Fail to plan, plan to fail—but when you’re in the early days of running a tech startup, founders are short on time (and there’s a lot you still don’t know about your customer audience, your product offer, and how to run a business), what do you need to build into your plan?

Getting the basics right from the outset

There’s never a better time to plan your business out than the very start of your journey. That said, much of the insight you’re going to need, you probably won’t have at your disposal. This means any planning you do is going to be more of a ‘straw-man’ than anything else. Consequently, you should view your startup plan as more of a painting by numbers outline than anything else.

Many tech startup failures happen not because of a poor product idea or proposition, but because companies lack sufficient detailed understanding of their customer audience. Getting the basics right from the beginning means including as many key stakeholders as possible in your journey to shape a business strategy out of the blocks. There’s nothing better you can be doing than investing time to get to better know your customer audience and what they see as valuable. In addition, it pays to speak to people who’ve taken this journey before you to pick up advice and as much experience as possible, so you don’t suffer the pains they’ve already been through.

Gary Parlett is someone who’s set up a successful UK people business disguised as a digital technology consultancy business; someone recognized by industry peers as being someone who knows how to get ‘startup’ right. We had the opportunity to catch up with Gary and ask him what his guidance would be to any new tech founder. Gary says, “Our success has come from bringing together a great team of people to lead and operate the business. No individual is good at everything, and that’s the case with founders too. Understanding what you’re good at, then finding people with the right blend of attitude and skills is critical.”

Not every great idea makes for a great business

If you’re an entrepreneurial type it’s easy to find opportunities in lots of areas of the market that seem underserved by providers presently. Sadly, that doesn’t mean they make for a great business for you.
Not everyone has the same access to know-how, skills, resources, and most importantly potential customers. It seems cruel to say it, but just because a market is underserved, doesn’t mean YOU can access it.
You can only reasonably take ONE idea forward, so it makes sense to ensure that it is TRULY THE BEST opportunity for YOU. It begs the question—how do you know?

Sid Vasili—a serial entrepreneur in the tech space—says, “You never know until you try it – however, you must lay down the boundaries of your stop-loss strategy.”

Avoid digital myopia

Tech company founders can easily get fixated on their own tech baby. That’s a really serious problem and one that hampers a great many startups. While you’re pitching your fab tech, there’s a big risk that your most important audience is yawning in the wings. If you’ve been in this game for any length of time, you’ve probably received emails from enthusiastic startups telling you how ‘amazing, awesome, never done before, innovative, blah, blah, blah…’ their offer is.

While you’re busy pitching, you’re not listening. Better to know that customers have a problem that you can solve, and you have built up the know-how to explain how you can help them to address it than spend all your time building ‘the perfect engine’ in the garage, that you’ve never managed to sell to anyone.

businesswoman making a business plan for tech startupin the office

Don’t under-estimate your timeline

Boy does time fly. Before you know it, that nest egg you were relying on to fund your first few months of business will be fast disappearing.
Money is much easier to spend than earn. You will need every penny to maximize your lifeline. That means being extremely frugal with your buying decisions. Always look to take advantage of FREE software apps and services you can use to help your money stretch further. Companies like Tide.Co and Starling (banking), Zoho, Trello, Airtable, LibraOffice, and Google (business software), and very low-cost virtual office services like Hoxton Mix are good places to start. Back up every prospective buying decision with the question, ‘Can I live without it for now.’

Leverage every sinew of your social network

You need a great many friends to survive the early stages of setting up a startup. No matter how uncomfortable it might feel, you’re going to need to pull in some favors and ask a lot of your friends and family. There are personal and social consequences to founding a business that is hard to avoid. This is principal because being a founder takes a huge amount of commitment, effort, and time.

Consider Frigyes Karinthy’s Six degrees of separation theory – the notion that all people are six or fewer social connections away from each other. It means your social network can introduce you to many more people than you realize—you need only ask!

You should be tapping into your social network to get advice, introductions to potential customers (or the places where customers go), opportunities to network, present your offering… all those good things. I’m also a big fan of local business networks and organizations like the local Chambers of Commerce, the Institute of Directors (IoD), and other business and professional communities. These are places where you can grow new connections. But don’t spend all your time trying to pitch your product, as that makes for a very monotone conversation for the people you are speaking with! You should also be taking the opportunity to learn as much as you can about business in general, the local market you can serve, and the needs of your customer audience.

tech startup team discussion

The Plan—Nobody said founding a tech company was easy

It’s a dream for many people to startup a tech company. In the UK alone, something like 20,000 new startups was created in the first three months of 2020. That just goes to show how many people are journeying down this path. You can just imagine how much competition you’re up against. Given that it’s not easy, and the learning curve is so steep, you should be doing everything in your power to concentrate your efforts on the most important priorities of all.

What then goes into the early-stage plan? Here are tips from your team at Newton Day:

  1. Secure enough money to get off the ground and try not to spend it too hard! This is not the time to be lavish—Disney, Apple, HP, Harley-Davidson, Mattel, Dell, Microsoft, and Google all started life in a garage!
  2. Quickly get through the boring but necessary bits of establishing a company, bank account, virtual office address (if you feel it necessary), setting up the apps you need to run the business operations day-to-day, building your profile on social networks, and creating a website.
  3. Invest time to know your customer audience and know how to reach them. You are entering a global market, you need to know how to reach your customer audience and persuade them to buy your offer if you’re to stand any chance at all.
  4. Camp out on social platforms—like LinkedIn—and ‘join the conversation’ wherever you can to grow your network. Don’t forget to reach into the local business community and professional groups.
  5. Exhaust your friend network to get introductions and gain access to advisors and resources.
  6. Find a good group of people (with skills you don’t possess yourself) to help you.
  7. When you’re not doing all of that—build your offering.
Ian Tomlin

Ian Tomlin


Ian Tomlin is a marketer, entrepreneur, business leader and management consultant. His passion is to help make great ideas happen. Relentlessly optimistic about the potential of technology for good, Ian’s 30+ year career has focused around the intersect of strategy, technology and marketing. He writes on subjects including enterprise computing and organizational design. He also works as a consultant and advisor to the executive teams of PrinSIX Technologies, Answer Pay and INTNT.AI, helping to rethink their marketing in order to tell their brand story.

Ian has founded a series of successful businesses including NDMC Ltd (2003), Encanvas (2006), and Newton Day Ltd (2019). He has written books, articles and guides on brand, digital transformation, enterprise applications, data science, workforce management, and organizational design. He can be reached via LinkedIn or Twitter.