’s most powerful public computing infrastructure”, so all eyes were on Alex Bordei as he took to the stage, following a brief introduction to Hadoop open source software from the Cloudera team.

I have watched hundreds of hours of presentations over the years and I would estimate the success rate of live demonstrations to be around 30-40 percent, which proves two things. Even the most ardent open source software evangelist would surely admit that the ability to interpret big data with the speed and reliability to enlighten every consumer is still a long way off, and that balls the size of watermelons are required when suggesting to 100 or so said evangelists that your offering is superior to theirs!

Alex coped admirably with the pressure, and his arguments, that smaller is better, dual socket configuration is not necessarily better than single, scalability is not linear in performance terms, and that Hadoop and Impala in particular are highly sensitive to memory access speeds, demonstrably held water, although I won’t be volunteering to evaluate his coding line by line. Others, I suspect, might.

Next, Ian welcomed an eclectic, yet awesomely professionally experienced panel to the stage. From left to right, Mike Reilly, of Sadlier Reilly Capital, one time CTO at JP Morgan, Bryce Kean, founder of Albion Drive PR, and co-founder of 3 Beards, Dan Bigland, the ex-google Senior Global Leadership Recruiter at King, Robert Baldock, MD of Clustre, who help SME’s to work with larger enterprises, and finally Simon Stevens, founding partner of Trinamo, who help early stage businesses explore marketing opportunities. All expertly chaired by the impressive Steve Wood, Principle Sales Consultant at Launchpad Consultants.

The panel fielded questions covering 3 basic stages of a Company’s development, let’s call them crawl, walk, run, and indeed a lot of ground was covered! Interestingly, there are no hard and fast rules regarding when to approach an investor, or think about applying for funding.

Mike emphasised the point that, if he hears of a genuinely good idea that demonstrably provides a solution to a common problem, he has access to resources that may take a start-up years to find; reliable staff, developers, a proven strategy for growth, so do not be afraid to be forward in coming forward. Interestingly however, he argued, and the rest of the panel concurred, that a start-up’ proposition is many times more powerful if there is already more than one person on board. Demonstrate that you have persuaded 2 friends or colleagues to come on board at an early stage, and it will show considerably in your favour when it comes to pitch time. Friends harder to find than money? Who’d have thought it.

Mike was persuasive and articulate across a number of other topics, dominating the early exchanges with good advice about how not be prioritised out of an investor’s thinking, who to work with and at what level (mid level, sales, the boss is too busy to make decisions), and the problem of building a business on the basis of one large clients demands, only to discover that the model is too bespoke to be marketable to other clients.

When pitching an idea, Bryce warned the audience, don’t be vague! You want to make it in the States? So do Oasis, so do Tesco’s, what exactly is your business plan, and how are you performing in the UK? A point reinforced by Simon: be as clear as you can about your value proposition: people buy for pleasure or pain, and they buy on their terms, not yours!

Robert encouraged us all to visit Amazon and buy “Crossing the Chasm”, and had plenty to say about sales people, involving buckets of water, and a bizarre interview technique best not attempted if by the faint hearted. While the panel chewed the fat, Robert espoused the virtues of the CUD. Compelling, Unique, Defendable. And the greatest of these? Robert must be Chelsea fan.

Rob spoke about the importance of creating a scalable culture and recruitment strategy to help you expand quickly and responsibly. Be clear about the kind of people you want and need and don’t stray from those principles. Ultimately this helps not just you but all of the recruiters you will work with. If they don’t know what you need, they won’t find you the right people.

A fast paced, entertaining and challenging discussion, then, which covered far more ground than I can fit in here. Instead, I’ll briefly spill over to the pub where networking drinks were provided, and presenters, past and present, including the incomparable Ian Bird of Yarc Data, were on hand to answer questions and open up further about their business. As a start-up of sorts, some of the best advice I received all night came from Steve McQueen, of Paradigm systems, the Microsoft Office 365 implementation specialists: when waiting for your Company to take off enjoy the cold baked bean diet! Wise words, Steve, I did notice there was a bit of a crush round the refreshments table.

(I am available for copywriting including Company features and PR consulting, please email ted@haggerstonmediatech for further details)


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