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Stationary shopping and stolen cutlery: Being a tech start-up isn't all glamorous

Switching from an IT giant to a start-up is not as glamorous as some might think.

For starters, it's not all attractive youngsters and men with sculpted beards pulling all-nighters, eating thin-crust pizza and playing ping pong. For me, at least, that's some way from the reality. I’m 42 and gluten intolerant for starters.

Let's rewind a bit. I joined LogPoint, a young Danish company in the log management/SIEM space a year ago. I'd spent most of the previous 20 years working at IT vendors in the security space. That included some smaller players and U.S. giants. MessageLabs and PGP were small, feisty and fast-paced. Next up was a management role at McAfee, with all that involves.

So why leave the warm embrace of a U.S. tech monolith for the challenges of a smaller player? Simple. The IT industry is experiencing cyclical change, with opportunities opening in many sectors for smaller, disruptive SMEs. That's not to claim that Google and Intel are endangered species. Far from it. It's more that procurement and innovation trends have shifted, opening the door for new, nimble operators. Many of these newer companies will fail, some will be swallowed up (as was the fate of MessageLabs and PGP) and a select few will go supersonic.

It's still early days in this innovation cycle, but there is a real spirit of entrepreneurship out there. When economies recover from recession and austerity, and the anti-trust hammer falls, more decision makers are willing to take chances on cutting-edge tech, and companies attempting to drive efficiencies and differentiation will look at new players as a way of enabling change. That opens the door to start-ups and gives them a greater role in propelling the economy, and creating jobs.

Culturally, moving to a disruptive start-up entails a sea-change. Imagine working years in an office where everything is covered. The coffee is always fresh roasted, there’s a lovely canteen with friendly faces serving reasonably priced food. Travel and expenses are taken care of. There are colleagues everywhere - always a buzz in the background. And if your laptop goes up in smoke, then someone brings you a shiny new one.

In start-up land, things are different. Need a pen? Go to the shop and buy one. In fact, buy three. Lunch? That’s the thing you do while trying to type a proposal, and worrying about crumbs on the keyboard. Crumbs kill laptops, and if the laptop goes bang, the spousal Mac becomes the office heartbeat. Management meetings take place on Skype. Travel is booked through a website with a personal credit card (don't forget the points!), and coffee is either instant, or, for a rare treat, from the ubiquitous chain down the road. For me, contact with other humans in the first instance was restricted to endless trips to the serviced office's reception to check for post. Chatting about the receptionists' weekend or the weather provided a needed break from Radio 2's Ken Bruce.

But things get better. The boxes are slowly unpacked and colleagues and customers arrive. If the customers really like what you do, the reporting lines expand and other regions start looking nervously over their shoulders.

There are some obvious differences between a huge West Coast vendor and small, spiky Scandinavian vendor. There are benefits: in January we all went to Rome for a few days to meet colleagues from across Europe and stayed in the most beautiful little hotel, rather than a beige conference facility. If you need something technical changed, you can call the team at HQ (they all seem to be called Christian) and get some fine tuning. LogPoint in Britain has employed seven people since June. That’s nothing for a massive corporate, but I prefer to look at it in percentages: we’re up 700 per cent.

So please spare a thought for the toilers in start-up land. We really want to talk to you about what we do because we think it will really help you. But we’ve just eaten our lunch using plastic cutlery pinched from KFC and are praying that the toner won’t run out before we finish printing the proposal that we promised you.

So if the presentation isn’t as slick as that of our West Coast rival, you know why. And remember, it’s the product and service that really count.

Graeme Stewart, Managing Director of LogPoint UK & Ireland

Image source: Shutterstock/Gajus