There’s a starman, waiting in the sky

The Falcon Heavy’s boosters burned for 154 seconds before they jettisoned into space. The main rocket pushed on. Four minutes later, the nose cone opened to reveal its payload: a cherry-red electric Tesla Roadster with the top down. The sports car stereo’s playlist included Bowie’s Space Oddity, Life on Mars and Starman.

The image is startling, incongruous, barmy. A car in space. At the wheel is a spacesuit, seatbelt on. Earth hangs behind it. The image jars like bad Photoshop. But it is real. A PR stunt for the ages.

It was all brought to you by Elon Musk, the South African-born entrepreneur and founder of Paypal, electric car company Tesla, and SpaceX,  manufacturer of the Falcon Heavy, the most powerful rocket on earth. The event is a stepping-stone to Mars.

The scene is spawned from Musk’s entrepreneurial bravado, endeavour and ego. It is human folly and genius rolled into one. Life on Earth feels precarious, so we took to the stars. The heavens navigated by a dummy astronaut in an electric car, with a handy note for aliens – Made on Earth by humans – imprinted on the circuit board.

Musk sold online payments firm Paypal for $1.5bn ten years ago and has evolved into the most iconic of entrepreneurs since Steve Jobs, capturing the public imagination as a crazy-mad-genius figure – part industrialist, part scientist, part philanthropist, part superhero.

Musk is known for his ability to come up with otherworldly ideas and then pursue them with vigour, emotion, intelligence and self-discipline. He has grabbed the private space flight and electric car industries, ventured into solar energy and artificial intelligence, and promised super-high speed magnetic train travel, in a tube, underground. Oh, and he plans to colonise Mars.

Most take Musk’s more wild ambitions and boasts about the future he will create with a pinch of salt. His companies have missed deadline after deadline and recorded massive financial losses. But popularity of Tesla’s electric cars, and the launch of the Falcon Heavy capped a string of successes that say, you know what, this bloke is making impossible stuff happen.

As a young boy, he was obsessed with science fiction novels and anything you could run an electric current through – hence the nod to Nikola Tesla. Ditching his education, he founded Zip2, an online newspaper platform, selling it in 1999 to Compaq for $300m. Musk ploughed his share into an online bank, X.com. which became Paypal. In 2002, Paypal sold to eBay for $1.5bn. At 31, Musk netted $165m and ploughed it all into three startups: Tesla, SpaceX, and a solar energy company called Solar City.

In 2004, Musk invested heavily in Tesla, founded a year earlier by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning. Tesla is a quixotic venture, a niche electric car company in a nation addicted to petrol. Musk set out a top-down plan for a low-cost, mass-market electric car. Having received hefty Government bailouts, in 2010 it became the first American car company to float on the stock market since Ford in 1956.

But serious production delays on its low-cost Model 3 have compounded years of losses – $675.4m loss in the last quarter of 2017, more than five times worse than the previous year, although revenue climbed 44% to $3.3 billion.

But to those who admire him, Musk is a visionary, an irrepressible Howard Hughes-like figure revolutionising entrepreneur. His two latest ventures, Neuralink and OpenAI, take him into the world of artificial intelligence – which he regards as the biggest threat to humanity.

With an estimated net worth of $12.7Bn and a clutch of projects we’d all give our give our right arm to be involved with, what makes him tick? Job search firm Paysa gathered speeches and transcripts of interviews from Musk. It put over 2,500 words through the IBM Watson Personality Insights API to perform an analysis. So, what are Musk’s top five traits? According to the study, they are intellect, immoderation, cautiousness, emotionality and altruism. Other traits Musk possesses include orderliness, self-discipline, self-efficacy and being cooperative.

An interesting analysis, but how do they manifest into his everyday habits and behaviours? From my own research, here is what is in Musk’s entrepreneurial dna, and the takeaways we can learn from.

Never give up attitude One eminent trait of Musk is that no matter what the obstacle is, he never gives up. Musk is exceptionally motivated and self-driven. Unlike other ordinary men, he displays outright determination to continue and keep moving forward through all disparities. Musk has a clear idea of what he wants and is wholeheartedly driven to do the right thing in achieving what he desires. Persistence is very important. You should not give up unless you are forced to give up.

Insane work ethic Musk is a hardcore workaholic person. He believes that there is no shortcut to success. He works for 100 hours a week and has been doing so for over many years. He once said, If other people are putting in 40 hours in a week, and you’re putting in 100, you will achieve in four months what it takes others a year to achieve.

Aim for the big picture Musk has targeted exceedingly challenging obstacles, ready to take big risks and has no short-term gains in sight. There was a time when no one believed in his ideas, but this did not get his spirits down. He believed in himself. He is targeting to place a man on Mars and wants to retire on Mars with 80,000 other colonists. He says, I’d like to die on Mars, just not on impact!

In the words of Muhammad Ali, Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Musk’s enormous ambition to do what everyone says can’t be done far exceeds everyone around him. Doing the impossible starts with having a grand, albeit crazy, vision. He aims for breakthroughs instead of incremental improvements. He’s always targeted disrupting systems instead of innovating incrementally.

Work on the ground level Musk possesses the ability to think at the system level of design. He knows exactly what he wants and sits with his team, he is the connection between the market demands and engineers’ interest. Musk seems to be a taskmaster but his attitude sets the culture of the team. He believes he will know about the working of the product better if he gets his hands dirty by working with the engineers on the ground. He himself test-drives many of the changes to Tesla cars.

Believes in self-analysis Musk believes in self-analysis and critical thinking about oneself. He believes that people do not think critically enough. It is one of the reasons for their failure. They take too many things for granted and be true without enough basis in that belief. Don’t delude yourself into thinking something’s working when it’s not, or you’ll get fixated on a bad solution.

Deep-rooted passion I didn’t go into the rocket business, the car business, or the solar business thinking, ‘This is a great opportunity.’ I just thought, in order to make a difference, something needed to be done. I wanted to create something substantially better than what came before. Musk only tackles those problems where he has deep rooted passion and conviction.

A ‘crystal clear’ massively transformative purpose Part of Musk’s ability to motivate his team to do great things is his crystal-clear ‘Massively Transformative Purpose’, which drives each of his companies. Musk’s MTP for Tesla is to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy. To this end, every product Tesla brings to market is focused on this vision and backed by a Master Plan Musk wrote over ten years ago. Have a vision, make it happen.

Be audacious What he has done is something that very few living people can claim: Painstakingly bulldozed, with no experience whatsoever, into two fields with ridiculously high barriers to entry – car manufacturing (Tesla) and rocketry (SpaceX) – and created the best products in those industries. In the process, he’s managed to sell the world on his capability to achieve objectives so lofty that from the mouth of anyone else, they’d be called fantasies.

Focus on signals, not on noise Musk never invests in advertising, preferring to spend on research, design, development and production. He stresses that many businesses get confused and deviate their focus from things that make their products and services better. Musk believes that all the efforts that are not resulting in better products or services should be stopped. Many of Musk’s most entrepreneurial characteristics are behaviour choices within your own control.

Be a constant learner Musk reads the way most people watch TV. Musk is the definition of a bookworm. An avid reader from a young age, when he was in grade school he was reading ten hours a day. His childhood reading included Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series from which he drew the lesson that you should try to take the set of actions that are likely to prolong civilization, minimize the probability of a dark age and reduce the length of a dark age if there is one. The books are centered around the work of a fictional visionary named Hari Seldon. This has been his guiding principle for life.

He is tirelessly, unflaggingly optimistic Musk also has an ace up his sleeve – he has a strong glass-half-full mentality, ignoring the doubters and naysayers. The secret to his innovation lies in his enthusiasm. If you wake up in the morning and think the future is going to be better, it is a bright day. Otherwise, it’s not.

Be clear about your purpose I try to do useful things. That’s a nice aspiration. And useful means it is of value to the rest of society. Are they useful things that work and make people’s lives better, make the future seem better, and actually are better, too? I think we should try to make the future better.

This is the ideology of Musk, and though basic, it’s actually very rare. Think of the other names we associate with entrepreneurship and innovation this century, they’re people who’ve built operating systems, devices, websites or social-media platforms. Amazing innovations yes, but not with the impact Musk seeks to achieve.

Falcon Heavy was an extraordinary technical achievement with flamboyance and a touch of playfulness that is typical of Musk, but it should not be mistaken for a lack of seriousness. Musk is not simply having fun building rockets and fast car, nor is he running businesses just to become wealthy or bear rivals. He wants to open up fundamental opportunities for humanity. Creating either of these companies would be a signal achievement, that the same person should have built and run them in parallel is remarkable.

But by no means should Musk count his high-torque photovoltaic astro-turbo chickens yet, like all entrepreneurial ventures there is room for failure. I suspect he needs what I call James Bond luck. He needs to dodge the avalanche, avoid the gunfire, ski off the cliff, pull the ripcord and glide to safety into deep, blue, warm water below, so that he can save the world.

But maybe he can. He has the entrepreneurial spark that emphasises experimentation, rapid learning and constant improvement. He’s more than just ideas and allure. Elon is a rare business leader who is interested in mankind as a whole and wants to explore how tech can change the world we live in.

Pacesetters guide the field. It may not matter in the end of you don’t win, but it brings people along. And if Musk personally doesn’t deal the death blow to the internal combustion engine, he will always have a lovely red car in space to console himself.

Startup storytelling

For thousands of years, storytelling has been an integral part of humanity. Stories play a vibrant role in our daily lives, from the entertainment we consume to the experiences we share with others. Even in our digital age, stories continue to appeal to us just as much as they did to our ancient ancestors sat around the campfire.

Modern-day storytelling is reflected in the popular TED Talks, and its slogan of Ideas Worth Spreading. Analysis of the most popular TED presentations found that stories represented 65% of their content.

Throughout time, storytelling has proven to be a powerful delivery mechanism for sharing insights and ideas in a way that is memorable, persuasive, and engaging, and so storytelling is a great tool for startups seeking to connect with new investors, customers and employees.

Stories are powerful in shaping a startup’s messages around their values, strategy, brand, culture and product. An inspiring narrative helps people relate and connect to both the founder and the startup idea, providing a unique perspective of the founder’s voice. As a result, the best stories take on a conceptual role in creating a company’s core purpose.

They have more impact with customers than simply listing and highlighting ‘features’ about a particular product or service. Indeed there are two ways to share knowledge with people – you can push information out, or you can pull them in with a story.

For startups, storytelling is key because attracting the spotlight is difficult without a marketing budget, particularly when the product is interesting but they have no brand recognition. Good stories deliver a competitive edge to a startup because it is easier to attract an audience and enable the conversations. It begins with having a real grasp about what they do, why what they’re doing matters, and their target audiences. Once that story comes to life, it is easier for storytelling to happen and be the differentiator.

Your startup is innovative. Is that enough? No, in an age of immediate social media, data and competition, building an innovative technology product isn’t enough. The information age has democratised promotion with social media, so how do you get noticed, offering a comparable experience at a comparable price?

Equally, a world of commoditised tech means that building a great product and putting it in front of users at a good price is not enough to distinguish your startup. When customers can find the same service elsewhere with a few clicks, it is an emotional connection that drives loyalty. Your startup needs to win hearts and minds by telling its story, and that’s all about your position and purpose.

