Tapping into start-up community's expertise - comment

When you work in a start-up, every day is a school day, says Littlejohn. Picture: Jim Newbery.When you work in a start-up, every day is a school day, says Littlejohn. Picture: Jim Newbery.
When you work in a start-up, every day is a school day, says Littlejohn. Picture: Jim Newbery.
I'm pretty lucky that I've gotten to work with the Scottish start-up community for the last seven years.

I stumbled into it more or less accidentally, taking a temp job doing administrative and events work. It was immediately apparent that it was something special to be a part of – the fast-moving nature and the way people were so supportive of each other really appealed to me. But the biggest thing was the constant state of learning. When you work in a start-up, every day is a school day.

When I started learning about the world of start-ups, there were a handful of resources you could tap into: blog posts on how to build your company by the enormously successful accelerator programme Y Combinator; videos covering design, user experience, and product-management by coding bootcamp General Assembly; and tales of start-up success and failure from renowned venture capitalists Andreessen Horowitz on their seminal podcast, a16z.

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I learned so much from this podcast, and still do. They have regular segments covering start-up playbooks and a peek behind the curtain at how some of the world's fastest-growing companies have implemented them. They created a back catalogue, a greatest hits that you could refer any new founder to and know that if they took the time to listen they'd immediately up their game.

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But, there's something that often jars when listening to them talk. Andreessen Horowitz is based in the city of Menlo Park, south of San Francisco, where Google was founded and Facebook is now headquartered. Sure, they could share incredible stories of founders beating the odds, but it was all against the backdrop of the Silicon Valley ecosystem. Stories of success, and indeed what success means, didn't always translate.

There's something on the internet called the 1 per cent rule. It comes in different forms, but loosely it states that for any online community, you have three categories of people: 90 per cent of folks will just consume content – they read blog posts, listen to podcasts, watch videos. And 9 per cent will actively engage in that content – they'll post comments, have a conversation on Twitter, share their 2 pence on the matter. The final 1 per cent actually create new content.

What gets me excited is that in the last few years we've seen a lot more people move into that 1 per cent. We're no longer just absorbing the views of others and perhaps discussing those views at the watercooler. Being able to critically examine our experiences and share those thoughts globally is a strong sign of maturity in the ecosystem. It's a sign that we're ready to start teaching rather than learning.

There are plenty of podcasts talking about start-up culture in Scotland. We've got How AI Built This, where Liam Wilson brings in experts in the world of artificial intelligence and machine learning. The Data Lab's podcast examines how data is used in everything from healthcare to finances. Erik Ravaglia presents Adventures in the Creative Industries, bringing "warts and all” tales of the Scottish creative scene. I feel obliged to plug the podcast I produce, Startupification, where my pals Matt and Steven look at the evolution of start-up thinking (plug finished).

Beauty of podcasting

There are loads more. And I'm just focused on podcasts that look at business and technology – there are many more that explore culture, entertainment, science, the arts, etc. That's the beauty of podcasting. If you have something you want to talk about, the barriers to entry are relatively low. Unlike mainstream radio where you need connections and hustle, you can simply start recording on a smartphone (as we have done a few times with Startupification) and release it to the world. The infrastructure is all there – with very limited tech knowledge, your voice can immediately be heard on a global platform.

For me, these grassroots moments are what make an ecosystem thrive. It's great to hear new voices bubbling up from the primordial soup of the start-up world, giving their world view and disseminating it publicly, for others to learn from and push back on. These voices help us collectively reflect on what has been working and what hasn't, and what we should be striving to do for the future.

I think we're going to continue to see more podcasts pop up from our tech and business community. We have our own unique worldview, and stories to tell. Hopefully we're just getting started telling them.

Oli Littlejohn, head of partnerships, CodeBase

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