Give your 2020 tech startup vision a higher purpose

Well, we’re a few days into a new decade. Now the 2020s begin, but to be honest, I’m still bewildered and concussed by the political and cultural blast waves that detonated throughout the final years of the last decade to give much thought to the next ten years that stand before us.

I’m now living in the seventh decade of my life. Moments like these make you stand still, not lamenting or wishing for time-travel back to those yearned-for days of past as this really is little more than nostalgic comfort food. No, it’s about thinking about what I’m going to do to shape my future in the next decade. Looking back ten years to 2010, it is difficult to understand how we got from there to here, but it is easy to see why we are punch-drunk.

Only yesterday, Facebook was just a way of tracking down old friends, rather than an existential threat to our liberal democracy. Only yesterday the prospect of Scottish independence seemed unlikely. Only yesterday we would have dismissed the idea that foodbanks, homelessness and poverty were deep fault lines in a civilised society. When a true retrospective of the third decade of C21st is written, I hope the dystopian future I fear never materialised.

At the beginning of the last decade, the 2010 Nobel physics prize was awarded to University of Manchester University academics Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov for ground-breaking experiments regarding the two-dimensional material graphene.

Suddenly, everyone was talking about a material made of a single lattice layer of carbon atoms that had remarkable abilities to transmit heat and electricity while also being extremely strong. Ten years on, nothing much has emerged from graphene, but we continue to rely upon tech to offer a vision of a brighter future.

Tech doesn’t always deliver, but recall that a little over 50 years ago we were just putting a man on the moon, and in 2020 we can instantly stream a personalised gallery of TV shows, so can tech help create and sustain a bright new decade? As the 2020s dawn, for me, optimism is in short supply.

The new technologies that dominated the past decade seem to be making things worse. Social media were supposed to bring people together and hailed as a liberating force. Today they are better known for invading privacy, spreading propaganda and undermining democracy.

Similarly the Internet. The architecture of the Internet is about choice, that’s where the resilience and ubiquity comes from. On the other hand, the business of the Internet is about monopolies – Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Google. FAAMG – the acronym for the big five tech companies coined by Goldman Sachs, are bringing sociocultural evolution at scale and at full speed with such significant network effects that they are creating infinite financial returns for their investors.

Like you, I love and use this tech (not Facebook, due to lack of trust), we voluntarily choose to engage because it’s better, cheaper, faster than doing it somewhere else – but also because they are now part of our ‘normal life’. But then, I think abut my privacy and cynicism kicks in and suddenly, the monopoly isn’t about serving us, it’s about how innovative tech startups have turned into corporations serving their investors.

Despite mounting evidence to the contrary, we were told back in 2010 that the web and social media had brought us to the threshold of a new and almost utopian society. The technology available to all democratised society. In reality, this delusional optimism in which the democratising potential of tech driven social media was to be empirically disappointing.

Going back a decade, the hit movie of 2010 was Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher’s Oscar-winning The Social Network, which dramatised the relationships between the founders of Facebook. What in 2010 seemed like a dark take on a new tech and social phenomenon now feels like a prescient foreshadowing of a decade that was to come – a decade that ended with Cambridge Analytica and Mark Zuckerberg called to appear before a Congressional committee to defend his company’s behaviour and practices.

Investors move and energise today’s tech, and what capitalism values, our world does more of. In the last decade tech has become an integral part of what we might call a ‘normal life’, but is this true? Now, no matter where we stand on the socioeconomic ladder, the future of the ‘normal life’ doesn’t look so certain. In the developed world our current form of capitalism is failing to produce an increasing standard of living for most of its citizens. It’s time for an upgrade.

Our economic system must shift to focus on bettering the lot of the average person. Capitalism – and thus tech investment – has to be made to serve human ends and goals. We could create an entirely new parallel economy around social good driven by tech. Most of the entrepreneurs and technologists I know are champing at the bit to work on our problems. We can harness the country’s ingenuity and energy to improve millions of lives with tech.

We’re in a slow-moving crisis that is about to speed up. Perhaps the real source of anxiety is not technology itself, but growing doubts about our ability to hold this debate, and come up with honest answers. Yet there is something reassuring about this, a gloomy debate is much better than no debate at all, and history still argues, on the whole, for optimism.

Don’t get me wrong, the digital transformation since 2010 has helped improve our lives, whilst also creating a darker, sinister side, but on balance calls for the deployment of more technology, not less. So as the decade turns, put aside the gloom for a moment. To be alive in the tech-rich 2020s is probably to be among the luckiest people who have ever lived.

The search for new opportunities and ideas is at the heart of human progress, but what is the best way to carry out that search with the help of tech? The ultimate example is climate change. It is hard to imagine any solution that does not depend in part on tech innovation in clean energy, carbon capture and energy storage.

The question becomes what matters to us beyond money, and how can tech help us achieve this? How can we change tech so that it focuses on what humans really want and not the needs from capitalism – for the many, not the few.

Doing this decade retrospective, there is one key issue that stood out for me: data. This was the decade when we became obsessed with taking 10,000 steps a day. According to science, the health benefits are moot but that didn’t stop firms like Fitbit and Garmin coaxing us into wearing fitness trackers packed with accelerometers and sensors. These data-harvesting devices track our locations, our heart rates, our sleeping patterns and our exercise habits. Who gets the most use from this torrent of data – individuals or the tech companies – is debatable.

What was the best tech invention of the decade? For me it has to be the Amazon Echo ‘smart’ speaker, although I’m torn with cynicism again because it represented the moment when tech finally broke through the last barrier protecting our privacy – our homes. Alexa exploited our fatal attraction to convenience, and what data insights it provides to Amazon.

The technologies expected to dominate the new decade also seem to cast a dark shadow. Polls show that internet firms are now less trusted than the banking industry, at the very moment banks are striving to rebrand themselves as tech firms, and internet giants are becoming the new banks.

So we enter the 2020s free from any delusions about tech and social media. Concerns that humanity has taken a technological wrong turn, or that particular technologies might be doing more harm than good, have arisen before – the blight of industrialisation was decried in the C19th by Luddites, Romantics and Socialists, who worried about the displacement of skilled artisans, the spoiling of the countryside and the suffering of factory hands toiling in smoke-belching mills.

Stand back, and in each of these historical cases disappointment arose from a mix of unrealised hopes and unforeseen consequences. Tech unleashes the forces of creative destruction, so it is only natural that it leads to anxiety, when its drawbacks sometimes seem to outweigh its benefits. When this happens with several emerging technologies at once, as today, the result is a wider sense of pessimism.

However, maybe my pessimism is overdone. I’ve spent the last two weeks immersed in books, benedictine and time away from my screens, and become unduly sceptical. After all, worries about screen time should be weighed against the substantial benefits of ubiquitous communication and the instant access to information and entertainment that smartphones make possible.

On the doorstep of a new decade, humanity is simultaneously continuing history’s greatest technological evolution and in the throes of grave social and ecological crises. As the climate and environmental crisis accelerates and population inequality rises, it has also never been more clear just how much the world’s wellbeing will depend upon the decisions of tech entrepreneurs.

Will we harness tech for benevolent ends, prioritising investment in sustainability and social good? Or will we chase the quickest financial gain, opting for the pursuit of breakneck growth over righting the ship?

If tech is to help fix the world, it must first halt a worrying trend – blitzscaling. The aim of this strategy is not to drive innovation or develop impactful new technologies but to sell the next round of investors on an impressive growth rate, thereby increasing the company valuation and making the existing investors richer. Wash, rinse, repeat.

The increasingly evident dangers of ‘hypergrowth equals valuation markup’ philosophy surely means the startup innovation ecosystem has to reject it, upstart entrepreneurs should not hop on the bandwagon, and instead focus on impactful socially responsible innovation.

There has never been a better time for tech entrepreneurs and investors to make a huge impact, with a moral imperative to empower businesses that can have a positive impact on humanity. We must start funding and supporting more entrepreneurs building solutions to problems like poverty, affordable healthcare, mental health and wellbeing, climate change, and deliver sustainable development goals.

These ‘impact startups’ can generate economic opportunity and returns, but if we realign the innovation focus around building companies with a positive social impact, and not just focus on near term financial gains, the better. So start a fire, enthral an audience, begin a movement, seize an opportunity, redefine the rules and shape our future. The more you understand of the world the better you can answer its challenges and how your tech idea can make a contribution.