For example, Frank is a socially responsible entrepreneur who has set up a fair trade coffee shop. Why would consumers drop in to Frank’s café and not Starbucks? It’s not because consumers lack for places to go to get caffeinated, it’s because their core purpose is to help consumers build a more equitable world through socially mindful buying.

What are you really selling? Frank isn’t positioned as a coffee shop, he sells compassion. Frank’s customers are proud to support a company that makes life better for those less fortunate. They’re excited for the opportunity to buy coffee grown by farmers who are paid a living wage. They’ll pass a closer Starbucks to buy from Frank’s.

For tech startups, as barriers to entry continue to fall driven by microservices and cloud technologies, competition will increase and the startups that reach their target customer bases with the best messaging, building the most effective brands will win.

To thrive, you can’t simply rely on selling a great product, you must sell a vision as well. The future success of your startup depends on its messaging. If you can connect with your buyers, sharing your vision with them and giving them a reason to buy, you will reap loyalty. If you cannot, you’re just selling another startup product easily abandoned.

So you called a cab, but no one’s showing. The only thing the cranky dispatcher will say is He’ll be there in 15. You call back in 15, and he now says Driver’s on the way. Any minute now. Click. It’s cold, it’s getting dark, and you’re already late. Wouldn’t it be great if there was an app that let you tap into an unused supply of empty cabs and cars to get you where you want to go, perhaps with a little style? So goes the legendary inspiration behind Uber, a story now encapsulated in a single tagline: Everyone’s private driver.

So, recognising startup storytelling is a way to help in the positioning, purpose and creation of your value proposition, they have to be good stories and have a purposeful message, here are some considerations for building your own startup story.

Stories spark emotions We have an intuitive, emotional side as well as a deliberate, rational side to our decision making, and for a startup, rather than just trying to connect with people on a rational level, create an emotional engagement about your vision, purpose and journey so far.

Storytelling gives startup founders a way of inspiring in a way that appeals to both sides of our character. A story has a core message, but can be interpreted in different ways, depending on the lens through which it’s being heard.

A startup story is a narrative about your north star Every startup founder has a story in their head about what their work means for them, through which they put their north star into context. Startup leaders able to tell their story create a strategic narrative that can engage people in the wider context of the journey the business is on, giving people a reason to understand them and their business.

Research shows that telling stories helps people understand information you are sharing. A London School of Economics study found that 10% of people retain information when you simply share a statistics, and 30% will retain it if you include a story with your statistic. But if you simply tell a story, 70% will retain the information shared. That’s powerful! In these days of information overload, a good story will always win over a proposition explained just using data.

A story communicates your values What is your brand and startup about? Are you innovative and quirky, fun or just really believe that your products or services are great? Define what makes your company great, work out how you are least like the competition and tell that story. If your story doesn’t divulge something personal or unfamiliar about your brand or business, your story could end up being boring.

Stories help people learn Stories are a great way of learning from others, and can help shape a startup business, internally and externally. Stories give people the space to consider, reflect and discover the implicit meaning of what’s being said, enabling them to learn what they need in context for themselves. However, in your startup story don’t tell them everything, leave gaps to give people time to think and reflect.

Your story reveals who you are Your startup story reveals who you are implicitly, without having to explain your career history or hand out your business plan. Your story creates a timeline of experience, learnings, medals and scars – there is nothing wrong with revealing your emotions. It could be that tough lessons have been learned, but it’s all about communicating who you as a business are, sharing your identity and person. Positioning the founder’s story helps a startup become what it is.

There is beauty in brevity We all understand and appreciate the art of long-form writing, but short attention spans and being overloaded with content and data is part of our everyday lives. If you can make your story descriptive and captivating, yet short and sweet, that will be memorable. Remember, brevity doesn’t just mean short, it means the exact use of words in writing or talking with impact.

Start with a meaningful opening line Unless you’re telling the story of how to land a plane safely or the proper assembly of an IKEA bookshelf, resist the urge to begin at the beginning. Chronology matters much less than having your story follow an interesting arc, as the stuff you need to hook people doesn’t tend to happen early on. Events need to build, one after the other, emotionally rather than sequentially. To have real impact, your story should describe increasing risk and increasing consequences until the final, inevitable conclusion, but not necessarily the one that the audience expects.

Know your audience – keep the customers interest in mind Remember, what’s the problem you are solving? Think about what is interesting to your audience as consumers and work that storyline. What interests you as a founder may not match up with what consumers are interested in. Who is the story for? Tell the story for your audience, and always keep their interests in mind throughout the creative process.

Show, don’t tell A fundamental maxim of storytelling is ‘Show, don’t tell’, rather than talking at your audience, telling them what to do or feel, share the story so that it unfolds naturally and your audience comes to their own conclusions. People don’t just absorb facts and information, they actively listen and make their own inferences.

Describe what’s happening as if the action is unfolding right now in front of you, and as Mark Twain said, help people to answer the question What does this looks like in practice? Founders sculpt the best startup stories by using anecdotes, with a sense for what the outside world might think of as interesting angles.

Make it personal It doesn’t matter if your startup builds smartphone apps, cloud infrastructure or designs medical devices, human beings are still driving the action. Personalise the protagonists and journey of your story. Make her seem real enough so that the audience feels a stake in (and wants to know) what happens to her next. People connect with other people, so make sure you focus on the real-life characters in your story.

Use customer’s stories What could be more personal than a hard drive in the cloud? Practically anything, but it’s all in how you use it. When Dropbox releases a new feature set, they celebrate by launching a site thanking their users while encouraging them to share what Dropbox has enabled them to do. Customer stories bring a whole new dimension to your product.

It’s not always good times Something always goes wrong in start-ups, and these present opportunities by telling a story of recovery and remedy. Engaging stories do not chronicle a straight line to success, it’s the doubt and concern that keeps us engaged. Hone in on your problems or barriers to achieving your goals, what challenges have there been to date, what is standing in your way.

By incorporating moments of vulnerability or doubt, you create empathy and lend credibility to your story. Your story needs to be authentic, few startups proceed in a linear way to success without hiccups along the way, a fake story begs for a backlash. As you sculpt your own story, make sure your tales don’t grow too tall in the process.

Stories are the language of humans, they make connections, create engagement and spark responses on calls to action. People like to hear a story, since sitting around the campfire, or the end of the school day. As a result of a good story, people change their behaviour and the way they think, so use your startup story to create a vision of the art of the possible and take customers, employees and investors with you on your startup journey, creating advocates along the way.

Entrepreneurial learning journey: the startup life cycle

So, you’re on the journey from idea to product, through startup to a high growth business. Each stage of the startup lifecycle brings a set of obstacles and challenges to deal with and overcome. You have to be alert and flexible in your thinking, adapting your strategy as you progress, different approaches are needed for each stage.

Your startup leaps through stages of growth just as our own human development lifecycle. Birth begins when we shoot out into the light. From there we learn to walk and talk, ride a bike and go to school. Having your first kiss, passing your driving test, casting your first vote…life is a series of milestones.

The story of your life, and life to be lived, is a series of chronological steps, so what are the parallel steps in your natural development and your start-up life journey?

Stage One – Being born: problem-solution fit

Birth marks the beginning of life free and independent of umbilicus, placenta and amniotic fluid. Yet perhaps life starts with conception, followed by the slow motion bloom of the foetus consciousness. What was the genesis of your startup, the moment of passion that created that ‘eureka’ moment?

Your expulsion from your mothers’ body jump-starts your being as a singleton, singularity stemming from the amorous clash of parental chromosomes, the emergence of a fresh life into a brand new day. Human birth is as romantic as that of any two startup adventurers first meeting – Jagger and Richards on a train platform, Hewlett and Packard at a family party, Jobs and Wozniak at a geeks club trading computer spare parts. Serendipity, chemistry and collision in both.

In response to Malvolio’s caption from Twelfth Night, some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them, the birth of a startup is the start of a unique journey and a chance to make your mark. You’ve got your business idea and you are ready to take the plunge. But first you must assess just how viable your startup is likely to be.

In some ways, this is the soul-searching phase. It’s where you take a step back and experiment with the feasibility of your business idea, and also ask yourself if you have what it takes to make it a success.

At this point, ask yourself two questions: What problem am I solving? and Does my proposed solution solve it effectively? If you have a clear answer to the first question and a confident ‘Yes’ for the second, then you’ve got problem-solution fit, and a hypothesis, and it’s time to start testing your idea.

Stage Two – Learning to walk and talk: MVP

Learning to walk and talk are the next stages. Man crawls, walks upright and then resorts to a walking stick. Walking involves unconscious intent, nothing can halt the urge to stand up and move. Walking plots our journey in life, homo erects marks a triumph, four to two reprises Darwin’s evolution in a moment in time. When we stand up we join the same category as creatures as quirky as ostriches. George Orwell had the same opinion.

Of course babies’ first steps are theatrical, learning to walk usually takes place in a domestic theatre of relatives urging and applauding, capturing incremental advance on a camera for posterity. So it is with a startup, stumbling around, unsure of the initial direction, a sense of clumsy movement often falling over to pick themselves up again.

Making physical contact with another person means crossing the room, the feet enable the touching of hands, socialisation starts, as the first encounter with the first customer with your MVP. New language means a period of babble, a sound of nascent expression so subjective it leaves an infant stranded between private articulation and public incomprehension – so be careful your first articulation of your startup is a clear conversation, not babble!

This is the riskiest stage of a startup. Much of your time is spent going back-and-forth, tweaking your MVP based on feedback of your first pilot users. You’re just starting to walk and talk about your idea with potential customers and there will be noise and some trip up and painful moments too.

The purpose of this next step is to test your product hypothesis with the smallest possible investment of time and capital, hence, minimum viable product. You are proving demand and learning about customer behaviour, while minimising risk. Once you’ve validated your MVP focus on getting users into your product – it’s time to grow your customer base and get out into the market.

There is a big gap between what early adopters expect from a product, and what the bigger chunk of the market actually needs. The main reason behind ‘startup infanticide’ is the failure to identify and overcome this gap.

Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm best describes the Grand Canyon that every adventurous entrepreneur must leap over to ‘get to the market’. The Chasm is the region of uncertainty a business goes through before it gets to product/market fit. And the shortest way to get there is by actively listening to the customer and implementing the promised features on schedule.

Stage Three – Learning to ride a bike: product-market fit

Learning to ride a bike is often the first learning process we undergo, creating a freedom of movement not experienced before. Learning to ride a bike, boyhood youth and summertime, it’s a defining activity of childhood. It has a giddy purposelessness to go round in circles, free wheeling without regard to why and where. It is about freedom of movement independently, mastery of technical domination of the machine keeping the handlebars steady and level, not breaking too hard and maintaining pressure on the pedals.

It’s also the mastery of self, getting your legs to do new things in conjunction with your hands and eyes. The bike gives you a chance to coordinate and bring chaos from order. Balancing on two thin discs of metal.

Yet the overriding sense you need when learning to cycle is embracing risk, as sooner or later the person pushing you has let go. Without getting into cycloanalysis, the moment of where conviction meets doubt is that leap of and the irrational jump from dependence to independence, from security to self-determinism, the madness of a decision the split second when reason must in the name of action go into suspense and you start to pedal away on your own.

