Innovation = Sales.
My last post emphasised the need for start-ups to prioritise commercial focus on generating Sales.
What it didn’t offer was any guidance on the optimum strategy to achieve this objective.
In business, often one of the most difficult things to achieve are Sales - the acquisition of paying punters.
Sales rarely happen without consideration and trust. Therefore, making sales is usually dependent on building relationships; possibly between individuals; often relationships with your brand.
Equally rare is for Sales conversion to happen as a consequence of a single moment of communication. Rapport is usually a key ingredient of trust and consideration.
And so, what are you going to do to give yourselves the permission to build dialogue - to create an on-going communication between you and the people who might buy your product?
Why innovation is so important.
If the primary objective is sales - then the number one strategy is building meaningful dialogue with customers and prospects to enable sales to happen.
In my experience, the communication of innovation is the most engaging and effective route with which to execute this strategy.
And if you have any doubt about this, simply look at the global impact of Apple’s #WWDC (Worldwide Developers Conference) - or the fact that half way through this week’s Apple event, Google chose to announce its $1bn+ acquisition of Waze.
But this phenomenon is not unique to the Apples and Googles of the world. It is absolutely relevant to all companies large and small.
People like to hear that you and your business are progressing. They want to hear what’s new. They want to hear that you have invested in and worked hard to bring new propositions for them to enjoy. They like discovery and being the first to discover something new. They also like the idea that perhaps in some small way, that they may be a component of your success (ie. by buying your latest innovation). They want you to be successful, especially so if you have a worthy cause and lots of passion.
Innovation - and your announcement of it, gives you the permission to:
- Grow your audience
- To engage them in a compelling conversation
- A conversation that your customers and prospects want to hear
- It nudges them one step closer to actually buying something from you
- It potentially generates PR coverage, thereby extending your reach still further
If only Sales were an Olympic sport.
Following my last post about entrepreneurs getting stuck - another common situation I see obstructing progress (and fast decision-making) in business is the dilema and debate regarding prioritisation.
It is incumbent on the leader/founder to steer the ship. To galvanise the team passionately in pursuit of a common goal.
Inconveniently, the truth is that of course there are always at least thirty eight things that will appear equally vital priorities. Even more inconveniently, it is inevitable that they will all require attention simultaneously.
But what this doesn’t tell the entrepreneur is what to focus on. And when delivered, what to choose next.
This is where I think business can learn a lot from sport.
Olympic teams (in virtually all sports) now have a ‘Director of Margin Gains’ - a person whose sole responsibility is to eek-out those tiny increments of performance improvement that cumulatively may result in a fractional enhancement of results.
In rowing, famously, the mantra is “Does it make the boat go faster?”. Anything that does not positively contribute to this objective is violently ignored or aborted.
The number one objective in sport is to win. I would like to suggest that the business equivalent of this is to make Sales. Therefore, focus your effort (and that of your team) on in ‘making the boat go faster’ - make all effort count with a positive impact to the pursuit of Sales.
When stuck on the issue of priorities: Always auto-default to Selling.
In business, if a decision is proving too difficult, don’t get stuck - choose a different question.
It is a wonderful thing to spend time in the company of brilliant entrepreneurs and start-ups. At Wayra we’re surrounded by great talent. But even the best-of-the-best occasionally get stuck.
There are many causes for this to happen. This post suggests a way to tackle one such situation: Getting stuck when faced with a BIG decision.
Making decisions can be the life or death of a business. The significance and consequence of making a wrong decision is a common source of ‘decision-paralysis’. It is often easier to avoid the difficult decision than it is to determine it.
Which is why in an earlier post I advocated it is better to learn to recover more quickly rather than invest time perfecting decision-making.
One obvious antidote to the symptom of ‘getting-stuck’ is to seek guidance from an expert third party. Which is why I’ve also written about the importance of appointing brilliant Non-exec’s / Board advisors.
But what I want to capture in this post is a technique to affect how you deal with decision-making in difficult situations (rather than deferring to someone else).
It’s incumbent on the boss to ‘call the shots’. Most decisions are relatively trivial and easy. However, some are momentous, for example: closing a deal; securing investment; dissolving a partnership; firing someone.
When faced with difficult decisions:
- Tune-in to your intuition.
- Listen to what it’s telling you.
- Recognise when you are stuck.
And when you are stuck: Choose an easier question to answer.
Ask yourself whether the challenge you face can be broken down into smaller components. See if you can identify a different, smaller decision, which is inherently more easy, more obvious, less risky than the original question you were trying to answer.
