Tag Archives: start-up

Essential Software Tools for a Startup Business

Over the last year I have either started mentoring or joined the advisory board of several technology startups. These are technology led businesses with a team of both techies and non-technics. For every startup its important to set the tools early on as it influences the culture of the business and also the pace of the business growth. Selecting the wrong tool delays development as everyone has to learn it or even stops the business as no one wants to use this tool.

There is no one tools I recommend and it depends on the team members and then the project attributes, such as the size of team, selected coding platform, use of third party plugins and also the length of the creative cycles. So below you will find at least two options for each core tool. The tools selected below all start off with a freemium model which is ideal for startups.

Another factor in selecting the tools below was they should work on multiple devices (mobile, tablet and PC) and also with multiple people (sharing, editing and also distribution).

Startup Documents

Criteria: Need to share, edit and collaborate on documents. Multiple people should be able to view documents at any time.


I have been a fan of Evernote since it was first launched. I use it in several ways:

  • Research – I use the Web Clip extension to save web pages which then allow me to develop a collection of articles very quickly and then index them against tags and within notebooks. For early stage startups understanding what competitors are doing and how certain technology works is important. This can then be shared with everyone on the team, ensuring a similar knowledge base.
  • I have multiple notebooks that I use for all sorts of things including my task management, goal setting, lists of all kinds, photos and random notes.

Google Apps/Docs

Its taken me some time to get happy with Google Docs and still don’t put documents I want to be secure on it, but as an editor which multiple people can use to generate a shared vision its the best tool out there.

  • Collaborative Documents – The document editor is better than MS Word and has a better spell checker, it also loads faster.
  • Save As function, especially to PDF and Website is worth using as it allows you to email and share document very quickly.
  • Google Forms is the best way to create surveys. Since I found this I have stopped using Survey Monkey which has got too expensive.

Startup Internal Comms & Project Management

Criteria: A place where everyone can state what they are doing and when, any issues are discussed and logged.


This is a must have tool for collaborative teams.

  • Team Chat – To have a open chat box which everyone can contribute, add files and also URL links is extremely powerful. This always on and open team collaborative culture is extremely important to generating momentum for the business.
  • Team Calls – Every team has to go through the storming/norming phases and chatting on Skype for hours on getting the vision/mission/strategy right is the only way. Most of my team members use Skype of their mobile/tablet for this, so they can walk around the house, trying different rooms during each stage of the meeting.


This provides a digital kanban board for project management, allows the team to contribute and on one page see the entire set of tasks.

  • Great way to show projects, tasks and business mapping on one page which everyone can buy into.
  • The graphical interface provide a simple way to get the team to contribute and set/agree their tasks

Startup Cloud Storage

Criteria: Always on and backed up to the cloud. Low cost.


Keeps my working files available to me wherever I am, synched across multiple devices.

  • For one startup all their large images are shared through dropbox with all documents shared through Google Docs.
  • I also backup google docs and websites  to Dropbox
  • For another startup they use this for their business plans and external funding applications


This is a cloud-to-cloud backup provider which enables you to draw down these resources and also edit and repurpose.

  • So backing up what’s on Flickr, Twitter, Delicious, Zoho, Google Apps/Docs, WordPress, Basecamp, Gmail, Facebook, Google Calendar…

Startup Code Management

Criteria: Version control for multiple developers


This is the default repository for any startup source code plus task lists for developers.

  • It offers as standard distributed revision control and source code management functionality you need.
  • The Wiki and bug tracking features are important once development has started. A wiki can help track the outcomes of those conversations you have about “Should we do it this way or that”. As you know you one of these will be wrong and you will need to reserve this decision.

Windows Azure

This feature rich version allows expansion and future proofing.
You can get this free on the “www.microsoft.com/bizspark/” programme

  • As with a lot of Mircosoft products they are very well designed, (sometimes too over engineered), so choose the options carefully to start with and then open up additional features later on when needed. This way you can grow into the product and not be over “controlled” by the tool.

