Which Four People Can Best Help Your Startup Right Now?

Which four people can best help you move your startup forward in leaps and bounds?

Do you know how to find them?

It’s worth stopping to take a few minutes to think about this.  The success or failure of your venture depends on it.

The key to success in any business is the people who are supporting it.  Not the technology, or the business plan, or even the founders.  All of those are necessary, yes, but not sufficient for success.  For success, you need key people around you rooting for your startup, opening doors, making connections and taking a punt on your idea.

This is true for all businesses, but especially for startups.  Startup founders are climbing steep mountains of challenges at every level – lack of resources, inexperience, operating in maturing markets, lack of track record.  That means external supporters, advisors and advocates are even more important, no matter how good your technology or how much your customers love your product.  It’s why a good accelerator like TechStars can make all the difference to your startup.

Finding the very best people to support your startup will make the difference between low-level success and knocking it out of the park.  It’s imperative that you go out and find those people, right away.  Your time is limited, so you need to find people who are better than average by a factor of hundreds.

So, what are the criteria for selection?  Three things:  Excellence, Experience and Alignment.  Find the people who are really top of their field, who have been through the stage you are going through (e.g. idea-to-beta, or beta-to-investment, or revenue-to-scale), preferably several times, with success.  Not necessarily in the same field or with the same technology, although that can help – more important is excellence.  This person can help you get “from here to there” much faster and with fewer avoidable hiccups sapping your energy and squeezing your cashflow.  Most importantly, a really world-class advisor will help you see much further, so you might change your current “there” (based on what you know and think is possible) to a much more ambitious “there” (based on what they know and think is possible).  They’ll also help you find a way to get there in three steps rather than eight.  See how this is all multiplying exponentially?  So that’s Excellence and Experience. Now on to Alignment.

Alignment is absolutely critical.  It’s two-fold: values and timing.  First you need to know your own five values that are your drivers for success.  They are different for every person and for every project.  Mine are “kind + big + pioneering + creative + open” in that order.  Yours will be different (if they are the same as mine, send me your CV).  Everything I do is filtered through those values to find alignment.  Not 100% alignment, but 80%+.  The second part, timing, is critical and less predictable.  The person you want to support you has to share your values and have some reason they want to help you right now.  There has to be something in it for them, based on what they are trying to achieve at this moment in their life.  Luckily, once you are clear on your values and shout them out loud, wear them on your t-shirt and on the stickers on your MacBook Pro, the people who are aligned to you will emerge incredibly fast.  There’s nothing more seductive than meeting someone who shares your passion, your vision and your mission.  They will in turn connect you to other people who share your values, and some of those will be potential partners because their timing matches or complements yours.

Now, back to the four people.  Why four?  Well, you need:

  1. someone who can help you operationally (that ‘from here to there” expertise I mentioned above),
  2. someone who will boost your resources (for example providing support in kind, desk space, paid work to buy you more runway, or help pull in some pro-bono favours from their friends),
  3. someone who will advocate for you in the right circles (potential clients and investors, press, thought leaders),  and
  4. someone who will just be a damned good friend to your project, stay positive through hard times and cheerlead/kick your ass back into line when you’re flagging.

Think of it like top level competitive sports: you need a coach, a sponsor, a publicist, and your best friend cheerleading from the sidelines. If the first three all roll into one person, that’s great, but they don’t need to and it’s better to have more people on your team.  Add to those some specific advisors (e.g. technical/legal), and you’ve got a great advisory board good to go.  You only need to meet with them once a month, or once a quarter, or have an ad-hoc call with a specific query, for their input to move you forward.  One or two of them you’ll spend a lot of time with.

