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Stewart Townsend, Manager Startups and Emerging Markets EMEA at Sun Microsystems

Team YS
10th Mar 2010
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YourStory spoke to Stewart Townsend, Manager Startups and Emerging Markets EMEA at Sun Microsystems about SSE and tech startups in general. He shares his views on entrepreneurship and talks about his involvement with www.thealternativeschool.co.uk a not for profit alternative education provider

YS : Please share with us your background. 

I started life as a steel salesman, cold calling engineering firms and selling them rolled flat steel, it was a lesson in not taking things personally, but I decided after a while that it wasn't challenging and went to University at night and gained a degree in Business and Information systems, which meant I could get a job in IT....Sun recruited me as a graduate in 2001 and it's been a rollercoaster since, as a systems engineer, Solaris porting and migration, business development, marketing and recently running the Startup Essentials programme for EMEA.

YS : What trends do you see in the startup space?

Mobile location based services are on the increase, we are revealing more of our personal lives and thus where we are presently based as well, moving forward this space is going toexplode as services are built around delivering bespoke advertising or services for our needs now and what we require there and then.

Real time web actually happening, and startups reacting quickly to it, thus Twitter as a platform is just the beginning, monolithic ISVs who have a two year development cycle and who cannot integrate or deliver in real time, rather than the archaic batch processing overnight that still happens in industries such as financial services.

Data is king, he who owns the data will be the leader, thats where startups have recognised they need to own the data that they produce and use it as a revenue stream to help grow and accelerate their business, a nice growth model moving forward.

YS : How has your experience been working in this space?

Interesting, tiring but intriguing, it has made me look at the global economy in a different light, business as a whole in the starutp space evolves around the theory of "paying it forward" thus help someone now and they will help you later on. I love that, love the support, and how everyone is challenged by costs, but can still find time to help and support each other.

The fact that a lot of these companies end up complimenting each other, by cross selling and linking together quickly and seamlessly is something that I saw in my old roles, but it took more than a cup of coffee and a few hours to agree, the speed and pace of startups amazes me still.

I would say the best working times of my life has been within Startup Essentials.

YS : What are the challenges which startups face?

Costs,staffing, spending money on sales channels and not exploring channel. Getting an idea in front of the right people, not being confident in themselves. Not leveraging their network.

YS : Any Advice for startups.

  • Turn the challenges into positives - Leverage their network, other networks.
  • Always be on the lookout for opportunity, every meeting is an opportunity.
  • Be clear about your time - take 5 minutes not an hour. Time is precious.
  • Define your brand strategy from minute 1 - who is the customer ? what is the value to them ?
  • Have business cards at all time, write on the ones you receive what they can do for you, follow it up, close quickly
  • Never ever ever be afraid to ASK for something, the answer is YES or NO
  • Enjoy life, your company and believe totally in yourself.

YS : In your experience any qualities/traits that set apart successful tech startups?

For me its the team, Business person and Technology person who can both articulate the brand, value and meaning of the startup independently or together, just rocks. This is the gold for an investor, two people or more who know their strengths and weaknesses, who dont try to cross over skills and thus can look at the business from multiple angles.

The ones that really put their life on the line and make a massive change to just go for it, Ive met people who have had major roles within a corporate or finance sector, who have walked away to go full time into their startup. So proud of them for having the guts to do that.....amazing.

YS : Tell us more about SSE Europe . Has the experience been rewarding?

SSE Europe has grown and gone from strength to strength in the last two years, with global startups like last.fm and tweetmeme working with us, and smaller one man startups we are helping with PR and networking introductions to help them grow their business.

From a personal aspect, its been a most rewarding role meeting new people, startups and has helped me personaly as a social entrepreneur in meeting people who have helped me with the schools that I help run in England for what we term excluded young people, the young people who have been removed from mainstream education. (www.thealternativeschool.co.uk)

It has also changed my own views of business and seen the new shift towards smaller dynamic companies embracing technology quickly and demonstrating this to larger corporates, or selling to them and pushing out the old style competition, exciting times indeed.

YS : Your experience with The Alternative School. What made you get involved?

Its my fiances business, and I got involved through her she lives and breathers it, totally believing in the ethos of helping excluding or under privelegded young people, better their lives and move forward. I saw a different side of England that I didnt know existed and it shocked me, thus I could help and now support Kirsty as much as possible to gain funding to do more work with these young people.

The more pupils we can get to achieve their lifetime aspirations, the better future lives we can make for them then we know the world will be a better place for it.

YS : Any plans to visit India?

Would so love to, my fiance Kirsty has been and we are looking to go next year if possible and I can see my work colleagues over there and meet all the fantastic startups as well.

Visit Stewart's website here http://www.stewarttownsend.com/wordpress/

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