Do I need money to build a business ?

I often see this question asked in forums, and here is a “lean” NO answer that hopefully will help to keep startup costs down.

  1. You need a great idea to solve a problem that everyone else just moans about.
  2. You need a lean way to get to your marketplace and prove people are willing to pay for the thing you have created. The internet now provides many and varied tools to use, of course the skill is in navigating the huge choice and selecting which work best for you.
  3. You need to take your learning from your mistakes on board, and be willing both to share your depth of knowledge and be agile in changing direction when you need to.
  4. Good ethics take time to acquire, and need to be shown off through actions, as well as claimed through words. Look at those in or near your marketplace with a strong reputation. What do they do? How could you do that?
  5. You can start basic marketing using social media for not very much at all. If you can find a “good crowd” who will guide you, occasionally rap you over the knuckles, and point you towards good practice, you can start telling the world what you do, and why people should work with you. You are aiming to build your brand so people absolutely know what you do, and you spring to mind immediately when they are in conversation with others as their “go to solution” for whatever the problem is.
  6. By using “social sales” techniques, you can avoid the hard sell that everyone dreads, especially in UK market places. This means engaging in dialogue, trying to find out where the other person is going, and whether you can help, either directly or through your network. You won’t sell a lot in one to one dialogue, you are aiming mainly to build relationships and earn the right to be recommended.
  7. You need to be able to explain to potential partners clearly, concisely and persuasively why your idea works, thinking about how they win from working with you, so that you can build a team who can help you bring your idea to fruition.
  8. You need to solve a problem more cost effectively than the others in your marketplace, and do so in a sustainable, systematic and long term way, perhaps completely redefining how people approach solutions to particular problems.
  9. You need to be able to tell large numbers of people in one go, building a credible and ethical brand that others believe in. Your aim is to be someone your audiences look to for thought leadership and innovation in your area of expertise.
  10. By this point you should have a working business, having made many difficult decisions and changes of course along the way. If you now feel you can grow your business further, only now is the time to look for investment money. Match investment to clear objectives about how and why you will grow your business, who you need to bring in to do so, and on what terms. By now, you will have proved your resourcefulness to any potential investor, and they will have far fewer fears about investing their own hard earned money in you.
Voila ! Ten easy to say but hard to do steps, taking you towards innovation and enterprise !
And you might be surprised at the success stories coming from people borrowing quite small amounts eg on credit card to start their business. Bill Gates famously started Microsoft in a garage in the garden.
Yes, building a business takes time and effort, but then time is money after all !!

The FT Transformational Conference – Transforming Cities

On 12th June 2014, Kit Malthouse, Deputy Mayor of London for Enterprise,  was one of the panel guests attending the morning session at the FT/IPC inaugural meeting to assess Business Transformation in the UK.

This particular session wanted to look at how cities and their local businesses need to respond to the challenges of the 21st century.

Introductions – Kit’s Plans for London
During preliminary introductions, Mr Malthouse outlined the London Strategy for City Transformation in 4 parts:

1) Making London’s transport systems more effective
2) “Self-contained” households regarding energy, consumption, waste
.                Note – “Self contained” (sic) meaning self-sustaining
3) Improving collaboration with London’s social and business communities
4) Making the environment greener and cleaner

Mr Malthouse also alluded to an academic body contributing towards overall city strategy, but chose not to elaborate on the body or who was in it.

Panel Questions – Engaging Community
After the introductions, two questions from the audience were aimed at understanding how authorities get better at involving the local populous in identifying and implementing change.

One of these referred to the recent Chinese physical business park that solely focuses on idea generation and intellectual property (IP), and the questioner asked how to get passionate Brits involved from the creative ideas perspective, and tieing in to a more open agenda for change.

Guillermo Dietrich, Head of Transport, Buenos Aires
Mr Dietrich offered that it required significant education to achieve change, and the consultation process often slowed down the pace of change possible.

He also mentioned that it was hard to appease different factions within communities, and that some conflict management and horse trading was inevitable.

Summarising this component, he stated no change was possible without the assent of the populous.

