Building for the Valley – Bootstrapping tips from Tweetmeme

by Mark Bower

Nick Halstead

Yesterday Linda and I were guests at an excellent Thames Valley Innovation and Growth (TVIG) event “Building for the Valley”.

The session was delivered by Nick Halstead, CEO and founder of TweetMeme.

As a TVIG-sponsored start-up ourselves, we were fascinated to hear the story of Tweetmeme’s growth from being one of the first TVIG start-ups “when it was just Nick and his heavily pregnant wife in a cupboard” (!!) to a globally known brand, with 15 staff, handling more web hits than the BBC.

It was a story of rapid growth on a bootstrapping budget, and an inspiration for all budding entrepreneurs. Here are some of the takeaways:

On Networking

Don’t go to a networking event unless you can get a list of attendees beforehand. When you get the list, run it through LinkedIn and choose your ‘targets’ deliberately. Time is too valuable. Don’t leave networking to chance meetings. Have a maximum of one beer all evening: this is about business not partying.

On Marketing and PR

Become a reference point for your industry. Bootstrap your PR.

When Nick started Tweetmeme he blogged every night, then nagged friends and other bloggers to read his posts: “we have never paid a PR agency”. Nick explained that it helps to have a consumer focussed element to your portfolio because these tend to get more press.

Blogging means that you get to lead the conversation; the traffic you get translates into customers; you become a reference for news stories; and you get asked to speak at events.

On Public Speaking

Public speaking = free PR, but don’t be tempted you use it to advertise your product. Instead give useful information. (Don’t sell, educate). Build your reputation and integrity, and the (interested) attendees will become customers over time. A side benefit of public speaking is that you are more prepared and confident when you have to pitch to investors.

On Recruitment

Avoid recruitment agencies. Hire straight from university; only “bedroom coders”; pay them in options – “they must believe in the dream”.

On Investment

Getting investment has the biggest learning curve. It takes up 90% of your time. Keep the deal simple – complex terms tend to drive the wrong behaviours in leadership team: “with hindsight we would have given more away for simpler terms”.

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