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Internet startup fever looks all set to turn into something of an epidemic in 2008, judging by the number of experienced people we know who are looking to get in on the action.
At the foot of this article I’ve compiled a UK-focused list of resources, to help you find startups, wannabe entrepreneurs and investors. But before we get there you need to figure out what kind of startup you want to get involved with.
Moving into a startup environment from a well-paid senior internet / marketing / technical role requires a considerable leap of faith, yet it seems that the allure of equity and adventure is tempting more and more established internet professionals into the fray.
Once you feel the inner entrepreneur trying to escape, you can either: a) smite him or her down and be done with it, or b) give in and commit to a scary / sexy / rewarding new path. This means lots of reading and research. It means networking. And only you can do it.
What kind of entrepreneur are you?
This is the first question you need to ask yourself. Broadly speaking, there are three options:
1. You want to join a VC-backed startup.
2. You want to join an existing team in pre-funding mode.
3. You want to start something from scratch, and you need to find a team, partners, and maybe money.
I’m going to ignore Option 1 immediately. If a startup has VC money then it will be on various radars, and you’ll easily be able to find it. Everybody knows how to apply for a job at Facebook, or wherever. And remember, there is a lot less equity to go around once the VC takes a fat slice (commonly 25-40%, often rising to a much greater percentage over subsequent funding rounds). On the flipside, there might be more cash for salaries, but try to get involved before the VCs do, unless you’re totally risk-averse. Which sort of misses the point…
I’m also going to step away from Option 2. It’s a similar situation to the VC-backed startup, only without the big money, and without the sort of initial equity allocation that you might be hoping for. Guy Kawasaki has previously written about the typical levels of equity you might expect to receive if you walk into this kind of situation. Expect no better than low-single digits.
And that leads on to my reasoning for ignoring these two scenarios… you won’t be a founder. Translation: you won’t get much equity. You need to have founder status in a startup to take a fat slice of pie.
So let’s look in more detail at the riskiest option, and then I'll list some of the top resources available to help you make the leap into Startupland.
Option 3 – You want to start something from scratch, and you need to find a team, partners, and maybe money.
Great, you are a proper entrepreneur. But what are your core skills? Are you a tech ninja? A marketing visionary? A business development heavyweight with a fat contacts book? A respectable CEO-type? A finance genius?
Nobody can do it all. You need a team. Techies seem to understand this only too well. The term ‘techpreneur’ is something of a misnomer, since most developers are not prepared to jettison healthy day rates / salaries altogether. These people want to be paid. Equity alone won’t cut it unless
a) you’re very lucky and stumble upon a super-ambitious, independent developer, or...
b) you are the techie, and you’re prepared to take a chance.
For the life of me I can't understand why more developers don't build things for themselves...
At any rate, if b) applies, and you are a capable developer, then you’re in a much better position than most wannabe internet entrepreneurs – the ones with non-tech backgrounds. You can Make Things Happen. So get to it! And don't quit the day job just yet.
The next step is to identify the people who will complement your own skills, in order to turn your tech wizardry into a scaleable, growth business. A CEO and/or experienced marketing maven, for starters, particularly if you plan to seek funding. Focus on what you’re good at, and don't try to do it all. And if that’s PHP, SQL and web design then you might already be halfway there.
If, however, you aren’t a tech ninja with a strong pull towards entrepreneurship (this applies to most people we hear from) then it is highly likely that you will need some money to invest. Hopefully you’ll have stashed some away for this eventuality, but if not, and if you’re thinking big, then remember one thing: a VC won’t go anywhere near you unless you have the right team.
Additionally, many VCs – especially in Europe - won’t consider an investment if your ‘business’ is too early-stage, or is seeking too little funding. And businesses need to be able to scale handsomely (think 100x rather than 10x) to attract the VC money, which you’ll then be forced to spend in order to achieve that scale. Be very careful when it comes to courting outside investment. You'll be trading off power and elements of control, as well as stock. And there’s nothing wrong with bootstrapping.
Non-techies with internet experience will be aware that web development work can be outsourced to an agency. But don’t waste your time discussing ‘equity in lieu of payment’ with agencies… because it is a time-waster. Agencies prioritise the projects that pay the bills. And besides, if your project turns into a £100m business then you will have paid far too much for web / application development.
All that aside, the upshot here is that You Need A Team. So how do you find the right people? Where can you go to network? What are the key websites and blogs to read? How can you find the talent?
Time to dig into my list of 25 top resources for UK-based startup wannabes…
---- Events, Reading, Forums and Groups ----
- next one in London takes place on 17 January.
- a good, low-key way of networking with peers. Started in London but now takes place in various cities around the world.
- check out Ryan's new Startup Clinic, 15-16 Feb, Bath.
- regular events, some more networking-orientated than others.
Second Chance Tuesday
- next one in London takes place on 19 February.
Facebook Groups - like this one, this one, this one, and this one. Find others. Get involved.
- all things relating to startups, and not just internet-focused ones.
UK Business Forums
- general forums for advice and networking.
- Mike does a great job of focusing on the European startup scene and regularly flags up interesting events. Read it.
- another no-brainer for the daily reading list. Be aware of what's happening in the rest of the marketplace.
- a superb read, full of brain food for entrepreneurs.
- ok, Darren Rowse's site is aimed at 'blogpreneurs' but there's a lot of good stuff in here, and it has a very active entrepreneurial-minded community.
VC Bloggers - all the notable VCs in London are blogging, eg Saul, Nic, Fred, Max, Paul.
- various events worth checking out, with Ian Delaney at the helm.
- a big-ass generic event for startups taking place this April in Docklands.
- useful community-powered wiki for startups and web entrepreneurs. Keep an eye on the events page.
and Meetup - two sites for finding / promoting / registering for events in your area. Like this one.
- the best business-focused social network there is. Use it to reach out.
- these events focus on early-stage apps where entrepreneurs and developers can share knowledge.
- expect another one of these VC-powered events in September 2008.
- conference taking place in Geneva next month for pitch-ready startups.
- I met a bunch of entrepreneurs / wannabe entrepreneurs last year, and the seminars are worth listening in on. A day of mooching is a day well spent.
- technology news aggregator with links to all the best tech blogs and news sources. Reading is half the battle...
The designer/developer-focused blogs - it isn't about the articles, but the community. I recently unearthed a superb designer by following links in the 'comments' section of such a post. Find blogs via Technorati, 9rules Design Notes, or Google Blog Search.
- Econsultancy - well I wasn't going to leave our little operation out, was I? Our research helps web professionals get results. Lots of startups are subscribers. And we do lots of events, and occasional parties.
Alright, that's about it. I'm pretty sure I'll have missed a bunch of events, and there are about 100 other blogs I could have mentioned (leave your suggestions below in the comments area, if you have any), but this will hopefully provide you with some food for thought.