Mr Dietrich also said it was important to involve the business community, in that the populous could better believe that thare was no political axe being ground, and also that changes would have a better chance at longevity and sustainability.

His final point was that population density makes a big difference in terms of being able to apply co-ordination. Very dense populations, he opined, are much harder to penetrate and make an impact.

Pedro Pires de Miranda, Corporate Vice President and Head of Global Center of Competence Cities, Siemens
Mr Pires de Miranda suggested that cities are very involved in and at the forefront of a number of global issues:

1) Net population issues – growth in the East, shrinkage in Europe
2) Ageing populations – how to provide services for changing demographics
3) Climate – how to ensure clean and healthy living environments
4) Resources – how to continue providing services with finite resources

In cities he identified two key issues for conference, being transport systems and keeping cities clean and efficient through low carbon emissions.

It was heartening to hear that there are clear visions and appreciations at a high level of the issues to be tackled. Of course, Siemens are heavily involved in city infrastructure projects, so this was doubly the case, given Mr Pires de Miranda’s role.

Kit Malthouse, Deputy Mayor of London
Interjecting a little, Mr Malthouse mentioned Talk London in relation to community participation, which is most often thought of as a Radio service, but is now attracting a small audience online.

Later Mr Malthouse was asked why this service had such a low profile, but he wasn’t sure why this would be.

(Ed – So come on Londoners, apparently the Talk London door is open, let’s push and see what happens.)

Mr Malthouse also mentioned the usage the GLA are making of Big Data. There are many transport Apps now helping Londoners commute across their busy lives, and crime statistics are now also helping the police with some leading edge predictive policing and helping communities monitor local crime levels and hot spots.

A Comparison with Startup Ecosystems
In 2013, Dave McClure, of US Startup incubator Startup 500, produced a great slide show explaining a startup ecosystem, and including this specific slide:

Startup Ecosystem

Primarily majoring from the more mature and established US perspective, the comparisons are interesting.

We can perhaps add two factors from a city transformation perspective: Business & Social Communities can be added to the People component, and Big Data should be added to the Product component.

Shell Pamphlet: New Lenses on Future Cities
This topic can also be viewed against a knowledge packed pamphlet from Shell, with this fascinating graphic embedded on Page 7, and many more besides:

Urban Density & Transport Related Energy

The full pamphlet can be accessed online by clicking here.

Summarising one key point, transport is a key global issue for every city, no matter the categorisation. Again, see the Shell pamphlet for more on the types of city, and some global examples.

Two Final Questions – But No Time to Discuss Virtual Meetings
Time being finite, the panel also fielded two final audience questions, which focused on the role of buses in dense urban conurbations and the need for city waste to reduce it’s carbon footprint.

Bus & Cycle Solutions
The panel were all of the opinion that both have a critical role to play in cities, and Mr Dietrich in particular noted that cycles had a significant impact within his role as Head of Transport in Buenos Aires.

All panellists agreed that bus companies are now all moving gradually towards electric motor system buses, with the intention of reducing carbon footprints.

However, while cycles and buses feature heavily in environmental solutions to urban pollution issues, the move toward virtual connections and meetings as a key strategy in reducing pollution and carbon footprint was not covered.

This was primarily an omission of time pressure in the rather compact one hour slot, rather than intention, but it’s a subject that also merits a key place on the agenda.

Waste Solutions
The questioner here asked about plans to make waste less of an impact on carbon footprints, especially where waste has to be transported a long way outside city centres, and then the recycled materials have to be brought back in again.

Here, Mr Malthouse revisited his idea about the “self contained” (sic) house, suggesting that we need to have an effective way of taking waste to the bottom of the garden, “zapping it”, and being able to add the energy to our local energy networks.

We should mention here that Mr Malthouse lists energy solutions among his business interests, so it is not surprising he can be passionate and knowledgeable on the subject and would wish to try to engage in some public education on the subject.

Conclusion
This was a fascinating first session to the conference, and perhaps worthy of more time as a subject just to itself.

This correspondent hopes the conference will reappear next year, and that FT Live will kindly invite him again, as the public need to know more about and engage with these kinds of initiatives.