We are all to some extent culpable for this misalignment of the innovation startup ecosystem, complicit in building and reinforcing the current environment. I know my own organisation can do more to inspire and empower entrepreneurs building impactful businesses, and in 2020 we will. I hope others will choose to do the same. It’s a balance of pessimism versus progress, but when we focus exclusively on profitability, tech loses its humanity.

As a startup founder, your future is unwritten

Rebel’s Wood is a young forest on the Atlantic-facing North West side of the Isle of Skye. Hidden away on the shores of Loch Bracadale is this beautiful woodland of native broad leaf trees, predominantly Birch, Alder, Rowan, Oak and Willow. This healthy young forest is doing well after taking a while to poke their heads above the bracken, due to the slow growing conditions of the far North.

The wood was formed by some 8,000 saplings being planted in 2003 in memory of Joe Strummer, founder and front man of the Clash, who died in 17 years ago yesterday, December 22, 2002 aged 50 from a rare heart condition. Strummer was instrumental in setting up the Future Forests campaign, dedicated to planting trees across the world to combat global warming, so it’s an appropriate commemoration.

Joe Strummer was a pioneering, enterprising musician, one of a special few. The Clash were one of the great rebel rock bands of all time, fusing a variety of musical styles, with riotous live performances, and left-wing political and social activism, that inspired many. Through his songwriting Strummer showed young people his radicalism, defiance, and resistance to social injustice. I wonder what he’d make of our country today.

After releasing their final album in 1985, the Clash split, and Strummer went into a personal wilderness for over a decade. Returning with what was to be his final music venture, with a new band, The Mescaleros, Strummer was reborn. Remarkably, his final music displays a steadfast work ethic and renewed creativity, experimentation and innovation in his musicianship.

Strummer and The Mescaleros recorded three magnificent albums, which showcase a reborn, vibrant Strummer producing music radically different from his previous work.  More insightful and mature, a collection of stunning compositions and poetic, freely associative lyrics concerning a host of global subjects close to his heart.

On 15 November 2002, Strummer and the Mescaleros played a benefit gig for striking fire fighters in London, at Acton Town Hall. Mick Jones, his former partner in The Clash was in the audience, and in an impromptu act, joined the band on stage to play a few classic Clash tunes. This performance marked the first time since 1983 that Strummer and Jones had performed together. But within three weeks, Strummer was dead.

Strummer made his mark, redefining music, and reaffirming the principles of committed, intelligent political and social commentary and opposition through music. For someone who used his music to galvanize and promote progressive action, his final performance was most fitting.

In 2018, a 32-song compilation album titled Joe Strummer 001 was released, featuring previously unheard demos from The Clash, twelve new songs and Strummer’s final recordings. This was the last time we heard from Joe Strummer.

Strummer was dynamic, controversial and confrontational. His social conscience, attitude and acerbic, verbal wit in his lyrics, and cutting, humane and distinct voice made him one of the most talismanic musicians we’ve ever seen. He epitomises disruptive creativity. Originality was a trait characterising both the man and musician.

His brutally confessional and outspoken work was a huge influence on subsequent generations of singers, songwriters and social reformers. He made people think, he made me think. In the years since his death, his image has become a staple of T-shirts and posters, used as a symbol of individuality. He had interesting things to say, and was more interested in pushing boundaries than just making commercial music.

Strummer’s ideology of constant innovation and originality in his craft is very rare. His zest and restlessness puts him alongside the names we associate with C21st tech entrepreneurship and innovation, people who’ve built amazing digital services, devices, new business models or social-media platforms. Like them, Strummer wanted to open up fundamental opportunities for humanity, but through his music rather than tech.

Strummer had the entrepreneurial spark that emphasises experimentation and individuality. Cloning produces replicas, not originals. Originality. What does it mean to you? Originality results from the power of imagination, like Picasso and Einstein, Bowie, Jobs and Musk.

It’s up to the individual to take advantage of that imagination and turn it into something great. When you dare to be an original, you are in essence daring to be yourself and who you really are. That’s entrepreneurship. It’s true. Life is too short to live it trying to be anything other than your true original self. Be who you are, and be it the best way you know how.

So, how to remember Joe Strummer, as the seventeenth anniversary of his untimely death passes. The John Lennon of his generation, reflecting on his personality, his voice, his actions and his personal values, what can we take from Strummer the individual and the musician into our startup business thinking?

Start small Bootstrapping and learning your craft, with a strong work ethic and determination, will always give you the foundations to make your dream a reality. You have to make a start, make it happen for yourself. Strummer never forgot where it all started for him: I bought a ukulele. No kidding. I saved some money, £1.99, and bought it down Shaftesbury Avenue. Then the guy I was busking with taught me to play Johnny B. Goode. I was on my own for the first time with this ukulele and Johnny B. Goode. And that’s how I started.

Never give up attitude One eminent trait of Strummer was that no matter what the obstacles, he never gave up. He was self-driven. Unlike ordinary men, he displayed determination to continue and keep moving forward through all challenges. He had a clear idea of what he wanted and was wholeheartedly driven to do the right thing. Persistence is very important. You should not give up unless you are forced to give up.

Aim for the big picture Strummer wanted to be the best, get his voice heard above everyone else. He had something to say. He was ready to take big risks when there were no short-term gains in sight. There was a time when no one believed in him or his music, but this did not dent his self-belief. He just kept going – keep the big vision, take small steps – and then with The Mescaleros he went again, saw success. Nothing is impossible.

Strummer was audacious, his philosophy reflected in these quotes:

Listen to the voices in your head – what do you mean, you don’t hear voices inside your head, is it just me then? Whatever the voices tell you, trust them and your instinct, and go for it. Trust yourself and your intuition.

Expect a lot from yourself, believe in yourself Don’t let someone else define your agenda, you decide what is possible for you. Dare to believe you can be the best, and make it happen. Embrace challenges and setbacks as defining moments, learn from them, use them as springboards.

Chose your attitude Regardless of appearances, no one escapes life without enduring tough moments and cul-de-sacs. The truth is, life is messy and unpredictable. The difference between those who overcome challenges and those who succumb to them is largely one of attitude.

Build prototypes Joe’s risk-taking and creativity always had a balance between experimentation and implementation. He didn’t just throw caution to the wind. He prototyped and tested many versions of his songs, he re-recorded constantly, always looking for some new and unique angle.

For each finished track, there were about twenty alternate takes in different styles and genres. He practiced each version over and over until something clicked. If after a while, he couldn’t come up with something that met his standards, he dumped it.

He was tirelessly, unflaggingly optimistic Despite all his trials and tribulations, Strummer also had an ace up his sleeve – he had a resolute glass-half-full mentality, ignoring the doubters and naysayers. The secret to his innovation lied 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.

The future is unwritten There were moments when Strummer wanted to be left with his thoughts. He liked being alone, he needed time to compute what he had listened to and heard. He once said Thinking is what gets me out of bed in the mornings. But according to his wife Lucinda, it was also his excuse for burning the midnight oil. He would say, ‘I’m thinking, I’m thinking.’ And I would go: ‘No you’re not, you’re just staying up!'”

The future is unwritten is a headline quote just before his death, which captures the essence of Strummer and entrepreneurs, restless, curious individual, never satisfied with the status quo. He continuously searched out anything he could do to break new ground. This helped him grow as an artist and human being, and further distanced himself from others. He was an individual, in every sense of the word.

In today’s startup environment, we have to be different to be seen. Don’t be a sheep in wolf’s clothing, or another sheep’s clothing. It’s better to fail in originality than succeed in imitation. Individualism is a human thing. Don’t waste your time trying to be a copycat. Be yourself, stand out from the crowd, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.

Being Joe Strummer meant turning rebellion into meaning. He hit a chord in my youth that has never stopped humming. Strummer was the key that opened the door for me out of teenage apathy, giving me inspiration.

It’s Christmas 2019. The offices are empty, the roads are quiet. All around the world, people are putting on Clash songs today in tribute as they remember Joe Strummer lives forever. Take a leaf our of Joe’s book, and remember as a startup founder, your future is unwritten. Go easy, step lightly, stay free.

Directions to Rebel’s Wood – From Dunvegan follow the A836 South for half a mile; turn right onto the B884 and follow for half a mile; turn left to Orbost (signposted) and follow for two miles. Park in the yard and follow on foot the track to Bharcasig (Barabhaig) and continue south to the site.

