LONDON - In this CNCS blogpost we are pleased to introduce Tech Connect. In this series we speak to innovative and expanding businesses as they reveal their highlights and challenges, in addition to providing some top tips for success. This series tells the stories of of bright thinkers who leveraged their creativity to revolutionise the world as we know it.
This week we speak to George Johnston, who founded Tech Connect to help people better navigate London's tech scene and beyond.
How did the idea for Tech Connect come about?
I’d been running some tours for different people who wanted to learn about the London tech scene.
That idea actually came out of conversations with people I’d met who pointed out that I knew a lot about this area, and that other people might be interested in learning about it too.
These ‘Tech City Intro tours’ were really successful but what I noticed was that there were quite a few people from the corporate or public sector worlds who were looking for an introduction to the tech scene.
Since the tours have a fairly broad brush on sectors, I figured that there had to be better way of equipping them with industry-specific knowledge that would help them to do their jobs better, but also to help them incorporate learnings into their businesses. And that’s when Tech Connect became a fully-fledged business.
What does Tech Connect do?
With new technologies, ideas and players coming over the horizon every day, the tech ecosystem is a minefield to navigate. So we’re the gateway into it, for organisations and individuals.
We want to help organisations in particular create a sustainable tech ecosystem so that they can stay ahead of the game.
Take blockchain, for example. The head of a financial business will be aware that it’s something they need to keep an eye on. But they may not have a clue about how to do that. How do they glean the relevant information from news stories? Which reports should they read? How do they find the time to dedicate to their research?
That’s where we come in. We’d create a bespoke Connect Session - we’d present some of the facts and data about blockchain and then bring in blockchain startup founders, investors and anyone else that can bring this information to life.
And then some other themes might come out of that session. Cryptocurrency could be something they’d want to explore next, so we might create a report or run another session. Or both! Over the course of a year, we aim to deliver as much value as possible.
We also still do our introductory tours - the Tech City Intro takes place on the first Friday of every month. Open to anyone, they’re still really fun to run!
How hard was it to get your idea off the ground? What have you found most challenging?
As with most new businesses, the biggest challenge for Tech Connect was building a pipeline of potential clients. We found that finding the right people in the business was key, as was taking the conversation offline as quickly as possible. We’re a friendly and passionate team and – while emails are great, having a conversation on the phone or in person is a very worthwhile investment to make.
What have you learned from the process?
Listen to what the market is saying. When we first started the Connect Sessions we were only speaking to big businesses because we assumed that they would be the only interested party. But actually, we found that there were so many other sectors that had a huge appetite for what we offer – from academia, to government, to international visitors to London.
So we widened our approach, and tailored it to these different audiences, and grew better than we would otherwise have been able to do.
That’s a big lesson that I’d probably share with other startup founders. It’s all about getting your product to market and then testing it live. And that’s actually one thing I’ve since heard reiterated by Mark Zuckerberg and Reid Hoffman on the Masters of Scale podcast, so it’s definitely pretty sound advice!
Is there any other advice you’d give to founders?
Make sure that you keep having fun. I work across five businesses(!) so it might seem easy to get distracted. But by continuing to engage with clients, do the monthly tours, build a smart and driven team, I’m still a pretty hands-on founder, which I think is important, certainly at the stage the business is currently at.
Why are you here at Cocoon Networks London?
This business is built on the fact that we’re giving people an inside look at Tech City – so we had to be somewhere in this part of London.
The fact that we were one of the first tenants here has been particularly interesting. We like chatting to people we meet in the common areas, and also getting involved with Cocoon’s events as and when we can. There’s no telling what might come out of a conversation – a new product idea, a new marketing idea, a new sales lead…
It also has a ping pong, pool and a foosball table, which you can’t argue with.
What are your plans for the future?
We’re currently building out a research arm of the business. Our team knows so much about the tech scene – especially when combined with our colleagues over at the other Tech City Ventures businesses that we sit with – that we think it’s worth building a product around this.
Knowledge – especially the relevant knowledge – is such a valuable currency, and our ability to understand what our clients want, and match it with the right information, is a powerful idea that we want to develop further.
In the meantime, the Connect Sessions remain our main focus. Sector-specific tech immersions from those in the know – it’s a great product that I fully believe in.