#UK: #LocalCouncils in Desperate Need of #Innovation

Councils need some serious innovation given the budget constraints they now need to adhere to. They need this to deliver the same quality in services, but at a much lower cost overhead.

How are councils reaching out to local community service providers through “virtual supply chain communities” so as to provide the “big society” services we know we need?

Examples include:

Job Centres – 21st C business skill training for able applicants
Mobile NHS – For the less mobile citizens in our communities
Stopping Nay Sayers – Council “blockers” who prevent innovation
Small Businesses – Better support to boost growth rates
School Disruption – Helping stressed teens get back on track
Internet Education – Helping teachers guide, not parrot

There are plenty more examples, but as yet no real engagement or openness across local business communities to ask them how they would solve local public service issues.

If councils could be more open with their development plans, say by having them openly on social media, then local businesses would have the opportunity to offer relevant proposed solutions.

The increase in transparency would answer several questions about how well councils spend tax payers money, and start to expose and get rid of council place fillers and nay sayers.

The whole process would be far more dynamic and immediate, and able to respond real time to emerging events, rather than sit on council agendas for ages waiting in turn.

Of course no one likes change, especially if they didn’t suggest it themselves. But over time, a case could be made for the positives as to why this could be a constructive, sustainable and worthwhile move, and also ground breaking in reputation and earning potential for those involved.

Happy to explain or discuss more as needed.

Link

The FT Transformational Conference

The FT Transformational Conference

The idea behind this conference is to understand, city by city, who is leading transformational change.

Perhaps city leaderships also need to set out a vision for the change still needed. Here are some suggestions for at least the “Smart Living” component, as I do not have the scientific qualifications to comment much on environmental objectives:

1) Wealthy to commit to directly helping the unemployed – a moral responsibility
2) Ideas capture and management, building an IP development centre – the Chinese have a head start
3) Understanding emerging and local skill strengths and weaknesses – Australians give us a lead here
4) Capitalise on UK engineering and design strengths – UK commerce and UK universities to “bridge the gap”
5) Community to foster citizen participation – build the means to socially engage, guide and reward local contributors
6) Startups need affordable, results driven advice – an infrastructure that supports learning through others’ mistakes

As suggested in the brief, items 1 and 5 are social, the remainder are to do with efficiency.

I hope to ask FT Live to consider asking these questions as part of the morning session.

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CITE – UK Innovation in Engineering

CITE - UK Innovation in Engineering

Some good firms at CITE, all that I spoke to innovating and showing the way forward:

www.platipus-anchors.com

Platipus – A family firm providing water drainage solutions: landslide prevention, stabilising vineyard water levels, shoring up wall structures eg bridges and London Underground, stabilising electricity pylons. Employing females? Applicants accepted on attitude as well as skills, full training provided. But a lack of female applicants – are universities attracting sufficient numbers of women?

www.batt.co.uk

BattCables: A cable importer and distributor, selling designated lengths to cable installers in conurbations, eg city office blocks, from mains to office desk. Female employment is on the rise, perhaps now 80:20, but a lady representative said “the best opportunities for females are in marketing and sales”.

www.tencate.com

TenCate: A new synthetic underlay for rail track: better durability, reducing track maintenance overheads. Employment of female consultants has risen from 5-10% years ago, now standing at better than 30%.

www.caci.co.uk

CACI: Smart graphics to show employee productivity, still to discuss the advocacy of training for those employees who are struggling. Other uses included showing managers where whole team productivity is struggling, and geographic hot spots identifying “unusual behaviour”.

www.webro.com

Webro: New splicing kit, manual not powered, 12% of the cost and no downturn in operational execution. Recent female employment included two females, one in marketing one in sales. Still no great technical skills among women. They experienced considerable overheads and costs employing these personnel, and are as yet to encounter the usual recruitment agency pitfalls, including tick box recruitment and the very rare ability to pick on positive attitude rather than simply skills.

www.brokk.com/uk

BROKK: Radio controlled demolition machines: significant risk reduction in risky conditions, including construction on the Channel Tunnel.

