Ten top-tips for tech startup success

The media is awash with guidance for small business owners. Do this, don’t do that, watch out for this pitfall or that one… Spend your days reading and trying to implement it all and frankly, your start-up is likely to fail due to a lack of focus on your part!

However, as we are beginning to welcome new businesses to the Catalyst Programme, some advice to get them off to the best possible start is warranted. That’s why we decided to round up advice from those who have been there, seen it, done it and bought the t-shirt.

With thanks to Inc.com, Start-ups.co.uk and Entrepreneur.com, we present ten top tips to creating a successful tech start-up, directly from the horses’ mouths.


 1. Choose Wisely

Phineas Barnes, partner at First Round Capital: “Know that there are three choices you get to make and the rest is heavily influenced by circumstance and luck. You choose your idea. You choose your business partners. You choose your investors. Your choice of partners and investors should be thought of as permanent and are therefore the most important two decisions you make. The idea can change and evolve but this ability and the direction of this evolution will be highly influenced by your choice of partners and investors.”

2. Understand the Problem Three Ways

Saul Klein, Founder of Kano Computing: “The perfect start-up has all three founders: someone who understands how to build technologies and systems to solve problems; someone who understands the human factors behind those problems, why they exist, what it takes to fix them and how to shape the experience; and someone who understands how to reach, talk to and sell to the people whose problems are being solved – and keep finding more of them. The ideal start-up has two of the three founders, but all three skills are present between them.”

3. Make a Difference 

Hilary Foger, Brand Strategy Partner, Lippincott: “If you’re looking to develop your own brand in the marketplace, it’s all about finding what your own unique brand positioning is. What is it that you do that is special and different from everyone else? What is the spirit and personality that you show up with in the marketplace? People don’t just want to buy something; they want to buy into something.”

4. Ask Tough Questions

Steph Welstead, StartUps.co.uk: “Sadly, not all great ideas translate into great businesses. Many great ideas have been scuppered by a lack of research and this stage should never be overlooked. Not only do you need to work out whether there is sufficient demand for your offering, you must also determine what marketing, pricing and business model will work for your target market. Do enough research to ensure the results aren’t one-sided, and take feedback onboard. Be prepared to change your idea according to what your customers want, not what you prescribe as the best solution.”

5. Plan Well

Tim Berry, Entrepreneur, Business Planner and Angel Investor: “Good management requires setting specific objectives and then tracking and following up. I’m surprised how many existing businesses manage without a plan. How do they establish what’s supposed to happen? In truth, you’re really just taking a short cut and planning in your head – and good for you if you can do it – but as your business grows you want to organize and plan better, and communicate the priorities better. Be strategic. Develop a plan; don’t just wing it.”

6. Find Strength in Failure

Mark Otero, Founder and CEO of KlickNation: “Fail fast: Start with a working set of assumptions and test them out in the market very fast. If your assumptions are wrong then pivot, adjust, and make a decisive decision. Remember, entrepreneurs love the process; the idea is one of many you’ll have to achieving greatness, and commercial success. Know your weaknesses: knowing your weaknesses is as important as knowing what your strengths are, and even more important as your company grows; hire or have co-founders who are great in areas where you are weak.”

7. Hire Well

Peter Berg, Founder of October Three: “Be really picky with your hiring, and hire the absolute best people you possibly can. People are the most important component of almost every business, and attracting the best talent possible is going to make a huge difference. Quality and quantity of output is not linear (e.g. one rockstar programmer can produce much better code than two average or slightly below average programmers). Throwing more people at a problem doesn’t necessarily solve it faster, but it definitely costs more. So hire the best people. (And if you make a mistake, don’t be afraid to let them go.)”

8. Look After Yourself

Jared Kim, Founder and CEO of Forge: “Contrary to the stereotype, start-ups are a marathon, not a sprint. The truth is, you are not going to be a billion dollar company or acquired in the next 18 months. It takes a long time. Surround yourself with people you will want to work with for the next 5 years and beyond. Don’t burn out. Take care of yourself by getting 8 hours of sleep, eat healthy and exercise. If you don’t take care of yourself, there’s no way you can take care of your company in the long term. Obviously there will occasionally be the special circumstances that will prohibit you from keeping a normal schedule (like the dates leading up to launch), but make those days the exceptions, not the norm.”

9. Stay Legal

Ryan Platt, StartUps.co.uk: “When setting up in business, an understanding of the red tape involved is a must, or you will be asking for trouble. You need to understand the basics of tax law, intellectual property law, employment regulations, digital regulations and insurance requirements.”

10. Learn to Say No

Chris Prescott, Founder and CEO of Fantasy Shopper: “Learn to say no. In the early months, you’ll be in hustle mode and will likely be saying ‘yes’ to every opportunity, getting whatever and whoever you can to help with momentum. Assuming all goes well, you’ll reach a tipping point where people start coming to you instead of you going to them – be that speaking events, trial services, coaching, investment etc. You will no longer have the time or need to say ‘yes’ to everything, so get the confidence to start saying ‘no’ to stay focused on your vision.”


Take advice from these top tips and your science or technology start-up might just have a chance of getting into Catalyst! Want to apply? We have a few places left, so get your application in today!