Learnings from Business Leader’s L39 Tech scale-up event

Business Leader Magazine, the founders and organisers of the Go:Tech Awards, recently hosted a tech-related event at Level39 – one of the world’s most connected tech communities, based in Canary Wharf. The event looked at the challenges facing tech companies in the UK and was in preparation for the upcoming Go:Tech Awards this November.

Here, one of the panellists at the event, Ann Hiatt, Non-Executive Director for CRM specialist, Armadillo, shares her thoughts on the event.

2019 has been a year of both great technological advancements and important ethical debates which have brought together voices from all corners of the business globe; from Silicon Valley to the UK to China and beyond. To some, this has felt like a year directly out of a science fiction novel; developments like quantum computing, artificial intelligence and 5G have become regular topics in conference rooms as well as around our dinner tables.

At this year’s L39 Tech Scale-Up Event run by Business Leader, I was joined by a wealth of world-class business leaders for a deep-dive into the world of technology, the ways in which it has impacted businesses and to ask, what does the future hold?

The panel debate went into great depth around issues such as innovation, investment and disruption which are critical growth stages for any company but especially for scale-ups. The following four points resonated with the panelists and attendees alike with their potential impact and opportunities for essential innovation.

Growing pains

If I learned anything during my 15 years at Google and Amazon it is that no one is spared from the growing pains that come with success and innovation. People and company resources are challenged repeatedly; you either learn to rapidly pivot and adapt or get washed out.  For many young companies there is a moment of surprise when they discover that growth doesn’t solve all problems. In fact, growth brings with it the complexities of scale.

To keep up with the constant change, businesses are feeling the need to grow not only quickly but wisely. This involves continuing to invest in both people and systems. Those who underestimate the challenge of advanced recruitment may set themselves up for failure. The challenge is not only adding the numbers but attracting the right talent of motivated and interested people who are in the business for the long-run and will consistently add value.

Scale-ups will also struggle with the need to reinvent internal operational procedures over and over again. Wise companies get ahead of this curve by creating systems for the company they plan to be rather than the one they are right now. This means scaling everything from office leases, legal services and HR much earlier than you think you need them. The needs of a company and its staff changes dramatically once you reach 50 and then 100 and then 500 and beyond. If you are in this washing machine cycle, take a little comfort in knowing that you are not alone.

The UK

Even in the confusion of Brexit and the worries around the risks it may pose to businesses, many still see the UK as a good place to invest. Accessing finance can be one of the first issues any business comes up against, but with the current exchange rate, the UK is cheap to invest in and the country doesn’t lack choice when it comes to funding sources either. There are increasing numbers of tech incubators, VCs and angel investors.

The core to any company’s growth and success is always the quality of talent they attract and retain. The talent pool in the UK is rich and there is a great pipeline from local universities. The UK needs to do more to prevent ‘Brain Drain’ and to give talented entrepreneurs more resources and opportunities here at home. This needs to be done through a combination of government investment, community support of entrepreneurship and a concrete university pipeline to transition students from their studies into the local workforce.

Innovation and agility

Technology opens up a whole new world of innovative opportunities, both with advancements and potential threats. The life-saving potential of AI applications through AI assisted medical technology, autonomous cars and more is beyond thrilling and is deserving of the enormous investments being made into their development. While the Hollywood scenarios of machines taking over the world belong to the silver screen, the real threat to society will likely take the form of personal data privacy risks and unconscious bias in machine learning affecting other AI applications. We see this already taking place in China where their AI expertise are likely to surpass the US within the next few years.

There are complex ethical issues at play which need serious debate and action. Collaboration between technology companies and global policy makers has never been more vital for the survival of democracy, innovation and protecting foundational societal values. The potential for both good and evil have never been greater within tech.

Customer relationships

More than ever, consumers expect a personal relationship with the brands with whom they engage. Social media technology has made it possible for modern consumers to seek out and even demand that their favourite brands reflect their values, goals and aspirations as a condition of their financial support. For example, the data is clear that environmentally friendly company decisions lead to high-quality customer relationships and conversions. The cost is not a detriment, it’s an investment with ROI.

However, humans still want human connection, this is especially true for Millennial consumers. This generation of consumer has been trained to expect highly personalised messaging. They respond best to multiple channels of communication through social media and engagement campaigns. Every company now needs a sophisticated Customer Relationship Management strategy to stay competitive.

The Business Leader’s L39 Tech Scale-Up event made it clear that we aren’t even close to scratching the surface of potential uses of these evolving technological advancements. The key to surviving all of these growing pains is communication.  If you are honest with your employees and investors about goals and anticipated pain points in advance, the road is a lot less rocky and you keep everyone in alignment. People worry less about bumps in the road that were seen in advance.

For the right entrepreneurs, emerging technology is a thrilling landscape for evolving, connecting and increasing impactful connections and fulfilling the Silicon Valley cliché in truly making the world a better place.

This article first appeared in Business Leader