Diary of a Start-Up: Pleasing Some of the People

Diary of a start-up - Pleasing some of the people, some of the time
By Alison Grieve on May 7, 10 11:20 AM in Innovation

I grew up in a household with a permanently revolving front door. It was a bit like living in the transit lounge of Heathrow Airport, with visitors from New Zealand, Romania, India, France, Canada and many others, breaking bread at our family's kitchen table.

This diversity of social interaction provided me with a patchwork quilt of influence and aspiration. It taught me the importance of tapping into to the knowledge and experience of others in order to broaden my horizons and deepen my understanding of how the world works.

It is a lesson that I have applied throughout my career but never more so than since embarking upon the Safetray project. This week I thought it might be useful to provide an overview of some of the people who have been played a big part in guiding me through the Safetray journey so far.

My first port of call after agreeing verbally to partner up with Fearsomengine was John Hughes at Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce. Contracted out to Scottish Enterprise, John advises high-growth start-ups on how to access the various funding routes and support mechanisms available.

I cannot emphasise enough how helpful John Hughes has been in putting us in touch with the right people. Meetings were organised with angel networks; seminars were booked with innovation giants; applications were completed for grants and loans - all with a healthy dose of encouraging enthusiasm. They talk about blue sky thinkers - John's thinking stretches to the ozone layer without a volcanic ash cloud in sight.

To me, an accountancy firm should be more to a business than simply a number cruncher. For that reason I annoyed Shaun Millican of Johnston Carmichael with a barrage of phone calls to ensure our place on his client list. I had met Shaun previously through the business network, Thrive For Business, and quickly established that he was the kind of player I'd want on my team. Choosing the wrong accountancy firm at an early stage would have been disastrous and it was not a mistake that I was willing to make.

I like working with Shaun because I always feel like I've had a bit if a mental workout by the time I leave his office. He is strict with us and tells us things that we don't always want to hear. Like all proper workouts, you know when it hurts that it's good for you.

There are a couple of investment guys who I have also found to be an invaluable source of expertise. As with so many things that I'd like to write about in this diary but am unable to for reasons of commercial sensitivity, I cannot reveal too much about their backgrounds or the purpose of our meetings. What I can say is that both these individuals have managed to ask questions that initially I didn't even fully understand, let alone have an answer for:

"What's your hedging strategy on currency exchange?"


"Who swallows the cost of a rise in oil prices?"


It's all good stuff and helps to advance the business brain. Without being asked the difficult questions I would never have known that the answers even existed.

This project has consistently forced me further and further away from my comfort zone. I feel stretched and challenged, flexed and expanded. While the learning process has felt like a good workout, the wealth of support and expertise coming from the Scottish business community has felt like my supply of protein shakes to keep me strong and able to grow.

If there is one piece of advice that I would impart upon another start-up, it would be to seek out the major players from a variety of disciplines to put you through your paces. It will always feel painful but you'll emerge a stronger business person in the long term.


Posted on May 14, 2010 .