Now, back to my second opening question – do you know where to find them?  Actually, this bit is super easy if you know what you’re doing.  Take a big sheet of paper and a fat pen and write down all the people you admire – everyone from your entrepreneurial Grandma to the Dalai Lama.  Another big sheet of paper – scribble down all the projects you wish you had done yourself (for me, that’s things like Kiva, Change.org, Singularity University, Bitcoin).  Find the trends and the alignments with your values.  Then pick a few people and contact them.  Ask them for advice.  Show them the beauty of your product, the vision of your company, and the strength of your passion and drive.  Ask them to help you, or to connect you to someone who might be able to help you.  Talk to the people they talk to.  Map your network.  Map the ecosystem around your technology, your problem space, your customers, your ambitions.  Map around your values.  A simple excel spreadsheet with a few headings is enough to keep track of all this.  Obviously, follow people on twitter and connect to them on LinkedIn.  Most of all, don’t be shy to approach busy, brilliant people and humbly ask for their advice getting you “from here to there”.  Don’t be shy to ask again if at first (or second or third) they don’t reply.  Follow up their suggestions.  Thank them for any input and keep them in the loop as you make progress.  If you can’t meet them, research what they have done and copy it.  Learn from their writing and their achievements.  Support their current projects, be a cheerleader for them. Find a way to help them, and they’ll be more receptive to your request for advice.  What goes around comes around.

In summary:

  • Focus on Excellence, Expertise and Alignment.
  • Find your Four:  coach, sponsor, publicist, cheerleader.
  • Map your ecosystem, and don’t be afraid to contact the people you most admire, to ask their advice.

We wish you the best of luck.   If you have comments or would like more advice on this, please contact me via the Contact Us page.  If you found this post useful, please consider sharing the link with friends:  bit.ly/iF_four

Best wishes from London,


Can Your Startup Positively Impact a Billion People?

Do you have a brilliant idea or startup that could positively impact a billion people within a decade? Do you need support to prove the concept, get investment-ready, and put it in front of the right investors at the right time?  

The iFutures Global Impact Accelerator is working with its first cohort, bringing selected “Impact Startups” to the attention of well-aligned investors.

We take applications on a rolling basis and consider each one on its potential for positive impact. You can apply from anywhere in the world and do not have to relocate to London.

We are particularly keen to invite parent-led startups, since most accelerators exclude them by requiring relocation for 3-6 months. We have designed our program to be flexible to provide maximum support for founders, irrespective of their location, family responsibilities and current finances.

We are also particularly keen to reach out to women-led startups. We understand the reasons why brilliant women with great companies may feel less inclined to apply to traditional tech accelerators. The same for older entrepreneurs – please do apply, this is not just for 20/30-somethings.

We are an equal opportunities organisation and select on the basis of ability, attitude and the strength of the business model.

Do you have a brilliant idea or startup that could positively impact a billion people within a decade? Do you need support to prove the concept, get investment-ready, and put it in front of the right investors at the right time?  

Then email us with a short [200 words max] introduction: info@intelligentfutures.co.uk [subject: iF GIA]


Gherkin, Shard… London’s Next Iconic Tower?

A new tower to puncture London’s skyline is being planned in stealth mode, led by a group of tech multi-millionaires, global NGOs and impact investors hungry to accelerate positive change in the world.

The tower – dubbed the “Innovation Collaboratorium” – will be a spectacular symbol of the power of entrepreneurship, and of London’s global leadership as the world’s foremost creative, collaborative and connected city.

There are many tech innovation centres around the world, from Silicon Valley to Bangalore, incubating ambitious high-growth startups.  The twist here is that the project is solely open to entrepreneurs who are actively applying the power of tech to solving humanity’s global grand challenges.  Impact Entrepreneurs, building Impact Startups, backed by Impact Investors.

The design is closely guarded, with the project manager breaking into a smile when asked about it: “It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before.”

If you would like to be invited to the preview for the project, register here:   bit.ly/ImpactCoLab_Reg

All Things Exponential: Update for Singularity University Alumni in the UK

This is a copy of the update sent to SU UK alumni today.  The links may be useful for anyone interested in exponential technologies, and the “technology : innovation : impact” work we do here at iFutures.

