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10 rules for starting a business, according to start-up founders

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Thinking of taking a leap into the world of entrepreneurship? Read this first.

We asked the founders of 17 start-ups to share their most valuable advice for other self-starters. This is what we learned.

1. Focus your idea

First things first: decide what it is you are going to do.

“Look around,” said Legitify co-founder and CEO Aida Lutaj. “What is a problem you would like to solve? What is a process you would like to improve? What is a change you want to make happen in the future? Focus on that and go after it.”

Strikepay co-founder and CEO Oli Cavanagh recommended founders “focus on finding a real problem”.

“Get started, iterate quickly and work with great people,” he added. Which brings us to the next tip.

2. Find the right people

“Pick your team carefully: people you can trust and who have complementary skills,” said Liltoda founder and CEO Prof Deirdre Murray.

Tracworx co-founder Fionn Barron said you should “surround yourself with a team that shares your values and vision”.

As well as building a strong core team, you should “identify your desired advisers early”, according to Nua Surgical co-founder Barry McCann. “It gives you credibility, but most importantly it provides a support structure for the tough journey ahead.”

Murray also recommended you should “make sure your partners are happy and know what their roles will be”.

And Lutaj added that founders should “beware of the culture you are building”.

3. Do your research

“When starting out, you need to learn as much as you can about your industry and become an expert in your field,” said Barron.

Volograms CEO and co-founder Rafael Pagés had some advice on how to tackle this: “Invest some time researching the market and understanding who you will be selling your products or services to. This will save you a lot of time in the future, and will help you navigate the product-market-fit journey better.”

4. Get some feedback

This is the golden rule repeated over and over by start-up founders. “Listen to, and act on, feedback,” as Strikepay’s Cavanagh succinctly put it.

“Get feedback on your idea as soon as possible,” said Refurbed CEO and co-founder Peter Windischhofer. “It is the fastest and the only way to build a product that many people will like.”

Sustainability-focused start-up Vyra learned this the hard way. “At the start of our journey, we were preoccupied with developing our idea and building our product without speaking to those we intended to use it,” said co-founder Luke Fagan.

“It can be incredibly easy to fall into the trap of thinking your first idea is what the world needs, but how can you be sure without speaking to the world?”

Tracworx found the best way to go about this is “show, don’t tell”.

“We like to show how our technology works and the impact it has. Seeing is believing!” said COO Barron.

This doesn’t have to cost anything more than time, according to John Hannon, a former Stripe engineer who now leads his own company, SalesTier (formerly Gain Grain).

“If, for instance, you want to create a service that presents data in a cool way via dashboards and widgets, then stick the data in a Google Sheet, generate some graphs and put it in a slide deck before writing a line of code,” he said.

“This can be sent to prospects for early feedback before you go down a rabbit hole of creating feature after feature without customer validation.”

Dataships co-founder and CEO Michael Storan agreed. “You can achieve a huge amount nowadays without loads of resources. It’s all about getting those first customers and figuring it out as you go. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good!”

You must also be ready to pivot based on what you learn at this crucial stage.

“Identify your unique selling point and be open to opportunities,” said Liltoda lead Murray. “Your product may have an application that you have not even thought of yet.”

5. Start on the right foot

Murray also recommended founders “get the legal stuff sorted out properly” early on.

“You need good legal advice to get everything safely in place from the start,” she said.

When profiled for SiliconRepublic’s Start-up of the Week series, Murray explained how she secured support for her University College Cork spin-out, which is developing apps for children, from a local firm.

6. Talk to your community

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” said Nua Surgical CEO McCann. “Too many founders are extra secretive about their idea in fear that it will be stolen. However, unless you open up (to the right people), you will never overcome the major hurdles in your path.”

Novus Diagnostics co-founder Dr Elaine Spain said her start-up “benefitted enormously from the support and advice of other entrepreneurs, investors, vendors, and many, many more” in its early days.

“There is incredible willingness to help right across the start-up community here in Ireland. The best advice we can give other self-starters is to get out and connect with the community – you’ll find a huge network ready and willing to help you get things off the ground.”

