Three things I learnt as a founder

In August 2017 I co-founded a tech startup aiming to change the way we use our mobile phones to identify ourselves. Here are three things I’ve learnt since starting up and some of the problems we had to tackle!

Company names are hard

Coming up with a name was lots of fun but consider this (non-exhaustive) list of places the name would appear:

  • Companies House
  • Trademarks (UK/EU/other)
  • On your website (domain names)
  • On social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, etc.)
  • Anywhere you might use a reverse domain name (app identifiers, S3 buckets, etc.)

In the case of Instagram, another user had already secured the name of our company as their username. They were an inactive user and contacting them through the app yielded no response. Instagram does have a process for requesting ownership but they won’t make the change unless you have a trademark! It was very difficult to come up with something that captured what we were about and that was also available everywhere.

The takeaway from this is to check your name in as many places as possible before securing it. If you can’t get exactly what you want then you should go back to the drawing board or consider variations of the same. Try to secure your exact name but at least stay consistent across platforms as users are likely to search for the same name everywhere. There are helpful tools for checking availability across multiple providers – we used namechk.

Technical problems are easy

Sure, there were days when I wanted to throw my laptop through the window because I just couldn’t get something working – but that was nothing compared to the people problems we faced.

One of the first things we did was to apply for a business bank account. Unfortunately, passing details backwards and forwards through broken processes lead to some of our personal details getting ‘lost’ at the bank. Whilst the problem was resolved eventually,  it was clear that it would have been a lot easier to have founded the company with just one director. As everything we did was online, we didn’t need everyone to have a physical card straight away.

It was also important for us to tackle legal and political issues as soon as possible and so we did this in parallel to technical work. Getting in contact with the right people in government took weeks. Also, the amount of legal content available online is huge and we didn’t have an expert on board. Simply reading through legislation to find relevant pieces of information took a lot longer than expected.

Your idea is probably mediocre

It’s easy to become attached to your idea – it becomes your baby. We had to try very hard not to get too emotionally attached as babies grow up and if your idea isn’t evolving over time with input from real users then you’re heading towards failure. Getting feedback from different groups of users was critical for us in the first few months. Six weeks in and we had to change how two devices interacted with each other after realising that our initial design wasn’t secure enough for a large set of users.

Eventually, pressures from competition and political factors forced us to pivot completely. Don’t be afraid to do this if it means your risk is reduced. As we weren’t emotionally invested in the early version of the product, we were able to butcher it, take useful components and build something more appropriate. We were able to tackle a slightly different problem that (as far as we are aware) no-one else has solved.

I’ll end this post with an important question we kept asking ourselves – what will drive our audience to use our product repeatedly? Make sure you understand what problem you are solving for your users before drawing up roadmaps and adding features. Having one feature with users is better than having a handful of features with none.

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