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How to thrive in a tech start-up: 9 transferable skills and 1 crucial quality

tech accelerator, team meeting

Tech has thrived during the pandemic, experiencing major growth trajectories thanks to the radical changes to buying, lifestyle and business habits across the globe.

If you’re about to take on a leadership role in a tech start-up, how can you ensure you also thrive? These are the nine non-tech sector skills that you need, in order of appearance…

Securing the leadership role – interview and negotiation

  • Rapport Building

From the start, the existing team will expect to see you as easy to connect with, easy to collaborate with, and that you are on the same page as them. Leveraging your best rapport-building skills will pay dividends: not only will you connect quickly with the existing leaders but you will also reassure them that you can build a great rapport with existing and future customers.

  • Communication

This is arguably the #1 skill throughout your career. To secure your role, you need to clearly communicate who you are, the quantifiable impact that you will have and how, with relevant examples, you can help move the fledging business from A to B, with metrics, measurements and time commitments to your actions and results.

When negotiating your role, communicate strongly and clearly about the requirements of your role and how performance and results will be measured. If there is no historical precedent for measuring your role, work with existing leadership to establish expectations.

Once onboard, communication will continue to be a much-used skill. You will need to clearly communicate strategy, business goals and reasons for both popular and unpopular decision-making every day. This communication will be both verbal and written and carried out while simultaneously motivating the workforce. You will also be communicating new business products and features to customers or prospects regularly, which sometimes may be quite conceptual and require careful communication management.

Starting the role – fast starts and early results

  • Flexibility

Be open minded when you look under the bonnet: things may not be exactly as you expected. See this as an opportunity: find unexpected areas where you can have a positive impact. Be prepared to handle tasks, team members and projects that stretch the limits of your agreed role, because in start-ups there are no real limits, only those that are self-imposed.

Shortly after starting your role (2-4 weeks in), approach those who hired you with a proposal of how your role can be flexed to enable you to positively influence the new areas you have identified.

  • Teamwork

Your new team needs to see not only your rapport-building skills but also your ability to thoroughly embed yourself into whatever task is required. You need to quickly demonstrate that you understand the business, its goals and their role in achieving them. Embrace their business experience, no matter how junior or senior they are. You bring skills and abilities that they don’t currently offer, and they bring business knowledge and customer intelligence that you don’t currently have. Form ways to connect your skills and their knowledge for rapid results.

  • Multitasking

Be prepared to handle multiple projects, targets and business requirements from day one. Due to the pace and bandwidth requirements of most tech start-ups, this isn’t just a basic requirement of anybody in a leadership role: it’s something you need to genuinely love and thrive on.

Thriving in the job – sustainable success

  • Coaching

According to Reema Gainley, founder and success coach to B2B start-ups at The Gainley Group, “Great leaders, the types of leaders who were able to empower and inspire others through fast-paced change, like we see in the tech industry, are those leaders who know how to communicate effectively and learn how to coach their teams for mutual success.”

For your tech start-up to thrive, every member of the business must also be thriving and growing too. Your role as a coach is essential not just for them, but also for you to be able to pass high-responsibility tasks to the wider team, freeing up your time to focus on other priorities.

  • Crisis Control

In tech start-ups, sh*t happens. They develop products, push them to the limit, test them, further develop them and so on. Occasionally things will break. Your ability to manage any crisis scenario calmly and with positive outcomes is essential. You need to be able to manage the internal team, and often customers too. Throughout these high stress moments, you need to focus on external outcomes and to lift and carry both your teams and your customers through to the other side.

  • Prioritisation

Your workload will never shrink: it will grow constantly as you become more established and more capable of delivering results. Prioritising tasks into short-term, long-term and urgent attention will need to be second nature. It’s also vital to know when to abandon tasks. Not only will this help your start-up to thrive, but this will make your role sustainable – nobody can do everything that they want to.

  • Autonomy

There will be times when you need to get your head down and execute activities independently. Sometimes these may be tasks that you are familiar with and other times you will be encountering brand new challenges. In both instances you need the courage and confidence to act independently and with conviction.