Which may sound blindingly obvious - however, this is one of the most common situations that I encounter in mentoring entrepreneurs. And it’s the advice that often affects people most.
I’m not talking about ‘ducking the problem’. I’m simply talking about navigating it via smaller steps. Smaller steps that might enable you to change destination mid-course, rather than making one giant leap.
This approach is one of the reasons why I love digital businesses so much - in an on-line world new product propositions can be ‘A/B tested’ (ie. run multiple options simultaneously to see which one performs best) therefore avoiding an ‘either/or’ decision.
You have 30 seconds to coach a start-up - what is your most vital advice? Your time starts now.
I’ve been asking a lot of people this question as an acid-test in interview. (‘Read more’ to find out why).
Clearly there is no right or wrong answer. The diversity (and quality) of answers is surprisingly vast. As is peoples’ ability to stick to answering within 30 seconds.
Working at Wayra, it is an unusual day if I’m not asked this question (in some form or other) - for real.
So here’s my answer:
“Identify the most powerful action that will move your business forward most; focus on its delivery ruthlessly; execute it brilliantly.”
Nailed. Or so I thought. Until I asked Mrs Devonshire, whose business mantra ‘top-trumped’ mine:
“Get paying punters - now. Winning paying customers is difficult. Everything else in business is easier by comparison - so focus on it immediately.”
I’m keen to hear your 30 second coaching wisdom. Please tweet your 30 second masterclass to me @Tallmanbusiness and/or #30secondbusinesscoach - I’ll post the best ones on the TallManBusiness blog. I’m especially hoping to hearing from superstars such as: Will King; Emma Jones; Raj Dey; Michael Acton-Smith; Mike Soutar; Doug Richard; Tamara Lohan; Dale Murray; Luke Johnson; Lawrence Tomlinson. And you!
Board advisors are essential to start-up success. Two questions to ensure great input from Non-exec’s.
I recently wrote about how and why the appointment of Non-exec’s are vital to the success of start-ups (including also: Board advisors, external coaches and mentors).
The post included some thoughts and recommendations on how to secure good ones.
But what I didn’t comment on is, having recruited such expert help (outside of your core operating team), how do you tell if they are actually delivering a positive impact on your business?
Before answering this, let’s establish some simple ground rules. In order to ensure that you get the most out of your Board advisors, first you need to:
- Always make clear the help that you value most.
- Set and agree clear objectives.
- Diarise your meetings as far in advance as is practical …
- … and equally important, commit to their attendance.
- If your answer is ‘yes’ - well done. Make sure that you write down the agreed action. You can now move-on to Step Two:
- If your answer is ‘no’ - then all that happened is that you had a nice conversation. Sadly, you don’t have time for nice conversations.
- If your answer is ‘yes’ - well done (again). Commit to your next meeting with the Board advisor. When you meet, make sure that you acknowledge the achievement of the agreed action. And agree the next action. Repeat indefinitely.
- If your answer is ‘no’ - then all that happened is that you had a nice conversation. Sadly, you don’t have time for nice conversations.
If now is the time of greatest opportunity ever - here are some helpful words of inspiration.
Working at Wayra, it is a privilege to meet and work with some of the best on entrepreneurs on earth.
Entrepreneurs are an interesting breed. They are rarely content to live alone with their relentless passion - they insist on spreading it about liberally in the hope of infecting others.
The best entrepreneurs are a constant source of energy and inspiration. They say things like (these quotes are not verbatim):
Live in the future. Build what’s missing.
The world is broken. Invent the solution.
Make stuff better than before you took it on.
Entrepreneurs see innovation as neither possible or impossible. They see innovation as inevitable. [An observation from Simon Prockter (CEO and Founder of Housebites) during a panel that we both participated in].
‘Inevitability’ is a great word that captures what this is all about. Great entrepreneurs see the realisation of their vision as something that is so inevitable it is as though it already exists.
Connect with the twelve year old version of you. No limits. Full of curiosity and possibility.
… hence the photo.
Entrepreneurs - if nothing else - swim. The health of your business starts with your well-being.
I think everyone that reads this blog will be aware of my passion for entrepreneurialism. Perhaps they are less aware that I’m equally passionate about swimming.
I believe that these two quite different activities are highly synergistic.
I swim three or four miles a week. It is rare that I don’t make the time to swim, even when travelling. And if I am forced to sacrifice my swimming, I greatly miss it.
I believe swimming is important, because:
- We all need some time exclusively to ourselves. Uninterrupted. Swimming is good for this.
