TWO years after his most recent software business was bought by a global player, Andrew Walker is helping others launch their own.
The 49-year-old is on his fourth start-up and says he knows the highs and lows of being a software entrepreneur.
Through his business Bhuzz.club, he is running a Startup School, whose first course will run at THIS Workspace in the Daily Echo building. Sessions will also run at Barclays’ Eagle Lab in Westbourne, another venue where he has been providing business mentorship.
“When I started 25 years ago there was nowhere you could really go to get help and advice for start-up companies,” he said.
While there is now plenty general advice available locally to new businesses, he could not find the sector-specific help that he had seen offered in Silicon Valley.
“There was nothing really geared to starting software businesses or app businesses. I thought that was something that should be available in the area, so I spoke to a few people and talked to some of the people I mentor through Virgin Startup and Barclays and came up with the idea of a startup school,” he added.
His own most successful business was Clicktools, providing customer satisfaction surveys for business-to-business use. Its 1,000 customers included American Express and Barclays and it was partially acquired by Survey Monkey before being taken over by the global enterprise software firm Callidus.
His latest launch is Ikooloo, a mobile-first app for small businesses.
He said of the Startup School: “It’s based on pragmatic advice to people who have either started or are about to start a software or app company. You can’t teach everything but you can teach a proportion of it.”
His courses are limited to 10 people at a time and will run over one day, two days or in six weekly sessions. They will finish with each attendee giving a five-minute pitch – the best of which will earn the student their course fees back.
Mr Walker said: “I think the first thing is you’ve got to try to think about whether there’s a big enough market for the application to survive. You’ve got to be solving a problem. A lot of people I come across think of a solution but the first thing is, what problems are you trying to solve?
“The second big element is building the thing right. It comes down to not spending a fortune building a product without testing it, without trying it out, without understanding this problem.
“Thirdly, don’t under-appreciate how difficult it will be and how long it will take. You’re highly unlikely to do this in months. It can take years to do it well. You will spend every minute of every day thinking about it.”
He added: “With Clicktools there were probably two or three times when I seriously thought about giving up.
“I didn’t earn any money for two years. It took us an age to pay ourselves a salary.”
He said success was down not only to building the product but to marketing and selling it. “The British are exceptionally good at building great products. The Americans are exceptionally good at marketing and selling products,” he added.
“You can have the best product in the world, but if nobody’s using it, it’s not very good.”