The start-up community is a vital guide for those founders taking their first steps. “You can try and plan for the road ahead, but it is fraught with uncertainty,” said PlantQuest CEO Ger Carton.

Carton warned that some books and podcasts tend to focus on the “good news” and not the full story. “Get out and talk to other founders and get the ‘warts and all’ experience and be fully informed about what is involved in getting a start-up off the ground,” he advised. “The start-up community is filled with amazing organisations and mentors who are more than happy to point you in the right direction and share their journey with you.”

And Vyra product lead Fagan finds the conversation flows both ways. “We’ve found that no matter where you are on your journey, there’s always someone else ahead and behind of the stage at which your business is at. It’s a great feeling to be able to both get and give advice,” he said.

“Don’t be afraid to get out of the lab and speak to people about what you’re trying to do at all stages of your development,” he said. “It also enables you develop relationships and build your network from the start.”

7. Be brave

Facing your fears is a theme in our advice from founders.

“Go for it! What’s the worst that can happen?” encouraged Trustap CEO and founder Conor Lyden, who got his start as an entrepreneur while still in college.

“If it doesn’t work out, at the very least your CV will be stronger for the experience and the learnings will stand to you. Best case scenario, you won’t look back,” he said.

Pushing ahead with confidence requires a positive mindset, according to Alan Barry, CEO and co-founder University College Dublin research spin-out PlasmaBound.

“All the mumbo-jumbo about positivity and taking an upside position is true. This can be difficult for engineers and scientists who are often all too aware of the plethora of pitfalls and risk-points the start-up needs to transition. It’s critical to see your start-up as a huge opportunity you must be grateful to have the chance to go for,” said Barry.

“Similar to sports psychology, fearing failure is one of the quickest ways to achieve it. The best way around this is to have a broader view. Ensure you have other outlets and interests, so it’s not an eggs-in-basket situation. And yes, train yourself to believe in the possible.”

Heed the advice of Tympany Medical CEO and co-founder Dr Liz McGloughlin, who said: “Keep going and take all feedback on the chin. Digging deep is an essential and always thinking of the glass as half full helps too.”

8. Have patience

“Things always take longer than you anticipate,” said Stimul.ai co-founder Naomh McElhatton. “Stay calm, focused and keep going.”

Even in the fast-paced and rapidly growing sci-tech industries, “starting a business takes time,” said Zipp Mobility founder and CEO Charlie Gleeson.

“It took us 625 days between putting together our business plan, researching the market to come up with solutions and a strategy to the industry’s problems, and eventually making our first £1 in revenue,” he revealed.

9. Think big

Gleeson also advises budding Irish entrepreneurs to “think bigger than Ireland”.

“While the market provides an excellent testing ground for new technologies, products and services, companies looking to really scale must look beyond our shores into the UK, Europe and beyond,” he said.

10. Be honest with yourself

Finally, going back to Lutaj, she said founders need to take a reality check before they venture forth.

“Be honest with yourself about personal sacrifices you have to make including financial runway, time needed to be dedicated to building something from the ground up, and support networks – do you have one?” she said.

Ask yourself: Is this going to be a rewarding experience?

For many, it is.

“It is one of the most enjoyable things I have ever done in my life,” said PlantQuest co-founder Carton.

10 things you need to know direct to your inbox every weekday. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of essential sci-tech news.

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The big idea: are we living in a simulation? | Philosophy books

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Elon Musk thinks you don’t exist. But it’s nothing personal: he thinks he doesn’t exist either. At least, not in the normal sense of existing. Instead we are just immaterial software constructs running on a gigantic alien computer simulation. Musk has stated that the odds are billions to one that we are actually living in “base reality”, ie the physical universe. At the end of last year, he responded to a tweet about the anniversary of the crude tennis video game Pong (1972) by writing: “49 years later, games are photo-realistic 3D worlds. What does that trend continuing imply about our reality?”

