Life under the radar – startups in stealth mode

Is there Nathan he can’t do?

“I have all these clothes,” Nathan complained.

We were deep in discussion about what to wear when the dress code at work is casual. Now at a startup, Nathan’s old agency garb is no longer relevant but he hates to see it go to waste in his cupboard. A first world problem it may be but a problem nonetheless, and you don’t hear about that on Econsultancy!

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Thankfully, Nathan Levi is so much more than his clothes. Having fallen into digital and made it big at a young age, Nathan was ready for a new challenge. He felt that challenge lay in startups. Now in the final stages of a launching a new company I wanted to know what drew him to startups, how he picked the right one and what challenges he has faced.

What’s the big idea?

Alas, for once I didn’t manage to find an answer to this question. Nathan’s startup is in stealth mode before they launch later this year.

There are a few reasons for a startup to be in stealth mode pre-launch. It affords you anonymity while you perfect your product, it can build intrigue and curiosity, but the main one being to protect your intellectual property from nosy competitors.

What drew you to startups?

When faced with building a website and marketing their wares, the two founders of Nathan’s new company quickly realised they needed a digi guy. This came at a good time for Nathan who was looking to move to a smaller business. “I have always wanted to do my own thing. I spoke to a number of startups that, though the people were great, weren’t for me because I didn’t believe in the business model.” Then Nathan’s current startup came along.

The advice here was to choose a startup very carefully. Don’t join a sinking ship for the sake of joining a startup.

Any immediate observations?

Nathan had some really interesting views on where startups sometimes fall short. One of these is marketing. “The startup world is poor at marketing itself. Companies are often very technical and neglect the basics like market research and talking to real people.” It is easy to see how people can be swept up in their great idea and forget about the basics.

Was it hard to leave your agency?

The answer was no. Nathan had become a touch disillusioned with agency life. “I’m not entirely convinced with where agencies are heading. New technology is being put ahead of real human behaviour. There are grey areas.”

What has changed in how you work?

Nathan was looking for an injection of passion and this is what he has found. “Digital marketing at a startup is very grassroots, which I like because I’m happy sending emails and picking up the phone to speak to people. Excitingly, I know that if we don’t have any customers it’s my fault, I love that challenge.”

Nathan’s budget has also changed. “I’m now working with a comparatively tiny budget. I’m pulling in a lot of favours and making sure I take monetary decisions very carefully. If I choose the wrong developer for the website for example, we couldn’t just build another one. These become very big decisions.”

Has it been a positive decision then?

“Firstly, I look forward to going into work everyday, which is great.” He was also refreshing his digital tool kit, “I’m practising parts of digital I’ve never worked in so it’s been useful on a practical level.” Lastly, Nathan said moving to a startup has enabled him to make his mark. “I now have something I can own, something I believe in and something that can make me proud of my career.”

Epilogue

It was time to wrap things up. On our way out I rekindled the conversation about what really constitutes smart casual clothes in an agency. He looked a my white plimsolls, my carefully selected jeans-jumper combo and my autumn mac, and said, “Not that.”