A View from the Scottish Tech Scene

It’s thriving, but there are some key obstacles to overcome…

Since the turn of 2016, I’ve been fully immersed in the Scottish technology scene after joining EdTech startup, Administrate as Marketing Director.

Previous to this appointment, I’d been running my own consultancy, and although I did have clients, friends and contacts in the tech sector, I wasn’t what you could term an ‘insider’.

It’s worth stating at this point that I’d told myself last year that the only thing that would make me seriously consider leaving my consultancy behind would be the right role at the right type of tech company in Scotland. Why? Because I believe we’re in the middle of an incredibly exciting period for the Scottish technology sector and I had a strong desire to be a part of it.

I feel like there’s never been more buzz and awareness of Scotland’s technology sector. You can’t get away from the success of Skyscanner and FanDuel, however, these ‘unicorns’ aren’t the only reason we’re finally drawing the deserved levels of attention. Momentum is a huge factor in this.

I spend the majority of my week in the Administrate office at Codebase; there’s a huge level of energy and commitment not only among my colleagues, but across all of the businesses housed within the monolithic Argyll House.

Argyll House, with 12th century castle view!

There’s a will to help out others that is foreign in many other sectors, with companies readily sharing advice and experience in order to contribute to the bigger picture. This can translate to real progress and success. It’s not just within Codebase that this spirit exists, incubators such as Rookie Oven in Glasgow are springing up across the country.

I believe the foundation is in place across Scotland that will allow this progress to continue, however, there are issues that need to addressed, or the onwards march may well slow.

The first issue lies within the talent pool. Don’t get me wrong, we do have very clever and experienced people in the country, but just not at the volume required. There are particular gaps in software engineering and my area of focus, marketing. It’s not easy enough to bring in the talent from foreign shores that can augment our native Scottish talent.

Whether it’s red tape or the pull of London, the USA and beyond, there are obstacles a-plenty. At Administrate we have 15 nationalities within a staff of 40, including a number from the States. I know it was very difficult from a visa perspective to bring those Americans to the country, this state of affairs can really stifle growth.

A part of counteracting that comes down to making the most of the people within Scotland. Education plays a key part in this. When I consider my working area of marketing, I believe that with rare exception, further or higher education is failing to deliver the right skills that the modern marketer requires.

Higher education isn’t the be-all- and-end- all, however, with many school-leavers still choosing it as their next step, it needs to be appropriate for the job market. That needs fixed and sooner rather than later.

This guy’s learning.

There’s also a fundamental business issue that’s holding many of Scotland’s tech startups back, and that’s the application of marketing.

I know of a number of cases of companies piling all of their attention on the creation of the product, wrestling with getting it ready to take to their target market and then when that time comes, there’s zero strategy or resource in place to allow it to happen. This leads to serious issues as early revenue generation fails and knee-jerk marketing decision are made, often resulting in a huge cash-burn.

This shortcoming comes down to education around how to structure a founding/early stage team and an overbearing opinion that the product should always lead and the rest will follow. Every part of the business needs to be geared toward growth.

That’s by no means a comprehensive list of issues (for example, access to funding is a major problem), however, the fact is that the Scottish tech/startup scene is in rude health and that should be celebrated while we all try and address the problems in a constructive manner.

We also need to get better at telling the rest of the UK and the world about the vibrant tech scene that’s living and breathing within our country. It’s part of the Scottish psyche not to brag, but I’m seeing that slowly start to slip, we just need to get even more brazen about it!

This article was first published in Scottish Entrepreneur. To find out more about the Scottish Entrepreneur digital magazine, click here. Images added by me under license from Shutterstock.

If you enjoyed reading this, please do hit that heart button! I’d love to hear your thoughts on the post too…

Marketing consultant with 12+ years in the game. I work in whisky and gin marketing. It’s great. Writing about many things.

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