Startup Social Media

Criteria: Simple tools to tell the world of your progress during development. Management of multiple channels during launch.


This is my default social media management tool, as it has Instagram, Youtube and others.

  • Management of multiple streams
  • The fact you can see all tweets from a particular Search and interact with these is very powerful

Buffer App

A simple and elegant way of scheduling tweets and posts.

  • Easy to get started and set a scheduled tweet or facebook feed
  • The sharing and timing when these posts go out is very powerful

There is lots of research on how startups work and the process. The vast majority of it states that time, finance and commitment is limited within the team. Therefore a simple limited set of tools is more powerful than having a expanded and more complete solution. The startup process to MVP and Alpha testing is a non perfect process and therefore over engineering the need for support tools just over complicates the project and therefore inserts delays.

Your startup journey – Hatchery to Investment Ready

There is a wealth of support out their for students and graduates who are starting a business. Its important to use the system to your advantage, so below we set out the path you should take in moving you business through the start-ups stages.


This typically aimed at entrepreneurial students who will utilise a designated and specially designed space to conceive, launch, and “hatch” their own independent businesses. Normally there will be a series of adhoc events, networking and awareness raising activities which are supported by business counselling and academic advising. Examples:

Key Things to look for?

  • Networking opportunities
  • Access to early stage businesses
  • Development of enterprising skills

Start-up Course

A set of events or a week long course which gets you to work on and around your business. These force you to think about the key aspects of the business model, marketing, sales, operations, finance, legal and financial aspect of your business. The programme should help set the plan for the business. These are normally free (you will have to fill in some forms) to attend and offered through universities and support agencies. Key Things to look for?

  • A intensive programme covering topics above
  • Mentoring with a local mentor
  • Follow through support
  • Business Start-up Success rate (should be greater than 50% after one year)


Business Incubator

A physical space which is dedicated to start-ups and early stage businesses. Businesses apply with a feasible business plan which supports the funding of the place and support over a period of time. A portfolio of support is provided through a adhoc series of engagements with external “interested” parties, such as mentor, legal advice and funders. Normally providing the physical elements to start a business including hot desking, serviced offices and internet. Key Things to look for?

  • Number of events
  • Types of business
  • Size of business, you want those of the same size or a little bigger which shows they can help this size of business
  • Wifi Access and Speed
  • Spaces for quick meeting, chats and brainstorming



These are normally national or regional scheme which take normally trading businesses which have further potential and up skills, network and re-organised the business to be able to take advantage of that potential. They have a mixture of fixed programmes and adhoc support which accumadates the business, at its stage and sector. Key Things to look for?

  • Number of current businesses
  • Number of staff and their networks
  • Location to other clusters of start-ups you need
  • Mentorship programme,
  • Alumni : Number and size of the businesses


Seed Investment Programme

These open investment programmes offer early-stage investment to entrepreneurs who are looking to develop new ventures. The programmes provide funding and support to help entrepreneurs nurture, develop and test their ideas. They normally last 10 to 13 weeks programme of skills development, networking and investment injection. The majority of these provide each entrant up to £15,000 to £20k of investment capital. Key Things to look for?

  • Support for similar or complementary business sectors
  • Make sure the investors know something about your industry
  • Check their success rate based on increased business valuation
  • How many in the portfolio and how many successful exits from portfolio
  • Do you ready need the money
  • Have you considered other sources of funding

Investment Ready Advancement

Research has shown that it can take up to 18 months on average for enterprises to become “investment ready”. The majority of businesses which are within an investment route need more than 20k and therefore they need to become investment ready before taking on 500k plus. Therefore this stage is about getting the company ready for significant investment. Key Things to look for?

  • Are able to share control of your business
  • Have you analysed the right type of investor for your business
  • Have you a clear idea of what stage your business has reached


6 Stages of the Startup

When we work with start-ups its important to provide an assessment on their journey within the startup lifecycle. Understanding where a startup is in their lifecycle allows us to assess their progress, providing mentoring to the founders and also provide a vision. The startup lifecycle is made of 6 stages of development, where each stage is made up of levels of substages, allowing for more granular assessment which helps pinpoint the main drivers of progress at each stage.