This idea is surprisingly popular among philosophers and even some scientists. Its modern version is based on a seminal 2003 paper, Are We Living in a Computer Simulation? by the Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom. Assume, he says, that in the far future, civilisations hugely more technically advanced than ours will be interested in running “ancestor simulations” of the sentient beings in their distant galactic past. If so, there will one day be many more simulated minds than real minds. Therefore you should be very surprised if you are actually one of the few real minds in existence rather than one of the trillions of simulated minds.

This idea has a long history in philosophical scepticism (the idea that we can’t know anything for sure about the external world) and other traditions. The Chinese Taoist sage Zhuangzi wrote a celebrated fable about a man who couldn’t be sure whether he was a man dreaming of being a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming of being a man. René Descartes imagined that he might be being manipulated by an “evil demon” (or “evil genius”) that controlled all the sensations he experienced, while the 20th-century American philosopher Hilary Putnam coined the term “brain in a vat” to describe a similar idea. But while Neo in the Wachowskis’ 1999 film The Matrix really is a brain (or rather a whole depilated body) in a vat, the simulation hypothesis says that you do not have a physical body anywhere. “You” are merely the result of mathematical calculations in some vast computer.

There are many possible objections to this idea even getting off the ground, as Bostrom notes. Perhaps it is simply not possible for computer-simulated beings to become conscious in the way we are. (This would defeat the “assumption of substrate independence”, according to which minds are not dependent on biological matter.) Or perhaps all civilisations destroy themselves before getting to the simulation stage. (Plausible if not necessarily comforting.) Or perhaps advanced civilisations are simply not interested in running such simulations, which would be surprising given the kinds of things humans do – such as developing video deep-fake technology or researching how to make viruses more virulent – even though they seem to be very bad ideas.

The simulation hypothesis is perhaps attractive to a wider culture because of its nature as a cosmic-scale conspiracy theory as well as an apparently scientific version of Creationism. The inconceivably advanced alien running its simulation of our universe is indistinguishable from traditional terrestrial ideas of God: an all-powerful being who designed everything we see. But is this god the god of deism (who sets up the laws of nature but then absents himself while creation runs its course), or a more interventionist figure? If the latter, it might make sense to court their favour.

How, though, should we please such a god? Not necessarily by being virtuous, but by being – assuming the simulator is watching us for its own pleasure – at least entertaining. This line of reasoning might imply, for example, that it is one’s duty to become a florid serial killer, or a guy who tries to colonise Mars and buy Twitter. “Be funny, outrageous, violent, sexy, strange, pathetic, heroic … in a word ‘dramatic’,” counsels the economist Robin Hanson, considering that assumption in his 2001 paper How to Live in a Simulation . “If you might be living in a simulation then all else equal it seems that you should care less about others,” he concludes, and “live more for today”.

One commonly despairing reaction to the idea that we might all be simulated is that this renders our lives meaningless, and that nothing we see or experience is “real”. The Australian philosopher David Chalmers, in his recent book Reality+: Virtual Worlds and the Problems of Philosophy, argues otherwise. For him, a digital table in VR is a real table. It is no more disqualified from being “real” by the fact that it is, at bottom, made up of digital ones and zeros than a physical table is disqualified from being real by the fact that it is, at bottom, made up of quantum wave-packets. Indeed, some esoteric theories of physics consider “reality” itself to be at base quantum-computational or mathematical in nature anyway.

Is there any good reason to actually believe the simulation argument, though? Or is it just aesthetically piquant techno-religion? Chalmers observes that it is at least more plausible than earlier iterations of scepticism such as Descartes’s evil demon, simply because we now have functioning prototypes (video games, VR) of how such a simulation might work. Others have speculated that there may be clues to the fact that our universe is a simulation hidden in the very fabric of the “reality” that we can investigate: perhaps the simulation cuts corners at very small scales or very high energies. Indeed, experiments (for instance in Campbell et al., “On Testing the Simulation Theory”, 2017) have been seriously proposed that might reveal the answer.

But not so fast. Remember that we can’t know what the goal of the simulators is. Perhaps, for them, the game is not merely to observe us as an indefinite planet‑sized soap opera, but simply to see how long the sim-people take to prove that they’re in a simulation. At which point, the game ends and the simulation is turned off. Perhaps we’re better off not finding out.

