Thursday 13 February 2014

Tech Roundtable with Alistair Crane

Abchaps recently hosted 10 tech-loving City high fliers at our office. Everyone, without exception, around the table had first-hand experience of an Exit of some kind. We were fortunate enough to have Alistair Crane, Executive Vice President of Monitise Create, to co-host the event, following his starring role on Abchat just before Christmas. Alistair is widely considered as one of London’s top young entrepreneurs. He took his own start-up, Grapple Mobile, through a successful exit when sold to Monitise in September 2013. Alistair was the perfect candidate to chair the roundtable as we gained insights into the trends, opportunities and anxieties of those in the tech start-up space.

All guests agreed that there was a lack of funding from the banks available to early stage start-ups. The papers are littered with stories of how the Government plans to boost SME funding, but what about financial help for those who just have a really great idea? Those ideas need financial support to become the next big thing, and whilst there is undoubtedly a lot of over zealous non-starters out there, we must remember that one or two of those will be the next Twitter or maybe the next Grapple.

3D printing Source:
There was a feeling that beyond the banks, there is also a lack of options for those embarking on small capital raises. Tech start-ups can bump into the right people, operating in the right place at the right time and pick up the first £500,000 - £1m required to commercialise or expand. But if they don’t come across the people in the know, how are they supposed to gain access to capital?

It was proposed that the answer lies in the little black books of a few well-connected individuals in the City. A guest rightfully asked who now actually owns those leather-bound, pocket-sized and extremely coveted collections of paper? The consensus was that it was only through building relationships, getting out there and meeting both the more experienced players and indeed their successors, can anyone succeed.

Alistair focused on the importance of having a solid ‘Team’ in the aforementioned blogpost. It became clear from the lunch though, that particularly for a young CEO, ‘The Team’ is not just defined as those directly working under the payroll of the Company. It also includes advisers and intermediaries working alongside the young entrepreneur.

An article published by Niklas Zennström in the Financial Times recently questioned whether, given the ease of collaboration now facilitated by the Internet, the HQ of a start-up needs to be in a buzzing tech hub? Alistair, for one chose not to base his Company in Tech City, instead preferring to work from Soho, the media hub of the UK. This was however, only because he wanted to be close to his clients. It seems that wherever you choose to work from, you need to be amongst at least one of the most important stakeholders of your business, whether it be that clients, investors, advisers or the best talent pool.

Wearable Technology Source:
Conversations went onto examine future trends: Are disruptive technologies the future or are the strongest players in the field those who focus on developing a pre-existing technology? Where will tech newbies such as Twitter be in five years time in relation to the firmly established giants found in other sectors? The unique business life cycle of a tech company is definitely something that investors are still becoming accustomed to. Alistair believes (he admits perhaps due to a recent visit to the ever-optimistic United States), the likes of Twitter have a definite staying power and have gained traction in a sceptical but porous market.

There is no doubt that it’s an exciting space to be in; the lunch was an excellent opportunity to hear from those who are on the ground, enjoying the highs of a fledgling sector but also coming face to face with the daily hurdles of a growth industry. One thing is for sure, talking to the tech community is invaluable, and conversation is key. No tech start-up, nor adviser, is an island. Or, as the school lunch hall suggested, a slightly awkward geek. It is an exciting, prosperous and energetic community who are already succeeding, as shown by Alistair Crane. With the right teams and support networks, the industry will, undoubtedly, continue to go from strength to strength in the coming years.

Stephanie Watson

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