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.