1) Discovery (or Pre-Seed)

Goal: This phase is all about discovering and validating whether you are solving a meaningful problem and whether anybody would “hypothetically” be interested in their solution.
Milestones: Founding team is formed, many customer interviews are conducted, value proposition is found, minimally viable products are created, team joins an accelerator or incubator, Friends and Family financing round, first mentors & advisors come on board.
Management Team : Founder(s)
Funding Requirements : £500 – £5,000 (always depends on the business type and technology requirements)
Business Development Milestones : Validated Problem and potential solution
Typical Funding Resources : Cash
Average Valuation : Nil (Typical Technology Start-up)
Time: 3-6 months (average for all types)


2) Seed

Goal: Development of a minimum viable product which can be shown to potential customers, sponsors and customers.
Milestones: Founding team is formed, many customer interviews are conducted, value proposition is found, minimally viable products are created, team joins an accelerator or incubator, Friends and Family financing round, first mentors & advisors come on board.
Management Team : (Core team) Founders, co-Founders, Mentor,
Business Development Milestones : Letters of intent or some preliminary relationships
Funding Requirements : (Seed Capital) £10,000 – £50,000
Typical Funding Sources : Friends and Family financing round, first mentors & advisors come on board
Average Valuation : £10,000 – £100,000
Time: 5-12 months (average for all types)

3) Validation

Goal: The Startup is looking to get early validation that people are interested in purchasing their product through orders or pre-orders with deposits.
Milestones : refinement of core features, initial user growth, metrics and analytics implementation, start-up funding, first key hires, pivots (if necessary), first paying customers, product market fit.
Management Team : (Entrepreneurial Lieutenants) At least one real manager, Founders, Mentors and Advisors
Funding Requirements : (Startup Capital) £100,000 – £300,000
Typical Funding Resources : Business Angels, Grants,
Business Development Milestones : Paying Customers
Average Valuation : £1m
Time: 9 months – 1 year

4) Established / Efficiency

Goal: The company refines the business model and improves the efficiency of their customer acquisition process. The business should be able to efficiently acquire customers in order to avoid scaling with in-effective processes.
Milestones: value proposition refined, user experienced overhauled, conversion funnel optimized, viral growth achieved, repeatable sales process and/or scalable customer acquisition channels found.
Management Team : (Risk takers) At least three real managers, Founders, Mentors and Advisors
Funding Requirements : (Venture Capital) £300,000 – £500,000
Typical Funding Resources : Venture Capital
Business Development Milestones : Profitable customers, Strategic Partners
Average Valuation : £3m
Time: 1 – 3 years

5) Scale

Goal: Startups step on the marketing drive and drives global growth very aggressively.
Milestones: massive customer acquisition, back-end scalability improvements, experienced executive team formed, process implementation, establishment of departments.
Management Team : Executive Board, Management Board, External Advisors
Funding Requirements : £1.2m – £5m
Typical Funding Resources : (Bridge Funding)
Business Development Milestones : Historical results against plan, Focused Business Plan, Strong Processes and Controls,
Average Valuation : £3-15m
Time: 3-5 years (average for all types)


6) Sustain

Goal: Develop a portfolio of customers and products, either based on one technology or a set.
Milestones: diversification of customers and revenue streams, agile product teams, public and investor relations
Management Team : Executive Board, Management Board, External Advisors, Product Teams
Funding Requirements : (IPO) Large A Round
Typical Funding Resources : IPO
Business Development Milestones : Multiple Revenue Streams,
Average Valuation : £10-30m

The Three Stages of Entrepreneurship

The process can be easily split into three stages: Thinking, Doing and Growing.