Pascale Scheurer
UK Ambassador, Singularity University



Mike Halsall and the Isle of Man government recently launched the IoM Grand Challenge Competition, for two EP places.  Fantastic work, Mike.  Info here:

The first European SU Summit is in Budapest Nov 15-16th – most of the Faculty will be there and presenting an updated curriculum – there is a selection process so do include your alumni status on the form and referral via SU-UK:

We had a visitor:  Barbara Silva Troncoso (GSP12) was invited to London for the prestigious G8 Young Summit, which collates a document presented to the G8. Barbara is very influential in the tech community in Chile, if you are thinking of applying for StartupChile (see below) we can connect you.  Info on G8YS here:

Did you spot Ray Kurzweil on the cover of WIRED UK’s May edition?  Excellent review of SU inside:


June 11-14th, Edinburgh – TED Global:  Two GSP11 alumni presenting:  Andreas Raptopoulos of Matternet in Session 2 “Those Flying Things”, and Andras Forgacs in Session 10 “Imagining Beauty”, Modern Meadow’s non-animal leathers for consumer products.

June 12th and monthly thereafter – Health 2.0 London Chapter Meetups:  FutureMed13’s Maneesh Juneja organises these great events and would love to hear from SU alumni wishing to present on ‘Information Obesity’, ‘Mobile Health Sensors’, ‘End of Life Care’ or ‘3D BioPrinting’:

June 21st, Cambridge – Technology Ventures Conference by Cambridge University Technology & Enterprise Club (CUTEC): Andras Forgacs again, in a brilliant line-up of speakers:

July 1st, London – WIRED Money:  SU team member Sophie Hackford is curating the conference, SU alumni can get 15% discount using code: WMSHW15

Sept 19th, London – RE.WORK Technology Summit:  20% discount for SU UK alumni & referrals, use code SUREWORK20 by July 20th:

Oct 17-18th, London – WIRED UK Conference:  bit.ly/SU_UK_WiredConf


8-9th June, Hartwell – Satellite Applications Catapult Hackathon:

Apply by June 24th for Telefonica’s Wayra-UnLtd Accelerator, specifically for global impact startups:

StartupChile Round 8 opens June 11th, apply by July 9th:  1570 startups applied for Round 7, with 100 selected to receive $40k funds and spend 6 months in Chile developing their business. A truly amazing opportunity in a beautiful country:


UK Global Impact Competition seeking sponsors:  We continue to talk to potential sponsors for a UK Global Impact Competition.  We have had some success but still need to raise more support in June/July to be able to launch in the autumn.  If you can think of any companies who might be interested to sponsor, please get in touch:  pascale.scheurer@singularityu.org

Referrals to EPs – support UK activities:  If you know someone considering attending an Executive Program at SU, please let me know.  All referrals to EP programs that are tracked in this way can return a 10% of the fee to the referring country program to support alumni events and projects.  This is a great way to build up a budget for even better SU UK activities.

And of course, send me your news for inclusion in the next update.  Suggest a future event you’d like to see happen.  Would you like to be profiled in the next update, write a short piece or be a guest editor?  Let me know.  Your feedback on this update would be very welcome too.

Thank you for reading, I hope to see you soon.

Pascale Scheurer

Director & CEO, Intelligent Futures
: Technology : Innovation : Impact :
+44 777 358 4477

UK Ambassador, Singularity University
NASA Research Park, Silicon Valley

Building a Brave New World

Award-winning writer Arundhati Roy’s most famous quotation is also one of the most beautiful and powerful statements of our time:

“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way.  On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

I like to pair it with one from another of my heroes, Buckminster Fuller:

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.  To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

Is it a coincidence that both trained as architects?  Coincidence or not, it makes perfect sense.  Whilst young and naïve, future architects look at the world around them, and the way people interact with each other and with artefacts in physical space, and say to themselves: “Another world is possible.  I will build it.”

