When HackIT met the venture capitalists

I’m participating in a programme to explore the concept of responsible leadership – simply, helping people and their organisations make decisions which take account of the interests of all stakeholders. One of the ways the programme does this is by connecting you to people and environments that are unlike your own.

I had a conversation with the partner of a venture capital firm exploring what might a local authority IT team (us) learn from the way that they analyse investment opportunities? And what might our thinking help them understand the diversity of the needs and abilities of people they don’t normally meet.

On Thursday, five of our projects presented to a panel of people from Hambro Perks, a venture capital firm that specialises in growing technology businesses – including brands that we’re familiar with – Laundrapp and What Three Words.

We chose projects that represented larger and smaller investments for us, and products that were already achieving a return on investment and those that were early prototypes. Each team explained the problem to be solved, their vision, the current stage of development, what was already available on the market and what investment they needed next and what they’d seek to achieve with it. They were then subject to (the nicest) challenging questions about the market, the strengths and weaknesses of the product and the potential roadmap.

Across the five presentations, there were some key themes that we need to consider:

  • Are we really understanding and solving problems, or are we just improving existing services? We need to do both. But it’s easy to start with a problem / opportunity and then rapidly find yourself iterating to a point that’s an improvement on today but doesn’t make a
  • Have we understood our users well enough – in particular, using quantitative as well as qualitative techniques to understand the size of the ‘addressable market’, likely digital uptake and how we support digitally excluded people.
  • Do we understand the ‘competitor set’ well enough? This matters in terms of other software that already performs a task but also entrepreneurs, social enterprises, charities who are trying to solve the same problem. Discoveries don’t typically begin with analysis of think tank reports, but perhaps some should.
  • How are we marketing the product or service? We’ve had some tangible benefits of ‘organic’ uptake of some of our products and for others, we’ve got a captive audience. But our marketing ideas could do with further work.

All of these are questions of responsible leadership: do we understand our context, situation and system well-enough to know whether we’re doing the right things in the right way.

The teams found the exercise sufficiently useful that we’re now experimenting with how we might re-create it to inform the way that we initiate new projects. Our next Dragon’s Den event will be in mid-June.  It will be important not to create governance processes that work in parallel to our existing forums, but it was sufficiently worthwhile to give it a go.

Importantly for me, the exercise gave me a real energy boost. I felt significant pride in hearing Andrew; Soraya and Guy; Philippa and Richard; Rashmi, Selwyn and Mirela; Daro and Anna present confidently and clearly about our work, handle the challenge well and to see that our work stood-up to external scrutiny.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.