Having scaled a tech startup backed by the investors behind Dropbox, Deliveroo and Facebook and now Beam, I’ve made plenty of mistakes. I also hope to think I’ve got a few things right.
The main thing is to get big stuff right and to focus on that. And to constantly learn from the stuff that goes wrong, while not letting it eat you up…
Alex Stephany, CEO of Beam, Europe’s Hottest Tech for Good (Techcrunch Europas’ awards, 2019).
Here are a couple of the lessons I’ve learned along the way…
There’s a lot of talk in the world of startups about ‘disruption’. Personally, I think you can often achieve far more through collaboration with existing organisations. That’s been our approach at Beam from day one when we set out to build a platform that was super collaborative and allows everyone in the ecosystem to play to their strengths.
We work with the leading homeless charities and forward-thinking government authorities who refer people to Beam. We work with concerned citizens who crowdfund the campaigns, either through one-off or monthly donations. We work with training providers who provide in-demand skills. Finally, we work with fantastic companies who hire from our talent pool.
What does that all add up to? That we can solve bigger, harder problems sooner than we often think possible through the power of collaboration.
Which leads me to my second point.
You don’t have to be the founder of a start-up to take credit for its impact. It’s genuinely inspiring that there are so many young people who have seen the scale of problems facing society, whether that’s the climate crisis or homelessness or others, and want to put their skills and minds to solving these issues.
However, if you’re new to startups, my advice would be to join the most impactful organisation you can, rather than start your own. Entrepreneurs have been over-glamorized in today’s society, which is resulting in a proliferation of start-ups – most of which will fail. When I left the corporate world, I played around with starting my own thing. But I ended up cutting my teeth in a startup. That was exactly what I needed. For while working on billion dollar deals had taught me so much, startups are a different sport altogether, requiring different skills and different mindsets. In fact, there’s plenty you have to unlearn.
Unless you’re the next Elon Musk (and hey, you just might be!), the most impactful thing you can do is to not be the founder. Be part of the founding team, or the early team. Work on the thing that you see around you that makes your hairs stand on end. These early joiners are the people that really make history because that’s where the impact is – when people can get around a strong idea and team and make real progress towards a bold and important vision.
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