These nine skills – and the diligent application of them – will see you flourish if you can apply one quality across everything to ensure you truly succeed: resilience.

You will be thrown every challenge, task, curve ball and opportunity in your start-up career. Showing up with a daily dose of resilience will ensure you don’t just survive your role but thrive in it.

Vanessa LovattAbout the author

Vanessa Lovatt is Chief Evangelist at Glisser, an award-winning technology platform powering unique company event experiences and meetings, anywhere.

In a male-dominated industry, here is the inside scoop on how you can improve your venture pitch outcomes

Workshop: Tech for Non-Technical Founders event in london

Male-founded start-ups have a near monopoly on venture capitalist funding. Less than 1% of total venture capital funds in the UK are invested in female-founded start-ups, and the situation in the USA is very similar.

Although this statistic has been in the market for a few months now, I still find it staggering.

As a woman in the venture capital industry, I know how it feels to be in the minority; just 18% of investment professionals in the UK VC industry are women with even fewer (13%) holding the role of decision maker.

The good news is, with the issue firmly under the spotlight, change will come…eventually. But despite all the Government incentives and reports, it is ultimately up to those operating in the VC industry to put this right and, like most change, it is unlikely to come overnight.

In the meanwhile, we need to manage the status quo. Given the statistic I referenced above, it is likely that, at least 85% of the time, female founders will be pitching to male decision makers. Therefore, I have put together some top tips to equip female founders to navigate this environment and ultimately, to make it very difficult for the investor to decline the opportunity you are presenting to them.

Present the best-case scenario

Too many of us present our businesses conservatively. At start-up stage, investors want to leave the meeting with a sense of excitement. They want to feel in awe of what they’ve just been presented with. Of course, transparency and risk aversion are important characteristics, so you need to balance your pitch with some well thought out assumptions. But remember, ultimately, it’s the VC’s job to assess the risk profile of the investment and to evaluate whether the opportunity is still attractive to them even if ‘best-case’ is not quite achieved. Don’t undersell the potential of your business.

Approach the pitch with confidence and be affirmative

Women tend to hold back when they present to investors and sometimes fail to convey their conviction in what they are doing. Some top tips are to pitch to friends, advisers and colleagues who you know will give you honest feedback. Do your research about the investor you are pitching to – understand what their investment criteria is and be sure to adapt your pitch to fit their priorities. Practice, practice and practice your pitch and be clear about how your product/technology is solving a big problem. Finally, video yourself pitching. This will make you more conscious of the language you are using and help you use words or phrases that are more affirmative.

Remember, you don’t have to have all of the answers!

In my experience, female founders are insistent on perfection versus their male counterparts who will improvise a bit more. This means that while female founders are perfecting their business and swotting up on responses to every potential question that the investor could possibly ask, male founders are out there having meetings, learning lessons and receiving capital.

No one expects you to have all the answers, the perfect product/ solution or go-to-market strategy. The only caveat to this is being able to talk confidently about the addressable market size, which is essential. But ultimately, you will never be able to prepare for every eventuality and in fact, investors like to ask far ranging questions simply to understand your thought process. They don’t expect perfect responses. Also remember that VC investors often play an active role in the development of their portfolio companies’ businesses; they may have new ideas which could benefit your business, so it’s best to go to them early, even without all the answers, so that you can profit from their helicopter view of the sector.

Lead by example

Most VCs are interested in backing businesses which inspire, break the mould and represent ‘firms of the future’. We back visionaries with great ideas which demonstrate clear commercial potential, and we embrace change and progress. Investors increasingly understand that businesses with a clear and positive purpose generally deliver stronger returns, so have a diverse team with policies that inspire, cultivate and nurture diversity within your organisation.

Look for female investment partners

As a female founder, it is likely that you are in a good position to develop a repour with a female investor. So, seek out the 13% of decision makers out there, particularly if you have a product targeting women. They are likely to understand your product and target market much more quickly than a male investor might.

