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.
Digital entrepreneurs have the power to enable us to leapfrog everyday barriers.
Wherever we experience friction, obstacles, inconvenience, risk - entrepreneurs see opportunity.
The world now has:
- more access to more computer processing power;
- more pre-written open-source code;
- and more connectivity
… than at any time in history.
Which is why one entrepreneur I spoke with last week described the current global context as a “gold-rush”. Paradoxically the same week that Spain declared 26% unemployment. Es una locura (it’s crazy).
Our job at Wayra is to help digital entrepreneurs accelerate their businesses. What I especially like about that is it also helps to bring forward the arrival of future technology; to realise the benefit of innovation and the creation of new economy, and make it happen more quickly. For certain, we need those new jobs now.
I am incredibly lucky to work with such brilliant entrepreneurs. Each innovation created by these digital pioneers is another positive step forward, however large or small - the cumulative effect enriching our lives demonstrably in an ever shortening time-span.
Whether it is as trivial as efficiently connecting our need of a taxi to the nearest empty cab. Or as profound as the elimination of cash. We are witnessing the birth of a new economy, a digital economy - our lives, jobs, opportunities are all indelibly changing at an incredible pace.
Often the only limit to our entrepreneurial progress and its positive impact, is our collective imagination. For many, these are troubling times. Optimistically, creativity and innovation are capabilities that humans are good at.
By way of example, allow me to help fuel that creativity by declaring my passion to eliminate ticketing in public transport. And I’m not just talking about paper tickets.
Barriers at railway stations are not just a metaphorical form of friction, they are a literal obstacle that commuters battle with daily.
To help reduce this friction, the UK has Oyster Cards - an electronic form of ticketing that uses pre-paid cards. The Oyster Cards feature NFC technology to enable customers to “tap-and-go” in order to pass through the barriers.
According to Wikipedia, the Oyster Card system will celebrate its tenth birthday this July. More than 40 million Oyster Cards have been distributed.
There is no doubt Oyster reduces friction in comparison to queuing to buy old-fashioned paper tickets. However, as The Evening Standard recently reported, more than £53m lies on dormant Oyster cards. Frankly I’m surprised it’s not a lot more.
Perhaps friction can change state?
But it’s not the registration and topping-up of Oyster Cards that I see as the biggest form of friction - my issue is with the actual mechanical barriers themselves. They require huge capital investment to install and significant operational cost to manage and maintain. The system is so inefficient that we have to pay people to stand by the barriers in order to manually let people through.
And yet, the smart phone on which you may be reading this blog knows:
- When you got on the train.
- When you got off the train.
- It knows who you bank with.
- And that you wish to pay the train/bus company.
- It could forward your payment directly to the train company without involving you in the transaction.
- You’d never have to think about buying a ticket ever again.
- Train companies could reduce their operating costs by billions …
- … which of course they would pass-on to their passengers.
I call this form of innovation ‘Predictive Intelligent Convenience’. It will enable us to leapfrog the barriers currently in our lives.
If you have ideas like this - if you find innovation exciting: form a team; develop your idea; apply to Wayra. Together we can change the world.
If you want your start-up to fly - cocoon yourself and perfect your pitch.
Following Wayra’s recent global-call for entrepreneurs we are currently in a period of pitching and selection. I’ve just returned from Munich where our esteemed Judges selected three new brilliant Projects.
Business accelerators and incubators take great care in selecting the start-ups they choose to work with.
Invariably, the selection process is ultimately determined by the quality of ‘the pitch’ delivered by the entrepreneurs.
And so, entrepreneurs pitch in order to get in to an accelerator - interestingly few entrepreneurs realise that when it’s their time to leave the accelerator, they’ll be pitching on their way out too - because most teams will need follow-on funding, and pitching is perceived to be the route to get it.
Inherently pitching is seen as fundamental to the survival of the fledgling business. Perhaps this is why most accelerators spend so much time on pitch training, preparation and practice.
I absolutely appreciate the importance of funding from the start-ups’ perspective. However I believe that currently in the entrepreneurial eco-system there is so much emphasis on raising funding that the true benefits of mastering ‘the perfect pitch’ are in danger of being lost - benefits that are not to be underestimated:
- The pitch is a momentous acid test for the entrepreneur. It drives out the definition of exactly what their business is (which for many is frustratingly elusive). What they stand for and what their point of differentiation is.
- Pitch perfection forces the start-up to articulate their business proposition in a clear, concise and compelling way. Getting to this point of distillation is often the most intensely challenging thing entrepreneurs undertake.
- I have witnessed start-ups move more in three days intensive pitch preparation than they did in the three months previously. Which is not to say that the previous three months were wasted - it’s often the pitch preparation that forces out the yield from all the prior work.