Lessons for startups from the craft gin innovators

Gin has overtaken vodka to become the most popular spirit in Britain, evolving from the home-made C18th gut-rotting drink that was the scourge of the poor, to the tipple of colonial civilisation, and now the many-splendoured glories and choices of hipster watering holes.

We don’t know exactly what went into the strong water made of juniper that the diarist Samuel Pepys knocked back on October 10, 1663, but it did the trick he said, allaying his constipation. A couple of decades later, gin’s popularity exploded, after the introduction of jenever, a Dutch and Belgian liquor. Originally a medicine made of juniper berries, William of Orange, brought the tipple with him from Holland when he took the throne.

This was the time of the gin craze. More than half of London’s drinking establishments were gin emporiums. Parliament reacted by passing various laws to control the drinking and production of gin, and by the 1850s, things had calmed down.

The enthusiasm for the spirit, nicknamed ‘mother’s ruin’, took a different turn in the 1800s when colonialists in India used it to make malaria prevention more palatable. The antimalarial quinine, derived from the bark of cinchona trees, was effective but tasted awful, so colonialists mixed it with sugar and gin to cut the intense bitterness. The gin and tonic was born.

Today, surging popularity and wide-open competition has led to consumer’s conflation of gin with gin liqueurs. Many products are pushing or breaking the boundaries of established definitions in a period of genesis for the industry. We have a bewildering array of craft distilleries along with spas and hotels devoted to selling gin parties, gin menus, ginvent calendars.

The passion for all things gin has resulted in 315 distilleries in Britain – more than double the number operating five years ago. Nearly fifty opened last year. A total of 47m bottles worth £1.2bn were served up last year, enough for 1.32bn gin and tonics. The craze has even reached BBC Radio 4’s series The Archers, where Toby Fairbrother produced Scruff Gin, flavoured with his own mix of botanicals.

Torn between a Tommyrotter and a Cathouse Pink? Can’t tell the difference between a Spirit Hound and an Ugly Dog? You’re not alone! There are now gins of every shade, for every social occasion. By any reckoning, the demand for the juniper-flavoured spirit made by small-scale craft and artisan producers has been a freakish phenomenon, reaching a market outside traditional gin drinkers.

We have Monkey 47, a gin from the Black Forest of Germany, which has become something of a cult, largely on the ground of its botanicals. Not a big deal, you might say, given that botanicals are in every gin – they are the ingredients – floral, herbal, spicy etc. that, via an alchemy provide each brand with its singular magic. In most gins, the number of botanicals tends to stay in the single figures. Not in Monkey 47, though, whose name is a statistical boast. Personally, I can’t even think of forty-seven botanicals!

Few innovations have been more successful than Hendrick’s gin, thanks in part to its apothecary-style bottles. Hendrick’s is part of William Grant & Sons, a Scottish firm that owns Glenfiddich, so has some marketing muscle. Gin aficionados and new producers alike owe a huge amount to Hendrick’s as the category’s real trailblazer.

Developed in 1999, Hendrick’s launched its gin product, with the inclusion of two unlikely essences, rose petal and cucumber, and started the ball rolling in the new market with two factors, premium pricing and taste. The pricing factor together with high quality packaging served to signal to consumers that the stodgy old gin image was gone. As to taste, Hendrick’s was among the first to move out of citrus and herbaceous into a novel new flavour for gin.

This was followed by the emergence of the micro-brewery and craft ale renaissance, which has seen the alcohol market undergo a major shift in the last few years. We’re drinking fewer units, less often but still spending more. For more and more consumers, a night out means a couple of cocktails or fine craft ale that’ll look great on Instagram. In this sector as with others, it’s become as much about the experience as the product.

So that’s the back story, what lessons can we learn from how gin producers found new ways to excite and engage with more and new consumers, for other startup ventures introducing new products?

Understand your product’s market position Gin benefits from being versatile, and thus a more interesting product than vodka. When mixing in simple drinks or fancy cocktails, it’s possible to bring out different aspects of the gin by choice of ingredient, or indeed bring out different elements from the cocktail by trying it with different gins.

Gin is also more affordable when compared to a lot of spirits. Aged spirits command a premium due to time spent in the barrel, angels share etc., where as gin is a relatively quick spirit to make, therefore the price tends to be lower meaning it’s a more accessible category to explore.

Be agile in your product thinking Whilst it is not at easy to produce a great gin, the production time is relatively short, with no need for aging like fine whisky and wine. This has allowed producers to be agile, moving to swiftly rise with the demand and to create new products.

With gin simply being defined by having juniper as the prominent flavour, it allows for experimentation and diversity in the market. This not only gives it broad appeal to people’s different tastes, it allows distilleries to rapidly create powerful narratives around their new gins that capture consumers’ interest.

Like the micro-breweries, some gin distilleries have been going the extra mile to reflect their locality, using botanicals that are locally foraged and distilled. The Botanist is a prime example, distilled from twenty-two types of berries, barks, seeds and peels found on the Isle of Islay in Scotland.

Put innovation and experimentation at your core Gin has the power to transport the drinker through the powers of taste and smell. One of the reasons craft gin has proved so successful is because it’s quick and easy to tweak and tailor as highlighted earlier. There isn’t really another spirit category in which you can commission your own product so easily. With gin, it’s a matter of days before it can be on the market.

This enables experimentation, making your own gin experiences and bespoke offerings for anything from hotels and restaurants to events. Distilleries will also continue to experiment with distillation techniques and barrel ageing, for instance, to increase depth of flavour. They will also get more and more creative with the flavours and botanicals they use, to create new and unexpected flavour profiles.

It seems that the more theatrical that producers can make their botanical constituents in their gin, the more success they have. This seems to have replicated the growth in wine sales. When it comes to the actual wine in the bottle, one of the biggest innovations was the move by supermarkets to start promoting wine by their grape variety and not brands per se, to engage with shoppers. It is arguably what kick started our love affair with Pinot Grigio.

Use storytelling to build advocacy Hendricks tells a great story, using nostalgia of a bygone era, while positioning as a contemporary, exciting and innovative product – a blend of the old and the new. Skilful storytelling is essential, partly because premium gins are sold at a high price point.

The Hendricks storytelling was about selling something more than just a better taste – the experience, a ‘proper’ gin and tonic, a gin that deserves to be savoured – it needs to work in a loud, busy bar when somebody asks What’s a good gin? A truly great story can be distilled down to an instantly appealing point of difference.

There are many examples that show new demand can be built by a new product with a good story and a bit of audacity. For example, long before craft gin was a thing, Grey Goose won itself a huge share of the premium vodka category.

The brand had a great story, a beautifully made, unabashedly French vodka from the Cognac region. Determined to take on Absolut, which dominated Grey Goose’s category in the US, the brand almost doubled its retail price overnight. The genius behind this was Sidney Frank, the man who also turned Jagermeister from a herbal digestif for German grandmothers into the booze half of a Jagerbomb.

I think that provenance had a lot to do with the success of craft gins. Those interested in buying things locally, or from specific regions liked the idea of gins with firm roots. They bought into the story of where they’re produced and the people that produce them, giving a strong connection to the products.

Know your customers as individuals The craft gin boom follows a surge in demand for locally made small scale beers, as the hipster generation seeks drinks with a more interesting taste created by individuals rather than faceless international corporations. Who are these consumers?

When launching Hendricks, their marketing identified ‘The Activist Consumer’, defining their characteristics, which are driven by lifestyle trends:

·     Always seeking to identify optimal experiences and the best products for the moment.

·     Exploring the ethical ramifications of their choices.

·     Multi sensory experiences enable brands to differentiate their interface with consumers.

·     Dreams of extremes: embrace moments that transport them outside their comfort zones.

·     Augmented crafted products, through a mix of ingredients, craft and ‘mixology’

·     Tangible transparency: brands that share consumers values and beliefs

·    Seek to combine high-speed gratification with balancing their always-on lives.

Personalised choice, allows brands to connect with their customers using multi-sensory techniques can all contribute to the higher-level experiences that people are looking for. The aim is always to surprise and delight your consumers.

Whether it’s a lavender infused gin and tonic or a spit-roasted pineapple gin with ice, there are now seemingly endless ways to drink gin that go beyond the standard G&T. This growth has been helped by a string of new brands, flavours and innovations entering the market, and now Amazon has joined in, further establishing its direction of travel in the grocery sector with the launch of its own premium gin brand – Tovess will retail for £24.99 and is described as offering a ‘smooth Mediterranean taste’.

