Self-Starter Stories: From knitting supplies to working with some of the UK's most prolific startups.
This week's self-starter story features Matt Collins, a Freelance CTO (Chief Technology Officer) from London who has had a passion for technology since first getting his hands on a ZX Spectrum home computer as a kid.
Growing up he visions of one day becoming a games designer, but that passion for playing and making computer games developed into a career that now plays a pivotal role within any organisation. CTO.
PickYourselfUK caught up with Matt to learn more about how he came to be where he is today.
Matt told me he always had an urge to become an entrepreneur, -first evident when he wrote and published a computer graphics tool that he then sold 14 copies while still at school.
'I was messing around with creating games for fun and realised there was a gap, as there weren't really any good tools available for designing or creating graphics. So I spotted an opportunity and thought maybe other people would need it too.'
'In my last job, I was the CTO and an early employee of an online crafts business called LoveCrafts (then called Broadmargins). I was responsible for leading a small team of developers and managing 3rd party technology vendors that we'd partnered with at the time, until the vision of the business changed dramatically.
It was originally supposed to be an ecommerce business running lots of small, niche websites, but as it turned out, we discovered that knitting supplies were in high demand and the whole business became focused on crafts and knitting supplies. It became something I wasn't as excited about and decided to change direction and focus on consulting instead.'
One of the biggest challenges Matt faced at the beginning of his business was deciding on what sort of clients he could best help.
'Today I might be working with a startup business catering to very large clients and setting up a marketplace, and tomorrow I might be working with another client helping with their SaaS product. I like the variety, as a consultant.
What I really enjoy is working with people to harness technology to do something useful in the world, with benefits for the end -user or customer.
His advice for those who have ideas, but haven't yet taken the leap to become self-employed is to 'do it'.
'Do it! If you don't, you'll always regret it.'
'Ideally, read about Lean Startup ideas before you do - It will help you avoid some of the more common mistakes. But really, there's nothing better than getting stuck in and learning as you go.’
Another book Matt recommends is "The Hard Thing About Hard Things" by Ben Horowitz. It's a great book about what it takes to run a startup. It touches on some of the really difficult situations you might be in and how to approach these situations, for example: If someone in your team isn't pulling their weight, it will give you guidance on how to approach the situation, overcome that challenge and more.
I asked Matt about how he runs his own business. Does he do everything himself as most entrepreneurs tend to do?
'I do most things myself at the moment, just using other companies for accounting and legal advice which I found online. For the accounting firm, the founder had written articles, and had a strong online profile so I knew I could trust her.
With my accountant I'm in touch occasionally throughout the year with various little questions, and with the legal firm, I might only need to speak with them if I'm looking for very specialised advice. Otherwise, I'll do everything else.'
Matt suggests that in terms of productivity, new entrepreneurs should have a bias towards doing stuff rather than planning stuff.
'I think sometimes people spend a lot of time creating detailed spreadsheets and plans for the future, and then making lots of assumptions about things they can't predict. Its largely a waste. You'd be better off speaking with your customers directly to gain insights to continually improve your service or product.
Of course its good to have some lightweight/ simple plans, rather than nothing, but I would suggest you do small experiments to see what works and what doesn't. Drop the things that don't give you the results you are looking for.'
To market his consulting business, Matt has a website where he provides helpful advice in articles about startups and building technology products. He publishes those on his blog and also actively participates on Quora, along with maintaining an up-to date LinkedIn profile.
Matt also lives in London so has access to an array of events where he learns new things and meets interesting people.
Regarding the future, Matt doesn't have any big plans other than enjoying what he does now.
'Technology keeps changing so as a CTO I never stop learning which is great. There is a huge amount of innovation happening at the moment, and I think that's going to continue so I'm excited to see new products and services come to the market in the next few years'
To follow Matt's journey, you can do so via his social media channels and website linked below.
Matt Collins has qualified for the #PickYourselfUK Small Business Entrepreneur of the Year award 2017. If you'd like to enter yourself or nominate a small business entrepreneur for this award, all you need to do is submit your story here:
Voting for the #PickYourselfUK Small Business Entrepreneur of the Year award 2017 will take place in November 2017 so make sure you get those entries submitted to qualify.