Kay Kukoyi is a software delivery specialist and the author of 5 books for SMEs and entrepreneurs. She is the founder of Purposeful Products and the Tech Startup Academy, which provide consultancy, mentoring and practical workshops to support tech entrepreneurs around the world. Kay spent more than a decade taking corporates from concept to launch, and beyond on multi-million pound projects before moving into the tech startup ecosystem. She is a Certified Scrum Master (CSM), has diplomas in coaching, and Internet Marketing, and is a fellow of the Institute of Training and Occupational Learning. Kay mentors at several startup accelerators and is an Enterprise Nation small business advisor.
Tell us who you are, your background and where you come from.
I’m a software delivery specialist from London, England. I come from a family of 3 kids – and funnily enough my sister and I both come from STEM backgrounds and have science degrees – my brother’s the one with the BA!
What is the name of your business and what service does it provide?
I’m the founder of Purposeful Products and the Tech Startup AcademyTM.
We mentor and train the founders of early stage (pre-seed) tech startups at the idea, prototype, and early build stages of forming their startups, and guide them through the process of creating their software from scratch, and starting their software businesses the SMART way.
For us smart means not getting caught out by common pitfalls, and as a founder not exposing yourself, your business, your customers, or your investors to unnecessary risks as you bring your idea to life.
Software products need to be secure, reliable systems that customers can count on. The founder has to be savvy about which features to create, and they need to be able to hire the right people and oversee the build of a product that is free of bugs and issues so people will continue to use the software.
If you’re new to all this it’s inevitable that the decisions you make won’t be the same as those a tech / product professional would make who’s used to building software and working with tech teams day in, and day out, and this is exactly what we see.
So, that’s where we come in. We focus on filling in these knowledge gaps as quickly as possible, because with a few wrong turns, startups can find themselves dealing with unexpected challenges. We want to catch founders before they go through these misadventures and give them a firm foundation to start from!
What led you to start your business?
I’ve worked in the tech industry since 2004 and over time I came to hear about people starting tech companies without an IT background. I heard a lot of stories about people ploughing their savings into apps that were going to make them their first million, and all the dreams that were riding on getting this software launched – and then for some, it went wrong. They lost their money, or the product that was delivered fell below their expectations.
I decided that I would do something to offer guidance and information to people getting into tech and the software market, so I wrote a book – Don’t Hire a Software Developer Until You Read this Book. It’s bright red to represent: “Hi! Please stop for a second before you hire someone to build your app for you – there are important things you should know before you get your product built – this book will save you LOTS of time, money and stress!”
We want the journey to be as positive and profitable as possible, and to be efficient too. A tech project that should only take a few months to complete can easily double, or triple in duration (and cost) for any number of reasons.
What are some of the rewards of building a tech business?
When the product is launched and customers are using it, and you look at what you’ve achieved and how far you’ve come, you are going to feel on top of the world! It really is your baby, you’ve brought it to life, nurtured it and seen it evolve.
Tech is highly scalable – when architected correctly, it can support 100, 1000, 10,000, 100,000++ users. This is a highly efficient business – one product servicing hundreds of thousands of people. It’s so much easier for an online business such as a SaaS (Software as a Service) product to “go global” than it is for people running businesses that rely on a physical presence.
Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR) is another plus. It’s not a must to charge using this model, but there are very good reasons why it’s so popular. If you have several thousand users and can charge each one a decent amount each month, you can see that it translates to a very healthy income every month.
With MRR, you’re not chasing one-off payments, and then saying goodbye forever, or diarising a call or email every few years to convince the customer to renew a software license before it expires. Microsoft had never charged customers on a monthly basis for MS Office, and even they must have looked at what was going on in the SaaS market. Now they’re pushing everyone to pay monthly and they top the global leaderboard for SaaS earnings!
What has been your biggest challenge to date?
My biggest challenge in recent years was writing my first book. That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. When I had got a good way in, I felt overwhelmed, but then there was that feeling that I’d come too far to give up, but also not being sure whether I wanted to keep going!
I like to finish the projects that I start, and that plus the fact that I made my goal public helped me to stick with it.
Your business offers services to tech startups. What are some of the mistakes that tech startups make?
The first thing is not getting deep enough into understanding what’s involved in creating a software product and running a software company.