Thinking about Starting

The start-up phase is thinking, making plans, developing the right motivation to start and develop the aptitude to be an entrepreneur. For some people this is the hardest part and they struggle to choose an idea, develop the idea past just that and get other involved in making the idea reality. The majority of entrepreneurs never had the luxury to have to sit down and brainstorm ideas, then using innovation techniques decide on the best idea and then market research which one of the shortlist to take forward to a business. I still believe in the ‘gut instinct’ method, if you don’t have the guts to make the decision you want to take forward, then you don’t have the guts to make it work, so stay and get yourself a job in someone else’s business.

Doing a Startup

The doing phase is the hardest, it’s the one all the famous entrepreneurs don’t talk about, it’s the part where you spend 18 hours a day, 7 days a week making this business inch forward to some form of success. In this stage you need to start to build relationships with your staff, your bank, your suppliers and your customers. This relationship has to develop a trust and a strong bond which allow everyone to understand who they are and what value they provide into the business model. If someone doesn’t understand this then they will become the weakest link in your business.

Growing a Startup

The final stage is growth, personal growth, business growth, network growth and sales growth. This stage is normally post 36 months and it’s the point where the business model and relationships with suppliers is well established. The bank actually like and trust you. The most important part of this stage is to figure out ‘what type of entrepreneur you are?’ and what you can and cannot do, what you want and do not want to do. The things you don’t want to do, hire someone better that you. The thing you want to do and no good at, then develop some skills, in fact you will need to develop skills anyway. Knowing yourself will ensure your business has a solid foundation.  In this stage you need to develop stronger bonds with your local community as you require more employees, more space and more flexible and understanding relationships with those around you.

What business should I start?

This is the million dollar question, and so hard to explain to people.

I always talk about passion and how if you have passion then you will be more successful. It’s more than this, if you do not believe in what you are doing and have the ability to drive yourself 12 hours a day to strive for success then success will not be able to find you. Passion for the product, the service and your customers is a real source of energy, drive and determination which is an enormous help.

However some people have a passion for making money, being financial stable and independent. These people would have the passion to sell tea spoons, or sand or just about anything. For these people I tell them:

Its about Basic Needs

Maslow is famous for setting out people’s needs. He stated that people need the following in the following order:

Physiological(food, water, health, sleep), Safety and Security(employment, finances, resources, family, property), Love and Belonging (friendship, family, sexual intimacy), Esteem (confidence, achievement, respect) and Self Actualisation (creativity, problem solving, acceptance of facts).

If you walk down the high street, every shop is based on one of these needs. The most successful ones are those which basic needs, food, water, health. The more basic the need, the greater the market size, the more people wait it and the better chances you have of selling more and being more successful. There are lots of examples: Bottled Water, Coffee Shops, Hotels, Fast Food….

Take a look at you spend and what products you buy, how can you better or improve on the products you buy?

Its about trends

People are living longer. This means there will be larger population, resources will be have to be shared and will cost more (supply and demand). The price of land, minerals, financial resources and even the virtual world will increase. More of these people will be old(er), more will have an illness, more will need help, more will be in the process of dying. There is money to be made out of each and every stage of life.

People have more money. The rich will always be rich and the poor will always be poor. Be definition you cannot have one without the other. Greed drives one to master the other. Those with money will and always have wanted to live in individual place, have different social clubs and have people to help them enjoy and spend their money.

There will always be people moving around the globe, people will move for work, holidays and migration as they have for thousands of years. Every day China and India get richer and this massive population will wait to travel, have the experience of seeing the Pyramids, Eiffel Tower and Sydney Harbour.

The economies of the world will change to develop new sources of energy which ensures the growth. Do you think China and India have done all this hard work only to run out of energy? With new energy sources come new opportunities to manage, measure and profit from it.

The internet will get bigger, faster. Moores law will continue to ensure we can double processing power every 18 months. Applications will be created which will allow the most amazing integrations of library information, personal environmental data and social interaction. Please remember the words of Darth Vader “All your technology is insignificant to the power of the force.” The force being peoples habits. After all we still live in houses created hundreds of years ago.

In short there are so many opportunities that you just need to look for the one that fits your skills, appetite for risk and aptitude.