Why Tech Start-Ups Need A Reputation Strategy

Sam Ahuja 20 May 2022

In the first part of our series on privacy and reputation in tech companies, Partner Sam Ahuja explores where to begin, and how to define your strategy.

Few would argue that a strong and resilient reputation enhances a business’s ability to grow and succeed. Whether it is selling to customers, attracting the best talent, or raising funds, your reputation plays a key part.

But with some £29.4 billion flowing into an increasingly competitive UK tech space in 2021, many would be forgiven for having a “growth or die” mentality and parking the rest until later. However, what the headlines often forget to mention is that over 50% of start-ups tend to go under within the first three years. So what do the businesses that succeed tend to have in common? An excellent product for sure – but equally as important is a strong and resilient reputation that underpins what you are about.

In this first instalment of our series on privacy and reputation in tech, we’re exploring where to start in developing a reputation strategy, what questions to ask yourself and some examples of easy wins for founders and tech companies.  Later in the series we will move on to specific reputation focused issues that a business could face, such as when fundraising or in a media crisis, and how you can get in front.

Where do I start and how do I define my reputation strategy?

1 – Ask yourself what type of reputation you want to have?

Every business or individuals’ reputation is different and that’s ok. The more pertinent question is what is most important to you. Is it to be the fastest moving and most innovative company? Is it to be the best employer? Is a combination of several things? Set these out, however lofty they may be, as these are the building blocks of your reputation strategy.

2 – Then ask yourself ‘what are my constraints’?

Ultimately, there will always be certain points that you cannot flex on in the short-term or even long-term if you want to be a profitable business. You may want to be the best employer but don’t have the capital to pay what you would like. Or you might want to be known as the most innovative business but as your product is disruptive you will inevitably be viewed negatively by other institutional organisations (those in the crypto and fintech space would have long felt this acutely). Identifying these factors are vitally important: it also gives an opportunity to assess and accept that you may need to do something unpopular, but decide that ultimately it is needed and fits within overall strategy.

3 – Define your strategy

If you now understand what you want to achieve within the parameters you have set, then you now have the building blocks for your long-term reputation strategy. The next step is to put into place those measures that will enable you to achieve these. Not all of these will be available to you straight away. However, that is not to say that you can’t begin to take steps to begin to build a resilient reputation, which will ensure you don’t run into issue that can be avoided.

Easy wins   

There is no one size fits all when planning the measures that are right for you. But here are some examples of simple steps that can have a significant impact:

  • Building an end-to-end communications process.

A key challenge in any regulated industry is ensuring you are not only putting out the right message to the market but that you are not falling foul of financial services or advertising regulations. Your team will be eager to sell the company but having checks and balances in place to ensure the right people are looking at the right communications is key. This is something you can easily integrate into your software platforms like Jira but also serves as an excellent way to give the regulator comfort that you are trying to do things right. The added bonus is that less mistakes mean that media stories that are avoidable are likely to stay that way.

  • Regulated interview process

Whether recruiting 10 or 10000 employees in a year, it all requires a big effort. Increasingly, your recruitment drive also feeds into how your company is perceived, especially with the rise of platforms such as Glassdoor. Having a regulated interview process – one which everyone follows – is not only efficient but avoids the rogue interviewer creating reputation problems.  If things aren’t consistent, then in addition to inefficiencies, you are going to create reputational problems.

  • Confidentiality practices

We probably all hear every day that a document or piece of information is confidential. But seldom does anyone explain why that may be the case or what that actually covers at work. There have been stories of pitch decks being sent out and then passed to other parties, or even private conversations from Slack channels being sent on. Other than the commercial impact, the common denominator of this kind of sharing is also a reputation hit, whether via negative media or being known as a leaky organisation. While there are number of technical measures that can help preserve confidentiality, the starting point can often just be having a confidentiality flow for the business. Often a few questions and clicks can make the difference to understand whether something is confidential and what your employees should be doing.

It is never too early for a business to be thinking about its reputation and putting measures in place. The key is getting in front of issues so you don’t have the costly reputation issue down the line.

Take a look at part two, where we focus on some of the reputational steps you can take when preparing or going through a fund raise.