For a startup, this is the moment of risk for product-market fit, winning customers to prove your value proposition. You’re now creating you own forward momentum, but as Einstein said, to keep your balance you have to keep moving, an epic contradiction from just a minute ago when to stay balanced you had to stay still, now you have to hurtle forward from safety to risk. You’re on your way, my boy, but keep those knee plasters readily to hand.

In a startup, now it’s about managing fear and doubt, not knowing to self-belief, just like learning to ride a bike you focus on the wide horizon in front of you, and you make something of it for yourself. The urge to dig in your heels and pedal hard, to cut an arc into this new panorama, but the freedom means you have to make decisions and with options of turning left rather than right.

With dad left behind you, shouting encouragement proud and panting, you are now off on your own. The peculiar sound of riding a bike, an auditory rush of inner silence, a paradoxical sense of self-esteem, random deviations for you to control your own direction and pootle about. Note to self: I did it.

It’s about creating trust with customers, building credibility through exceptional experiences. An engaged user community is the fastest way to get to any startup to the next stage.

Stage Four – Facial hair: scale

When I turned thirteen, I promptly grew a moustache. Well, not exactly, it was stubble, but the first shadows of facial hair grew rapidly and randomly, and it got me thinking back to that first shave at the onset of puberty. The rite of passage seems monumental, frisky hair sprouting up all over the frisky body.

While shaving may be new to teenagers, it’s been around a long time. As early as 3000BC soldiers would pluck hairs using two clam shells as tweezers. Alexander the Great encouraged his soldiers to shave so their hair couldn’t be pulled and twisted in combat. The word barbarian comes from the image of a man who was hairy and unshaven, basically unbarbered.

Beards are back and the ‘hipster’ style is alive and kicking, as a walk in Manchester’s Northern Quarter reveals. There are dudes sporting neatly trimmed Vandykes, as Charles I wore to the scaffold, or the sharp goatee of an old-time religionist, or even the waxed mustachios’ of villains from a Victorian melodrama. There are even a few with what I describe as the ‘Captain Birdseye’, a rampant bushy display, often resembling a mass of seaweed lifted from the beach and stuck on the face.

I have never been tempted from clean-shaveness save for occasional bout of laziness, I am too afraid of emulating Edward Lear’s Old Man With a Beard, who finds it has become a home to Two owls and a hen, four larks and a wren. For me, the constant dread would have been stray bits of piecrust lying dormant and wasted.

Startups in this puberty stage often see rapid growth as the business model is emerging and you build a repeatable customer process. It can still be a hairy experience as your conversion and retention rates bristle, but you’re growing up, it’s time to scale, by investing in people and process.

This is perhaps the most important stage in the lifecycle of a startup, getting to a point where customers can comfortably whip out their wallets and pay for the service they receive on a regular basis, scaling is a tipping point of capability and capacity.

Stage Five – Your first kiss: maturity

A first kiss, like Romeo and Juliet, the emotion and meaning, the climax of that tete-a-tete, the sensory neurons in the lips that fire off impulses to the brain. A kiss is a matter of delight, a delicious fluttering feeling of hope, expectation anxiety, curiosity, relief, abandon – this blog could be a sonnet.

The romantic idyll and wondrousness of Romeo and Juliet playing with each others words, fondling where formality mocks the courting protocols, and before you know it, it’s a snog without ending. Unlike mowing the lawn, there is not a natural conclusion to a kiss. A lust for life, as Iggy sang.

You can’t kiss and speak at the same time, rational speech is cut off as kissing opens a different mode of communication in a relationship. Although we can’t talk while we kiss, kissing eventually speaks volumes.

Understanding your position in the startup lifecycle as you hit maturity might help you keep your feet on the ground whilst metaphorically kissing a lot of customers. Now is not the time to get giddy, emotional and let your feet to leave the ground. However, it is the time to develop proper long-term relationships based on trust and value.

Not all startups will experience these stages of the growth lifecycle, and those that do may not necessarily experience them in chronological order – everyone’s biological clock has its own unique time line. Some see astronomical growth – for example Airbnb – whilst others’ jump to scale can be as painful as puberty where the hormones run wild, or a troublesome teenager where behaviour is unpredictable.

As John Lennon says, life is what happens to you whilst you’re busy making other plans. However, based on my experience, many startups will see a growth journey that has some resemblance to the stages defined above, and awareness may help you anticipate what is coming next, and how you can best prepare yourself.

Last year’s words belong to last year’s language; next year’s words await another voice

Thinking about ourselves – our feelings, our past, our hopes and dreams – is something that most of us spend a good deal of effort trying to avoid when working in a startup venture. We keep away from thinking about ourselves because much of what we could discover threatens to be uncomfortable and awkward. We might discover how much there was to feel inadequate, and guilty on account of recalling the many errors and misjudgements we have made.

We just want to get on with making stuff happen, rather than reflecting upon ourselves. We have a lot to hide. It is part of the human tragedy that we are such natural self-deceivers. Two are worth focusing on in particular: our habit of thinking too much, and the opposite, our proclivity for thinking too little.

When we think too much, we are filling our minds with impressive ideas, which blatantly announce our intelligence but subtly ensure we won’t have much room left to rediscover long-distant feelings of reflection and critique, upon which our development of our startup nevertheless rests. Our minds are crammed with arcane data. We tend to over think and thus over complicate things.

Then there is our habit of thinking too little. Here we pretend that we are simpler than we really are and that too much psychology might be nonsense and fuss about nothing. Just do stuff. Get on with it. We lean on a version of robust common sense to ward off intimations of our own potential awkward complexity. We imply that not thinking very much is evidence of a superior kind of intelligence – we’re smart and rely on gut instinct.

We deploy bluff strategies and sideline avenues of personal investigation as unduly wasting time, implying that to lift the lid further could never be fruitful. We use the practical mood of Monday morning 9am to ward off the complex insights of 3am the previous night, when we unpick the entire fabric of our existence against the backdrop of a million stars. Deploying an attitude of vigorous common sense, we strive to make our moments of radical disquiet seem like aberrations – rather than the central occasions of insight they might actually be.

However, at the start of a new year, having had holiday downtime from the frantic life of a startup, we need to tell ourselves a little more of the truth because we pay too high a price for our self deception of ‘just do it’. We cut ourselves off from possibilities of growth. We shut off large portions of our minds and end up stubborn tetchy and defensive. Our neglect of the awkward sides of self-evaluation buckles our very being, revenge for all the thoughts we have been so careful not to have.

Self-critique is a precondition as a measure of sanity as a startup leader. Two weeks in, how has the new year started for you? Now is the time to get the balance right. We have renewed vim and vigour to roll our sleeves up and get stuck in, energy and intention to get stuff done. However, rather than throwing yourself in like a whirling dervish, stepping back and reflecting on what is truly timely and important is more beneficial.

Now is the time to get the balance of thinking and doing in place. Time is an ingredient in every entrepreneurial endeavour. At the start of the twelve month journey, my preference is to initially focus as to 80% thinking, 20% doing, and then having got my thinking straight, flip this into 20% thinking, 80% doing. Here are my thoughts as to what can make a difference as the year stands before us.

1. Review and refocus your long-term growth goals We trip up and get blinded by what is in our immediate line of sight. Whilst ‘getting stuff done’ and execution is a key startup principle, everything should be linked to your purpose – your ‘Why?’ – and your vision.

Of course, no strategy survives as a business plan document no matter how finely crafted, things never turn out exactly as you imagine or hope them to be, but it’s important for your growth strategy to know your north star and your direction of travel to inform and guide everyday activity.

Begin by reviewing the growth strides that you made in the previous twelve months. Did you make progress toward your purpose, vision, key goals and objectives? What worked, what didn’t, what got left behind and forgotten? It’s a chance to refocus and ensure you realign everything towards your long-term aims.

2. Pick out the vital few energising short-term growth goals The long-term goals that you have determined as future strategic milestones should inform the immediate near-term goals. This can include month-to-month customer, new hire and product releases, and weekly activity goals around networking.

You can work backwards, taking your 2018 goals into quarterly metrics, so the weeks, months, quarters and year really takes shape. In doing this, your near-term goals should energise you, as you continue investing time into your startup, they will provide short-term payback, and results reward and excite you for your efforts. Remember that if you aren’t excited and confident about your startup, it will be difficult to inspire others to be.

Take stock of your schedule. Is each of your workdays oriented that will allow you to grow long-term aspects of your business? Ensure that each day has periods blocked out for thinking – growth isn’t all about doing.

3. Start every day with an ‘at zero’ mindset Each day is like getting on a bike, every new ride starts with getting in the saddle, the wheels are still. We start again. Every day the odometer shows zero. Where shall we go today, what’s our plan to reach a daily goal?

For both cycling and startup growth, measurement is vital, observing visible progress is motivating. Feeling like you have 80% of the work ahead makes the daily contribution to the goal important, it’s a step forward, but avoid complacency; once your direction is set, begin each day with a blank slate.

Hold the big vision but make small steps with discipline, clarity and focus.

4. Make a long-term commitment Startup founders have unbridled ambition but they are also prone to the ‘shiny penny syndrome’ – they look for the next new opportunity and ditch their current choices. Yes, we often need to pivot when user feedback and iterative learning informs us to do so, but you have to muscle through the ‘shiny penny syndrome’ by making a commitment.

Don’t fall into the trap of setting goals in short-term cycles. Nothing happens in six months, it takes two years to become an overnight success. When you make bets, you need to go all in and think long-term. During that time, you’re not allowed to think anything other than I’m going to make this idea succeed.

Avoid distractions. Gather the courage to stick to the things that are important to you. We are all easily swayed by what others think.

5. Demonstrate your passion Orient towards personal growth and learning, rather than money and glory. In the early days, founders of tech giants like Apple and HP started from a love of computing. At the time, there wasn’t any money to be made doing what they were doing.

These startups started from pure passion. Do what you love and love what you do. The right reason to start a business is not the money or the prestige, but the chance to follow your dreams and do something remarkable. Your early customers look for passion, and that starts with the startup pitch.

Put passion into every customer conversation. When pitching, hook potential customers with a deeply personal story about why you are doing what you’re doing and building the company. The best pitches are visceral, emotional and personal. You feel the passion from that founder.

6. Build with scale in mind Often startups struggle to get beyond early adoption. This may be due to a lack of understanding of the market, but also the inability to thoroughly map out a path of success. Learn to dream big and have the ambition to develop a high growth business model of scale.

While it’s important to start small and build an MVP with a simple use case, keep in mind that you are developing a product in order to maximise growth and build something of significance.

Entrepreneurs who understand economies of scale from the very start can envision potential challenges far earlier, allowing them to develop truly innovative products that have a wide-ranging impact. At the start of this year, what are the key drivers to scale your business? Don’t lower your sights, focus on the horizon and do the tough stuff first.

7. Make each connection count At the start of a new year, reach out and make more critical customer conversations happen, refresh your thinking about making each connection count:

  • Impart personal energy and warmth in every interaction to make each conversation memorable
  • Listen with intent, not simply waiting to speak
  • Be a trusted advisor, show credibility, reliability, intimacy and self-orientation. Trust underpins every relationship
  • Always offer something of value before expecting or asking for something in return. Key to this is not focusing on reciprocity.
  • End every meeting where you’d like to start next time
  • Prepare for every meeting. Magic happens when your sincerity is powered by diligent preparation.