There are lessons for us all in the attitudes of gin entrepreneurs, their world is everything-is-possible and optimism rules. A strong sense of the possible is essential to driving innovation that in turn leads to success. Whilst the image of the swashbuckling adventure-hungry risk-taking buccaneering entrepreneur is somewhat of a caricature, positive energy and exuberance are key, and the new gin innovators have it in buckets.

We all need to have new ideas, different ones, about what’s changing in our market, and how those changes could disrupt our business model. You also need to think about how you can disrupt yourself.

We need to live with the future customers and in the future markets of our business, we need to work on the business, not in the business. The world isn’t waiting for you to get inspired, you have to inspire it, and at the same time don’t let your doubts sabotage your thinking – there are far better things ahead than any we leave behind.

We are all confined by the mental walls we build around ourselves, sometimes innovation starts with a critical decision to reinvent yourself and kick-start your business 2.0 – a moment of truth, flash of brilliance or the end result of a bout of determined reflection to make a difference. But whatever the trigger, take a leaf from the craft gin folks, pushing limits and challenging conventions, live craft.

Changing lifestyles factors are driving the growth of the companies in gin industry, driving product strategy from a customer’s point of view and with customer-based insights, to ensure the business model is as robust as it can be.

The macro lesson is this: focus on the horizon and hold your vision. Do something everyday to move your business forward, and that makes you stand out from the crowd. A sheep has never stood out from another sheep, so don’t follow the herd blindly. People will take notice.

Startup lessons in branding…from Amazon & Bovril

In 1937, the world’s first-ever live football match was transmitted by the BBC. Arsenal faced Arsenal Reserves in a training match at Highbury, the only ground the Beeb could reach from their Alexandra Palace studio with their big roll of cable.

Eighty-two years on, Amazon joined the fray. Enter Jeff Bezos, the man who sold the world back to itself in cardboard boxes whilst overseeing the digital logistics of the human race. Amazon Prime will stream its initial package of twenty Premier League games across December. Coverage started last week, bookended by a simulcast of five games on Wednesday night and then six more on Boxing Day.

A mob-handed posse of 43 talking punditry heads have been hired in a reassuringly glossy package, underminned only by the prospect of substandard UK streaming speeds. Amazon is nothing if not a mind-bogglingly expert cash-raking machine.  With the entry of a third major broadcaster of Premier League football, it remains a late-stage capitalist play offering a macabre dislocated digital dance of choice.

Amazon is now a ubiquitous household brand, offering much more than ordering books online. In talking with a friend last week, it was clear she has a personal relationship with Alexa, the voice service that powers Amazon’s Echo. She talks to Alexa about the weather, films, restaurant reservations and the temperature she wants the house to be. She acknowledges that the more she interacts with Alexa, the more she buys on Amazon, from electronics, deals of the day, to everyday household items.

Alexa, in concert with Prime, has become more indispensable to her life than the mobile phone. Through Alexa, Echo and Prime, Amazon is creating an on-demand, personalised, signature experience and is becoming the world leader in delivering on its brand promise: the Earth’s biggest selection and most customer-centric company.

Amazon is betting that Alexa and Echo will drive consumers to interact with, and ultimately purchase more, with Amazon and Prime. The smarter Alexa becomes at knowing your needs, preferences and behaviours, the better she is at delivering a seamless experience – and the better experience she delivers, the more indispensable she becomes to consumers’ lives. Imagine the levels of customer loyalty it could achieve.

We are living in an on-demand world, led by companies such as Uber, Deliveroo and Airbnb, but Amazon is redefining what my experience should be. Customer obsession is one of the hallmarks of brands that stand apart from the rest – think Apple too – but Amazon is the brand I am obsessing over right now.

So how can a startup build a brand like Amazon? Ok, you don’t have deep pockets, so let’s take a step back, way back, and look at how a foodstuff brand forged its own market position and reputation, and combine the learnings from traditional product marketing with today’s digital tools.

Bovril is the brand to learn from – yes, that thick, black, glossy, meat-based extract – enjoyed with butter on toast, or with hot water as a beef tea. It has been an iconic brand for over a century. Now owned by Unilever, it’s been in our kitchen cupboard for donkeys’ years, with its reassuringly heavy cauldron-shaped jar, chunky red lid and no-nonsense red label.

Just over a century ago, a revolution took place in the food industry, when the boom in urban population fuelled a need for the mass production of affordable, non-perishable foodstuffs in cans and jars. Advances in processing and preservation of foodstuffs saw the emergence of branded convenience foods, marketed as nourishing and nutritious.

Bovril was one of these, created by John Lawson Johnston, a C19th Edinburgh butcher with an interest in dietetics. Shortly after emigrating to Canada, Johnson won a contract to supply one million cans of beef to Napoleon III’s Army, following their defeat due to starvation during the 1871 siege of Paris. The challenge was that he couldn’t source enough beef.

So Johnston produced an extract made by heating carcasses of cattle and reducing the liquids that came off into a residue mixed with powdered dried meat – and Johnston’s Fluid Beef was supplied. He subsequently tweaked the recipe, and in 1886 Bovril was born.

The name Bovril was an inspired name, marrying together meat, myth and magic. The first part of the word ‘bo’ comes from the Latin for Ox and the second part ‘vril’ from Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s science fiction novel, The Coming Race, in which the Vril-ya were an underground people with awesome powers.

Bovril hit the sweet spot for Victorian consumers. Amid the temperance and health movements, it was promoted as a constitution-boosting, meaty superfood, a drink that was alcohol-free but not namby-pamby. It had a dark, macho look and a meaty, macho smell. Where is Bovril today? It’s still on the supermarket shelves but in many homes the squat black bottle slumbers at the back of the kitchen cupboard. The brand is owned by food giant Unilever and sales tick over at a modest three and a half million jars every year.

So on one side of this blog Bovril, an established brand with heritage and longevity. The contrast couldn’t be starker to Amazon, a tech behemoth rampaging its way seemingly into any market it wants using tech and data as their go-to-market weapon, a company less than twenty-five years old.

Start-ups must balance their focus on their target market, while also pushing an innovation edge. As a traditional brand, how do you innovate (experiment) in new areas while maintaining strong execution on your core business? If you’re a start-up, your creativity, agility, and risk-taking are your hallmarks but you have to invest on building a brand to trust too. So let’s combine the marketing and brand building lessons of Bovril and Amazon, what are the key six lessons here?

1. Segmentation, targeting, positioning 

Amazon uses demographic and psychographic data to segment its markets, based on actual purchase behaviour, with micro-level segmentation on each individual customer, enabling them to convert web site visitors into long-term, high-value repeat customers.

From the start, Bovril was heavily advertised through campaigns that tapped into the mood of the public. It was British and the company worked hard to make sure it was a food of choice of the army – it was patriotic and nutritious. Bovril was cannily marketed as a food that could make the infirm well, the elderly strong, and the young healthy.

Takeaway: Be clear with your purpose and connect with people as individuals, crafting a brand message that resonates with your vision.

2. Customer analysis

Amazon’s target market is people who use e-commerce portals and comfortable with online shopping. The majority of their customers have busy lives and find it convenient to purchase online rather than visiting a physical outlet, to save time and money.

Bovril became a staple for thousands of football supporters up and down the country, gulping down steaming hot cups of the stuff, easing the chill of a winter’s afternoon and sometimes the pain of conceding a goal. After all, it’s what the good old Thermos flask was invented for. This widened their customer base and generated repeat business from habits – every Saturday afternoon.

Takeaway: Answer one simple question – What’s the special thing only YOU can do that your customers will miss out on if you never existed? Understand your customers’ problems and how you can solve them, then ensure you provide enough touchpoints for repeat purchases, building customer retention and loyalty.

3. Distribution strategy

Amazon understands that the most important thing customers want is the quick delivery of products ordered, and has more than 55 fulfilment centres in the UK – this does not include Amazon’s new ‘under-the-tent’ strategy of using existing vendor warehouse space for consumer-packaged goods to quickly serve customers. Their strategy of improving their distribution network enables Amazon to continually connect quickly with more customers as they scale.

In Bovril’s case, by 1888, over 3,000 pubs, grocers and chemists were selling the product, and it became so popular that an electric advertising sign was erected in London’s Piccadilly Circus in 1909. However, advertising was only part of the story. The company needed to source beef extract and protein, which meant working with ranchers overseas, with shipping lines and hundreds of retailers. The Bovril company was adept at building networks with people of influence.