www.swanngroupltd.com

Swann Engineering: A British firm, making standard and bespoke telephone masts and high level tech fixings. They are taking back assessment and replacement of some less robust masts produced cheaply in Europe when the rush to provide coverage began. On employment, they are collaborating with Southampton University, including student sponsorship, and this includes one female currently under the apprenticeship scheme. One of Swann’s issues continues to be ambivalent NIMBY’s: avid mobile users but keen to avoid telephone masts in their locality, who thereby disrupt the planning and installation processes needed to change foundations or exceed the 15m “standard” height limit.

www.ntsps.com

NTS Premier Services: They train about 25 people a week through one of their service provisions to go into National Rail as effective employees. This includes Health & Safety, which on a railway service is both critical and extensive, and also general education about some of the complexities staff are likely to encounter. Also a responsible employer, prepared to give staff a chance to shine despite previous mistakes. Women are gradually coming into the rail workforce, and NTS Premier staff even encourage their own family to join up and get a job “on the rail”.

www.lightgreenpower.co.uk

Light Green Power: A power unit 70% lighter than it’s diesel equivalent. A little more expensive, taking the diesel paraphernalia into account, and slightly more on running costs if the cost of diesel stays static. On man power though, only needs 2 to deploy, as opposed to 6, a significant saving. Some light here on female employment: installation’s often a hot, smelly job, which takes a special kind of woman to like!

www.dwguk.com

DWG UK: Among other products, they provide a fast fix resin that runs into concrete joints and fixes the concrete, even in hair line fractures. Also great for fixing railway sleepers and road surfaces.

Besides these, there are many other suppliers to the telecoms and rail and road and construction industries. So go along tomorrow, as the 22nd May 2014 is the last day.

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Activating the Future – A Way Forward Out of Chronic Stress Situations

Activating the Future - A Way Forward Out of Chronic Stress Situations

The UK is desperately short of resources to help adults and teens with many stressful situations.

Parents of teenage school kids know this only too well, and many are desperate for resources to help them cope with young people’s growing appreciation of the complexity of the world around them.

And of course there are adults also struggling with their own issues who also need support.

What is quite often helpful is a pressure valve, a place to talk with others and let off steam, and actually some non-expert support. Sadly at the same time, life continues to becomes ever busier and more complex, and right now we need to ease pressure on a community support system that is creaking at the seams with more people needing support, and a diminishing pot of funding.

And we do now have the social media tools to do this more easily, and provide a relief resource to over stretched public services. But what we need is the leadership and trust to allow this to be done differently.

Nigel Lawson and the Royal Society

88thmountain:

#UK: Nigel Lawson, his #ClimateChange advisers, and the Royal Society

Originally posted on Wotts Up With That Blog:

Apparently Nigel Lawson, Chairman of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, met with members of the Royal Society to discuss climate science and climate policy. Nigel Lawson has reported on aspects of the meeting in a Spectator article and is implying that – at the insistence of the Royal Society – the details of what was discussed remain secret. The article, however, actually says that the Royal Society insisted that there be no press present, which is not quite the same as insisting that the details of the meeting remain secret, but maybe they did insist on that too.

According to Lawson’s article the meeting was motivated by an exchanged between Nigel Lawson and Paul Nurse (president of the Royal Society) in which Paul Nurse apparently said (wrt Nigel Lawson)

I am not sure you are receiving the best advice, and I would be very happy to put you in…

View original 569 more words

Can Entrepreneurs be “Educated” ?

This question is one that CEOs across the globe ask themselves with increasing frequency. And perhaps something VCs and early stage entrepreneurs also need to ask themselves. Later on, some entrepreneurs begin to admit they could have used some good “early stage advice”.

Why does this continue to be the case?

Looking at their nature, entrepreneurs are often maverick, wilful, impatient, willing to cut corners, leaders rather than followers. Willing to break rules and remake them, upset people and apologise, chase impossible dreams, rather than suffer the inadequacy and bureaucracy often inherent in rules laid down by others. Willing to innovate first and achieve solid consistency second.

In the corporate world run by CEOs, this behaviour is a world away from the 9-5 obedience that many lower level managers seek, often to “make their life easier”, and offering the easy comfort and stability that consistency allows.

