Words: Amina Antoniazzi
“Incredibly frustrating but rewarding.” TechCuber Allan Lloyds tells us about the pleasures and sorrows of working in a start-up.
Behind the numerous short-term exhibitions, the various visual arts events and, last but definitely not least, the chaotic Fringe Festival, Summerhall ‘hides’ the unique story of TechCube — a four-storey, self-managed space for tech start-ups that likes to define itself as “the heart of Edinburgh’s rapidly developing start-up scene”. Populated by an ever-changing team of young enthusiasts, the space hosts a community striving for freedom and creativity, while proudly standing out for its multiculturalism. Although Scotland is arguably not completely accustomed to looking towards European and international markets in general, TechCube makes it a point to promote a different mind-set.
Despite the usual fuzz around this profession, according to TechCuber Allan Lloyds, a start-up is as much about external feedback and networking, as about the inner labour of self-reflection. Having an idea and seeing it grow from its conception to its realisation, up to the point where people are actually buying and using your product is one of the most thrilling experiences that you can have, or at least, that is something many individuals involved in start-ups seem to agree on. However, the main risk is getting stuck on the same path, instead of constantly questioning yourself. “Go back and think: ‘Am I being honest with myself? Am I doing this for the right reasons?’”
That’s Allan’s mantra — which seems to work pretty well given he’s already embarking upon his second start-up experience with Product Forge. The secret? Seeing the world in your own way, because, as he says, “if you couldn’t see the world differently, the problem you are working on would have already been solved. In fact, the idea that there is a perfect, complete set of entrepreneurial mind-sets simply doesn’t hold.”
Unknown variables are clearly not lacking in the difficult process that is bringing your own start-up into the world. For example, how do you know if your idea has the potential to succeed? “You never know”, is Allan’s reassuring answer. He notes that you should start from what you know, from your interests (inside or outside technology alike) and build up from that, creating a team with the various skills needed. Ultimately, for Allan, it all comes down to this: “Are you building something that is valuable to somebody? If the answer is yes, you have your start-up!”
To help somebody from outside the tech-scene like myself understand the feeling that lies behind a start-up, Allan tells me to think of it like a marathon. Why do people run marathons? To finish them and feel the sense of reward that such an achievement brings. In other words, “You have done something worth doing,” Allan says, “It is that sense of accomplishment that people get really addicted to.” And start-ups are extremely addictive indeed, if you consider the amount of people who, once their first company is sold, simply go back to the starting point, to do it all over again.
So if there is “something wrong with you”, as Allan jokingly notes of himself, and you are ready to launch yourself into a start-up adventure, there is good news for you: Edinburgh was home to over 60 start-ups in 2014 and the number is growing, with 17 incubation centres in town that can help you hit the ground running (check out Edinburgh Napier University’s programme, Bright Red Triangle – tweet them @BrightRTriangle –and its consultancy and incubation services that aim at general professional development). Fresh blood from universities, research programmes, well-developed finance and marketing sectors; Edinburgh’s got the perfect recipe to create the ideal ecosystem for your start-up. All that is missing is you and your idea.