Nick Freer: How to build more tech success in Scotland

Tech City UK, the government-backed support programme for digital businesses, rolled into Edinburgh last week to present its annual Tech Nation report on the health of the tech economy and the companies who make it up from Dundee to Exeter and 28 other city tech hubs that lie in between.

Nick Freer shares some tips to help tech start-ups make their voices heard. Picture: Stewart Attwood

The usual suspects from Scotland’s tech scene were in attendance at CodeBase – Informatics Ventures, CodeClan, the Scottish Government’s digital team and a smattering of start-up founders including the CEO of Krotos, a University of Edinburgh technology spin-out that builds audio software creating imaginary creature noises for Hollywood blockbusters like Avengers and The Jungle Book.

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Orfeas Boteas, CEO and founder of Krotos, hails from Greece and, like many of our start-up founders, in Scotland is a non-UK national.

Brexit was a common theme in the pre-event chat and a few in the gathering expressed disappointment at opening another excellent report from the Tech City UK team to see a picture of Theresa May and a foreword from her stating how committed the UK government is to supporting our most promising young tech companies.

Before another CEO of a fast-growing Scottish tech company had the chance to fully explain his view that a lower valued currency boosting exports will not make up for a post-Brexit talent drain, Tech City UK CEO Gerard Grech was already up on stage taking us through the overall UK findings and how Scotland fits into the equation.

While it was no great surprise to hear how well we’re doing in all things digital, backed up by strong numbers on jobs growth, average wages and economic impact, the really interesting bit for me was when the panel began talking about what has made Edinburgh such a hotbed of start-up activity and is punching above its weight in producing tech unicorns like Skyscanner and FanDuel.

One of the panellists suggested we have “good people” at the heart of our ecosystem; people who give back to the earlier-stage companies and founders by providing mentoring and other forms of support including, in the case of Skyscanner, monthly access to their legal team.

One of FanDuel’s co-founders has seven rule-of-thumb tips for start-ups that I know have inspired many of the next generation of wannabe tech stars in Scotland: one, get back on your bike and keep pedalling; two, pick your founders well and be willing to pivot around them; three, put processes in place for when your start-up starts to scale; four, hire people who can adapt as the organisation changes; five, adopt a “lean start-up” culture; six, don’t be afraid to fail, and: seven, don’t fall in love with your product to the extent that you’re not willing to tear it up and start again.

I consider myself hugely fortunate to have advised classic Scottish start-ups like Blackcircles.com and Skyscanner for a number of years – very probably during the most exciting times — and also a bunch of the next generation of start-ups who have followed in their golden wake.

Whether you are the UK’s number one online tyre retailer, the world’s second-largest travel search site or a relative minnow struggling to break into markets, there are some unwritten rules of PR to help companies get ahead of the curve.

You need a newsworthy story. When healthtech start-up snap40 CEO and founder Chris McCann announced his last funding round, the story revolved around not only it being the largest-ever angel investment into a Scottish start-up, but also that he left his medicine degree to make his entrepreneurial leap. If you’re light on newsworthiness, find a way to tap into trending industry news.

In spite of Twitter’s fading fortunes, the journalist world remains firmly fixed in tweet land, so remember to follow and engage with the reporters you’d like to cover your own new, shiny thing.

• Nick Freer runs communications and business advisory agency, the Freer Consultancy