Steven Poole is the author of Rethink: The Surprising History of New Ideas, published by Random House. To support the Guardian and the Observer order a copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply

Further reading

Reality+: Virtual Worlds and the Problems of Philosophy by David J Chalmers (Allen Lane)

Programming the Universe: A Quantum Computer Scientist Takes on the Cosmos by Seth Lloyd (Vintage)

The Simulation Hypothesis: An MIT Computer Scientist Shows Why AI, Quantum Physics and Eastern Mystics All Agree We Are in a Video Game by Rizwan Virk (Bayview)



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Lego releases Atari Video Computer System set • The Register

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Lego has followed up its Nintendo Entertainment System retro throwback with one celebrating the Atari Video Computer System (VCS).

The set, retailing at a heart-stopping $239.99 (£209.99 in the UK), is a non-functional replica of the iconic game console, although only the model with four switches rather than the six of others in the range. Not that those switches do an awful lot in Lego form.

In fact, compared to the cheaper Nintendo Entertainment System set (with all its twiddly technic bits and separate television), we’d have to describe the VCS set as a bit of a disappointment if it weren’t for the nostalgia factor.

The plastic bricks also fail to include a mock cartridge of the best game on the VCS, Combat. Asteroids, Centipede, and Adventure simply don’t cut it in comparison even with the reproduction of the hopelessly optimistic cover art so beloved by ’80s and ’90s designers and some neat Lego vignettes themed after the games.

Lego also opted to skip E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, described as the worst game ever. We can imagine an appropriate model for that example and the impact it had on the industry of the time.

Still, the 2,500-plus pieces will make for a fun build and includes a replica of the classic Atari joystick and a mini-fig scale 1980s room which pops up when the front is slid forward.

The price does seem high for what is effectively a plastic throwback to simpler times. Then again, other attempts to recreate that retro magic could cost you a lot more and potentially leave you without even a pile of plastic bricks to play with.

Or one could always take the plastic assembly and stick something like a Raspberry Pi (preloaded with an emulator) into it. Similar things were done with Lego’s Nintendo Entertainment System where the Technic guts of the television were removed and replaced with a Pi and an LCD screen to create something on which one can play games (ROM ownership notwithstanding).

Youtube Video

It is a shame that Lego did not see fit to include a television with the Atari VCS in the way it did with the NES, and also limited interaction to a pop-up 1980s room and some switches. However, the design looks good and is a reminder of an age when sticking something that looked like wood on the front of the console and squeezing games into kilobytes rather than gigabytes was state of the art.

Otherwise there are many examples of the VCS that can be had on various auction sites for considerably less than Lego’s asking price that are a good deal more interactive. ®

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4 reasons hybrid working looks set to stay for young professionals

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From priorities to practicalities, Dr Amanda Jones of King’s College London explains why hybrid working may be here to stay and outlines the pitfalls that younger employees will need to avoid.

Click here to visit The Conversation.

A version of this article was originally published by The Conversation (CC BY-ND 4.0)

We’re in the middle of a remote working revolution. In the UK, though remote working was slowly growing before the pandemic, in 2020 the number of people working from home doubled.

While this rapid rise can be explained by Covid lockdowns, a recent survey my colleagues and I conducted with 2,000 London workers found that six in 10 employees still regularly work from home despite restrictions no longer being in place. And most don’t want that to change.

Findings from other parts of the world similarly point to a substantial increase in the number of work days being undertaken from home.

For young professionals, the shift has been particularly significant. Before the pandemic, employees in their 20s were by far the least likely to work from home.

In 2022, 64pc of 16 to 24-year-olds we surveyed reported working at home for at least part of the week. This figure is in line with 25 to 49-year-olds (65pc) and in fact higher than for people over 50 (48pc).

Other research also shows that young professionals now engage in hybrid working – dividing their time between their home and their workplace – and may prefer this model to being in the office full time.

