Why even founders need to be business focused


Polly Purvis

Polly Purvis

Johnston Carmichael Tech Advisory Board Member


One of the real strengths of Scotland’s tech sector is that we have such a wide range of founders providing technology solutions for a broad range of industries.  

Our industry has a history of producing brilliant ideas, backed up by a strong set of technology skills and expertise.  

However, I often find that the commercial skills required to launch and grow successful tech business are not prioritised as they should be. 

Founders may not have the full range of commercial skills in the early stages of running the business, but a company needs expertise in finance, sales and marketing to thrive as it should, as well as technology expertise and creativity.  

I appreciate founders may find it hard to hand over control, when they’re used to overseeing everything, but it’s essential to bring in the right expertise for all these important roles.   

What tends to happen in the first 2-3 years of a company starting up is that the founder undertakes many of those other jobs, alongside their own area of expertise.  

Ideally in a small company filled with great ideas, the founder would move to become, say, the chief technical officer and bring in other people with strong commercial experience.  

If I was prioritising who to bring in, I would look at what my biggest weaknesses are, and consider how to address them. 

Acquiring finance expertise is often a key priority. Many founders are the best champions of their company because it’s their passion, but they appreciate they need to get a finance person in early, as it’s so important. Initially, it doesn’t have to be a chief finance officer for a start-up or scale-up firm; it could be a part-time bookkeeper and accountant in the early days.  

On sales and marketing, there’s a lot of myth around what these roles entail, but it’s primarily about engaging with the right people in the right markets and convincing them your product will meet their requirements. 

Finding the right person to head up sales must be one of the hardest decisions for a small company. Who can go out there, understand what you’re bringing to the market, sell it effectively, do the numbers, bring in the sales and keep in touch with clients? It’s a complex process.  

Unfortunately, the smaller the business, the bigger those issues, as often these important roles are sitting with just one or two of the original founders, who don’t necessarily have the appropriate skills.  

Scotland and the UK more generally is not great at valuing sales professionals and recognising their importance. In America the appreciation and understanding of how complex sales is, is significantly higher than in other parts of the world.  

Great work is being done in Scotland to encourage more start-ups and spinouts. However, when it comes down to it, you can have the best idea in the world, but if you don’t have the right sales skills, you will underperform and damage the business.  

How can we get better at this and value these skillsets and processes, and the success it brings?  

I’d love to see a much greater focus on formalising sales education, but in the meantime my main advice to people building their own businesses would be to talk to as many founders as you possibly can about how they dealt with these issues.  

There are some brilliant people across our tech sector, and picking other people’s brains is a great way to learn.  

Finding a mentor can also have huge value if you find the right person. Some founders may find that a difficult thought initially but if you can find someone who has relevant business experience, that can be enormously valuable.  

The most recent Scottish Startup Survey showed there’s still a lot to be positive about in the industry, despite the obvious economic headwinds, with 93 per cent of respondents believing Scotland is a good place to launch a start-up business.  

I’d hate to think of anyone being put off their business idea because it seems too complex. It can be tough, but securing the necessary support is achievable, and there’s a lot of people who can help with making it more so. 

If founders give the commercial side of their business the attention it deserves, there’s no reason why they can’t grow their business into yet another Scottish tech success story.  

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