- The pitch is a catalyst through which the start-ups forthcoming priorities become crystal clear. And so it’s common to see start-ups accelerate as though they are on rocket-fuel in the months immediately post-pitch.
So, intensive pitch preparation can:
- Define the business
- Consolidate the effort invested thus far
- Provide a clear focus of the priorities ahead
… and that’s why I believe pitch preparation is vitally important. Unfortunately, for the entrepreneur these benefits sometimes demand the potential jeopardy inherent in pitching in order to drive out this result. It’s human nature.
The benefits are often of greater value than the funding that is more commonly associated with ‘pitching’. I recognise that without the funding perhaps the business wouldn’t exist - however we often hear feedback from investors that they are suffering from ‘pitch-fatigue’, which is why at Wayra we have many approaches to investor engagement.
Depending on the commitment of the entrepreneur, pitch preparation is the most powerful force of positive acceleration that a start-up can experience. It is the cocoon moment from which their business is set to fly.
At Wayra, we take great pride in the pitching ability of the teams that we accelerate. For us, it is massively important that when the start-ups leave Wayra, that they do so able to deliver a world-class pitch. I think we are good at delivering this.
Pitching, and the preparation necessary to do it well, are arguably an accelerator’s most important legacy.
And yet, despite this, I passionately believe pitch training is not the most important lesson that accelerators deliver - and I’ll post a blog about that soon.
I previously wrote about what makes a perfect pitch (4th Feb 2012) click here. And if you are soon to deliver your pitch - you have my very best wishes.
Entrepreneurs are like musicians - rockstars even. A ‘pop-pickers’ guide on how investors spot future chart-toppers.
Those that know me know that music is one of my biggest passions. And so I was thrilled to be invited to go to The Brits2013 last week - the UK’s gala award evening to celebrate its best music artists and performers. What I hadn’t expected is that the evening would combine my passion for entrepreneurialism too.
“The Brits” not only celebrates musical talent - it recognises the international commercial impact the music industry can also have, despite the apparent revolution that is happening within it.
Talent and commercial success - my two favouritist things. Which is why I love working at Wayra, the business accelerator that belongs to Telefonica. Our job is equally all about the celebration of talent: entrepreneurial digital talent.
At Wayra, we’re looking for the superstars that are driving the explosive emergence of a new era: the birth of the digital economy.
People often ask me, “what start-ups is Wayra looking for?”. To be clear, it is not me that chooses - the judges are an expert independent panel.
But if I were to try to define what we are looking for, in my view, in a word it’s: TALENT.
And having spoken to many investors (large and small), I’m sure that Wayra is not alone in this criteria.
If you are an entrepreneur, it’s not your idea that we’re tuned in to, it’s you. As Gonzalo (the global CEO of Wayra) says: “We can help great people with their ideas. The other way round is more difficult”.
I have always thought that (metaphorically speaking), there are BIG similarities between entrepreneurs and musicians. Both are gripped by:
- An uncompromising and overwhelming motivation to pursue their goal. Like a teenage ‘wanna-be’ sacrificing their education in order to ‘join a band’, there is no point in trying to discourage a true entrepreneur from the risk of resigning a safe corporate career. There is no stopping them. What they need is your help, not your dissuassion.
- An inherent love of the creative process in their work. A love of invention, discovery, iteration.
- An absolute requirement for tons of practice in order to get any good. No matter how good the natural talent, a perfect performance always requires lots of practice.
However, as investors we’re not listening to your musicianship. What investors look for is a solid track-record of proven demonstrable achievement.
And this, inconveniently, is something that no-one can fake. You’ve either been banging-in hit after hit, after hit, or you haven’t. And if you haven’t, that’s OK - there’s nothing to say that you are not able to do so. It’s just that in my experience it is hard to suddenly ‘start achieving’. I suspect over-achievement is pre-conditioned.
Perhaps this is why there is so much debate about whether true entrepreneurialism can be taught or learnt - whether entrepreneurs are born or can be made. And this is where I think the cross-over between entrepreneurs and musicians really lies - I think anyone can learn to play the guitar well if they practice enough. But some people are inherently better at it, learn faster, and play more naturally than others.
Equally, I think good investors develop a good ear, and therefore are able to quickly spot which entrepreneurs have the potential to be rockstars that will ‘go-platinum’ fastest. For certain, investment is as much an art as it is a science.
The tools entrepreneurs need to make a great pitch to potential investors.
Last week was a momentous week for the whole team in the London Wayra Academy - it was our Demo Day on Wednesday.
I am hugely proud that all the teams did a brilliant job of pitching their unique businesses to an amazing group of over 100 investors with the objective of securing future funding.
A while ago I started drafting a brief post on what makes a great pitch - initially I felt really strongly that two important ingredients are fundamental to a good investor pitch:
Passion, because the challenge of being a successful entrepreneur is nuts - it’s like waking up and saying you’re going to climb Everest. And so if anyone is equally nuts enough to invest their hard cash into your endeavour, they’ve got to believe that you’ve got what it takes to reach the summit.