- Time and space in which to either think, or conversely, to clear the mind and be devoid of thought.
- Swimming is a great way to keep fit. It provides an intense workout without the impact, stress and consequential injuries that other sports inflict on joints and muscles (especially running).
If you are an entrepreneur, I believe swimming (or any form of regular vigorous exercise) is fundamentally important to the success of your business because:
- Whether you like it or not, your team want a leader who looks after their well-being as actively as they look after the business.
- Your team is not alone - investors possess a similar interest in your health, (and a keener eye).
- No-one in the team wants to see the visible consequence of stress and fatigue on their leader. It is totally fine for you to work too hard (they kinda expect it), but it is essentially that you do so gracefully. If they think that you are unable to cope; that running your business is either too difficult, or beyond your personal capabilities, they will not give you their unconditional support. Poor condition is a source of doubt.
- Journalists and commentators also have an interest in your condition too. It’s interesting when journalists include within their report their observations about the state of their interviewee. For example: “… so said the CEO, who sounded especially tired when asked about …”.
Your competitors will take an opportune look at you too. In both start-ups and in big corporates I have seen CEOs actively evaluate the condition of their peers. They want to know if you are struggling. Your pallor alone can speak volumes.
But more important than all of that, vigorous exercise is fundamental to the health, well-being and longevity of entrepreneurs.
Last year, I had the privilege of travelling on the Entrepreneurs Express, a special train destined for the Made Festival in Sheffield. On-board I was delighted to meet and chat with Duncan Goodhew, the Olympic Gold Medalist swimmer.
Duncan explained his view that entrepreneurs are massively fuelled by adrenalin, the natural source of energy we all produce that super-charges us for either ‘fight or flight’. He said that whilst this is a fantastic and effective source of energy it is also highly dangerous if not used properly. Duncan believes that the heightened level of adrenalin on which many entrepreneurs thrive, needs to be regularly burnt-off or it becomes corrosively harmful. In his view our bodies simply are not designed for adrenalin-rocket-fuel to lay latently within us.
I think he’s spot-on.
Entrepreneurs, the health of your business starts with your well-being. Swim.
An entrepreneurs ‘To-do list’ for Week 2 of a start-up.
At the beginning of the week I wrote a post to provide entrepreneurs with a To-do list for Week 1 of a start-up.
Now as the week draws to a close, I am compelled to issue a To-do list for Week 2.
At the end of your first week, take time off. Stop. Relax. Rest. Recover.
Take a moment to think.
Before the start of Week 2, singularly, define what is the most powerful action that you can deliver to move your business forward most.
Discuss and agree it with your team. And then, go and deliver it. Impactfully.
An entrepreneurs ‘To-do list’ for Week 1 of a start-up.
Today is a momentous day at Wayra London as we welcome the second cohort of brilliant new digital start-ups. It is Day 1 of the next chapter in the development of their businesses.
My advice to them is to embrace the experience and throw themselves at it whole-heartedly. Don’t waste a single second – you’ll be amazed how fast the time goes.
Start as you mean to go on.
Whether or not you are fortunate to have the benefits of a business accelerator like Wayra, I am keen to share with as many entrepreneurs as possible some of the core principles that I believe are fundamental to the success of a newly started business.
I am not going to publish on-goingly an entire weekly programme - but here I my thoughts and recommendations for success in that first vital week - may I strongly advise:
GET YOUR BUSINESS OFF TO A FLYING START IN THE FIRST WEEK.
An entrepreneurs ‘To do’ list for Week One of a start-up:
- Back-of-an-envelope summary: Write a succinct definition of your business / and it’s core proposition (date it - it will be interesting to see how this definition evolves over time). You’d be surprised how often entrepreneurs struggle with this simple task. If you can’t clearly and succinctly articulate what you do, how on earth to you expect others to ‘get-it’.
- Mentor wish list: Identify who your dream mentors are. Shoot for the stars – start with Bill Gates and work down from there.
- Set-up Board meetings immediately.
- Investor plan: If you are not able to generate revenue immediately, your business will almost certainly require funding. Start the hunt for suitable investment / investors from day one. You must not delay – do not think of investment as a future event, you cannot afford to, literally.
- Accelerator plan: If you are lucky enough to have successfully made it into an accelerator, document what acceleration services you would benefit from most. Don’t be vague and write “mentoring”, be specific, for example: identify and name a potential customer you want help to win.