8. Avoid ‘Frankenstein Days’ Everyday you can do something. It’s extremely tempting to try and do it all. But ‘doing it all’ is as impossible as it is impractical.

It’s so easy, no matter how experienced and organised you are, to end up with ‘Frankenstein Days’ because you’re taken on too much at once, without a clear sense of what’s most important.

Focusing isn’t simply about avoiding the temptation to multitask until a priority is complete, it means truly understanding what you want to accomplish and centre your activities for the day entirely around that.

9. Focus on the intention of your work I have an uncanny ability to juggle many important projects and priorities without losing focus, this emphasis on what I call ‘intentional work’ has helped me on rigorous prioritisation and execution.

I spend a lot of time making sure there is real clarity of intent before digging into specifics and implementation. Focus is really about aligning with your purpose – whether it be your purpose on a specific project or your higher overall purpose for your startup.

When actions reflect intentions, you’re in alignment with your personal mission. Only then can you truly progress and grow.

10. Roll your sleeves up, put your hands into the engine Startup life isn’t about traveling in a straight line and enjoying the ride, you have to build in the flexibility to change course and get stuck in, hands-in, from the outset. Hands-in means you pay rapt attention and learn how you need to turn the rudder.

  • Speak your mind when something is bothering you.
  • Pay attention to things in the moment.
  • A lot. Don’t limit yourself to what’s on the Internet – they still print actual books you know.
  • Forget what you see online: real life is happening right in front of your eyes. Go out and live it, make it happen
  • You can’t be a spectator, double down on actions that will help you reach your intentions.

I’ve always been an advocate of making it happen for myself, I don’t look to others to sort me out. Note to self: it doesn’t matter where you came from, all that matters is where you are going. Think big, life’s too short to think small. We become what we think about. Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of curiosity.

Don’t be too timid and squeamish about uncertainty and not having a detailed plan, all startup life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better. Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new. As T S Eliot said, last year’s words belong to last year’s language, and next year’s words await another voice – but before you speak, think about it properly first.

Guardiola or Mourinho: who’d be the best tech startup leader?

You couldn’t get a greater contrast in leadership style than Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho, a fierce football rivalry currently being broadcasted daily to the world from Manchester. It’s a deeply personal rivalry that encapsulates the best of and worst of modern football as they locked horns recently for the twentieth time in their careers in the Manchester derby.

Pep has the edge over his Portuguese foe with ten victories, while the ‘Special One’ has four wins, with six ending draws. Guardiola has learnt quickly from his first season mistakes with City, his squad have grasped his exacting demands and he is on course to deliver the title playing captivating football. Mourinho has brought a winner’s mentality back to United, but looks unable to thwart Guardiola’s direction of travel.

Mourinho and Guardiola worked together at Barcelona between 1996-2000, when Mourinho was a coach and Guardiola a player, but have been rivals since. In the summer of 2008, Josep ‘Pep’ Guardiola was appointed as manager of Barcelona. He was young and inexperienced, fresh from a successful period leading their B team. Not exactly qualifications for taking the reigns of one of the most iconic sports teams in history, but he went on to win 14 titles in four years.

Pep may not have been the expected choice, but he had new ideas for a team stuck in old ways. Most importantly, he had the courage and the discipline to make those ideas come to fruition, following the ‘total football’ vision of his mentor, Johan Cruyff, who gave the gangly, slow-footed, Guardiola his first opportunity as a youth player.

But it’s not enough to just have new ideas. You need the discipline to follow through when you’re going through the fire. And that’s what both men have: single mindedness, self-belief and mental toughness to do things their way, and simply ignore the brickbats thrown at them.

Guardiola lost his first Spanish League match of 2008, dropping the big named players whilst giving a young Messi his debut. But after the opening week loss, the team racked up a twenty game undefeated streak en route to their first Spanish title since 2006. The highlight of the campaign was a 6-2 victory over rivals Real Madrid, in Madrid.

Guardiola established his philosophy of tiki-taka, despite the dwindling appeal of possession football. By artfully advocating a playing style based on possession, short passing play and attack in which the ball is played forward from defence all the way to goal by means of pinpoint combination play, Barça captivated the footballing world.

He was a perfectionist, he studied his rivals and focused on small details. He used risky tactics to surprise and outwit. His leadership style has evolved to that of being very personal – emotional, motivational and yet also authoritative. Pep has crafted an aura of passionate thinking, discipline to a philosophy and warmth to his team.

Mourinho contrasts this with an abrasive and sometimes sulken attitude that the world is against his, that he’s an animal corned to fight. Mourinho is also a perfectionist, equally passionate, buy is pragmatic and plays to win rather than be overly concerned with style. He isn’t above overt public criticism of his players either.

Their rivalry hit a new level in 2010, when Mourinho was appointed Real Madrid boss. During the next two seasons, as the pair vied for domestic Spanish and European honours, their relationship turned ugly. Barcelona 5-0 Real Madrid in La Liga fixture at Camp Nou is the greatest of humiliations in Mourinho’s management career, and put a clear marker down.

Following his departure from Barcelona on a year-long sabbatical, Guardiola resumed his skirmish with Mourinho in August 2013, when Bayern Munich met Chelsea in the UEFA Super Cup. Bayern won, and Guardiola scored another victory over his long-time adversary. That’s not quite how Jose saw it though: The best team clearly lost. They just scored one more penalty.

So, both have enjoyed stellar success, leading several teams, but how transferable are their leadership capabilities to other industries? For example, who could make it as a tech startup leader? Who is the more perceptive and innovative strategic thinker? Who would develop the startup culture and talent best? Whose leadership philosophy offers more potential for long-term success in the maelstrom of the startup environment? Let’s consider the key qualities of a startup leader, and assess each.

1. Growth philosophy As beautiful as it is bold, Guardiola has not wavered from his determination to play firmly on the front foot, ignoring the critics who argued that his philosophy was not transferable to the hurly burly of the Premier League. Stylistically, Mourinho has suffered from constant comparison with Guardiola, purists have bristled at some of his perceived negative tactics. Guardiola’s way of playing is now so established that players can be rotated and there is often no discernible difference.

Guardiola and Mourinho may have very contrasting beliefs about the best way to go about achieving success but they share the same obsessive desire for winning and there is little doubt both have overseen marked improvements. But for me, theirs is a one-sided rivalry – where one has moral courage the other shows only fear in putting in the type of structure that looks to enhance his players’ attacking qualities.

Organisations are now becoming more aware of the need to identify the fundamental reason for their existence or their “why”. Guardiola has taken this further by taking a belief system and aligning it to the mission objective, of playing reputation for playing with flair.

Mourinho’s philosophy is to minimise the risk of defeat, Pep’s is to win with confidence and self-belief. For a startup, you have to be bold and push out from your comfort zone into the learning zone to get ahead of the competition and take your own performance to new heights. Best fit: Pep

2. Talent development Guardiola’s skills as a coach have born fruit this season with many of his squad showing huge signs of improvement, younger players such as Sterling and Stones, and established players too, notably De Bruyne, whose game is at a new height. Mourinho has done a similar job in this regard, with the stark improvement from more modest talents in a less naturally gifted squad, and brought about a sharp upturn in performance levels from his tough love.

Regarding youth development, then this is a stick with which Mourinho’s critics have liked to beat him but the irony is that it is the Portuguese who has demonstrated greater willingness to give Academy graduates meaningful game time whereas Guardiola, has, for all the City hierarchy’s eagerness to promote youth, appeared at times to pay little more than lip service to it.

Mourinho has given 1,382 minutes to Academy Graduates compared to Guardiola’s 1,141. Mourinho has maintained United’s 80-year tradition of naming an academy player in every match-day squad; getting regular playing time remains a serious challenge for City’s youngsters.

Yet Pep’s emotion, manhandling and yelling at his players until they see the light of his thinking, is one that would bring more success in a startup. You can’t be a spectator in a startup, you have to be leading the charge on the front line. Pep’s on the pitch in his head, you can see his engagement with the team at an individual level. Jose is more standoffish, less emotional, lacks warmth, and maybe as a consequence, hasn’t created a winning culture to help foster a unified team vision. Best fit: Pep

3. Emotional Intelligence Guardiola is a perfectionist – but no more so than Mourinho – yet has stronger emotional intelligence. Mourinho is more outspoken about individual players, pointing out their shortcomings in public. Pep is an idealist focused on process of playing beautiful football, Jose is a realist simply focused on results and winning football. Pep is emotion, Jose is passion.

The secret of leadership is insight into human potential and understanding of the individual, and Pep is known for understanding the ambitions and personality of each player. Lionel Messi, the world’s best player was called up by Argentina to play at the Olympics much to the disappointment of Barcelona who didn’t want to risk their best player getting injured.

Pep went against the wishes of the club and supported Messi playing at the Olympics because he knew how important this was to Messi and the loyalty he would receive in return from the player. Pep nurtures and huddles with his players, you sense Mourinho creates a more hierarchical ‘master and servant’ relationship. When asked about this kind of situation Guardiola replied We’d never start telling them off. If the game’s going badly you only earn credibility by correcting what they’re doing rather than shouting about it. Best fit: Pep

4. Self-awareness Startup leaders live in a state of discomfort, constantly restless about improving – and are comfortable with it. When running a startup, life is constantly in a state of flux – one key hire or departure can make or break a team, one key customer sale can set the month up for success, one flaw in the technology could be a six-month setback.

Recognising this and pressing forward anyway takes a tremendous amount of tenacity, but also self-awareness, being able to take intrinsic and extrinsic criticism with a grain of salt. There’s no doubt that Pep has a stronger jaw for criticism, although he can bristle, and has developed a healthier balance of paranoia and confidence compared to Jose wounded animal personality.

When things are not going well it’s difficult not to allow your emotions to overtake you and influence your decision-making. Your focus needs to remain on want needs to happen to correct performance and the diagnosis of how and why the situation happened and what can happen later. Your influence has to be to add value, not criticise.

Guardiola took a debut season of his own self-doubt and has grown a near-perfect second one. Just twelve months ago Guardiola was at his lowest ebb as City boss, but has carved a near-perfect team from his own self-doubt. He doubled down. Rather than adapt, he was going to go the opposite direction, and apply his principles to the fullest degree possible.

He has placed even more faith in himself. He was even more determined and focused and was ruthlessly decisive. I don’t get a sense of this critical self-awareness and the need for more determination to make it happen from Jose. You sense he’d walk away from the situation. In a startup, you can’t walk away, you simply have to dig in Best-fit: Pep

5. Use of resources Guardiola has built a reputation for helping players raise their game, but he also has a habit of spending more money than his rivals every season. He has already splurged £400m+ since arriving at the Etihad in July 2016. It is irrefutable that he has been able to buy success, working at three clubs, which have been in the world’s five richest by income and spending during his time with them.

He’s not so far from becoming a transfer market £1bn man, laying out £896.6m since starting out at Barcelona in 2008. Mourinho – whose £1.1bn expenditure exceeds that of any other manager – and Carlo Ancelotti, who’s shelled out £970m, are the only two who have spent more. The Catalan has laid out £99.6m a year on average, compared with Mourinho’s £65m.

