Image: ShutterstockThe industry was declared the most “recession-proof” in a February study that revealed tech has been the safest and most secure sector to work in since 2002, which has been achieved as companies across all sectors become increasingly reliant on digital support to operate. And in January, Boris Johnson’s London & Partners announced that the nation’s tech market had secured a record venture capital investment total of $3.6bn in 2015 – up 70 per cent on the previous year. The startup road isn’t always a smooth journey to success, however, and we’ve spoken with three business owners to find out the steps they took to achieve growth and how they climbed hurdles with a creative mindset. First up we spoke to Scott Sherwood. He is the founder of TestLodge, an online test case management tool that lets users manage their test plans, test cases and test runs. What made you decide to start the business? Working as a software developer, I had always had side projects which I had built and maintained. Although they were never that profitable, they did allow me to build on my development skills and use preferred languages that I was not using in my main job. The main inspiration for building TestLodge came after reading ReWork, written by 37signals/Basecamp, which I read at the same time as I was looking at starting my next personal project. ReWork sets out practical tips on the best way to start a profitable business based on experience and is probably one of the most inspiring books that I have ever read. What difficulties did you face and how did you overcome them? Honestly, in the early days there were very few difficulties. I was spending the odd hour here and there developing the software and it continued like this for the first five to six months. The tool itself was made available for people to use at an extremely early stage and looking back this was a great thing to do. After contacting a few of the leading blog owners in the software testing industry, a couple of them wrote short articles on the tool. This provided important feedback as well as a few early users of the tool who also provided their thoughts and feature requests. Gaining these comments was possibly one of the most valuable pieces of information that I could have gotten and the features that were developed were based directly on these. Once the tool was live and there were a few more users, some early challenges did become present. Although I had a very small user base, these users were demanding and they expected the tool to rapidly improve – finding the time to do this was a challenge. Luckily the company I worked for was very supportive and allowed me to reduce my working week down to four days which meant I had more time to dedicate to development, further improving things and looking after these early users. The other challenge in the early days was, of course, money. I had invested a very small amount in the business at the start to pay for things like web hosting and payment gateways, but this didn’t stretch that far and there were areas such as the design that I knew needed to be significantly improved. Over time, I slowly built up the customer base and, as the features continued to develop, small payments started to come – all of which were re-invested into the tool.
How important is your team to the success of your business? Having the right people on board is one of the most essential things for a business, regardless of whether they are freelancers, contractors or full-time staff. The people you work with should all believe in the product and want to make it a success – this is one of the most important factors when considering who I work with. Everyone that I have worked with have all been specialists in their given areas and have, or are, contributing to making sure that the business moves forward in the right direction. Working with others has also allowed me to be hands-off in certain areas and allows me to spend time on other areas of the business which may otherwise get a little neglected. How do you attract new talent to your business? TestLodge is an exciting startup in an exciting area. Being a small company there are lots of opportunities to develop skills in a range of areas. TestLodge allows remote working which means that the business isn’t restricted by geographical location as to the people that it can hire. The ability to work flexible hours from your chosen location, fitting your family life around work – rather than the other way around – is a great perk for any employee. What advice do you have for entrepreneurs looking to start a new tech venture? Unless you are lucky enough to have a large investment, one of the best things that you can do is to start the business whilst still holding down a full-time job. This way you are giving yourself more chance of success with lower risks. You will have the luxury of still having a wage coming in and not be rushed into making bad decisions because you are short of money. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t easy as you will be working a good few hours more each week, but it’s a good way to test the water and see if your idea is viable. Hopefully the business does take off, but if it doesn’t, then all you have lost is a little time. You will still have your job and chances are you will have learnt a lot along the way. Next up we speak to the entrepreneur who spotted a gap in the market with his brother to combine their experience to become a “weapon” – continue reading on the next page.
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