US and European data shows that around four in 10 jobs can be conducted from home. But this figure may be higher if we consider that some jobs could be at least partly done from home. In particular, jobs in finance and insurance, information and communication and education are among the most conducive to being performed remotely.

Technologies which support remote working, such as Zoom and Slack, have been available for a number of years. While the pandemic has served as a catalyst for the rise in remote working among younger employees, I would argue that other factors have also contributed to this shift – some of which were already evident before the pandemic.

Importantly, each of these factors suggest this change to the way young professionals work is here to stay.

1. Priorities

Evidence suggests that even before the pandemic, young people were becoming more focused on their own goals, wanted greater flexibility and control, and sought a better work-life balance compared with previous generations. The reasons for this may be related to the changing nature of organisations and careers, which I’ll discuss later.

Our own and other research indicates that remote working, especially working from home (as opposed to, say, at client sites), can boost feelings of flexibility and control and enhance work-life balance. So working remotely could help younger people achieve these goals in a way that traditional working arrangements can’t.

In fact, research indicates that many young people would now rather switch jobs than compromise on the flexibility they gain from hybrid working. So for employers, supporting hybrid working may be necessary to attract and retain the best employees.

2. Practicalities

Across all age groups, participants in our research picked avoiding the commute as the biggest benefit of working remotely. While this has long been a recognised advantage of remote working, it’s important to note that we surveyed London workers – and the commute may be less of an issue for people in other places.

Aside from the time and hassle involved in commuting, travelling to work every day can be expensive. The cost of working in the office goes up if you also factor in lunches, coffees and after-work social activities.

This may be difficult for younger people – who are contending with the rising costs of living, often on lower salaries – to manage. Working remotely can help reduce spending, making it an attractive option – and even a potential lifeline – for younger employees.

3. Career trajectories

Studies show that a move towards less hierarchical, more efficient and flexible organisations results in a “new deal” of employment. Employers no longer guarantee job security and progression for employees, but gain their commitment by providing opportunities – including training programmes – that enhance their employability.

The onus then moves to employees to manage their own career progression, which remote working may help them with. For example, we know working from home can reduce distractions and improve productivity.

Taken with the commuting time saved, young professionals may have more time to dedicate to development opportunities, such as studying for additional qualifications. This could increase their attractiveness in the job market.

Indeed, young professionals seem to be the most likely to switch jobs. If they don’t expect to remain with an organisation long term, they may be less motivated to build strong relationships with colleagues and managers, and unwilling to put their own goals aside for those of the organisation.

4. Managers’ behaviour

Research shows many more managers now work remotely compared with before the pandemic. This change has two important effects.

First, managers who work remotely are likely to find it harder to stop juniors from doing the same. Managers’ ability to monitor and develop their junior staff in person, a common reason for prohibiting remote work in the past, is also reduced if managers are away from the office themselves.

Second, as more managers work remotely, younger employees may feel more confident that doing so won’t prevent them achieving success. Managers serve as role models to junior employees and evidence shows that younger professionals seek success by copying role models’ behaviour.

Avoiding the pitfalls of hybrid working

Despite the positives, younger employees, with comparatively limited experience and networks, may face disproportionately negative outcomes from remote working in terms of recognition, development and networking opportunities.

So if you’re a young professional working remotely, how can you avoid the pitfalls of hybrid working?

Setting your own goals can keep motivation and performance high. Meanwhile, proactively communicating your challenges and achievements to senior and peer-level colleagues can ensure that you receive guidance and recognition.

It’s a good idea to plan some of your time in the office to coordinate with team members or managers. At the same time, it’s useful to try to schedule office visits on different days of the week. This can help maintain key relationships but also help build networks through bumping into colleagues you don’t necessarily work as closely with.

Finally, upping attendance at external conferences and events could increase your value to the organisation through encouraging innovation and fresh ideas, while keeping you aware of external employment opportunities.

The Conversation

By Dr Amanda Jones

Dr Amanda Jones is a lecturer in organisational behaviour and human resource management at King’s College London.

10 things you need to know direct to your inbox every weekday. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of essential sci-tech news.

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