Meanwhile, after the 2-2 draw with Burnley, Jose was bemoaning his £300m spend at United wasn’t enough to compete with City Best-fit: neither – both work with monopoly money, could they do it with the meagre resources of startup funding?

Mourinho is undoubtedly a successful leader, but not someone you warm too and doesn’t create a sense of loyalty and camaraderie in the team. Mourinho talks a lot, but is he really just saying everything he wants you to hear? His overtly intentional mind games and media distraction strategies have often dogged him. He’s strong, but can be self-indulgent, belligerent and dogged, becoming an isolated figure without affection.

Contrast this to Pep, always ready to motivate, his emotion and connection to his players from the touchline during the game is inspiring. He has successfully turned the team’s formation, tactics and training approaches on its head within a short period of time.

City play the Guardiola way with discipline, clarity and purpose. That would not have been possible without him first sitting his players down and helping them understand what he wants from them and he wants to play. The success they are currently having probably started at the lunch table and not on a football pitch. Creating this understanding, togetherness and trust are the essentials of effective startup leaders. I think Pep’s got it.

The twelve days of Christmas for a tech startup entrepreneur

It’s a great time to be a tech startup entrepreneur. If you can get into a position where you’re pitching at a sizeable market, build a high-performing team and creating an innovative product, this is your time. This is the age of the tech startup, the leverage afforded to startup founders today is immeasurably greater than that previous generations due to the internet.

Startups can be global from the outset, addressable markets have multiplied through the reach of direct-to-consumer distribution channels of app stores and cloud platforms, superceding physical borders and boundaries of time.

A rising new generation of global tech firms are now officially the most valuable companies in the world: Apple, Alphabet/Google, Amazon, Facebook. We’re living a staggering rotation of economic value, out with the incumbent companies in financial services, industrial, and consumer products, replaced by companies centered around software, data and technology-enabled services.

Whilst these firms were all Silicon Valley startups, don’t blink, because coming over the horizon from the East are a set of equally formidable tech giants in Tencent, Alibaba, and China Mobile. These companies are fast adopting and inventing new bases of value that support lucrative scale, from networks, data, and the interconnection of communities, consumers and businesses.

None of the new tech giants endured gruelling hundred-year-company-building efforts. The median age of the new guard is closer to 15–20 years, versus 75–100 years for the incumbents who ruled the decades before. Joining these ranks just doesn’t require the sort of multi-generational company building we’ve seen before – the internet has created their markets.

The internet creates new opportunities for value creation. With a focus on disciplined and sustainable growth from clear business model leverage, this means thinking early and often about how to architect product and distribution together as a single, efficient offering. ‘Product’ is no longer just the bits of software, it’s also how the software is sold, supported and made successful with future revenue goals and product roadmaps in mind. Currently, the focus is around data-centricity, artificial intelligence, machine learning and intelligent workflow.

Against the backdrop of the march and ubiquity of tech sector growth and its reach into our everyday lives, we have the stark contrast of the humanity and traditions of Christmas. It’s almost a throwback experience to where time has stood still.  It’s about mince pies and mulled wine, time spent with family and friends, when people matter more than devices, and social connection means real face-to-face conversation replacing the screen for social media exchanges.

Indeed, throughout December, I’ve heard The Twelve Days of Christmas everywhere from radio commercials and shopping centres, but especially in carol services where it’s live music performance, not digital downloads. Everywhere you go, you can hear about Three French Hens, Seven Swans-a-Swimming and Eleven Pipers Piping. But what does any of this mean? What does a song about doves, hens and geese have to do with Christmas, and relevance to today’s tech driven economy?

The carol has its origins in C18th England, as a memory-and-forfeit game sung by children, whereby children had to remember all of the previous verses and add a new verse at the end. Those unable to remember a verse paid a forfeit, in the form of a kiss or a piece of candy to the others. Today, these verses are what we associate with the days from December 25 to the Epiphany on January 6, as the day when the manifestation of Christ’s glory was realised.

However, my thoughts are that you can enjoy the traditions of Christmas as a tech entrepreneur by using the twelve days of Christmas in a relaxed but constructive way, taking advantage of the holiday to take reflection in a quiet, calm moment to yourself, have a time out for some clear thinking when out for an early morning walk and thoughtful review of your business journey over the previous twelve months without the fear of those unanswered emails lurking in your inbox.

So here are my actions for the ‘Twelve Days of a tech startup Christmas’

Day One: Reframe First and foremost, simply bemoaning your luck for not achieving what you set out to achieve at the start of the year by complaining about your competition or lack of customers won’t help. Today’s laurels are tomorrow’s compost, you need to reboot and look forward. What are you aiming for? What does success looks like in 12 months time? What are you going to do differently this time that will create a different set of outcomes? There’s no point in feeling sorry for yourself, get a grip, reframe your own future.

Day Two: Restart Forget about how you’ve done business in the past, it was good enough then but it won’t give you the results you want in the future. The new order of tech companies show how the balance shifts dramatically is short time frames. In order to become the best business you can be, start with a clean sheet of paper. Who is my ideal customer? What is their persona? Why should customers buy from you and not others? Don’t get stuck in a rut, press the restart button and don’t be afraid, take a new bold, fresh approach. The same actions as last year will get you the same results – if you’re lucky.

Day Three: Rebalance The end result of your entrepreneurial risk taking should be freedom and fulfilment, not continuous hard work and a feeling of déjà vu. Dedicate time to rebalance your monthly, weekly, daily activities. If it’s all the business of today, who is steering towards the business of tomorrow? Specify what you should be doing, working ‘on’ the business, and not simply ‘in’, and rebalance your priorities. What is your North Star for the next twelve months?

Day Four: Revisit How can you succeed against a myriad of low-cost competitors? Offering the same thing as every competitor provides no advantage, and short-term pricing campaigns offer no sustainable long-term plan, so revisit your business strategy and business model to ensure they are viable and will build a winning business. Identify what markets and products will work in the next 12 months, and develop your value proposition accordingly.

Day Five: Revitalise Is the new year the time to revitalise your product offering in terms of features, benefits and customer experience? Could you layer on new capabilities to enhance stable underlying core processes to improve customer engagement? Analytics are another common area of focus – introducing cognitive techniques to better meet descriptive reporting needs and introduce predictive and prescriptive capabilities could take you forward. Talk to your customers and prospects, have a conversation, don’t sell – what are their unmet needs?

Day Six: Refinance The best businesses are also the best financed. Now is the time to take a hard look at your financial strategy, planning, management and systems, and your cash requirements. Prepare a 12-month cashflow, and use this information for strategy, investment and pricing decisions based around serving customer needs. This will give you a clear focus. Money from customers is the applause, but without adequate working capital, you won’t be able to get in front of them.

Day Seven: Restructure Most businesses use the same organisation chart for years without changing it, but over time, the old structure becomes outdated as customer demands change. Perhaps it’s time to restructure and take a look at job roles, skills needed, and responsibilities. Start with a blank piece of paper, what does the structure need to be to deliver the success desired? What are the key roles you don’t currently have? Where re the skills and people gaps for the next 12 months?

Day Eight: Refocus What do you offer or do differently to attract customers? How do you gather new fans of your product? Have you changed your target market or delivery systems to expand your customer base? Is it time to refocus your customer strategy and look for new customers in new markets? We often develop a myopic, inward facing view on our business, spending too much time focused on product not customer, and ignore our marketing and messaging. What does your brand stand for?

Day Nine: Replace Introduce new solutions for parts of the internal core that have been unchanged for many years. This may mean adopting new processes – have you considered the benefits of a cloud infrastructure? You should ideally use these pivots to revisit the business’s needs to service its customers better, building new capabilities that reflect how work should get done, not simply replicating how work used to get done on the old systems. Today it’s about the customer experience, engagement and providing convenience – do your systems make you easy to do business with, or are your customer facing systems clunky?

Day Ten: Revamp What business routines do you call over and over? Have you called any new plays lately? Your management style must be agile, what new ideas and innovations have you introduced to refresh the business and keep heads up. Think inside out, think like a customer.

Day Eleven: Replatform Upgrade platforms through technical upgrades, updates to software, and migration to modern operating environments (virtualised environments, cloud platforms). Unfortunately, these efforts are rarely ‘lift and shift’ and require thinking, analysis and tailored handling of each specific workload, but now is the time start with the thinking time available.

Day Twelve: Relive Are you living your dream with your business? Why not? Never forget your dream. Write down what you want your business to do for you personally in the next three to five years. Next decide what you must do to turn your vision into reality. Make it personal, so your business enables you to work to live, not live to work. Do you work for your business, or does your business work for you?

So spend the break time on reflective thinking, seeking to learn from experience, making judgements on what has happened, and develop a questioning attitude and new perspectives. We need to identify areas for change and improvement, respond effectively to new challenges, and apply what we have learned to ensure results improve.

The reflective learning cycle is iterative, it doesn’t stop after one rotation, you apply what you learn, then continue to reflect and develop further. Reflecting, evaluating and analysing your own experience of what you did and how you did it over the past twelve months develops your insight.

There is often no right answer, and some things may remain difficult to interpret. How did your actions affect the situation and how did the situation affect you? How do your observations today fit with the benefit of hindsight? Developing your reflective insights means stepping back and taking an honest critique of your own actions, behaviours and attitudes to consider what might be the results of doing things differently.

But don’t over think the past twelve months, you can’t change the past but you can shape the future. Words make you think, music makes you feel, a song make you feel a thought. It is after all, a great Christmas carol.

Entrepreneurial learning journey: restlessness & reinvention of Radiohead

Music is the sound of the soul, the direct voice of the outer and inner worlds we inhabit. It triggers a mental reaction, our moods vibrate in response to what we’re listening too. We can set free profound emotions with the intensity with which music affects the nerves and elevates human consciousness, and at the same time, brings silence to life, uncovering the hidden sound of silence and solitude.

The music I like is for me, the isolation of being in one’s own head is often the easiest way of losing yourself in the moment or to memories of past, feeling, life, motion and emotion, good and bad. Music that we feel in our marrow, that invites us into some other dimension of time, magnetises us to the present yet contains within itself all that ever was and ever will be.

We like music because it makes us feel good. In 2001, neuroscientists Anne Blood and Robert Zatorre at McGill University in Canada used magnetic resonance imaging to show that people listening to music they liked had activated brain regions called the limbic and paralimbic areas, which are connected to euphoric reward responses, like those we experience from sex, good food and addictive drugs. Those rewards come from a gush of a neurotransmitter called dopamine.

A surge of dopamine enlivens the brain with a pleasurable play of emotions, but it’s not the whole story. Our emotional response to music may be conditioned by many other factors too – if we are hearing it alone or in a crowd, for example, or if we associate a particular piece with a past experience – Temptation by New Order; Susan, they’re playing our tune.

So you have an epiphany that gives you goosebumps as your brain floods with dopamine. Over the years I recall when I first heard the opening bars of a number of Radiohead songs, and something just happened. I just felt this rush of emotion come through me. It was so intense. I had to concentrate on the song and the pleasure it gave me.

Like any business, a band is focused on new products and developing its fan base. As musical tastes change and new bands and sounds capture the imagination of the public, how does an established band like Radiohead keep their music fresh, so that it appeals to existing fans and yet at the same time grows their audience? It’s a challenge for any business.