There are lots of great accelerator programmes, female founder office hours and other initiatives catered to female founders with the aim of helping female founders access funding. Aim to leverage these as much as you can to help you access the right investors.

Take rejection on the chin

Finally, rejection is part and parcel of fundraising. Therefore, it is important to try and not take this too personally and treat pitching as a numbers game. The more investors you pitch to, the better you get at pitching and the more likely you will be to find one investor who wants to invest in your business.

And finally, in reality, most of these pointers are applicable to all founders, female or male. But, as a female VC investor, who has sat in hundreds of pitches and has backed multiple female founded businesses myself, I hope these takeaways will arm you with confidence in order to rebalance the current reality. Remember, be visionary, have a good handle on your numbers and present with confidence.

About the author

Isabelle O'KeefeIsabelle is a Principal at Sure Valley Ventures where she focuses on identifying and evaluating investment opportunities in areas including AR/VR, IoT and Fintech. Her previous experience has been working across the telco, technology and media sectors in London, Madrid and the Nordics.

Immediately before joining Sure Valley she worked at the Barclays Fintech Accelerator Programme powered by Techstars, working closely with start-ups and helping them to build and grow their businesses. During her career she’s been involved in numerous deals and investment decisions helping to identify potential investee companies.


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Nicola Anderson

Inspirational Woman: Nicola Anderson | CMO, MyTutor

Nicola AndersonNicola Anderson is the CMO at MyTutor, a UK edtech startup that aims to make tutoring affordable and easy to access for all students.

Nicola studied at Bristol university many moons ago and after deciding a PhD in tadpoles wasn’t for her moved to London, landed a marketing role in a tech startup right in the middle of the dotcom boom - and has never left.

She’s worked across a whole range of sectors from sports and gambling to photography and finance and is finally in the sector she is most passionate about. Outside of work Nicola is completing a diploma in coaching and mentoring and loves skiing, yoga and travel.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

My current position is Chief Marketing Officer at online tutoring platform MyTutor. It’s a company that matches school pupils with inspiring university students for one-to-one lessons online.

Tech lowers the cost of and widens access to this kind of personalised education, helping us towards our mission to offer lifechanging tuition for all. We've seen it boost confidence and deliver excellent results for our students (improving by a whole grade over 12 weeks!)

My original plan was to become a vet – but I’ve now been working in the tech sector for almost 20 years! My first tech role was in the online sport and gambling space, a job that happened almost by accident after being brought in as temporary cover, and since then I’ve had positions in a wide range of online companies and digital startups.

Outside of work I’ve just finished my diploma in coaching and mentoring and am also a governor of a local school, which helps to stay up to date with the latest education policies and in tune with what really matters to schools.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Honestly, never! From the word go my career has been a series of opportunities presenting themselves and me deciding to go for them.  After switching from Veterinary Science to Zoology at university and deciding a pHD in tadpoles wasn’t for me, I headed to London which absolutely no idea of what might happen next.  A career in tech was a surprise to me.

More recently though I’ve taken very active decisions on the businesses I’ve chosen to work with ensuring its for a product or service that I really believe in.The EdTech sector broadly – and definitely MyTutor specifically as a company – really fit that criteria for me.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

Interestingly, for me, the biggest challenge I’ve had to overcome in my career hasn’t necessarily been as a result of external factors, but more my own fear of not being ‘good enough’. This ‘imposter syndrome’ has even led me drop out of interview processes as I just wasn’t sure I could do the job.  Fortunately for me I’ve been lucky enough to have had the support to overcome this and take the opportunity - however terrifying I found it.

I have found this feeling to be so common among women in this industry.  It’s partly why I decided to do a diploma in coaching  and mentoring so I can support other women facing the same internal demons which can hold them back from getting the opportunities they really deserve.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I think looking back over my career I’d say my biggest achievement has been developing strong teams at every place I’ve worked, and being able to watch them grow in their roles both with me and in their next roles.  I’m incredibly proud of all of them and love seeing how they progress and where they are now.  I’m delighted to see that most of them are now far more successful than me.