But entrepreneurialism is increasingly a behaviour that CEOs know they need, to meet challenges in the world of constant innovation and rapid product life cycles.

In the startup world, this type of dynamic behaviour can work, indeed is necessary to drive progress, but also has high risk probabilities of failure if left in isolation and without support. Why is this?

But first we must ask can “entrepreneurs” subjugate their nature and instincts to be “educated”, and find a balance between maverick belief and steady nurtured growth. And why is this beneficial for all concerned?

Firstly we need to de-construct some terminology. While no one objects to terms such as life long learning, or business growth, “education” is seen to be something we do before we start work. Such rigid distinctions are ones we grow up with, and which too often persist insidiously and counter-productively well into and through adult life.

But actually the learning principals of business growth and education are one and the same. “Education” is also a component one of the eight success factors for entrepreneurs, using a short cut term here, Creativity.

And here we need to examine what we mean by creativity, because creativity can come from different sources.

Let’s take the example of Michelangelo.

Did he come up with revolutionary art forms, and be a multi-skilled sculptor, painter architect and engineer, without taking advice from those who had gone before him, or indeed even his peers of the day? And then taking each discipline the next step?

Whilst the great book “The Agony and the Ecstasy” can only be an assessment of how MicehlAngelo came by his skills, it’s certainly believable, and was extensively researched as to the historic components about the people involved, the places visited, and the developments and progress made.

And there are lessons here for CEOs and entrepreneurs alike. Successive popes and mentors employed MichelAngelo, and found him to be stubborn, wilful, but at the same time brilliant, because he refused to subjugate his principles to theirs. From the entrepreneur perspective, the popes and mentors were often inconstant masters, prone to changing their mind and being awkward. But their benefactoral largesse and resources often helped MichelAngelo grow, learn and develop his skills still further.

This is a clear illustration of what can happen if even the most brilliant of innovators allows themselves access to and influence by the learning available from the “giants that went before”. Of course not everyone is Michelangelo, but by how much would business growth be improved if entrepreneurs adopted his principles regarding his own growth?

For the entrepreneur, there is a clear risk to quality if business lessons from the past are not learned, regardless of how innovative new products might be. This lack of “preparation” is all too visible to those VCs and angels who are experienced in business, and a disincentive for them to get involved if they know they have someone who still needs to acquire “nuanced business skills”.

So how does the above challenge some modern fallacies, that have become accepted in 2013 as “just the way it is” ?

Entrepreneurs are given the idea, sometimes even from VC soundbites, that they must have the drive to build their business themselves. And that is all well and good.

Unless that translates into, “and you shouldn’t ever take advice from others” while building a startup. Or that “a good team can’t build a better product” than the entrepreneur on his or her own.

Of equal horror are some stories about VCs who insist on doing things “their way”. This is also a situation which bodes badly for future success.

Only once they have built their first successful startup do entrepreneurs begin to talk retrospectively about a need in the early stages for “good business advice”. And we really owe it to ourselves to explore this belated wisdom and establish common components that we can all adopt on our own growth paths.

With the full benefit of hindsight, some entrepreneurs even champion the need for support for startups, whilst still acknowledging the challenge of how this can be provided affordably and effectively, promoting growth not hindering it.

Yes, in this limited article, we have only looked at one component of being an entrepreneur.

But these and other factors regularly suggest that, yes, entrepreneurs can be educated, and that they would improve their prospects of success considerably by adopting a life long learning and listening approach to building and growing start up businesses.

Feedback is welcome !!

How Long Before Mobile Community Catches Up With Real Life Community ?

Attached is a video clip of Salim Ali of LoYakk, discussing the development  of the online community.

One of the major points he makes are that communities are not going away.

But he also points out that online communities still have some way to go to match real life communities.

How Real Life Communities Work
In real life, Salim says, communities are essential to human happiness, pervasive in that they continue to spring up and flourish even in hostile circumstances, and deliver value in that they deliver employment opportunities.

Online communities can be quite good at the first, ok on the second depending on leadership, but not usually that effective in generating economic activity.

Salim explains that community members roughly follow the 90:9:1 ratio. The majority are passive, a few are more active, and a very small number are highly active, or vocal, as Salim describes it.