Pro tech teams are constantly deep in thought, sometimes for weeks chewing over very precise details about how things will work. When this doesn’t happen, the result is often what I call swiss cheese thinking. It seems o.k. on the surface, but actually the plan is full of holes and leaps of logic! New tech startups often try and proceed with the swiss cheese version, not realising that there are 2, 3, 4 levels deeper they need to go with their thinking before they’ll be fully ready to hire someone, otherwise the product will be poor and everyone trying to build it will end up confused.
Building the product first, and deciding to worry about how to sell it later is another mistake.
Put the customer first and remember that this isn’t about creating something just because you want to create it. As a business, you should be solving a problem that people definitely want solved. Work on your business model and plan for taking your product to market. It’s the key to getting your first customers. Consider a range of options, get feedback, and fine tune.
There are lots of mistakes that people make, but a few others are hiring the wrong developer, or CTO, and putting people in charge who aren’t capable of doing the job, and not realising this for some time.
What is the one key area that tech startups ignore?
I think they underestimate the importance of some elements of their software app, and the processes behind the scenes, especially things related to servers, IT security, backing up of data and those kinds of things.
The devil is in the detail, so you have to be an optimist on one hand and a pessimist on the other with tech, because your baby needs TLC, and it’s the planning and precautions you take that will save your behind.
For example, look at the massive service outage that Facebook and Instagram had in March, 2019. It’s hard to imagine the volume of tweets and social media activity that generated. It must have been overwhelming for Facebook’s support team. When things go wrong and the world is watching, that’s a lot of pressure.
Mark Zuckerberg said the issue was caused by a server configuration error. An incorrect setting can literally bring down your product. Depending on what your product is and how heavily customers rely on it, they could be seriously ticked off.
This could also have cost Facebook a fortune if they weren’t able to serve ads, and do post boosts during the outage, as businesses are paying for clicks and impressions and there was no-one on Facebook to click, or view!
We explain the sorts of precautions that should be in place, because you can’t check your staff are doing the right things if you don’t know what they should be doing. In that scenario, everything is done on faith which isn’t a good basis for managing the business. With our help, tech entrepreneurs can put basic policies in place to safeguard their product. They can build on these as the company grows.
What is the biggest trend in tech at the moment?
Apart from the growing number of ways that people are using AI, I’d say the movement from “customer support” to “customer success” and the steps tech companies are taking to increase customer engagement.
I use and review a lot of software products, and the number of businesses taking measures to maintain engagement, and ongoing use of products and to prevent people uninstalling apps, or cancelling monthly payment subscriptions is really growing. It’s good to see, because in addition to working hard to win new customers, it’s important to keep existing customers happy and actively using your product.
As a woman in tech, have you ever experienced some of the inherent bias that we often hear so much about?
I haven’t personally experienced frustration in making a career move, and getting the progression I wanted. I was with the first company I joined as an IT professional for 6.5 years, and got promoted first to stream lead, and then to project manager, managing teams of up to 12 people, and I was happy with that.
I set myself a goal that once I built up a level of competence as a tech professional, I would go into IT Contracting and develop my career in that market, and that’s what I did, so I never got to experience competition for the role of “Head of XYZ”.
It does make sense for women (and men!) to be very selective about where they choose to work. Do some research on Glassdoor, and on LinkedIn, look at who’s in the company and what positions they hold. Is it a diverse organisation?
At interview listen carefully to how they describe their organisation, employees and roles, what sort of “vibe” do you get?
Make sure the company has a meritocratic culture so bias becomes a moot point – if you’re good, you should get ahead, end of story. Choose organisations with a track record of promoting women, and be wary if there aren’t any women in senior roles.
What advice do you have for women who are aiming to build a start up in the tech space?
- Make sure that there is a real demand for your product and that the solution you run with is the best possible one for the audience you are trying to reach and test this – don’t build the full product until you have evidence. If you’re seeking funding, the quality and depth of this evidence can help you secure the funding you’re looking for, because who can argue with hard facts?!
- Work, work, work on that business model!
- Don’t go it alone. Tech products can be complex beasts, so build a foundation of knowledge so you’re as well equipped as possible to handle challenges as they arise. The more understanding you have, the quicker and easier it will be to put the pieces of the puzzle together to make the right judgement calls, because you will have a wider knowledge base to draw from.
- Until you build this knowledge, use trusted individuals as a resource. If you have a mentor, or support network, raise your hand when you encounter new and unfamiliar scenarios, because this is when you’re most vulnerable, and where most mistakes are made. Don’t retreat into yourself when unsure, or if times are tough. The right support will boost your motivation, save you a lot of time and reinventing of the wheel, and put you on the right track!
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