Takeaway: Ensure your startup has clear routes to catalysing a market, enabling rapid, simple and quality connections that reach both your customer audience and suppliers. Create a brand promise and experience, create a real tone of voice that energies your network.

4. Build Brand equity

From being an e-book provider to emerging as the second largest e-commerce company in the world, Amazon has steadily made its brand stronger. Amazon broadcasts using television commercials and billboards, online advertising networks and search engine marketing. Bezos had this in mind when creating the company, deciding that it should start with an ‘a’.

For Bovril, inventor Johnston’s also enjoyed publicity – on Christmas Day 1902, near the South Pole, Captain Scott and Ernest Shackleton supped on a cup of Bovril after a chilling march.

Advertising also connected Bovril to the fashionable and popular physical culture movement by getting sporting celebrities to endorse the brand. One of these, the world’s strongest man at the turn of the C20th, an Adonis-like star called Eugen Sandow, had developed his rippling muscles so that his body resembled a classical sculpture which he showed off to enormous crowds in the music halls – claiming Bovril game him the physique.

Bovril as a product has hit a few blips, with horse-meat scandals during the late 1800s, and in 1906 sales of Bovril dipped as result of public horror at the appalling human and animal conditions in the massive Chicago meat processing plants, whilst the BSE crisis in the 2000s also hit demand.

Takeaway: Build your brand reputation, and illustrate for engagement. Differentiate yourself and create your image – but go beyond a logo.

5. Product

Amazon initially started with books, and became the largest book seller in the world. Now, it is a multi-product gregarious feeder, satisfying consumer demand for almost everything.

In 2004, Unilver removed beef ingredients from the Bovril formula, in response to the growing popularity of vegetarianism, religious dietary requirements, and public concerns about bovine spongiform encephalopathy (‘BSE’). In 2006 they reversed that decision and reintroduced beef ingredients to the Bovril formula.

Takeaway: Great brands have great products, they stand for something that they extend as a ‘promise’, and they’re consistent about their values in everything they do. Keep your product thinking agile and relevant to future markets.

6. Promotion

Amazon can be seen to rely on the best source of promotion there is – word of mouth. People telling others about the site, or mentioning it in a positive way is a sure way to have new future customers. We all marvel at the next day delivery – even on a Sunday. While Bovril used to be marketed using symbolism of beef, today its advertising taps into Britishness as symbolised by energetic outdoor pursuits in all weathers.

Takeaway: Show your identity, and be memorable. Effective branding builds reputation and trust. Determine who you want to be, create a narrative, be authentic but defy expectations.

Bezo’s forward-thinking strategy makes Amazon one of the world’s top brands, maintaining the customer-centric concept from its original foundations in every part of the company and its business model. It is the entrepreneurial eye for customer innovation, and scaling the execution, that are Bezo’s legacy for other entrepreneurs to admire.

For Bovril, reflect that people don’t necessarily buy just what your product is. They’re buying into your story, the values you have and the experience you will give them. You’re not just buying a foodstuff that they’ve had for years, they’re buying interactions with you.

How playing chess improves your startup game

Underlying a game of chess is an abstract structure of rules and relative powers, which can be quite mind-boggling. The game emerged in C5th India, but it wasn’t until the C19th, when the set was standardised into the Staunton version we play today.

To follow a professional game is to get lost in algebraic options and notations. When the 13-year-old Bobby Fischer sacrificed his queen against Donald Byrne in the so-called ‘game of the century’ in 1956, it was considered one of the finest moves in chess history – a greatness not quite communicated by Be6.

Chess is an endless pursuit, a game of longevity with logical consequences and sly entrapment. After sacrificing his queen, another 24 moves later, Fischer won – a result, he’d worked out, that was inevitable if he let his queen go. It was sacrifice that was also attack, aggression that was also composure.

When a chess player looks at the board, he does not see a static mosaic of contrasting, patterned squares, but a magnetic field of forces, charged with energy, potential and intrigue. A game of chess opens in a state of balanced equilibrium, and if the optimal move is made with each play, a draw is all but assured.

Norwegian Sven Magnus Øen Carlsen is the current World Chess Champion, holding the title since 2013. His peak Elo rating – the ratings given to chess players corresponding to their performance over the best five-year span of their career – of 2882, achieved in 2014, is the highest in history, ahead of Gary Kasparov at 2851.

Magnus tries to put the accent on play, less on preparation, and is seen as combining the talents of two of the all time greats, Karpov and Fischer. He’s known for getting his positions then holding on with a bulldog bite. Exhausting for opponents, one of his most feared qualities is his ‘nettlesomeness’ – his creative moves pressurise opponents into mistakes. Carlsen’s endgame prowess has been described as among the greatest in history.

The last World Chess Championship in 2018 began with a series of twelve games played under classical time controls, the traditional slow pace of play. Carlsen failed to win a single one of his contests against the challenger, American Fabiano Caruana, but fortunately for the Norwegian, Caruana never reached a checkmate or extracted a resignation either.

With each of the dozen classical games ending in a draw, the match moved to a series of faster-paced tiebreakers, starting with a series of four ‘rapid’ games, in which players are allotted less than one-quarter the thinking time of the classical format. Carlsen, the stronger competitor in speedier formats, won the first three games to clinch the tiebreaker and retain his title.

To the casual observer, three weeks of drawn games may sound excruciatingly boring, but like a football match with smart, impregnable defences, or a baseball World Series studded with scoreless pitching duels, chess title matches feature two equally matched grandmasters competing at an extremely high level.

You start the game with a set of pieces, from king to pawns, each with their own ability and position, each has their own purpose. Novice players push forward immediately with their back row, trying to get their most valuable pieces into win positions early. Experienced players, however, know that it is the pattern of all their pieces working in concert that creates reliable success.

Master chess players see the unfolding patterns of the board over time, thinking not in terms of one piece or one move, but in terms of the entire board over dozens of moves. This ability to analyse actions and their outcomes, combined with skilled pattern recognition, is what defines strategy.

The objective is to play the board, not just your plan. When playing chess your opponent is trying to predict and undermine you, applying their own strategy to capture more pieces, so, what do you do?  One crucial skill is the importance of taking time for reflection. It’s in reflection that the brain has time to learn, to process new information, to recognise patterns, and recall previous successful moves.

I see many similarities between chess and running a startup business from the strategy, thinking and tactics behind the game. Let’s look at the lessons and learnings we can take from Carlsen and his Word Championship success.

The first phase in a chess game: the opening As Carlsen shows, the purpose of the opening isn’t just to get immediately ahead, rather it’s to set the stage for the type of middle game you want. This can also mean manoeuvring for the type of game your opponent doesn’t want. The openings are the only phase in which there is the possibility of unique application, you can find something that no one else has found.

Be first, and be brave is the lesson for a startup, but equally don’t rush. Aim to be bold, but have some thoughts around what the early stages of your business could look like. Of course, early encounters with customers reshapes your thinking, so be prepared to be flexible and respond to feedback.

The second phase: the middle game What sort of middle game is our opening going to lead to? Is it one we are prepared for or have our opponents out foxed us and we’re playing catch-up? We must also play the middle game with an eye on the endgame.

In a startup it’s important to have a strategy, tactics and a game plan thinking in periods initially of no more three months, with objectives and key milestones, things are just too volatile to plan too far ahead. As you navigate what it often a turbulent first phase, what you should be doing in the second phase will emerge. Continue with innovation at the core, but listen to customers.

Dream a little, don’t settle automatically for routine solutions The paradox of chess is that there is a routine set down by mathematics to make a strong move based on its objective merits. But recall Carlsen’s approach is a combination of freedom and discipline, sober evaluation and calculation mixed with outlandish ideas.

In a startup, you won’t find new ways of solving problems unless you look for them and experiment and have the nerve to try them when you find them, but ensure flair doesn’t mean or you spend your life making beautiful blunders.

The future is a result of the decisions you make in the present The strategist starts with a vision of the future and works backwards to the present. Carlsen makes the best moves because they are based on what he wants the board to look like ten or twenty moves ahead. This doesn’t require the calculation of countless twenty-move variations, but an evaluation where his fortunes lie in the position and establishes objectives.

Having a vision for your startup is just as important. Where do you want to be in three years? Make a start, and try to make every day a step in the right direction towards your horizon.

Intuition & analysis Even the most honed intuition can’t entirely do without analysis. Intuition is where it all comes together – our experience, knowledge and judgement – or even hunches. But it doesn’t matter how far ahead you see if you don’t understand what you are looking at before you, so combine the two.