Radiohead is an English band formed in Oxford in 1985 by five school friends. Initially the band were called On a Friday, the name referring to the band’s usual rehearsal day in the school’s music room. In late 1991, after a chance meeting between band member Colin Greenwood and EMI’s A&R representative at Our Price, the record shop where Greenwood worked, they signed a six-album recording contract with EMI. At the request of EMI, the band changed their name – Radiohead was taken from the song Radio Head on the Talking Heads album, True Stories.

Since their formation, Radiohead have been lyrically and musically spearheaded by Thom Yorke, the essential spark of innovation in the band. Yorke’s somnambulant ramblings and markedly individualistic performances cutting a strangely solitary figure, making him look like a man in the throes of a tortuous titanic confidence crisis. It’s all there in the songs, spooked, soul-baring millennial masterpieces. Yorke’s vocals trail through those atmospherics with angst and despair of a tortured performer.

Radiohead released their ninth album, A Moon Shaped Pool last year, an eleven track gem. As with each of the previous eight albums, it makes a statement about their musical influences and direction. Each has marked a dramatic evolution in their style, as they incorporated influences from experimental electronic music, expansive sounds, themes of modern alienation and C20th classical.

Radiohead are in many ways the Rolling Stones of Gen Y but without the ostentatious commerciality driven by the marketing machine. They are a serious band that make serious music, a touchstone for adventurous music, yet you have to actively listen to the music and the lyrics, they have meaning.

Just like Joy Division, they are seen by many as morose, gloomy harbingers of doom and introspective sensibilities, purporting monochrome view of the world. Not everyone’s cup of tea but for me there are toe tapping and sing-a-long moments a plenty. Something about Radiohead inspires a disorienting kind of hope.

So I keep listening to Radiohead. We all like music for different reasons – tunes, lyrics, live gigs etc., but for me Radiohead articulate a sentiment and voice that has something to say that resonates, be it political, a perspective on social conscience or simply a point of view, the nagging suspicion that some fundamental stuff needs shouting about and that someone else, somewhere else, needed help and that society should be doing do more. I guess it’s C21st protest music.

Nine albums in, thirty years together as a band, how do you keep your product innovation and keep pushing the ambition? What can we learn from Radiohead in terms of their business model, thinking and attitude from an entrepreneurial perspective, at a time when the music industry has been disrupted by digital like no other? Here are some of the best values of entrepreneurship and disruptive innovation that I see from Radiohead tat should spark a startup.

Passion – do it because you love doing it Thom Yorke wasn’t thinking of building a global brand and business when he started playing guitar. He did it simply because he loved it, he had talent and gave it a go. Musicians often say they play for themselves first and that it is a choice by which they can earn a living. This is a very basic principle that is common to successful entrepreneurs everywhere.

Put in 10,000 hours before you expect to make a difference Malcolm Gladwell talks about the 10,000-hour rule in his book Outliers. He states that to be good at anything, you have to put in 10,000 hours of practice to hone your skills. Radiohead were gigging for seven years before they released their first record; in business you have to craft and refine your offering before customers notice.

Radiohead are ingenious, wonderful musicians, and they really put the hours in, so much so, that Thom Yorke often complains of how physically draining it is making a record. That commitment is driven by inspiration, by determination, by hunger. That’s what we’re all after to make our startup different.

Open mindedness Radiohead’s work is drawn from a diverse range of influences. Their uniqueness is the product of constant change and combining existing elements in new ways, producing something entirely their own, with a prowess for throwing stuff together randomly to discover new combinations and possibilities. This ability to create genuine uniqueness is a key trait of an entrepreneur.

Each member of the band has also undertaken a series of independent, solo projects, collaborating with a range of artists. This builds a sense of both free-spirit and freedom yet unity, free thinkers who then regroup to do something together that is better, having had time to breath and explore individually.

Restlessness & reinvention Radiohead has never succumbed to the stick-to-a-formula mantra, each release has emerged with something completely new and unexpected. Not all of his experiments have worked, but this willingness to try out new ideas, knowing that not all will triumph, is a trait every innovator needs.

In 2007, when CD sales were taking a major hit due to illegal downloads, they offered their seventh album, In Rainbows, as a download directly from their website, avoiding all the middlemen, and let fans choose what they wanted to pay, including the option of nothing. About one third did choose the free option, but the average donation for the two months this offer was available was $8.00. It turned into a huge financial success.

Novelty Their passion for novelty and spirit of experimentation is a constant presence in their music, imagery and style, even when if it is critically maligned. Radiohead nurture and cultivate their audience through innovative online marketing – check outhttp://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/feb/11/radiohead-polyfauna-app-iphone-ipad-android Paying attention to your customers is the essence of any business.

Build IP If you are an entrepreneur or aspiring musician, you have made the decision that you are someone that wants to make a mark on the world you live in, live by your own rules and create your own life. Your innovations and intellectual property are your lifeblood. Radiohead are shrewd and carefully manage their IP, the copyright to their songs and music is the greatest revenue earner from licensing.

Yet, they’ve worked without a record deal since leaving EMI in 2003, in an effort to ‘get out of the comfort zone’, and maintain their independence. They must be the best unsigned band in the world. Their last three albums have been released by independent label XL Recordings.

A clear dividing line between important work and busywork Radiohead are not productive – nine albums in thirty years, two in the last decade and five years prior to the last A Moon Shaped Pool. That to me says everything about busy work, and important work. Radiohead have always sounded like a band in constant motion, each new release an agitation from the previous release, never resting on their laurels.

It’s about the team Each member of Radiohead is a talented musician in their own right, everything is balanced and nobody gets into overdoses of egos. It always seems like they’re one step ahead of the game, not to mention that their popularity hasn’t really got in the way of creativity. They have not exactly mellowed with age, either. Most of their songs come about through improvisation, and from chaos and noise you suddenly get some music.

As time marches on, Yorke looks a little like Ming the Merciless reborn as a compassionate yoga instructor. Although their commercial peak maybe behind them, Radiohead continue to release new albums that are liberally sprinkled with strong songs. Unperturbed by changes of fashion, these albums sell to faithful fans who actually pay money for music, almost an anachronism in the age of digital downloads and Spotify.

The formula for Radiohead’s endurance is like a restless entrepreneur, never resting on their laurels, they retain the mix of uplifting, anthemic melodies with craftily serious lyrics. Amazingly now in their fourth decade, their enduring appeal comes from the combination of swagger and often fragile words and on-stage presence. Their albums are always fine soundtracks to life’s more dramatic moments locking together and producing some wonderful noise.

I know they are an acquired taste and not everyone’s cup of tea, but people like Thom Yorke are intrinsically motivated to innovate their craft, and reflect the guile, graft and learning journey of any entrepreneur. Yorke is a talented, spirited man, an aggrieved, affronted isolated figure whose rage was borne of annoyance at the status quo. He is driven, passionate and more than willing to rebel against the norm. And that’s what every entrepreneur does too, to do their own thing and make their mark.

Build a thriving team in your startup, not just an array of digital tools

In any startup business, we are immersed in apps and devices that provide a high degree of visibility, connectivity and productivity enabling collaboration, removing boundaries and barriers. Yet the conundrum of this is that as we build culture and a team with shared values and purpose, we are consciously reducing the amount of meaningful human interaction we have with each other

Much recent tech innovation has been about creating a workplace with less human interaction, enabling remote working, virtual teams and sharing. These tech tools don’t claim that eliminating the need to deal with humans directly is its primary goal, but it is the outcome in a surprising number of cases.

I’m not saying that these new technologies are not hugely convenient and beneficial, but in a sense, they run counter to who we are as human beings. Human interaction is often perceived as complicated, inefficient, noisy, and slow, and the focus is on reducing the friction. For startups, the essence is that it is a coming together that is messy and inefficient as new relationships form

Look at Amazon, initially it was about making books available that we didn’t find locally – what a great idea – but it eliminates human contact and chatting about books to strangers you stand next to at the bookshop shelf. This then, is the new norm as we read about algorithms, AI, robots, AR/VR and self-driving cars, all of which fit this pattern.

Online ordering and home delivery is hugely convenient, digital music downloads and streaming likewise don’t require a visit to a physical store. In both, some services offer algorithmic recommendations, so you don’t even have to discuss books and music with your friends to find new stuff. But isn’t the function of books and music as a social glue and lubricant also being eliminated?Then there is ‘social media’ which offers interaction that isn’t really social, and the emergence of some hugely negative side effects of this phenomenon too – for us as a society, less contact and less real interaction seems to be leading to less tolerance and understanding of differences, and more antagonism.

On one hand these innovations are efficient and convenient, but they remove the human inter-relationships. I use many of them myself, but we have evolved as social creatures, and our ability to cooperate and forge relationships is one of the big factors in our success.

I would argue that social interaction and cooperation, the kind that makes us who we are, is something our tools can augment but not replace. Minimising interaction has some knock-on effects – the externalities of efficiency, one might say.

So back to a startup, bursting with talent a clutch of digital tools. When we are working in solo mode, we believe work can be done effectively through the digital domain, our rational thinking convinces us that much of our interaction can be reduced to a series of logical decisions. As behavioural economists tell us, we don’t behave rationally, even though we think we do. Bayesians will tell us that interaction is how we revise our picture of what is going on and what will happen next.

Humans are capricious, emotional and irrational in what sometimes seem like counterproductive ways. It often seems that our quick-thinking will be our downfall. With humans being somewhat unpredictable (well, until an algorithm completely removes that illusion), we get the benefit of surprises, happy accidents, unexpected connections and intuitions. Interaction and face-to-face collaboration with others multiplies those ­opportunities.

So, how do we build the people side of a startup, having a range of digital tools that can bring us together, yet at the same time push us apart? Meeteor, a consultancy business that exists to empower people individually and collectively to work smarter and happier, has identified the concept of ‘thriving teams’ to create a more fulfilling the collaboration experience.

Thriving teams are multi-dimensional. Of course, there is a focus on achieving high performance and delivering stellar output, yet they also value each member, strive for workplace balance, and create a culture of learning and engagement. Meeteor has identified the most important elements of a thriving team. These elements are not mutually exclusive, and, in fact, overlap and influence each other.

Balance Achieving balance means more than work-life harmony. In a startup it’s all about getting stuff done, attention to learning and experimentation can be easily compromised. While people may be driven by their work, they may also suffer from the focus that comes with it.

A thriving team is mindful of the importance of balance. A thriving team walks the line between team performance and individual learning, accomplishing tasks and mastering processes, achieving results and maintaining well-being. A thriving team honours the tension between learning and performance as key to success and sustainability.

Common Purpose and Direction Purpose plays this critical role because it is the source of the meaning and significance people seek in what they do. A startup team’s purpose should guide their day-to-day actions. A shared purpose and direction anchor teams in time of growth with new members joining rapidly.

Effective Communication Effective communication is the engine of a thriving team. MIT Human Dynamics Laboratory found that when people connect directly with one another and establish communication channels, they are more likely to be successful.

On the other hand, when a team doesn’t encourage open communication and transparency, people work in silos and don’t share information that could be helpful for each other. A thriving team needs to invest in developing the right mindset and skills for effective communication, encouraging inclusivity and transparency. This strikes at the core of the digital debate.

