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!”
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.