Category Archives: Business Growth

#B2B #Opportunity for 6 stand #sponsors to mass-market to 25,000 eyes in Olympia, #London

Opportunity for 6 stand sponsors to market to 25,000 eyes in Olympia, London. Two days: November 27th and 28th.

We are happy to field passer by enquiries and forward them on to you, or to have you on the stand for you to do your own marketing.
If not for you, then tell your networks, earn some social credit.

If interested in sponsoring, visit this form to log your details and book a slot, first come first served.

But come see us anyway!

Simple Direct Mail Using Google Plus

Here is something you could do for clients as part of your services:

Simple Direct Mailing using Gmail

In G+ & Gmail, perhaps using Rapportive, circle each strong contact made;
Use both niche and generic circles to provide a unique profile;
Select Contacts in Google Gmail;
Now select the top level Circles;
Add key contacts from the displayed list to a new circle, eg Mailing List;
Once complete, select the new circle Mailing List;
Click on the Google Groups button;
In your Gmail Compose, enter Mailing List in the Bcc option;
To add new contacts, revisit Circles, select contacts, click Google Groups

Voila – Simple Direct Mailing using Gmail

The Start Up Process Explained …

Every business development project needs to be able to successfully take on board and utilise at least the following components, and I’ll give a more detailed explanation following.

While I wanted to give an end-to-end view of contribution and activity, this can also serve as a specific potential agenda, or perhaps menu to choose from, for further discussion with personal contacts:

1. Every business model depends on the idea, and the intended audience

2. Predicting the brand new carries a degree of uncertainty, but it can be managed

3. In every developing and operating business, we need continually to ask the right questions

4. In order to maximise chances of success, we need to bring the right people to the party

5. The customer discovery process also depends on the starting point of owners and founders

6. User experience is critical, a poorly designed product can totally invalidate a brilliant idea

7. It’s important to select a business model that fits closely in terms of the market entry plan

8. If going down the PR route, it’s important to be talking about a working and successful product

9. Even after development, the process of getting product in front of audience is not easy 

10. The product board need to work hard to reward “team members” flexibly and respectfully

11. For a working product, the board may wish to recoup and sell on to a new investor team

And here’s some detail about what I bring to these components:

1. The idea and the audience

Too many owners invest a lot of time and money in a product before considering whether the target audience likes the idea or not.

It is well known in startup circles that ideas often change direction substantially, and may find completely different audiences than they originally envisaged. Twitter is one such example.

So I bring a very strong focus and my own development processes to make sure that the current target audience does indeed like the product, or we can find one that does, and that they are willing to invest either time or money in “solving real world problems”.

2. Predicting the brand new

Predicting the brand new is pretty difficult. No one had ever seen the like of Facebook, so the chances of getting the business projections wrong were quite high.

Nevertheless, the corporate world has been making projections for many years, and I was party to those on a number of occasions at levels of influence. I have also spent 30 years in innovation, starting as a tech developer, then a business process designer, then a project manager. This work included the successful world first in 1997, for BTCellnet now O2, bank accounts and credit card balance delivered to mobile phones via text messages.

Brand new also needs deft risk management, and again I have in-depth experience from my project portfolio.

3. Asking the right questions

As an effective CEO of a micro company, we must always be vigilant and constantly checking either development or operations.

What is working and what isn’t? If not, why not? What are the options for doing things differently?

Being a corporate project manager is good preparation for this type of role, since it requires the co-ordination of tasks and business function from different disciplines, and enough understanding of each to be able to direct proceedings and troubleshoot without necessarily needing to be a niche expert in all of them.

4. Finding the right people

With modern technologies, Twitter being a great tool in this respect, it is now much easier to find people who are on their second or third startup. And people are now so much more willing to meet and chat.

Also those who fit nicely into the Hipster, Hacker or Hustler labels. Over the past few years I have met a wide variety of people, both start up business owners, tech developers and investors, and know the startup marketplace well enough now to know what each needs from the other.

More than ever, bringing the right people to a business venture is critical, be they partners, suppliers, or longer term, employees. So is the filtering process we need, to make sure we attract people who are both willing and adaptable, who bring relevant skills, and who will commit to the cause in a way we are happy with.

5. Discovering Customers

I have just held a customer discovery workshop in London, with about 8 startups and business owners.

Again, it is key for founders and co-founders to be asking the right questions, and trying to find audience members who fit a profile, and can provide feedback about what works, what doesn’t, and what is compelling enough to compete with all other possible products that customer needs and wants.

It’s also key to understand our own skill bases. We may have a marketing background, or PR, but not understand the financial components. It’s also possible to be in PR and not understand digital marketing that well. And this is hardly surprising, given the depth and niche skills that digital anything often needs.

