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INNOVATORS VS COVID 19

Shifting from Operating to Advising the Next Generation of Startups

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Tom Hedley Ciklum

We talked to Tom Hedley, Head of Fast Growth at Ciklum, a top-five global Software Engineering and Solutions Company delivering IT excellence to Fortune 500 and fast-growing organizations around the world. Here is what he said about it.

First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times? 

Tom Hedley: Growing! I am engaged to my fantastic fiancée, and we have welcomed a new puppy to our home in southwest London. Covid has given us more time for running and cycling as a family, and we are both lucky to be in great jobs, although this wasn’t always the case.

Tell us about you, your career, how you joined Ciklum.

Tom Hedley: In March last year, I was running my own pre-seed health tech startup out of the impact accelerator Zinc VC. The company was focused on helping people with neurological conditions take part in clinical trials to accelerate the release of new treatments and provide better support for patients before, during, and after trials. Our mission was inspired by my family’s own experience of dealing with my mother’s multiple sclerosis, but unfortunately, the pandemic caused all of our partners to postpone or cancel their clinical trials in order to redeploy resources against the coronavirus threat. Getting practitioners onto the frontlines and proceeding with Covid clinical trials became the priority above all else. This was a course of action I completely agreed with; however much it hurt our mission.

My last startup failed as a direct result of the pandemic, but I was fortunate enough to meet Mark Fisher and Fran Lavey from Ciklum and agreed to join them last year in order to help build Ciklum’s fast-growth business. Whilst we have many Fortune 500 clients, with our fast growth services, we are now focusing on helping great startups tackle their biggest challenges with technology; from building proof of concepts and MVPs, all the way through to expanding internationally and scaling their new products, features and data solutions with support from our expert teams.

How does Ciklum innovate? 

Tom Hedley: We help companies bring new products to life every day – leveraging new technologies and reacting to emerging market demands in order to create great technology solutions that have a real impact on customers.

We are blessed to see the full life cycle of innovation at every scale, with everything from pre-seed startups to global giants approaching for help in building new products and services. Our teams engage at all points throughout the product journey, including getting involved with strategy & idea definition, interviewing stakeholders and potential customers, and of course, the development teams of 100+ people who are building and maintaining products.

How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?

Tom Hedley: The pandemic has had a mixed effect on our business. We’ve seen massive tailwinds as startups rush to meet new consumer demands based on the changes brought about by the pandemic or as they look to build new technology which will help to tackle problems both new and old.

Conversely, there has also been a big crunch in early-stage funding, as backers looked to shore up their existing investments and held onto their cash in order to see how the situation evolved. This meant that many great fledgeling companies didn’t get the funding they needed to keep progressing to new milestones.

Despite the enormous challenges of this year, there have been some positives for Ciklum that feel important for us to recognise. Increased late-stage funding has more than compensated for the losses in the early half of 2020. Many of the emotional challenges of having remote teams have been completely resolved in the past year, which leaves us with a real opportunity to continue to serve even more clients. 

Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?

Tom Hedley: I had to shut down my business, which was a pretty difficult choice. But it has given me some perspective about accepting when things are outside of your control, knowing when to make the best decision for your team, and calling it at the right time without unnecessary delay. 

In the startup world, we tend to idolise the narrative that the most successful people pushed through unbeatable odds and that, even when it seems impossible if you just keep on “hustling”, eventually, you will break through. As a result, the message tends to be that your successes and your failures are exclusively your own making. While taking ownership and pushing yourself to do difficult things is absolutely something I believe in, I think it is an oversimplified story. As Scott Galloway puts it: “market dynamics trump individual performance”. If you spend too long trying to force a bad idea, you will miss out on truly great opportunities. 

What specific tools, software and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?

Tom Hedley: From a management perspective, it’s not about tools, but empathy, energy and fun. Keeping people engaged and happy at work whilst working remotely is key to having everyone show up at their best each day. 

In terms of my own work, from a tools perspective, I have actually benefited from the shift to fully remote working. I was one of those people still using notepads and sticky notes at my desk at home! I have since successfully made the transition to fully digital. Although moving from still making physical notes to a fully digital workflow was painful, it has massively increased my output and minimised the frustration of not being able to find or decipher that essential note you took in a meeting with a client!

Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?

Tom Hedley: Our competitors range from no-code platforms and freelancers in Bangalore to massive multinational development houses and teams of data science PhDs working in Silicon Valley. We flex a lot depending on the startup we are working with, but one thing we see consistently in our space is a lot of companies with technical tunnel vision. 

We compete by focusing on our partners’ business needs first, and then we build great custom solutions and teams to help solve their most challenging problems. Combining that with our ability to support fledgling startups all the way to IPO without them needing to change to different partners depending on their scale is our real differentiator. 

This means we spend a lot of time focusing on the cutting edge of different disciplines and working across them in order to unlock transformative solutions for clients. We focus on building an ecosystem around our startup clients so that we can help connect them with different stakeholders, including partners at the Mayor’s International Business Programme in London, as well as advisors and potential customers. We like to help startups meet their goals in ways that aren’t limited to our own services. 

Your final thoughts?

Tom Hedley: The best way to find clarity during times of great uncertainty is to commit. Make bold choices and focus on how you can help others. That is true in business, and it is true in your personal life.

Your website?

https://www.ciklum.com/startups/

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