No matter how much practice or experience you have, and how much you trust your gut instincts, analysis is essential. It’s a balance between inspiration and perspiration, blue sky thinking and washing the pots. It’s dreaming, plus hard yards.

Attack An attacking strategy doesn’t have to be all or nothing, or recklessly lightning quick. Sustained pressure can be very effective in chess, and creating long-term weaknesses in your opponent’s position can lead to a win in the long run. One of the qualities of a Carlsen is his ability to get the maximum out of a position without overstepping and trying to achieve more than what is possible.

In chess, the defender has to race around to cover the threats, but against constant pressure the job soon becomes impossible. Moving to cover one breach creates another until something cracks and the attack breaks through. In chess we have the ‘principle of two weaknesses’. It’s rare to be able to win a game with only a single point of attack. Instead of becoming fixated on one spot, we must exploit our pressure to provoke more weak spots.

So a large part of using the initiative in chess, as in business, is mobility, flexibility and diversion. In business, it’s a combination of product, service and price that creates a winning position, then execution and delivery that secures a deal.

Initiative Once you have the initiative you must exploit it. Carlsen reminds us that the player with the advantage is obliged to attack or his advantage will be lost. In business, initiative can be converted into a sustainable position. Being a step ahead means we can keep our competition off balance, shifting and moving in order to provoke weaknesses.

In business, going on the front-foot requires perfect timing as well as nerve. The window of opportunity is often very small, as with most dynamic situations. No neon sign appears to say that there is a big opportunity right around the corner, so balance opportunity with rationale – back to the combination of freedom and discipline in your game plan.

When you are winning, don’t get complacent Winning creates the illusion that everything is fine, success is seldom analysed as closely as failure and we are always quick to attribute our victories to superiority, rather than circumstance. When things are going well it is even more important to question. Over-confidence leads to mistakes, a feeling that anything is good enough. Our egos want to believe that we won brilliantly against tough competition, not that we were lucky and ‘right time, right place’, but typically, however, the winner is just the player who made the next-to-last mistake.

Carlsen shows that if we’re going to get the most out of our talent we have to be prepared to have a game plan, practice, think on the spot, analyse ourselves critically and improve our weakest points. The easiest thing is to rely on talent and focus only on what we do well. It’s true that you want to play to your strengths, but if there is too much of an imbalance growth is limited. In business, the fastest way to improve overall is to work on your total game, and all the constituent parts.

He highlights long-term strategy, short-term gains, being creative in the middle game, and how important decision-making is at any stage of the chess game. We do need to think ahead in business, if not for ten moves, but then at least truly think through options and the consequences – that’s not calculating, it’s common sense. Carlsen illustrates that the unlimited number of subtle and intricate potential moves that lie within the 64 squares of a chessboard are totally applicable to business, how the game can help you step back and evaluate yourself to identify you strengths and weaknesses and thus better your game.

Chess is a mental game, that requires vision, tenacity, thoughtfulness, and multiple tactics. From this we can take the thought that in a startup we can look for ways to experiment and to push the boundaries of our capacity in different areas. It really is a combination of disruptive and disciplined approaches, and agile thinking that will bring success.

Innovation lesssons from Carl Elsener III and his Swiss Army Knife

Carl Elsener III started his working life as a teenage apprentice cutler straight from school, but from these humble beginnings went on to turn a relatively simple penknife into a global phenomenon – the multi-functional Swiss Army Knife.

The famous red-handled knife with the Swiss white cross has held a lifetime fascination for me, offering a spoon, fork, compass, screwdriver, mini-screwdriver for spectacles, can opener, wood and metal saw, toothpick, tweezers, scissors, pliers, key ring, fish-scaler and magnifying glass. Moving with the times, some latest models come with an LED light, laser pointer, USB memory stick, digital clock, Bluetooth or even MP3 player, but I’ve stuck with the basic model.

Elsener is up there as one of the greatest innovators of all time, with his product shaping a lasting impression of innovation, ingenuity and uniqueness. Today, 45,000 knives are produced daily in Ibach, Switzerland, providing current annual revenues of more than $500m and making Victorinox the largest cutlery manufacturer in Europe.

It started when Elsener’s grandfather opened a cutlery business in 1884. In 1891 the company won its first contract with the Swiss army. Members of the Swiss military received the first Elsener-designed knife, complete with a blade, reamer, screwdriver, and can opener. In 1897, he introduced the Officer’s Knife, which included a corkscrew. After his mother died in 1909, he chose her name, Victoria, as his trademark, then added the suffix inox (stainless steel was also called inox steel from the French noxydable) in 1921 as a nod to the tough components.

Elsener took over as CEO from his father in 1950 when the knives were still hand made. After introducing machine production, he quickly recognised the popularity of his Schweizer Offiziersmesser (‘Officer’s Knife’) among US forces personnel based in post-war Europe. It was the Americans who, unable to get their tongues round Offiziersmesser, first called it the Swiss Army Knife.

He was a tireless man who could work until two in the morning. When he woke up in the middle of the night with an idea, he wrote it down on the wallpaper so as not to forget it. Despite his success, his motto remained: Gueti sache chone immer no bässer wärde – Good things can always be made better.

US sales declined sharply after 9/11. Once a popular item at airport duty-free stores, the knives were banned from air travel. Victorinox refused to lay off employees, instead coming up with an unorthodox solution: it leased workers to other companies, but continued to pay their wages. The company has since adapted some of their products to be flight-friendly, including versions that contain all of the original tools minus any blades.

Does the Swiss army actually use Swiss Army knives today? Absolutely! The army also has an implement not found on civilian models that can open ammunition cans and scrape carbon from firearms. Not much of a weapon there. Corkscrews. Bottle openers. Come on, buddy, let’s go. You get past me, the guy in the back of me, he’s got a spoon. Back off, I’ve got the toe clippers right here. Apologies for the comedy, but I’ve had my Swiss Army Knife since a thirteen year old scout, and not sure I could fight off more than a rabid squirrel.

NASA commissioned a special edition for their astronauts, and the knife has been invaluable in various space mission emergencies, including the first time the space shuttle Atlantis docked with the Russian space station, and one of the tools on the pocket knife was used to open the hatch connecting the two. There are pictures of the moment the penknife was used to open the hatch.

Swiss Army Knives in space is just one of the many extraordinary episodes in the history of Elsener’s product. These include bespoke penknives being made for US presidents, and models of the original Swiss Army Knife being placed in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art in New York and the State Museum of Applied Arts and Design in Munich.

There is real dignity and romance to Elsener’s entrepreneurial endeavours, his is a moment of time in building a unique product and a business that scaled into a global enterprise with a clear brand identity. So what can we learn about his spirit, vivacity, attitude and creativity into today’s startup thinking? How do you keep innovating and pushing the ambition? Here are some of the best values of entrepreneurship and disruptive innovation that I see from Elsener that should spark your startup thinking today.

A DIY ethic drives innovation Elsener was revered for his Do-It-Yourself abilities. He didn’t quite make it up as he went along, but like any startup he had to find his market, experiment and determine product-market fit, working out where the audience was. The ‘product’ was simple and yet a work of precision and design. Success is achieved by a host of variables, none more so that sheer-bloodied single-mindedness to get up there and make it happen – talent rocks, but attitude is king. It’s about conviction and determination to make it happen – by doing it yourself. 

Belief Elsener took on an established industry with major, established organisations in control and broke the rules with his own product thinking. In doing so, he changed the dynamics and disrupted an established market. He had enduring success and created a lasting legacy, measured in branding and cultural – finance too, but that’s the applause, not the goal. Elsener made the mind shift change that is needed to begin thinking and behaving like a startup and ask themselves the questions that an entrepreneur must ask.

Authenticity inspires customers Elsener started with a bold expression of his own, to be truly authentic, not seeking to copy or replicate others. The startup leadership lesson here is one of my favourites: you can be confident and competent all you want, but if you’re not accepted as real, and having a point of difference in what you offer customer, you won’t inspire a following. What’s your signature tune and tone of voice?

Just copying something is no good, unless you just want to be a tribute band. It’s vital to keep playing around and pushing yourself in business, create your own product. Don’t be afraid to build a business or revenue model that plays to your strengths, even if it’s non-conventional – is there anything else quite like a Swiss Army Knife?

Be your own image If you plan on getting noticed, establishing a brand promise, and creating an image is vital. Elsener’s design makes the product instantly recognisable, it stands out visually, just as John Pasche designed the ‘tongue and lips’ logo for The Rolling Stones in 1971, originally reproduced on the Sticky Fingers album.