How Does Mobile Community Differ ?
Salim has had significant experience “engaging” mobile communities, even before LoYakk, and so has begun to understand the differences between online and real life.

Not quite using his words per se, we can look at community relationships as being forged for “a reason”, “a season” or for life, mindful that human beings are complex, and we belong to multiple communities in different ways, without ever consciously realising this so naturally do we do it.

Flash mobile communities coming together at events can, in Salim’s terms, be “temporal” at a specific location for a short duration of time, be forged for a specific reason, the “context” of the event, with attendance driven by underlying audience interest, often a lifelong or “anchor” passion.

And there we have season, reason and life all together.

Benefits & Drawbacks
So here we have audiences that are firing on all three cylinders: they’ve bought the temporal, liked the context and are often driven by underlying life passions. These are highly engaged audiences, rather more likely to want to forge relationships, support causes, and look for and engage in economic activity.

Salim knows though that such communities are volatile, noisy and messy, hard to make sense of, even more so online than in real life.

It was understanding this environment that drove Salim to found LoYakk, looking to reduce eg event “noise” levels and enable event attendees to build “signal” relationships and drive engagement levels higher.

The LoYakk service is what he calls “Mobile Community on Demand” (MCoD)

Does MCoD Mean We Can Drive Economic Growth ?
So what can we conclude?

Communities aren’t going away, and we are getting ever better at improving signal to noise ratio, which we know is essential on the ever-noisier internet.

Surely this can only be good for improving economic activity levels available to us, through connecting online and supporting the oft-talked about but still elusive knowledge economy.

Time will tell, and as ever we depend on our explorers and risk takers to forge new paths and understandings. But this observer believes there is surely some enhanced potential there for higher engagement levels, and therefore enhanced possibility for economic activity among individuals who are geared for growth.

Peter Jones
Opportunity Creator | Innovator
Blue Oyster Business Growth
about.me/pmcjones

Why UK Universities Must Tear Down Their Ivory Towers

As an experienced business adviser, and having worked for some twenty years in blue chip UK corporates, I know how important it is in business to connect with the world around us.

And I’m also very focused on why the UK doesn’t perform as well as the US, in terms of getting start ups from concept, through seed, and into mainstream business, or crossing the chasm as it’s known.

Doing some research, I discover that today, all mainstream US universities are engaged in quite high levels of business investment. In the UK, that’s restricted to only 4 universities, mainly the usual suspects, of course.

The other feature I note from first hand enquiries is that some universities are very dismissive about “outside knowledge”. They seem to feel that they know best. This has a number of damaging effects.

Firstly the world changes very rapidly today. We see the advance of social media on many fronts: social enterprise, social capital, social recruiting, social selling. How can UK universities keep up with the real world if they stick to an insular “we know best” approach ?

Secondly, students graduating from university need to be better prepared for the real world. In the UK, we know that employers constantly bemoan the need to “re-train” graduates in real world skills.

Yes, universities are very good at analysing business, and pulling out trends that businesses would do well to heed. But this analysis is often three years or more out of date. So how can graduates be ready to hit the ground running given such a constant broil of change.

And too many UK universities still haven’t even really cottoned on to one of the biggest trends coming out of social media, the desire to meet and talk on topics of mutual interest. And particularly where this might involve customers !!

These can be opportunities to meet the local community, business or civic, and find out what business or civic needs are. Such meetings might help highlight the fact that engineering graduates are in short supply in the UK. Ridiculously, this can be in the same city that an engineering university resides.

The other benefit from integrating better with the outside world is the feedback startups can get. Ideas may or may not be business worthy, but it’s very important to understand the market that any start up proposes to enter, and the more feedback a founder can get from experienced business people, principally about markets and customer buying behaviour, the better.

So UK universities had better realise the bubble they are creating, about the level of their own ability to prepare students for business, either as a start up or as a corporate citizen, is, like all bubbles, a dangerous thing for all participants to believe.

The first step to puncturing this UK bubble is to tear down the ivory walls, eat a little humble pie, and find local business people who can connect them with modern day skills, activities, tools and techniques.