More than that, the profession – the vocation – of architecture demands collaboration and holistic thinking.  It demands that we remain artists – creative, curious, challenging – whilst using existing technologies, engineering, science, economics and politics, as our tools.  “I will build it” becomes “I will help build it, we will build it together”.

Here at Intelligent Futures, we are architects and engineers.  We are unashamedly – perhaps naïvely or even arrogantly – committed to building a brave new world.  One which we hope will owe more to Arundhati Roy’s vision than Aldous Huxley’s.  Huxley warned us of techno-dystopia, as George Orwell did in Nineteen Eighty-Four.  Both, I am sure, did so in order to help us focus on building a different new world.  Perhaps not a techno-utopia, but something better than we have now, or than we will have if we fling up our hands and proclaim the search for progress futile.

If we wish to have a less dystopian future, we must build it together.  When we see the people working around us in innovation projects – as showcased on our website and at our events – we can hear the new world breathing.

Can You Succeed in Business Without Rich Parents or Connections?

Can *anyone* set up a business?  Even with zero financial or social capital – i.e. no rich parents or connections?  Is the internet changing the system and opening up new opportunities?

It’s incredibly cheap and easy to set up a business in the UK, unlike many other countries. However, if you look at most successful people, many of them did start out fairly well connected to resources through their family, friends, spouse or other connections.  There’s a reason why Oxbridge graduates do well, that extends their natural intelligence and hard work to make them even more likely to succeed – they’re part of a club with combined access to huge resources.  Even those mavericks who reject the club and choose to remain on the fringes gain some benefit from being part of it.  So what does that mean for those outside the club – those outside all the clubs?  Those with really very limited social capital, in the sense of the mainstream system and its control of access to resources?

In certain professions the power of social connections is overwhelmingly strong.  Consider these two: acting and architecture.  How many successful actors started with a family connection in the industry?  Consider how many ‘spots’ that left for those who started with no connections.  A small percentage.  And many, many people fighting for them.  Talent, cunning and hard work being equal, it simply reduces the probability – the luck factor – that they’re going to succeed.  In architecture, consider how many people who started their own practice – or those who won a Stirling Prize – had no family money to start them off, and also had no connections to people wealthy enough to commission a project from them in the early days.  Now again, consider how that skews the field for those without financial or social capital.  How many spots are left at the top for sheer talent?  Not many. Some other professions are more egalitarian – hard work will get you far irrespective of your beginnings, the field is more open.  Some professions are simply almost closed to women and people who are not white – often not overtly or by design, but by their internal structure.  In those professions, you may find a few successful women or non-white participants, but very few won’t have managed to sidestep the obstacles without wealth or connections.  Competence – or even brilliance – is often not enough.

I’m interested in this question because it lies at the core of the way society operates.  If we want a more equal society with a broader distribution of wealth (I’m not saying an equal distribution) then it needs to be understood.  There is a reason the rich get richer and the poor get poorer (although that is not the whole picture) and why we are so very far from a meritocratic system that would accelerate progress.  It’s easy to encourage young people to try to start a business or enter a profession.  It is important also to help people understand their chances.  Life is not fair.  We have to look that unfairness square on, dissect it, understand it, and plan for it.  Align ourselves to how the world actually is, as Machiavelli advised in The Prince (a must-read for any entrepreneur).  Accepting how it is doesn’t mean we agree with how it is.  We can disrupt it.

New technologies enable disruptive change, and the internet is the most powerful disruptive tool of our current times.  I’m interested in how it opens up new possibilities for social change, particularly how some people previously excluded from accessing financial and social capital can now join the party.  Set up their own business, create value in the world, gather resources, create change.