I’m also really proud of achieving my coaching diploma and mentoring really talented women coming up in tech roles, especially since it was so critical to me in my own development.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

I don’t think that I would have been able to achieve as much as I have without the support of my peers and the networks that exist within the industry. There have been points in my career when I’ve felt overwhelmed in situations, and I’ve always been able to find others who have experienced similar challenges and are happy to share their experiences and wisdom with me.

Another thing that I’ve learned is that success comes easier when you’re passionate about what you do. As I’ve progressed in my career I’ve been lucky enough to work with companies and on projects that I have truly loved, and that’s made a real difference in my ability to progress and grow.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

The best thing to do if you want to grow in this industry is to build out your network.  I’m constantly amazed at how open, honest and supportive people in this sector are - and this isn’t just limited to  women. I’ve got some fantastic male mentors too.

In fast growing tech companies we’re frequently working on projects and intiatives that we’ve got little to no experience in.  It’s a huge challenge but an exciting one particularly when you’ve got a group of peers there to support you.  And its important to remember that whilst you may not always succeed, you’ll certainly always learn.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

This is something that I get asked a lot, and I always give the same, perhaps controversial, answer. As far as I’m concerned, the biggest barrier to our success as women in tech is ourselves.

I’m not saying that there aren’t institutional and cultural roadblocks that prevent women from reaching the highest levels of the industry, but I think that so often women limit themselves by not thinking they are good enough to make it to the top.

Too often I hear the women I mentor saying that they don’t think they have the right skills or they haven’t got enough experience to take on a role, when I know men at their level wouldn’t consider this for a moment.

My aim for every woman I mentor is for them to see how valuable they are, and how much they would be worth to the companies they want to work for.

What do you think companies can do to support to progress the careers of women working in technology?

From my perspective there is a lot more that tech companies can do to improve their diversity and inclusion processes, as well as their general workplace culture for women. Often I’ve found that companies that are otherwise progressive don’t offer simple things like flexible working to allow parents to be available for school pick ups, or part-time roles for women looking to come back into the workforce.

Committing to simple policies like these demonstrates to women that a company understands what they need, and is willing to support them in their career growth. It also significantly widens the pool of candidates available to fill upcoming roles!

Currently only 15 per cent of tech employees are women, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

In short, create more part-time and shared roles. There are hundreds of experienced, focused and capable women who aren’t able to take on full time work, but who are just as valuable in a part time role. We need to ensure that tech companies understand this (and  where to find them - a question I get asked a lot).

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech, eg Podcasts, networking events, books, conferences, websites etc?

So many but so I don’t get carried away 3 of my favourites are:

  • Brene Brown’s TED talks on vulnerability and shame
  • Time to Think by Nancy Klein
  • How to  Fail Elizabeth Day.

Gemma Young featured

Inspirational Woman: Gemma Young | CEO & Co-Founder, Settled


Gemma Young, Settled

Gemma is passionate about technology's potential to radically improve people’s lives.

She’s on a mission to erase the anxieties that overshadow the joy of buying and selling a home. For well over a decade, Gemma’s been immersed in the online world, with experience that includes one of the UK’s first digital agencies and - back in its early days - Google. During her time at Google, Gemma worked across Silicon Valley, Europe and Africa.

With her experience both on the front line of digital, and previously as an estate agent, she’s leveraged some the most innovative technological advances in her drive to reshape the home buying and selling experience, creating Settled.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I have been involved with Internet businesses for well over a decade and am passionate about improving people’s everyday lives through technology. After graduating, I ventured into the world of estate agents, where I spent some time before moving to work for one of the UK’s first digital agencies. I subsequently joined what was (back then) a ‘start-up’; Google, where I stayed for many years working across Silicon Valley, Europe and Africa.

