05 Sep 2014

Tricky business: Seven Deadly Sins of applying to BGV

By Glen

There’s no recipe for success in building a start-up but there are some sure-fire ways to get it wrong. On top of that, BGV is designed to support a certain type of venture.  So over the past few years, we’ve developed a list of things we watch out for – the 7 Deadly Sins of unsuccessful BGV applicants – they might seem obvious but they’re all too common.  We’re sharing them here so you can avoid these pitfalls when entering our Call for Ideas.

Lone wolves

We’ve been beating this drum for an awfully long time now: It takes more than one person to start a business and run it. The long nights and the grappling with uncertainty can be buffered by having another person to talk through it with. You get a balance of skills and experience – including someone to watch the servers while you grab a few precious hours’ sleep or go to your daughter’s birthday party.

Hiring is probably the most critical decision you’ll ever make as your start-up succeeds: show us you’ve grasped this  by bringing in the right founders.

Founding team issues

“Do they actually get along?” You might be surprised at how often we ask this question about founders after interview. “Do they trust each other?”, “Will they support each other?”, and “Will they be able to make and stick to decisions together?” are also important consideration points.

You don’t have to have proverbially been to war together, supported each other through a life crisis or anything like that – but it’s a strong, trying relationship. You need to be able to disagree with each other constructively, to be able to be on the same page, and to be able to know who’s doing what.

Can’t take criticism

In talking about your idea, we might ask probing questions, and we’ll probably focus on the weak spots in your idea or logic. Yes, there will be some. It’s really OK to not have all the answers – if you did, you wouldn’t want an accelerator programme or need the investment from us.

I personally really like to find a point where the interviewee has to admit that they don’t know something: it tells me a lot about how the person works and how they’ll deal with uncertainty and failure, which is a much more difficult ask than how many computer languages they know. Don’t ever tell someone that they ‘just don’t understand” the problem. You don’t know what they do or don’t know. A more constructive thing to do is to say something like “I don’t know, but this is what I think or here’s how I’ll find out”.

Too technical/not technical enough

This is a tricky balance to get right: We’ve had successful teams who were all composed of software engineers with maths & science Phds and brilliant teams with someone who couldn’t write a line of code (but was willing to learn).

Teams can be too technical and not be able to see the woods for the trees: placing the faith in the solution in the tech itself rather than in the interactions that it can help facilitate, or being out of touch with the users. Our best teams sell a service, ideally before they’ve written a line of code or fired up their 3D printer: then they know they’re selling something that people will need and use.

The important thing is that you’ve got to understand what you need out of the technology and that you can make that happen. This might be possible with an off-the-shelf solution, but at some point you’re going to have to write some code. Hiring in a development team doesn’t work for BGV start-ups: while it’s possible for it to work, for the ventures we support, there’s too much uncertainty and you’ll end up with a frustrating relationship and having burned through phenomenal amounts of money.

Prescriptive solutions

If you design your solution without the input of users it will not work.

Much of our training and university work is around analysis and understanding problems and looking for insight, but we’ve got decades of this stuff that’s failed. Do something different. Get out there and talk to the people that are affected. Better you have a solution for 10% of the problem that works than a perfect solution that nobody uses.

Want an example? A well-meaning food charity went around trying to get people to eat more fresh, healthy food: they provided ingredients in a stew that could bubble away, cooked by a busy person, which also happened to be cheap and healthy.

The problem? The people were eating mass-produced food because they had trouble with their energy bills. They knew how to cook, but near-to-expiry ready meals and chicken & chips were cheaper and more flexible for people working two jobs.

Mean people

We don’t work with mean people [NO ASSHOLE RULE WIKIPEDIA]. To be honest, your education, ideas, ability to work hard and long and get things done don’t matter one bit if you’re rude.  You’ll make the lives of people around you difficult, make communication in the organisation poor and slow down development of your idea and the ideas of people around you.

Every start-up that’s not funded by very deep pockets relies on the good will of a lot of people: We’ve got a really big brilliant mentor network as well as our alumni and other friends – we’ll go out and ask these people to help you pilot your project. If you’re unpleasant to deal with, we can’t do that. It’ll alienate the very people that can make your idea go forward.

Take a minute before you send that email or reply: you can disagree, you can have fights, you can change your mind, but you can always do so in a constructive manner, and at the very least, be polite.