Learn from those who have done it before

Five startup lessons from my first year with VoiceIQ

I’m told it has been a year since my first blog for Future Worlds, an article where I shared my experience from the brilliant Dragons’ Den event, and can’t quite believe where the time has gone. The well-known phrase ‘time flies when you’re having fun’ springs to mind and certainly has relevance to my experiences over the past year.

In my previous blog article, I described how events since the Den led me to form a startup with ‘Dragon’ Muj Choudhury. Now, a year on, I have been given the opportunity to reflect on how our startup has developed, the lessons I have learned, the highs and the occasional lows.

However, before I begin reflecting on how the startup has developed, I feel a brief outline of its mission and proposition will provide some much-needed context.


Since being discussed as a sporadic collection of ideas in a bar (as the best ideas so often are), our vision has culminated to become ‘VoiceIQ’, a Software as a Service (SaaS) company with the mission to revolutionise enterprise communication by integrating Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), customer relationship management (CRM) and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Ultimately this will enable users to increase calling efficiency, which in turn reduces customer churn, improves customer satisfaction and increases sales revenue. Essentially we’re applying AI to real-world problems that businesses can justify spending money on.

Starting as a team of just three a year ago, VoiceIQ has now grown to a team of seven and is looking to expand further before the end of the year. In addition, we aim to release our minimum viable product (MVP) in January 2018 with subsequent full feature releases throughout the year. We even have one or two very large companies up our sleeves to trial the MVP with.

From a personal perspective, I can hand on heart say my first year in the startup world has been thoroughly enjoyable and I have been lucky enough to meet some extraordinary and influential individuals.

We are also extremely fortunate to have a highly talented and experienced team pushing VoiceIQ to achieve its milestones. I would be lying however if I said it had been an easy first year. To get to this point, although seemingly quickly, has required considerable time dedication (quite often pulling a seven-day working week), a great deal of self-teaching and an attitude to just get s*** done!

Lessons learnt and tips for the future

The startup world isn’t for everyone. Irregular hours, financial insecurity and considerable risk is, from my limited experience, an inevitability. However, for any aspiring students wanting to take on such a challenge, I have outlined a few of the key lessons I have learnt so far:

1) Deadlines

I have quickly learnt that despite being a company founder, deadlines, just like at university, are inevitable and with no opportunity for extensions, working till the early hours is not so much an expectation, but a necessity.

2) Accountability

As a founder, accountability always, always falls back to you, no matter how blameless you may feel. Something, somewhere will always go wrong and whether blame lies with you or a third party, as founder it is up to you to make things right. I have learnt that first and foremost, honesty is definitely the best policy. If you are honest with people about mistakes and make efforts to rectify them, you will overcome most issues.

3) Colleagues

At some point in a startup, your team will need to expand and with that comes another layer of complexity to manage. Disagreements will happen; however, I have found that keeping thoughts to oneself is never a good solution and only causes further tension. In most cases, speaking your mind with a well-reasoned argument is the best and only way to resolve differences. In a startup, there is no time to hold grudges, sort things out and move on!

4) Social life

Unfortunately the working hours in a start-up do not conform to the traditional Monday to Friday, 9 to 5; expect your social life to take a hit. The reality is that work never really stops and you will most likely find yourself taking phone calls, writing emails, travelling for meetings or holding Skype calls at all hours and all days of the week. Having a social life and working in a startup is possible, but be prepared to make compromises. That said, it’s entirely possible to enjoy startup activity, which can make it feel less like work.

5) Delegation

I would argue that I have learnt more valuable lessons and skills in the past year than my three years at university. The nature of a startup provides an ideal opportunity for one to learn new skills, indeed this will often happen not out of choice. However, it is also important to recognise when it would become more efficient to delegate duties to new hires or an expanded founding team who have a specific desired skill set.

I hope that this article gives some insight into the startup world and offers a little more clarity to any aspiring entrepreneurs. If anyone would like to get in touch with questions about startups, university opportunities, VoiceIQ, or just for a chat, please contact me at sam@getviq.com.

Opportunities within VoiceIQ

As I previously mentioned, we are looking to expand our team.

We’re looking for people to join our Artificial Intelligence team, currently led by an Oxford University professor. For the AI role, you’ll need a degree background in Applied Maths, Economics, Statistics, Engineering, Computer Science or other quantitative field and with a good understanding of machine learning. If you’re a psychologist with an interest in designing compelling user experiences for web and mobile apps then we’d love to hear from you. If you love to code and want to develop software alongside highly experienced technology architects then give us a shout.

If you are keen to join a fast growing, innovative startup, check out our job vacancies here.

Good luck!

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Sam Gillingham

Co-founder, VoiceIQ

Sam is a co-founder and Operations Director at VoiceIQ, a new a software as a service (SaaS) company seeking to transform enterprise communication. He has been building experience of running online businesses since the age of 18. Sam studied Human Geography at the University of Southampton and was an entrant to Future Worlds’ Dragons’ Den competition in 2016.

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