Shared Accountability and Support Team alignment on purpose and direction does not guarantee effective execution, a consensus on shared accountability and outlaw negative behaviours like missing deadlines or letting work fall through the cracks, can harm a team’s performance and culture. When people feel a sense of shared ownership, they contribute to each other’s success, holding each other accountable for individual and team results. They set high performance standards and count on each other to deliver high quality work.

Mutual Trust In his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni identifies ‘absence of trust’ as a root cause of team dysfunction. Without trust, team members may not feel safe to express themselves or be vulnerable. They may avoid sharing their ideas, taking risks or giving feedback. This hurts the team’s performance and relationships.

A thriving team is trusting and trustworthy, they are more willing to share knowledge, resources and new ideas, which builds the team’s capacity to innovate and achieve greater results.

Norms and Processes Norms and processes – whether implicit or explicit – determine how a team gets its work done. They guide behaviour by defining the team workflow and client delivery. A thriving team has effective work processes in place and follows them consistently to accomplish work. Team members periodically reflect on and improve their processes.

The team establishes helpful norms that support effective teamwork, such as decision making valuing all voices, encouraging innovation, and rewarding experimentation (even if it fails).

Meaningful Engagement It’s accepted that engaged employees produce better business outcomes than other employees do. Being engaged in work is a crucial component of high performance, productivity and retention, regardless of an organization’s size. Meaningful engagement means cultivating a culture in which people care about and are fulfilled by their work, build healthy relationships, and co-create a workplace that they care about.

Building and sustaining a thriving team is a dynamic and ongoing process, an important growth objective for a startup. I like the imagery of a ‘thriving team’, one where energy, camaraderie and respect exists. It relies on the team getting to know each other, bonding and forming relationships.

At the same time, digital technology is having a profound effect on the human side of the enterprise, affecting where, when, and how employees get work done. Are the two compatible? The results of Deloitte’s Future of Work survey confirm that the ways in which new technologies will shape organisations and leadership roles as a topic of critical importance. Some 65% of those surveyed say it is a strategic objective to transform their organisation’s culture with a focus on increasing connectivity, communication, and collaboration.

Even as more business functions are augmented by new technology capabilities to uplift productivity, people remain the most critical asset of an organisation. Going forward, those people will be working in a more networked, distributed, mobile, collaborative, and real-time fluid manner. Such significant shifts will demand not only increased adaptability on the part of employees, but deliberate forethought on how digital communication tools are used.

Digital technologies offer the opportunity to create a more connected, if less engaging environment for employees, and a more adaptive organisation for the future in terms of automation. However, we need to create context, as we move away from email and toward more sophisticated collaboration tools and virtual teaming technologies.

New tools alone are not enough. As we sit on the cusp of potentially more sweeping technology-enabled changes from AI and more sophisticated algorithms, we need to develop the right cultural context for these new tools and adapt workplace processes and policies to make the most of digital capabilities on the way.

We need to build networks, not hierarchies, place more focus on facilitating the exchange of ideas, enabling the flow of conversations across the organisation, and providing greater autonomy at team and individual levels going forward. This shift from accountability to enabling organisational construct will be a critical component to the future of work. Digital tools must enable an empowered network of employees capable of acting autonomously, rather than waiting for direction.

Silence is one of the great arts of conversation. Sometimes you have to disconnect to stay connected. Remember the old days when you had eye contact during a conversation? When everyone wasn’t looking down at a device in their hands, or screen in front of them? We’ve become so focused on that tiny screen that we sometimes forget the big picture, the people right in front of us.

The importance of fika time to a startup

My newest venture, thestartupfactory.tech, https://thestartupfactory.tech/ has been up and running for three months now, and we’re in good nick, building our confidence, rhythm, spirit, cadence and culture. We’re a team of passionate folk who work with tech startups to turn their vision into a reality, enabling innovation and customer-centred thinking into their new tech product and business.

We’re entrepreneurs, software engineers, designers, analysts, and agile practitioners. We’re also bloggers, explorers, speakers, swimmers, dog lovers, coffee addicts, campers, walkers, musicians, gamers, footballers, readers, travellers, gardeners, parents, and optimists.

That list is about ‘who we are’. We bring our true selves to work. Our business is defined by who we are, our values and the culture we create. More grit than glamour, we’re built on the spirit and down-to-earthiness of Manchester, ‘factory’ being an acknowledgment of the industrial heritage of what made Manchester special, and also taking the disruption, innovation and ethos of one of the city’s most evocative businesses, Factory Records.

With an attitude of graft and guile, we are factory workers, we get our hands into the machinery of building a startup, we roll our sleeves up, get dirt under our nails and get stuck in.

The essential moving parts of any startup are the people capital, not the venture capital, as Drucker said, culture eats strategy for breakfast, and we’ve spent time thinking and building our culture ahead of any rush to market.

When setting out on our venture, we looked to other entrepreneurs for a steer as to what makes for a happy and healthy business. We found this quote from Jeff Bezos: Find the things that are important to you and invest heavily in those things.

So we created the Five Pillars, to stay focused on a list of meaningful things that created and sustained intimacy and interaction between us, and connected us at a personal level. I spend more time with the team that I do with my dog, so there had to be reason to be here.

So here is the list of Five Pillars, it’s on our web site.

Vision & Values

  • Our business is about people capital, not venture capital
  • Reach beyond your expectations, every day
  • First names are important, job titles are not
  • Trusting each other is the platform for everything we do
  • Everyone practices humility and self awareness, but also self-esteem
  • We know the mentality to be successful and we have it in abundance

Culture

  • No office hours, but minds always open
  • 40 hours a week maximum; 32 summer hours – 4 day weeks, July & August
  • Weekend starts 1pm Friday
  • We pay for one weekend holiday a year for everyone
  • Fresh fruit breakfast in the office every day; pay for a weekly ‘Hello Fresh’ shop once a month
  • Team social last Thursday of every month

Knowledge

  • Everyone has a personal R&D project
  • Host Lunch & Learns third Thursday in the month
  • Run four hackathons a year
  • Wednesday afternoon is your personal learning time
  • Everyone goes to one event a month; everyone has a monthly book allowance
  • Performance of the business is transparent to everyone

Social impact

  • Lead a Code school in Manchester for under 11s
  • Provide a platform for unemployed people to get back into work
  • Sponsor & help the homeless in Manchester
  • Mentor a Social Enterprise
  • Provide paid internship opportunities
  • Be an active contributor to Manchester Tech Trust

Success

  • We will keep our company small and intimate, with reasonable expectations
  • Our place of work is a welcoming oasis, not a chaotic kitchen
  • Anxiety is not a pre-requisite for progress
  • We are calm by choice and practice
  • Everything is about having a reasonable day, going home, and living your life
  • Success is looking at a visible horizon, and getting there in the long run

We’ve not done everything yet, there’s a few wrinkles and edges to sort as we’re not doing some things as well as we can, but the Five Pillars gives us clarity and purpose about our direction.

I’ve long been interested in entrepreneurial cultures and the underlying philosophies, how you create the conditions to spark a startup based on the emotional intelligence and connectivity of the people. We’re more reflective than rebels, and on crafting the Five Pillars came across a concept from Ikea, ‘fika’, which we’ve implemented.

At 9.45am every day, we have ‘fika’ time. We each stop what we are doing and huddle around a table, have a cup of tea or coffee, and just be with each other. We chat about anything and everything but work. Friday was about Chuck’s pending house move; James neglecting his desk cactus; Jake’s obsession with 3D printing; and my ridiculous new waistcoat wardrobe. We also get loud about curating our tsf.tech Spotify list.

What we sample is an experience and unique word at the heart of Swedish life and work – ‘fika’ (pronounced ‘fee-ka’). According to the Swedish Culture website it is described in this way:

Swedes prefer not to translate the word fika. They don’t want it to lose significance and become a mere coffee break. Fika is much more than having a coffee. It is a social phenomenon, a legitimate reason to set aside a moment for quality time.

Coffee is traditionally at the heart of the fika. When coffee arrived in Sweden in 1685, it became so popular that it upset the rest of the import business. So much so that it was banned five times in Swedish history!

Fika is a combination of the Swedish colloquial word for cafe – fik – and coffee – kaffe. Who knows, perhaps the term fika served as a kind of code for those who took part in this once illegal activity. It is said that during the bans, Swedes were forced to drink their coffee secretly, out into the woods

Making time for fika is so sacred to Swedes that it’s built into many employee contracts. Some even say that the best ideas spring from fika breaks. We use fika time to cultivate an almost tactile sense of connection, here’s what we are trying to bring into our business.

Communicate frequently and constantly In tsf.tech we are always active on collaboration tools like Jira, Zoom and Slack instant messenger. Besides work content, we post links to interesting items, videos, learnings and stories. The point is that in the physical workplace we know we can relax and chat to people when we see them, but when we’re away from our work space and operating in the more detached digital world, we need to work harder at connecting, talking and feeling close. Fika gives us this.

Be open, vulnerable and honest Not every day is intense, but what works in the digital workplace is to reveal what matters to each of us. Speaking in your own authentic voice is essential. Honesty creates intimacy in digital worlds just as much as it does in the physical. Connecting becomes a deliberate rather than assumed experience. In tsf.tech we say that you do not need to be present physically but you do need to be present digitally, so if you can’t make fika face to face, connect using the tools.

Place your leadership front and centre The beauty of the digital workplace is that it has qualities that are impossible in the physical world. So take IKEA for example. In the physical world, their leaders cannot be everywhere in person having coffee and chatter with colleagues. But in the digital world, through real-time and other collaborative services, they can be ‘felt’ across far more frequently and with a much greater reach. But you have to invest time and authenticity in making it happen.

Use all the technology you can to bring you closer In tsf.tech we grab every new tool that may make us slicker and faster, as well as strengthen our bonds and connections. There is also a level of curiosity and experimenting. We do this because we like to be a ‘digital workplace lab’, we are in a position to experiment and innovate with new digital services in a way that large companies may not be. With all the team save myself under twenty-six, they are ‘digital natives’ and have a natural instinct for UX and gamification.

Make the social side of connection richer and deeper I dislike the term ‘social media’, it’s an oxymoron, because it drives isolated experience and consumption, it connects but doesn’t create engagement. Social for me is sitting next to someone and talking, and the things we talk about and do that are explicitly not work – they are social. Yes, we use social and online tools and the ways in which we use them are clear and distinct, engendering personal connection and relationships inside and outside the company. The point is we share our lives – issues, pets, families and homes. This generates the culture of closeness that the Swedes so value.

Use your own voice to talk and listen I mention voice particularly because on a phone call, Zoom or Webex we are talking and listening in reality. So far the only aspect of me as a human being that can be communicated digitally in the same way as if we are sitting together is my own voice, tone, intonation. I believe how we listen also matters hugely and when someone is listening to another person attentively, the talker can see that quality of listening. This is a key underpinning of fika.

We also have a ‘Your Voice’ item on our fortnightly team meeting agenda, when I encourage sharing ourselves with each other about how work ‘feels’. We also challenge each other and have debates and even arguments when needed at fika time, but we do that using our own voices because our vocal cords and tone of voice are such a powerful and distinct part of who we each are.