Having been on the front line of industries being transformed by the Internet, and having seen the shortcomings of the estate agency model, I saw the opportunity to leverage technology to reshape the home buying and selling experience and, together with my Co-Founder and brother Paul Young, I created property transaction platform Settled with the dream of making moving a home easier for everyone.

What inspired you to start Settled?

I spent time working in estate agents in my early career, so I’d seen ‘under the hood’ of the model. I understood processes and how things fit together and I’d always paid close attention to the industry - kind of waiting for someone to come in and truly improve it. But, years on, the fall through rates were the same (1 in 3 homes which go under offer don’t end up selling) and, with all the advances in technology - I could see the solution.

I thought about this for some time and then, one day a friend of mine turned up at my house in tears. She’d lost out on the house of her dreams after battling legal and financial processes for months. At that moment, I decided I was going to go for it. I left my job at Google and started building what today is Settled.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

As individuals, unless you know what you want - your career progression becomes a set of steps you take which hopefully get you closer to your true character and values, and that was certainly the case for me.

My journey took me through roles in real estate, digital technology and when I was at Google, I got really close to how technology could be used to solve big problems - I loved its potential.

Alongside all this, increasingly I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur and I’d always been drawn to businesses where consumers, rather than businesses, call the shots. I do feel truly grateful I’ve taken risks and followed this passion. It’s not been easy, but I’m so excited that Settled can continue to play a part in the digital transformation of what is considered to be one of the most stressful times in our lives and, that hopefully, one day people will feel moving home is purely joyful, not stressful - that it’s just Settled.

Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?

One of the most important things I have learnt is resilience. Over time, setting up a business is hugely challenging. But it’s truly the belief in what’s possible, in the mission and purpose of what myself and my team come into work for everyday that keeps us going.

On a typical workday, how does you start your day and how does it end?

I wake up around 7am - hit the snooze button so I can give myself 10 minutes to go through new emails and to check up on the day’s plans. On my commute in, I’ll either listen to a business book on Audible or write emails and respond to questions. Then it’s normally either a coffee at my favourite café across the road from my office or a breakfast meeting to start the day.

My evenings are normally dinners with friends, industry events and, of course, nights in switching off to everything with something trashy on Netflix.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you ever had a mentor or do you mentor anyone?

I love spending time with techies or people who get excited about the future - how the world will change through technology and pushing the boundaries on innovation.

I’m lucky enough to, overtime, have come into contact with other entrepreneurs, some of whom have become dear friends. Their support, experience and openness to glasses of wine and sharing ideas is something I’m deeply grateful for.

I often reflect and wish I’d had more people around me in my very early journey so now, I do make the time to spend with early startup founders. I can often relate to their challenges and, I hope, through sharing my experiences, I can help them to avoid or cope with some of those challenges.

If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?

The world and its workplace have evolved over the years; its structures have equally developed meaning that, naturally, certain values and expected behaviours have evolved.

I’m less interested in looking back at the reasons why - I believe more progress comes from looking forward. We’re at a time where we should understand and unpick these things more deeply across race, sexual preference, gender and many other facets.

From a gender perspective - women aren’t under represented at board level just because they’re not as capable. There are multi-faceted and deeply structural reasons for this - such as women having the biological responsibility of child birth and subsequently, being the most likely party to have the onus placed on them for childcare. We need to think about how do we work with this and understand these differences? Because, more understanding of these pressures will benefit businesses and society in the long run.

What advice do you have for an future or budding entrepreneurs?

Solving a problem that’s really meaningful to you, that other people need the solution to and that’s close to your individual values and strengths.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Since our launch, we’ve worked hard to develop a technology and service that feels quite different to conventional methods in real estate. We’ve empowered customers and it’s been hugely rewarding to see how this, along with the technology and applications we’re building, has had a direct impact on how successful a transaction is. We’ve already cut the time it takes to buy or sell in half and we’ve vastly reduced the likelihood of a home falling through.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

I believe moving home shouldn’t be one of the most stressful things we do in our lives. I want people to be able to move around the world more easily and I plan to make sure Settled becomes synonymous with the perfect home move for buyers and sellers.