Practice, because, one of the privileges of working at Wayra is that I get to hear pitches from entrepreneurs from all over the world. While some of the newest teams pitch brilliantly, it is an indisputable fact that the teams that joined Wayra at the beginning present more powerfully as direct consequence of literally having pitched many more times. There is no short-cut to pitching 1,000 times.
Two vital ingredients, both more important than the microphone and a clicker suggested by my photo. But now the presentations are completed, I think that success in pitching for investment requires much more. My broader thoughts are:
Preparation. It is so important that entrepreneurs obtain quality input from experts into crafting their pitch-deck. For example, feedback from experienced entrepreneurs and investors. And most importantly, entrepreneurs should actively seek and exchange constructive feedback with their peers. Which is why I believe the ‘Wayra-family’ is arguably the most valuable component of the acceleration programme. And why I’m also a fan of ‘Don’t Pitch Me Bro’.
Talent. Sounds obvious really - it also sounds uninfluenceable - but it is: practice helps; but more effective is who you choose to pitch. I find it remarkable that entrepreneurs often feel it is both their right and privilege to lead the pitch whether or not they are the best presenter. It is not incumbent on the founder to pitch, it is incumbent on the founder to ensure that the best pitch is delivered.
Authenticity. Never confuse talent with ‘slickness’ - slickness can actually camouflage talent. What investors want to see and hear is authenticity.
A good story. Your pitch needs a clear ‘beginning’, ‘middle’ and ‘end’. Fundamentally, the context - why are you doing this. It’s about demonstrating why your business is a good idea, and why you are overwhelmingly driven to pursue it. The combination of which needs to leave the unmistakable confidence that despite your ambition being (possibly) ridiculously impossible, there is real belief that you are actually going to conquer this mountain.
Evidence that you will harness the power of digital:
- To acquire customers in volume, and at pace - contagiously via viral marketing; effective use of social-media; and/or search/SEO compatability
- To use the accumulation of customer data effectively for the customers’ advantage
A willing audience. Take responsibility for driving attendees. And your behaviour will determine how ‘willing’ they are. Smile; use humour appropriately; establish rapport.
Know your numbers. Opinion is divided on the validity of financial projections in pitches. However, know your numbers (inside out and backwards).
“Up-and-to-the-right-graph” - feedback from one of the investors advised that this is currently hot in the US - a slide/graph that evidences demonstrable quantifiable momentum - whether that is financial; registrations; downloads etc etc. It not only evidences traction, it also clearly illustrates the key focus of the CEO. It doesn’t matter if the stats are ‘usage’ related (and not financial) - if there is traction then investors will believe the revenue will follow.
Talk about your team, but not for too long. In one sentence, what makes you special.
Make the right request - especially if you’re asking for investment. The amount of money that you are looking to raise is an especially important issue - and so I will write a separate post on this specifically.
Happy New Year. What are your New Year resolutions for you and your business?
Today is New Year’s Eve - people tend to love or hate it. Either way, it is a natural time to reflect; review; adjust; and plan.
From my vantage point at Wayra I am lucky to work with the amazingly talented entrepreneurs in the Wayra Academies. What sets them apart is their tendency to impressively ‘get-on-with-it” rather than just being good at talking about it.
If you possess a passion for business, it does not matter what stage you are at - if you want the next year to be a spectacular one for your venture, the most important thing is to stop talking about it and start doing.
Which is why my friend’s book is so important (and why it’s a best seller): Stop Talking Start Doing by the wonderful Shaa Wasmund and Richard Newton.
Shaa and I share a passion for entrepreneurial success. We share a purpose to be helpful, especially for those trying to start and/or grow a business.
I think Shaa’s latest book is particularly helpful. I think it is incredibly easy for people to spectate the endeavours of entrepreneurs and offer advice. But I think it is incredibly difficult if you are an entrepreneur and you find yourself stuck. Books like this can be especially good at identifying the common obstacles that annoyingly get in the way of entrepreneurial success. They can also be a helpful source of inspiration for the elimination of such obstacles.
But being stuck is a bit like any vice, first you have to recognise and acknowledge that there’s a problem - then you can do something about it.
If you are in the fortunate position of not having such a barrier to overcome, then what exactly are you waiting for? Tomorrow is the start of a whole New Year. Go on, get on with it.
And if you really want to accelerate your digital start-up, Wayra will potentially give you an investment of €40,000, free office accommodation, coaching and mentoring. Wayra’s call for applications is currently open in Barcelona, Bogotá, Bratislava, Buenos Aires, Dublín, London, Madrid, Munich, Prague, São Paulo, Santiago de Chile. But hurry, the closing date for applications is 21 January 2013.