- Sales plan: I am often amazed at how frequently start-ups convince themselves and give themselves permission to not start selling immediately. I have seen start-ups invest vital time drawing-up lists of all the reasons and obstacles that prevent them from selling. For example: the need for a nice logo; a slick presentation; a proto-type; a better proto-type; competitor analysis etc etc. If you are not making sales calls, you will not make sales.
As I have previously commented, hindsight is an exact science. When entrepreneurs tell me their story, (the story of their business), I often hear a profound and common regret: “Looking back, I wish I had done more to sell more, more quickly at the start. I wasted time”.
Use this hindsight to give yourself and your business foresight. You will not get back the time you invest now. Use it wisely.
Take a moment to think:
- Where are you now?
- Where do you want to be?
- How are you going to get there?
Make all of your answers to these vital questions numeric/quantifiable.
Finally, in the words of our youngest daughter: “IMMEDIATELY. NOW!”
There has never been a better time to be alive.
After months of harsh cold weather, finally, Spring has sprung. Brilliant warm sunshine. What a difference it makes. But it’s not just the weather that has been gloomy.
The press have proved expert at emphasising the turmoil we see all around us:
- The banking crisis in Cyprus
- The boarded-up shops on UK high streets
I love this recent Tweet from Alain de Botton: “If only news organisations could make money selling resilience and pessimistic calm, rather than fear and paranoia”.
And yet paradoxically the press also reported recently: ”UK household wealth is at an all time high”. Anecdotally, the world seems to be a progressively more prosperous place.
And so, I’m left wondering, are we experiencing:
- A banking crisis?
- Or an economic crisis?
- Or perhaps, is the crisis more to do with how we all feel?
This is important because different diagnoses require different cures. In-fact, the remedies for each condition are arguably almost exactly opposite and therefore potentially counteractive:
- economic crisis apparently requires austerity …
- … which does nothing to help those suffering a crisis of confidence.
What is especially clear is the need to act fast in order to save the patient.
I’d like to explore that paradox a bit more closely. Let’s take a moment to compare and contrast the relativity of what life was like when my parents were the age that my children are now (8 and 10 years old):
- When my parents were children the world’s number one objective was winning the 2nd World War.
- The number one strategy to achieve this was industrially killing people.
The world now is undoubtedly a more healthy, prosperous, safer place that offers more possibilities than ever before. The trends are unquestionably consistently positive.
And yet, despite today’s relative comfort and security, I believe we are experiencing the worst crisis of insecurity in history.
I find myself overwhelmingly and passionately compelled to address this issue, and to encourage all of us to unite in doing so. I publicly committed to advocating this at the impressive launch of Tech London Advocates this week. Why? Because I see the current situation differently. I believe:
- We are witnessing the arrival of a new economy - the birth of the digital economy
- I think that this transition is the most significant evolution ever experienced by mankind
- I believe that the birth of the new digital economy is more profound than the birth of the industrial revolution (when people fundamentally transitioned from working the land to working machines)
- I think that in years to come we will look back at this time and realise just how significant this transition is
- We will equally be amazed at how rapidly it happened
- I think that this is a massively unsettling experience with a high degree of uncertainty for many
Despite this genuine and valid anxiety, what I see is:
- More computing / processing power than ever before
- More connectivity than ever before
- More scope to add-value than ever before
- More opportunity than at any time history
- I think the tech community is key to unlocking this potential - which is why I’m passionate to support initiatives like Tech London Advocates
One of the things that makes digital entrepreneurs so fascinating is the power of their businesses to enhance our lives. To make our lives easier; more productive; more rewarding.
In a word ‘progress’.
Where ever we see obstacles; risk; ‘friction’ - digital technology has the potential now to intelligently detect; predict; avoid; navigate - and thereby adding demonstrable / tangible value and convenience to our lives.
The value-add opportunity could be as trivial as pre-ordering and paying for my coffee so that I don’t have to queue at Starbucks; or as significant as the elimination of ticketing (paper or electronic) from our public transportation systems.
Digital entrepreneurs have the potential to unlock the positive benefit of innovation and excitingly, thereby enrich our lives. More importantly, they have the vital capabilities required to unlock and realise the economic potential of this ‘life enrichment’.
The point is, there has never been more potential to add-value than there is today.
Importantly, the digital start-ups that pursue these opportunities might employ one person; five people; five hundred people. Virtually all big companies start small.
The economy I grew-up with as a child is changing. What’s certain, we need the economic value and the jobs that the new digital economy has to offer. And in the words of Jose Maria Alvarez-Pallete (COO of Telefonica Globally, and the Father of Wayra) speaking at the One Young World international summit: “It’s urgent”.
To which I’d add: “It’s exciting too”.