So the customer discovery process is different for every startup founder.

6. Designing Great UX – (User Experience) – LMcC

A really great idea can be killed by a poorly designed product or service.

An under performing website, scratchy graphics, a poor process flow and data management, too many bells and whistles, all these can contribute to users deciding to switch elsewhere rather than persevere through to reach the benefits.

I have in my contacts someone who really focuses on user experience, who has just held his first expo down on the south coast. By the look and feel of the stories he has been able to tell, this was one heck of an event.

7. Selecting the Business Model & Personnel – OS/MS/PJai/SN
Here, gaining access to experience really counts. 

Using my own “search and selection” techniques and skills, I already have two contacts who are onto their third start up. 

The first is a serial entrepreneur in the financial space, the second is now offering umbrella Hipster, Hacker, Hustler services in the UK. And I’ve just met a third such entrepreneur, who can really pick out the commercial components of a product.

Each brings a different quality to the process of founding and growing a business.

And I should note the ability to introduce Hacker (Tech) services can be very useful in a one-man band scenario from a risk management perspective. It’s always prudent to have back up, or indeed additional resource, should that lone resource be distracted, fall ill, or simply lose impetus for any of the reasons that make us humans as complex as we are.

Yet another contact has a business that has attracted thousands of users, and is just about to start offering space to advertisers to monetise the business.

The ability to find advice and choose a relevant business model that can provide a useful framework for each startup really matters.

It is certainly the case here, where one business model isn’t quite right, that further research can be done, using a proper brief, and using the same search and selection techniques. The aim is that it is then possible, through finding the “right people”, to find a business model example that gives a better base for a startup according to its unique business idea components.

The intention here is to reduce, by a substantial amount, the “unknown unknowns”, and bring more confidence to planning and development processes.

Starting out with the wrong business model can be catastrophic, or at worst consume huge resources in terms of time and money with little to show for it.

8. Harnessing PR – SN

If need be, one of my contacts is a PR expert, and could help by giving some advice where this is relevant, and especially if the product has been built, is live, and is attracting sample audiences and feedback.

9. Getting Product to Audiences – JC

Of course PR can be a one shot opportunity, and digital marketing offers the ability to get product to audiences in a much more targeted way.

Finding a good marketer can be something of a holy grail, and the quest to find marketers who can walk the walk, and provide the unusual blend of CMO/CTO skills needed can be long and at times fruitless.

Fortunately, I have already traveled that path, and now have someone who again is onto their third startup, and takes no prisoners when it comes to businesses who have not conducted customer discovery with sufficient depth. This is a good combination in a partner, I submit.

10. Flexible Resourcing
I’ve talked a great deal here about the critical skills other people bring.

Of course, to entice them to do this, we need to offer rewards that will engage them up front and then keep them engaged.

So we may need to talk about equity share, we may need to talk about deferred payments once a revenue stream has been established, we may need to talk about commission payments for direct revenue generation services.

Some may even give their help freely! But we should not be seeking this, we must in all cases seek to respect and reward those we work with in line with their wishes and needs.

In all cases we need to make sure with prospective partners that we can access and foster the true spirit of collaboration.

On top of these considerations, CEOs need to decide whether their CEO skills co-ordinating across business functions and knowing enough about each are adequate and sufficient.

A thought could be that perhaps occasional mentoring may be of some help.

Depending on time and work life balance factors, CEOs might also consider bringing in, as needed, project management support, say where their own time is actually bespoke elsewhere for 90% plus of their efforts, or they have to step away from a business for family reasons.

Another point of contact for a board is where a startup is struggling, and the investor is not content to just throw away thousands of pounds. Some experienced troubleshooting to see where the core issues lie could be instructive and illuminating, and help start turning the business round. Is it possible to pivot and find a better place for the startup? As noted variously, Twitter themselves had to go through that pivoting process.

Finally when constructing a board, a CEO has to decide whether it is useful to have a team of different skill bases who provide different aspects to the business, and subjectively what that is or could be worth to the business.

11. Repaying Investment – MS

It is a natural thing for entrepreneurs, and particularly in the UK, it seems, to get to a burn out stage. Enough, they say, I need a rest, and then decide on a change of direction. 

Building a startup is a high energy, high risk, but potentially high reward activity, and not for the faint-hearted or deluded. Hard headed pragmatism is key to succeeding.

Especially where financial investment is concerned, investors may at some stage want to cash their chips in, and recoup on their “investment”, and there can be many reasons for this.

As well as my own search and selection techniques, one of my contacts is offering the ROI section as part of his business model, but equally it is entirely possible to find new investors through new and emerging techniques to do so.

