Pink Bandana – UCL Lecture – Breach Your Comfort Zone for Your Startup

A couple of weeks back I was really lucky to have the opportunity to speak at UCL on the topic of “How to Start a Startup” to an audience of a few hundred. The night before my lecture, I met up with a close friend who challenges me regularly, who wanted to challenge me on a simple point that we talk about often:

Never be embarrassed

Apparently I was getting too ‘comfortable’. I had a pink bandana (a long and different story) and she challenged me to wear it for my lecture and to incorporate it to make a serious point. I did (see below – the picture was shared quite widely after my talk…).

Me lecturing in a pink bandana
Me lecturing in a pink bandana

But, besides embarrassing myself, what was the point? In startups, you end up doing a whole bunch of things you didn’t expect to when you started out. Last year whilst acting as CTO of pingWHEN, I was surprised by the number of roles I had to fill. Sure, developing the product (a backend application, database architecture, REST API and various mobile app frontends) was a big part, but it probably wasn’t more than 50% of my working hours. The remainder included conversations with our investors and mentors, customer development and administration stuff. But that wasn’t it: as part of the construction of our company, I had to:

  • Do two Karate take-downs on video
  • Make terrible visual effects in a product video
  • Act in a product video
  • Take photos out in York at 1am in the freezing cold trying to get rid of light from a street bollard with a coat.
  • Pitch to senior executives at Disney
  • Attempt to sing (terribly).

The point is, if you hold yourself back, restricting yourself to things you feel comfortable with, you might not fulfil your potential or achieve what you ned to achieve. If you want your startup to succeed, you’ll need to do a few things that make you uncomfortable.

Computer Science Entrepreneurship

It’s been a long time…

From the week after Yacht Hack in September last year, I’ve been pretty full-on busy for the last academic year, focussing on achieving a First (Summa Cum Laude for any Americans reading) (successfully achieved!) and co-founding a new startup called pingWHEN (made all the more difficult by a 4500 mile gap between my co-founder and myself).

Some of my earlier blogs refer to my undertaking a 4-year Masters degree course. This changed during Yacht Hack. I’ve been interested in Entrepreneurship for a long time, running many small businesses from aged about 13. During my first two years at University I forgot all about this passion and was just focussed on software engineering, academia, internships, and hiking mountains. Yacht Hack reminded me that I should be working in the entrepreneurial space, and after a conversation with my now co-founder and business partner, Julie Markham, I decided to drop my masters year, thus leaving myself with just one year of study (the year I have just completed) and a Bachelors degree.

Now that I’m done I’ll be focussing 100% of my energy into growing pingWHEN into a viable business. More posts to follow!