The times we are living are very like the Victorian era, when the Industrial Revolution and the Age of Empire created such a concentration of wealth and an explosion of possibilities through new technologies.  A poor boy from Wisconsin could come to London and create his fortune – as Henry Wellcome did in pharmaceuticals.  Not everyone succeeded of those who tried, of course, but the changing times and new technologies allowed a crack in the social system that a few lucky – and hard-working, and talented, and persistent – individuals broke through.  Despite some internal mobility, the current social structure is a barrier, just by sheer numbers – you are less likely to win if you started being dealt a less good hand.  You are less likely to succeed if your competitors have higher financial and social capital.  That doesn’t mean you should give up – some of the biggest disruptions come from individuals outside the system because of the very nature of the obstacles they overcame – but we should urge anyone considering an entrepreneurial career (or a profession where there are limited spots at the top, which means most professions) to fully consider this question of financial and social capital.  In fact, to focus on social capital.  It is by far the greater factor since your financial capital is generally a reflection of your social capital, and it is by far the less understood factor.

Don’t play a game you can’t win.  Analyse the factors for winning, and find one where you can improve your chances vis a vis the other players.  If there is none, if it’s entirely sewn up or the odds are insurmountably stacked against you, find another game to play.

Here at Intelligent Futures we look at how technology impacts society.  Our hypothesis is that the internet – with its sudden access to information, knowledge, problem-solving techniques and new ways to build your connections (hence, in a different way from before, your social capital) – has created a lot of cracks, a lot of opportunities for different people to succeed in business.  Not everyone will be able to get a seat at the table, but there are some opportunities, for some people. We’re very interested to see who new gets to play (the 15 year-old hacker kid who gets a Greyhound bus to Silicon Valley and sets up a billion-dollar company, for example), and what they will create.

Our exploration is this, which we invite you to join:  Can *anyone* set up a business, with zero financial or social capital – i.e. no rich parents or connections?  Or with limited mobility, such as parents, people in remote locations, or people with disabilities?  Just through the power of the internet.  Just by committing time, by “paying it forward”, by creating value together and sharing the rewards.  After all, that’s how companies and cooperatives started out in the 19th Century.

Today, the internet allows individuals and small groups to do what only governments and large corporations could do only a decade before.  We believe it’s possible and we’re setting up a system that allows people to come together by committing small amounts of time, to solve problems and create value together.  We’re by no means the first to try it – there are many crowd-sourcing and change-making platforms out there.  But we are specifically committed to the idea of creating a new kind of Company, in the 19th Century sense, that profoundly disrupts the social capital structure by creating a viable alternative.

Join us to co-create the 21st Century Company, internet-enabled.

Let’s explore.  Send an email to info@intelligentfutures.co.uk with subject “21st Century Company” to share your ideas, commit some time, or just to get updates on the project.

How Will New Technologies Impact Your Organisation in the Next 2, 5 or 15 Years?

Self-driving cars on our streets, 3D-printed shoes, robots taking our jobs, new online craft communities, buying coffee with your mobile phone…

We can all see the phenomenal rate of change around us as new technologies become available.  Enabled by digital networks, these technologies converge, accelerate and create exponential change.

Every company, organisation – and even every family – has to consider carefully how to adapt to these changes.  How do we plan successfully for the future, when things seem to be changing so fast?  It can seem daunting and we often don’t know where to start.

Thankfully, there are ways to tackle such a big and complex problem.  It can be broken down into smaller steps and tackled strategically.  We can find answers, gain more understanding and begin to prepare ourselves and our organisations better.

The first step is simple: make a commitment to look at the problem squarely.  You commit to setting aside a little time – perhaps half a day total over the next 30 days – to begin to investigate and draw up a plan for the future.

At Intelligent Futures we invite you to join us in this process, looking at:

– how new technologies are changing society,

– how they lead to innovation and opportunities, and

– how we can leverage those technologies to create or harness impact.

Participation is by invitation – to request your invitation to take part or to receive updates, send an email to info@intelligentfutures.co.uk with “New Technologies” in the subject line.