The Issue of Perfectionism - A Startup Story

This post is a review and re-imagining of the topic discussed at the latest Cambridge – Norwich Tech Corridor event. This was the first event we have hosted at the new Akcela incubator – offering founders Start-up and Scaleup support to develop their business.

Speakers on The Issue of Start-Up Perfection

Co-Founders Hannah and James Rix of Readingmate. 

Readingmate is the app that inspires the lifelong love of reading for children. Whilst the app only fully launched in May 2021, it has amassed over 16,000 downloads. Readingmate supports over 350 Readingmate schools in the UK and is partnered with five of the UK’s largest literacy charities, to further their work.

Founder-turned-funder, Bill Yost, Investment Manager at Foresight Group 

Bill joined to add his experience and expert insight on the subject both from a hardware founder, but also a funding perspective.

The Start Up Concern – Will Someone Steal My Idea If it isn’t Perfect?

During the talk, James and Hannah picked up on the fact that whilst the app was ready to deliver the habit tracking element of the software, it wouldn’t “ship” with all the functionality that the future iteration would deliver. James and Hannah discussed that they were reluctant to do so, but due to delays felt the timing was right then, rather than loading their app with more development. Bill raised a really interesting perspective on this, that many start-up companies feel that launching without perfection, may in fact be an opportunity for others to copy or imitate the innovation.

As the conversation progressed, a really interesting theme was raised. If you don’t launch, how do you truly know if your innovation holds value, or interests your target market. The entire panel discussed situations where they themselves had gained invaluable feedback that changed the course and trajectory of the business. As a start up, being agile and iterating ideas can generate further improvement. Rather than worrying if someone will steal it, the bigger concern should be if no one wants it.

Start Up Companies Can Be Lean and React Quickly – Use That to Your Advantage

Bill made an incredibly pertinent point when discussing the path to launch and iterations beyond it. Large scale businesses can take time to adapt, with many layers and levels of complexity, but a start-up business is usually unincumbered by such bureaucracy. Whilst other big businesses may be scrambling with engineering change forms and sign-off (especially in the manufacturing world), a start-up has at its very core a laser focussed approach to delivering something (whatever that may be) and the ability to pivot that approach without the navigation of red tape. This approach means that incremental changes on a tried and tested product can be implemented fast. Adding value to the product quickly and satisfying real customer demand, in a speed that others can only dream of. It’s better to start and improve delivering what a customer wants, than build something perfect, that turns out to be anything but.

A Start up founder may fear failure, but it should be embraced

Another noteworthy theme in this talk was the fear of failure. Perfectionism seeks to offset this fear of failure by ensuring it never occurs. For the reasons stated above, this is not the path that founders should always tread. Instead of fearing failure, start up companies should embrace the opportunity to learn from situations that don’t play out according to the vision and expectation from the outset. Bill fondly recounted the, in his own words, “old adage”, that “whatever doesn’t kill you doesn’t make you stronger”. Bill adapted this message in the context of a start-up and scale up company, in that whatever doesn’t work, can only make the proposition stronger with the learning. A powerful message for start-up founders.

Our view on the day

We really enjoyed the day and are extremely grateful to everyone who turned up and gave their time for these powerful lessons and views to be shared with the community.

You will be able to listen the entire event on Eastern Promise, hosted by Mike Rigby. As soon as the site and podcasts are live, we will link to it on this page.

We are extremely grateful to TCN UK and Fuel Studios for the use of the communal space to run these events. As well as our other partners who make this happen – Ashtons LegalFarnell Clarke Accountants and MAD-HR.

September 23, 2021

by James