The plus side of a one-stop shop is that the whole process, from ideation, through tech build, to recouping investment, is under one roof, is integrated and not piecemeal, and the owner has proved he can go though the process in two or three different market places.

The downside is lack of freedom to engage talented business people who may bring skills that are missing to the overall piece. The “partnership” with my colleague is a mutually exclusive and binding one, and he has his own teams who bring their own skills to each initiative.

So this is another key decision each entrepreneur and investor team must make.

To those who say entrepreneurs are born, not made? I say look again, and consider why it takes so long to produce a successful business.

Yes, some are lucky, but finding the same luck twice is a huge gamble, and a risk that almost certainly won’t pay off. It still takes time and effort to invest in understanding what makes a business work and why.

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 !!

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

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.

#UK: New “employee-shareholder” #employment status – a pro-risk move

The proposal for a third type of employment status has been playing a game of ping-pong back and forth between the lower and upper parliaments in the UK.

Risk Versus Fairness
At stake has been the protection of employment status and rewarding risk for those joining a new Start Up, most likely in the Technology sector, with much debate aimed at preventing exploitation by unscrupulous employers.

Start Ups are intrinsically risky, and the UK is traditionally highly risk averse. So this bill seeks to change a fundamental characteristic of the British way of life. Namely to encourage risk taking, while retaining “British fairness”, the latter being a factor which has made and still makes UK law the “best in the world”.

Employer Scruples & Moral Responsibility
Now there is still an implied moral responsibility on employers to reward the risk taken by employee-shareholders in as short a time as possible.

Any employer taking this type of employment contract beyond 18 moths, and certainly 2 years, risks being seen as unscrupulous. Social media now provides an unparalleled platform for comment, and it is highly likely that unscrupulous practice would soon become visible.

Product Driven Start Up Boom ?
Equally, there is a pressure for large employers to produce new products quickly and effectively, and the ability to do so could well be a critical measure of how well companies compete in a global marketplace.

It may well be that this new legal status encourages larger UK companies and UK business angels to diversify more, and set up more new companies on a product by product basis. This could accelerate the trend for corporates to shrink, as well as the ability to launch new product and compete on the global stage.

Inadequate Start Up Infrastructure
As such, the infrastructure in the UK is as yet inadequate to support such a step up in entrepreneurial activity, although awareness is growing.

The UK does not understand as well as the more mature US market the value of support services provided specifically for start ups, where experience can be brought in from outside a raw start up to help fill the gaps caused by lack of business breadth and experience.

This is particularly perceived to be true true at the Start Up stage, but also still true as Start Ups seek to break through the early adopter stage and become a mainstream UK business entity.

So there could be a lag between the bill being finally passed, and a noticeable uptake in the option for this type of employment, and any national ability to compete on the world stage.

HMRC Tax Avoidance Vigilance
In the event that a product driven boom in Start Ups is evidenced, expect HMRC to look carefully at ways  that “Tax Avoidance” schemes make use of the provisions, which I believe exempt employee-shareholders from Capital Gains Tax on the first £50,000 worth of share holdings. Following which HMRC would no doubt crack down on schemes that defeat the spirit of the bill, if not the letter of the wording.

Giving it Time to Work – UK Law at its Best
No doubt, over time, some of the wording of the bill may prove to be inadequate, the English  language being what it is. But then expect the UK to come back and redress the loopholes. It’s just the way we are.

It is this attitude that makes UK law the best in the world: the understanding that we want to be fair, and allow all every chance to proceed and take part, yet allowing for the way the world  is changing so rapidly, and recognising the need to compete adequately on the global stage.

The Pain of Growth

Modern life today demands instant rewards and ease of use. If things aren’t easy to use, they are discarded, tossed to one side.

Contrast this with building a business.

It takes years to master the disciplines of marketing and sales, and sometimes longer to find a product that fires our enthusiasm, that we can package successfully, where we understand the benefits for the different types of customer we may seek to find, and where we can put product in front of customers.

If we “succeed” on the first step, then we have to run teams, master information technology, manage cash flow, understand accounting.

Some of us recognise a need to value and harness our customer databases and build niche knowledge sets.

None of these are trivial exercises, so why should we expect instant success ?

No, it takes hard work, determination and a desire to win that borders on the obssessional, and at least requires we get in touch with our “survival” instinct.

Is this bad news ? Hardly ! We just need a degree of patience, and the attitude that there are skills to learn, we are going to learn them, and we’re not giving up.

But don’t expect it to be easy !!

Peter Jones
Opportunity Creator – Blue Oyster Business Growth

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