Playing it safe gets you nowhere – turn your back on competitors If you don’t take risks you’ll never excel. Playing it safe all the time becomes the most dangerous move of all. Deviate from routines. Rote activity doesn’t lead to the path of innovation or disruptive technology. Elsener never played it safe.

Turn your back on competitors. Yes, ignore them. They aren’t running your business. You are. So instead of focusing on your competitors, focus on your customers. Be empathetic. Know them inside and out. Invest in relationships, not transactions. Learn what makes them tick, how they feel, what they need. This may sound like basic sales training, but it’s vital at the brand level, too. If you know what matters to your customers, you can structure your brand offering with the confidence that it will connect.

Open mindedness Elsener’s work is drawn from a diverse range of influences. The uniqueness in the product plus constant change and update, combining existing elements in new ways, produces something entirely its own, with a prowess for almost throwing stuff together randomly to discover new combinations and possibilities. This ability to create genuine uniqueness is a key trait of any entrepreneurial business. Not all of Elsener’s experiments worked, but their willingness to try out new ideas, knowing that not all will triumph, is a trait every startup needs.

Stand for something, and be true to your purpose Elsener had a vision, was strong minded and had a clear sense of purpose. He was shaped by deeply held personal and passionate values and remained true to them, quickly finding out that there are millions of people who shared those same values and aspirations. Founders never rest on their laurels, they retain the mix of spirit, drive, and passion, more than willing to rebel against the norm, are restless do go again, yet stay true to their vision.

Be a brand At the brand level, you’re not competing product vs. product. It’s not a feature vs. feature game. Your brand needs to have a relevant place in your customers’ hearts and minds. So be true to your brand and the promise you make and bring it out in everything you do. Leading from your authentic vision and consistency of purpose will help your brand mean more to people. And that alone will make you more memorable.

Can you make your product or service stand out as a Swiss Army Knife? It is held that consumers have mind-space for only three brands in any given category: the leader, the challenger, and the one other company lucky enough (or hard-working enough) to be noticed. The rule of three may still be true, but the sheer proliferation of brands flooding a sector can make it especially difficult for any startup brand to stand out.

In an over-crowded category you may find yourself fighting against forces greater than direct competitors. Sheer clutter can be a more powerful distraction to potential customers than any competitor’s offering. Your brand and how it connects to the people that matter to you is a key in differentiating yourself from your competition.

We’re all the same decaying organic matter as everything else. We’re all part of the same compost heap. You need to be authentic, as Oscar Wilde said Be yourself, everyone else it taken, and as Steve Jobs was known for his Be Unique, Be Different personal motto.

Be unique, like a Swiss Army Knife. Don’t compare yourself with anyone else, if you do so, you are insulting yourself. If you want to stand out from the crowd, give people a reason not to forget you. Are you unreasonable? Here’s one good reason why you should be: The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man. So said George Bernard Shaw in his play Man and Superman back in 1903.

In addition to surreal jokes about extracting boy scouts from horses’ hooves (or vice versa), there are tales of how the Elsener knives were carried by famous explorers from Everest climbers and American astronauts who took it to the moon. Sometimes macabre stories did the rounds of emergency self-amputations and life-saving tracheotomies. But it is a truly unforgettable product and brand.

Elsener would often be mistaken for a janitor when he opened the door to visitors to the factory in his overalls. He went to work daily on his bicycle. He handed over control of the family firm in 2007 to Carl Elsener IV, the oldest of his eleven surviving children. He was humble, but remarkable.

We look to the skies to change the world, but you don’t change the world simply by looking at it. You change it by living in it. Take a leaf from Carl Elsener’s book of life, and make your mark.

Lessons in entrepreneurship from the poetry of John Cooper Clarke & Rudyard Kipling

Poetry, for me, is not something to be read quietly in a corner and reflected upon. It is always a phonetic medium, every time. At school, we had to memorise it. This included all twenty stanzas of The Lady of Shalott by Alfred Lord Tennyson. It was a compendium, unbelievably long, and we were often called upon to stand up and recite selected verses to the rest of the class from memory. That brought home the fact that poetry should be heard first.

I’ve recently been revisiting the work of Salford born ‘punk poet’ John Cooper Clarke. Now aged seventy, with nine albums behind him, his current tour is no different to that when I saw him in 1979, a set characterised by lively, rapid-fire renditions of his observational poems performed a cappella.

Known as ‘the bard of Salford’, he usually refers to himself on stage as Johnny Clarke, the name behind the hairstyle.  He has a huge talent, kind heart and sparkling wit. He’s the godfather of British performance poetry, a poet who writes about darkness and decay but makes people laugh, a human cartoon, a gentleman punk, a man who has stayed exactly the same for over forty years but never grown stale.

John Cooper Clarke uses words of anger, humour and disdain in equal measure. He’s the real deal, funny and caustic, the velvet voice of discontent. His anarchic punk poetry has thrilled people for decades and his no nonsense approach to his work and life in general has held appeal for many years. Long may his slender frame and spiky top produce words and deeds that keep us on our toes and alive to the wonders of the world.

His last collection titled The Luckiest Guy Alive contained forty poems and amply demonstrates that his scabrous wit and vivid way with words remains untamed. His writing is guided by a desire to communicate his thoughts on our shared humanity.

Learning poetry by heart at school, while you won’t understand it at the time, it may sneak up on you thirty years later. Poetry is the shortest possible way of saying something that needs saying. There’s something to cherish in the words, a thought that the work itself will outlast us all.

One of my favourite poems is If, written by the English poet and Nobel Prize for Literature winner Rudyard Kipling. This poem has always been a stand out piece of writing for me, I think it’s inspirational not only for startup leaders and entrepreneurs, but for all people who want to maximise their potential and live life to the fullest.

The poem contains mottos and maxims for life. The poem is also a blueprint for personal integrity, behaviour and self-development. If is perhaps even more relevant today than when Kipling wrote it, as an ethos and a personal philosophy.

Kipling’s life was one replete with trials, hardships, and sorrows, but time and again he overcame them. This poem, which is really one long single sentence, encapsulates the lessons he learned. It is believed that he wrote If as four, eight-line stanzas of advice to his son, John,

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

 

If you can dream — and not make dreams your master;

If you can think — and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

 

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

 

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with Kings — nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And — which is more — you’ll be a Man, my son!

So what makes Kipling’s If, the ultimate entrepreneur’s poem? This is an inspirational poem that expresses various ways in which you can rise above adversity that we will almost face at some point in one’s startup life. Throughout the poem, Kipling offers multiple scenarios, contrasting both positive and negative, along with a glimpse into how one should conduct oneself.

The poem has an almost mathematical proof about it with its if-then scenario. Kipling leaves the then until the final two lines, revealing that if he or she is able to do all that was just mentioned, he or she will not only have the world at his or her fingertips, but he or she will also be a ‘Man’ – as it’s written for his son John, it’s heartfelt fatherly advice.

Kipling keeps a positive and upbeat tone throughout, informing the reader what to do in order to be a successful person in life. The poem reads like one continuous thought. I read it as a magnificent tribute to many  great virtues – staying composed under stress, remaining humble when victorious, never despairing when defeated, and always retaining honour and authenticity.

So let’s look at a few of the verses and their relevance to startup founders.

Trust in yourself

If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you; if you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, but make allowance for their doubting too.

This reminds me of one of my favourite business quotes, from former CEO of Netscape Jim Barksdale: If we have data, let’s look at data. If all we have are opinions, let’s go with mine.  In a startup, we will always have doubters and critics in all that we do. Listen to them because someone will be valid observations, but also have confidence in yourself, don’t fold, stay composed when under pressure. So, on the same hand, take constructive criticism to heart, without being too self-righteous.

Keep a balanced mindset and outlook

Kipling reminds us of the importance of maintaining a level head:

If you can dream — and not make dreams your master; If you can think — and not make thoughts your aim; If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, And treat those two impostors just the same;

It points to the relationship between inspiration and desperation, which we’ve all faced in our startup ventures. When you are under pressure, the things that are best and worst about people and business, come to the fore. We’ve all been there. Pushed a bit too far, been a bit too snappy. Truth is that these things happen to us all but that’s not the interesting part; it’s the response that really does matter.

