Student Technology Day: how to start a start-up

Summary:Andy McLoughlin spoke a little while ago about how he started up his own web start-up, Huddle.net, from a simple idea in a pub to a fully working business and enterprise collaboration suite.

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Andy McLoughlin spoke a little while ago about how he started up his own web start-up, Huddle.net, from a simple idea in a pub to a fully working business and enterprise collaboration suite. It's a large network of hosted workspaces; yet another project management and team collaboration service based on Enterprise 2.0. Sure, it's good for him, but for me it's just another day at the office with the same old crap.

Nevertheless, some of the things he spoke about were invaluable to students, especially those who want to go about with their own start-ups and ideas. He explained how Microsoft helped him and his new company out, not only with marketing but also with advice about starting up business.

Huddle.net started and continues to run on a mixture of different services; some open-source and some Microsoft services and products. By mixing the two, they get the better side of the fence because open-source is free and the Microsoft products were discounted.

There are two obvious sides to starting up shop with a new online service, especially in this day and age.

"You have the seriously bad stuff; long hours, crap wages, a really poor diet of pretty much nothing more than pizza and beer for a year and a half. You'll soon succumb to cabin fever and hating everyone you're working with. But the worst thing is the fact you've got a constant lingering of uncertainty and doubt hanging over you.

On the flip side though, you've got the constant excitement of what you're doing and what you can accomplish. You end up working with people you love, care for and respect, and at the end of the day you get an incredible feeling of self satisfaction. You have a constant support network you can fall back onto, you can wear whatever you want to work, and quite simply - it's just cool, okay? All the chicks dig this sort of thing; you can't go wrong."

One of the most valuable things he spoke about was 20 must-knows in starting up your own business, stemming from an original idea. I've highlighted some of the main, and better points:

  • Take advantage of every connection possible. Regardless of how tenuous they may be, you'll know a lot of people and they'll all be able to help on one level or another.
  • Be ruthless when doing deals; even at the very beginning. If you let people walk all over you, you'll set a precedent from that point on and people will start taking advantage from a very early start.
  • Design, build, then test and carry on with that cycle. Once a feature works, carry on with the development cycle and don't stop or deviate until you're ready to present the world with a product at very least beta stage.
  • Be completely and utterly uncompromising in your vision. People may end up hating you because you won't deviate from your goal but it'll all be worth it in the end.
  • Go big or go home. If you can't convince even yourself that your product isn't good enough, then you won't be able to convince others.
  • The way to a rich man's wallet is through his PA. If you can, get out a copy from the library, of "The Beermat Entrepreneur".
  • Software is expensive, but it doesn't have to be. With DreamSpark and the MSDN Academic Alliance programs which are often supported by your university or college, this makes getting hold of expensive software easier - and for free. Don't forget, a lot is open-source as well - and by definition, open-source is free.
  • Focus all your energy on getting the product great. Marketing, press and public relations can wait as they come later on. Once you've got a brilliant product, that's when you can start showing it off to the world.
  • Get out there! Meet up's and events, conferences and parties are a great way to meet influential people, often those with huge amounts of cash. By meeting these people will help you get more innovative ideas and also make connections.
  • Successful companies don't have to work in Silicon Valley, although it does help. Huddle.net are based in London and are more than happy with that; nevertheless, going out there to Silicon Valley and meeting more people is an important part of keeping relationships going with different people and other companies.
  • Funding gives you a little bit of breathing space. Once you get funding through from investors, that's the time to get the staff just right. Sure, it'll mean firing people but it also means getting to hire the best of the best.
  • You can't do all of this by yourself! Seriously, if you did then you'll end up going potty. What do you think CEO's, CTO's and CIO's are for? Spread the load, spread the work.
  • Being acquired by someone isn't a business model. If you tell your investors your main goal is to be acquired, they'll lose faith. Just avoid doing it.
  • You'll always have more ideas than the capacity to make them happen. Sure, having inspiration and understanding is important, but you'll have a ton of things you'll want to include and integrate, but you can't always make them happen straight away. Give yourself time and a plan for future releases.
  • Make the company feel like a family. Why do you think Google and Facebook are doing so well? Having a "family" as a workplace makes happier employees, therefore better employees. Invite friends, family, siblings and spouses along to events - get them part of the family too.
  • Keep an eye on the web, because that's where a lot of your inspiration will come from. Mashable, Technorati, Twitter and Techmeme are great sources for information and more importantly, inspiration.
  • Never lose sight of what you're doing. If you do, you won't survive.

He concluded on saying, that if it was that easy, then everybody would be doing it. It's not easy, but you'll learn from your mistakes and hopefully those mistakes won't drive you into the ground. If you're determined enough, and your "family" of employees see the same way, then you'll go far in the business world.

Topics: Open Source, Collaboration, Enterprise Software, Software

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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