Meet in person when you can and make it matter Sometimes for some meetings this is not possible, but using opportunities to meet face-to-face does make a difference. It’s easy to default to the smart tech tools, but if we can meet in person, it adds to the richness of relationship, looking people in the eye and getting a sense of their body language is of much more value to see how we are.

While fika is good for mental and physical wellness, offering a period of calmness in a busy working day schedule, it can also help us to stay focused in the long run. Research has shown that taking breaks increases productivity. Sometimes, during the middle of a task, you might be stuck. With fika, you can have a break, come back refreshed and look at things from a different perspective. We insist that work talk is prohibited in fika. It forces you away from your work so you can re-evaluate things, come back refreshed and prioritise tasks when you do return.

So another year, another Scandinavian lifestyle trend. In 2016, the UK was fascinated by the Danish practice of hygge (finding the simple pleasure everyday life). For me, fika is an opportunity to slow down, come together for a face-to-face and interact. The social aspect of work is incredibly important.

The essential part is making a little space in your day to take a break. In our modern, hectic lifestyles, this is the part that is important: that we take a few moments to slow down in our day and make time to just sit and appreciate the moment.

So, perhaps there are aspects of the IKEA fika around coffee and cake that you can create inside your own digital enabled workplace, like we have in tsf.tech, to enable you to enjoy that atmosphere and chemistry of connection the Swedes love so much. The only part missing so far for us is the cake, but I guess we’ll just have to wait for Jake’s 3D printing of food and add that to the digital workplace menu at tsf.tech fika meetings.

Networking tips for startup founders

Manchester’s tech startup community is bursting with events, meet-ups, workshops, hackathons and networking talks. Getting out there and connecting with like-minded folks is an essential activity for a startup, and building a great network is key to the success of any entrepreneur. Almost every breakfast, lunch and evening it seems is packed with invitations and opportunities to hang out at popular hubs and co-working spaces.

Don’t get me wrong, depending on your level of introversion, they can be a lot of fun, and you can meet some thought-provoking people and build vital connections. Then again, if you’re not careful, you could also spend most of the week chasing every single gathering of coffee and croissants, beer and pizza, using valuable time that you could and should be spending, you know, actually working on your startup.

Throughout it’s rich historic tapestry of disruption, growth and innovation, Manchester has seen many iconic meetings in the city, and this list is sure to give you inspiration for your next get-together in Manchester:

Charles Rolls & Henry Royce After Royce built a car in his factory in Cook Street, a meeting was set up with Rolls at the Midland Hotel in 1904. Rolls was impressed by the cars that Royce had made and agreed to take them, branding them ‘Rolls-Royce’. The combination of Rolls’ wealth and Royce’s engineering expertise spawned the creation of one of the most iconic car and engineering brands of all time, as Rolls-Royce Limited setup in 1906.

Marx & Engels It was in Manchester in the mid C19th that the Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx met to discuss revolution and the theory of communism. The desk and alcove where Marx and Engels worked and studied at Chetham’s Library in 1845 are still there today and remain unaltered. It truly was a meeting that shaped the world.

Graphene Fridays Professor Sir Andre Geim and Professor Sir Kostya Novoselov, at the University of Manchester, often held ‘Friday night experiments’ where they would try out experimental science. One Friday, the two scientists removed some flakes from a lump of bulk graphite with sticky tape and noticed that some flakes were thinner than others. By separating the graphite fragments they managed to create flakes, which were just one atom thick – and had successfully isolated graphene for the first time.

Women’s Social and Political Union A meeting at 62 Nelson Street, Manchester was the birthplace of the Suffragette movement, at the first meeting of the Women’s Social and Political Union. This historically significant building was the home of Emmeline Pankhurst and her family who led the Suffragette campaign and ‘Votes for Women’.

The Free Trade Hall, June 4, 1976 This was a gig that changed the face of Manchester culture forever, The Sex Pistols show defined music for generations to come. In the audience were future members Joy Divison (Ian Curtis, Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook), two founders of Factory Records (Martin Hannett and Tony Wilson), Mark E. Smith of The Fall, and one Steven Morrissey, who would form The Smiths.

Whilst we’d all give our right arm to be at meeting that would create such an impact to move our business forward, I can assure you that you simply do not need to attend 99% of the networking events you see cluttering your diary.

In fact, many respected entrepreneurs built their businesses from the ground up without jumping at every networking event they came across in their city. They chose instead to focus on building their businesses and gaining their customers’ trust, before eventually earning the respect of those they want to meet and establish relationships with.

One example is Mark Zuckerberg, who chose to focus on growing his social network independently into something of value, teaming up with just a couple of friends from Harvard to build it up in the early days. For two years he kept his head down, didn’t seek funding; he didn’t flock to every event to talk about and evangelise his idea.

Another example of entrepreneurs who focused first on ensuring their startup had real market value before attempting to build relationships with other entrepreneurs were the Whats App co-founders, Brian Acton and Jan Koum. Steve Jobs also never spent his days attending a bunch of networking events. He and Steve Wozniak spent all their time building and improving their product.

These examples demonstrate that instead of jumping around to every event before you have any traction with your own business, build your startup and let networking organically follow. Yes, get out of the building, but do so to test your ideas and validate your learning.

Our natural tendency is to see successful people as reflections of our own desires and values, and I see many embryonic startup founders beating a trail to every event, almost addicted to going to and being seen at networking occasions. This creates false expectations that will eventually cause a detrimental emotional reaction. It’s often the smaller, quiet moments on your own in startup life that create the biggest impact, which is often overlooked.

So, here are some thoughts to help guide your selection of which networking events you should attend:

Attend industry-specific networking events What business does a computer scientist have in an energy networking event? If it’s to meet prospects that may invest in their tech-related startup, they may have already wasted a lot of time. Anyone there is probably only interested in anything energy related. Attending a networking event outside of your own direct industry should be done if your tech solution could either directly solve a problem in that field, or if you were specifically invited. Otherwise, stay at home and work.

Attend activity based events Activity-based networking events involve you directly in the entrepreneurial process. Carrying out tasks with co-entrepreneurs offers some genuine peer-group learning and reflection. Don’t just go to events and listen to people talking about themselves. How will this take you forward? Participating in an activity, doing something with someone, means a short-lived partnership that means hands-on, in the moment thinking, that can end up laying the groundwork for learning and a pivot in your product.

Attend invitation-based networking events Invite-only events usually have top quality guests present with something meaningful and relevant to say. Knowing that an event is packed only with people invited makes it a lot easier for people to build relationships with others they meet. If a person you’ve identified as someone to meet is attending, then hustling the ticket is a great bet for you. Remember, even though most in the startup world are pretty chummy with each other, this is business. Time is an essential ingredient in all startups, make it count. Rather than appealing to your emotions in a bid to sprout a friendship, appeal instead to your self-interest.

Research who you want to meet Before you attend an event, research the speakers and others entrepreneurs in attendance. Prioritise who you want to get to know, as this will help you craft a plan to make the most of the event. The goal of attending any networking event is to build quality relationships, this involves you approaching and talking to people who would add value to your thinking and your business. Knowing who to engage in a conversation largely requires a preset plan before you arrive.

Even better, people enjoy people via some exchange of value. When you try to impress with nothing to back it up, the relationship you thought you were building will fizzle away. What can you add to their thinking? The people we surround ourselves with at the outset of our venture are too important for us to be hasty or wasteful with our time and energy. They can determine a lot in our future, so be focused on the potential for making connections that could trigger both customer acquisition and growth opportunities.

Network with a purpose Do not go to a networking meeting aimlessly. Have a purpose. Your goal is to meet people that you can help and people who can help you. You do not know who they are yet so you have to mix with a fair number to improve your chances. But you must have an overall goal. It helps other people to help you if they know what you are looking for.

The old saying, ‘It is not what you know; it is who you know’ is true, you can significantly increase your chances of success in almost any field if you know or can get in touch with the right people. This is the power of networking, but it has to be focused. Frankly, I’m fed up of be asked to play in ‘name check entrepreneur bingo’ – do you know Mr X, or Mrs Y? What’s the point?

You must target networking events where you can determine that you’ll have a chance for real conversations. Too many of these events involve quick chats, exchange of details about each other’s’ businesses, and move on. How many have offered real follow-up value?

Prepare your introduction Sounds obvious, but do you have a crafted and elegant introduction, as this is the best way to start the conversation. You don’t just go barging in and start talking about your startup being an investment opportunity, and don’t make it sound like an elevator pitch. Be polite and friendly, let them know who they’re talking to, make it personal, warm and interesting.

After a clam introduction, talk about something they’ve done that has amazed you when you learned or read about it. Doing this will make the person more open to you, knowing one of their products or services has had an impact. Show your curiosity, make yourself someone genuinely worth knowing.

Next, find something in common, that will start to create a deeper connection and build trust. Also, instead of just imposing your ideas and thoughts dominating the conversation, spend more time asking intelligent questions and listening to the replies than talking about yourself.

Understand that it involves more than exchanging business cards. Your challenge is to build a human connection. That means you’re not doing all the talking, but encouraging give and take with good, insightful questions that show you sincerely are interested in how the other person thinks. It also means you pay attention to the answers. There is no value in a pocket of business cards at the end of the event if you haven’t agreed to a follow up.

Circulate and know when to get out A key message for introverts who are uncomfortable with networking, or extraverts who get deep into a conversation quickly and dominate – don’t stay the whole time making comfortable small talk with the first group you meet. After a while make a polite excuse and move around the room spending say ten to fifteen minutes with each new person. You will find that you can leave conversations without being brusque. Networking means circulating and people at the meeting are aware of this.

Your time is better spent, and a much better connection made, when you linger with those where you’ve sparked good give-and-take. Get out gracefully, when you feel you’ve been cornered by someone who isn’t a good match.

Follow Up You’ve invested time in getting to the event, three days after making a new connection, give them a call and re-introduce yourself. If you don’t follow up, where is the return on your investment? This is the chance to meet for a more purposeful one-to-one conversation. It is important to stick to the three-day follow up rule, as any time longer than that may diminish the relationship established at the event.

Some sort of follow-up is important, though this will depend on the quality of the connection – the extent to which you really ‘click’ personally and professionally. What’s important to remember is that the best relationships are mutually beneficial, so the first meeting is just that, you have to nurture the connection: the more you put into it, the more will come back to you.

Attending every networking event ultimately robs you of the time you could have spent building your startup and understanding your customers. You become part of the ‘celebratory startup circuit’ where you have to see and be seen. Whilst you can get inspiration from hearing about the journey of others, it’s actually perspiration – your own – that will ultimately move your business forward.

Realistic expectations are only part of doing networking right. It’s also important to understand that doing it right takes time. Focus on quality and forging genuine friendships, respect, trust and rapport, not ‘contacts’, or being able to say ‘I was there’ at an event.

I’ve met so many who have opened doors for me and remained in my life both personally and professionally. After a while, networking doesn’t feel like ‘networking.’ It’s both serendipitous and unpredictable, and something that just naturally becomes part of your work life and your personal life.

However, don’t keep score, it’s not about the ‘who and how many’, rather connect with people because there is value, and nurture the relationships that will truly help propel you towards accomplishing great things. Ultimately, focus on having in-depth conversations with fewer people about subjects relevant to your growth.