Kipling urges us to not follow the crowd, but be our own thinkers and stand firm in our own beliefs and values. He reminds us there are answers we may not have, and to keep an open mind to learning. Kipling urges us to dream and think, but to not get so caught up in dreams and thoughts that we lose our grasp on reality.

Just be

This is my favourite lesson of the poem. To treat triumph and disaster as the same imposter is to learn how to just be. Startup life is a journey of ups and downs. I’ve learned that the founder who can embrace all volatility and just ‘be’ has the most peace in their entrepreneurial journey.

If you can make one heap of all your winnings; And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss; And lose, and start again at your beginnings; And never breathe a word about your loss;

Kipling demonstrates here the importance of being able to pick oneself up and start again if we fail. We must always be prepared to start again, and be willing to forget about the loss and not dwell on it.

Endurance is a great virtue

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew; To serve your turn long after they are gone; And so hold on where there is nothing in you; Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

These lines are particularly powerful. All entrepreneurs must endure, even if that feels both physically and emotionally impossible. It is also worth noting the capitalisation of Will. Perhaps Kipling wanted to emphasise the resilience of the human spirit by making it a power that is separate from the person who possesses it?

Craft the outcome to your journey

The fourth and final stanza reveals the consequence of doing all of these ifs, but not before Kipling presents us with three more scenarios. The first one deals with how to treat others, regardless of their station in life. Maintaining your honour and authenticity is a standout human quality, treating everyone with respect and open-handedness will take you far.

Take risks. Do what you love. Lead your startup from the front. Do it! Life is too short for dogma, and being trapped living a life you don’t enjoy. It’s easy to let fame and success get to our heads, but Kipling urges us to stay grounded and to remember where we came from.

Life is short. We only have a finite time here on earth – the unforgiving minute, with sixty seconds worth of distance run – and should use it as best as we can. Kipling tells us to never give up or waste even a single second of time. If you are given a minute, make sure you use all sixty seconds of it.

Finally, in the last two lines, the outcome of abiding by all of these thoughts is revealed:

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

For me, John Cooper Clarke joins Kipling for his art of writing that contain timeless lessons that stays relevant. In fact, I believe these writings and lessons are not just enjoyable, but vital, in that we can reflect on our own situation, find inspiration, and stay grounded.

With our technology advancements, continual globalisation, and the dawn of artificial intelligence, it’s good to be reminded at the end of the day that we must learn to enjoy life for all that it is, and remember life lessons can be captured in poetry, and not just focus on the frenzy of our startup endeavours.

While it’s beneficial to have a work rhythm, don’t let your habits turn into mindless routines. When this happens, you can fall into the doldrums, where you operate on autopilot and stop thinking creatively. Poetry will help you develop a more satisfying and more successful work life.

That is because as entrepreneurs, like poets, we benefit greatly from studying our craft and continuously reflecting on how we’re engaging with our work, colleagues and our surroundings. Even if you have little experience with creative writing, I encourage you to read poetry, it will refresh your perspectives, thinking and reinvigorate and reinspire your daily work habits.

How to give a ‘Pep’​ talk to your startup team

Liverpool FC’s quest to end a 30-year wait to reclaim the domestic English football crown may gave taken a defining step forward on Sunday, Jürgen Klopp’s side beat Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City to give them a nine-point advantage over the reigning champions at the top of the table.

It means a Liverpool side that has lost only one of their past 51 league games would need to lose at least three of their next 26 to let City back in. It is not inconceivable, as Liverpool had a ten-point lead over Pep’s side last season after twenty games played, yet City prevailed. This season, however, Liverpool seem propelled by an unstoppable momentum. Of course City will still have plenty to say, as they have in Pep Guardiola a leader who can inspire like no other, with a track record of winning, intelligent football and a defining leadership philosophy.

Guardiola joined FC Barcelona as a junior aged thirteen. He was quick to work his way into the senior team where he played for ten years. He was the depiction of the way Barcelona played – a highly creative, hard-working player with precise passing. Playing under Johan Cruyff, his role model and who gave Guardiola his debut at the Camp Nou in 1990, his technical finesse, tactical awareness and ability to read the game have made him one of the elite managers in sport. His philosophy is keeping the ball and retaining possession, an evangelist for pace and pressing and width to create chances with quick ball movement.

Guardiola has also gained fame for implementing unorthodox tactics and surprising changes in matches. This inherent hunger and desire for improvement is a consequence of his education at Barcelona’s soccer academy, La Masia, the original building where its young students resided, demonstrating the value of a systematic talent pathway. Guardiola posits that the academy’s ‘language of learning’, originally developed by Cruyff, comprises three interlinked areas:

* ‘The Core Idea’ is to dominate possession of the ball.

* ‘Language’, as employed by Guardiola in this context, is to reinforce understanding and mastery of basic concepts.

* ‘People’ must be completely open to learning and make improvements where necessary. They must have complete faith in the process.

Guardiola has taken these three pillars into his leadership philosophy, seen in the figure of the innovative, obsessive and all-conquering Guardiola on the touchline and in his media interviews. Hs approach is rooted in his players’ ability to comprehend and give expression to his ever-evolving playing philosophy.

Pep talks. He speaks calmly, intently, focused, extolling the group for being the champions. He name checks the best performers on the team and suggests ways for everyone else to adopt the same mentality. He tells stories. He asks questions. Guardiola has an intimate, intensive style of communication. He has worked hard to perfect this because he knows success depends on it. Indeed, the ability to deliver an energising ‘Pep talk’ that spurs individuals and a team to better performance is a prerequisite for any startup leader.

According to the science, most winning ‘Pep talks’ include three key elements: direction giving, expressions of empathy, and meaning making. The most extensive research in this field – dubbed motivating language theory – comes from Jacqueline and Milton Mayfield, at Texas International University who have studied it for nearly three decades. Their findings are backed by studies from sports psychologists and military historians. And all the evidence suggests that once leaders understand these three elements, they can learn to use them more skilfully. Let’s look at the three elements:

* Pep talks are base on information about precisely how to do the task at hand by, for example, giving easily understandable instructions, good definitions of tasks, and detail on how performance will be evaluated.

* Empathetic language shows concern for the performer as a human being. It can include praise, encouragement, gratitude, and acknowledgment of the challenge.

* Meaning-making language explains why a task is important. This involves linking the organisation’s purpose to listeners’ goals, often, including the use of stories, about people who’ve succeeded, or about how the work has made a real difference to the lives of others.

Research from other fields offers additional insight into what gives the best pep talks their power. Military pep talks also use the three elements in varying proportions, even if the terminology is different.

Stanley McChrystal, a retired general who oversaw special operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, echoes this view. During the last 30 minutes or so before a mission, it was more about building the confidence and the commitment to each other. He says he tended to start with direction giving (Here’s what I’m asking you to do) but quickly shifted to meaning making (Here’s why it’s important) and empathy (Here’s why I know you can do it and Think about what you’ve done together before), and then ended with a recap (Now let’s go and do it).

So, how does Pep capture these three tenets, add in his own wit, intelligence and personality to create his ‘Pep’ talks, and provide a basis for your own pep talk to your startup team?? Here are my thoughts.

Be passionate in the way you communicate Communication an essential tool, Guardiola has to communicate to his City team in several languages but all his conversations are full of passion. Sometimes when oral communication isn’t enough he encourages his team with gestures, hugs and pats on the back. Pep tailors his approach to whatever is needed in the moment, but he demonstrates his passion through his animated communication style.

Question everything Pep never stops asking questions – directed not only at others but also at himself. I’m sure he can be indecisive like us all, and he can change his mind during a game as he analyses different options. We learn from this that success comes about much more from doubts, than it does from certainties.

Never feel satisfied Pep has won over twenty trophies since 2008 with Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City. He celebrates winning as much as anyone, and the result is important, but he is more interested in how it came about, understanding the process. He has always been a leader, but he is a rarity in the fact that he is a leader and a coach, because to be a great leader you need to know what leadership is yet in order to be a great coach you need to understand leadership.

You can be what you know but you can only teach what you understand, and Guardiola truly understands leadership which is why he has had so much success both as a player and more so as a coach. I would argue that his leadership career has only just started because despite all his success he is still only forty eight years old.

Define the essence of the team Organisations are aware of the need to identify and promote the fundamental reason for their existence – their ‘Why?’. This is the ‘core idea’ set down at La Masia that Guardiola carries as the fundamental underpinning to his philosophy. By establishing an objective greater than winning, no matter the victory on the pitch, Pep never lets the players forget that they are part of a legacy that is much greater than they are. This helps manage the ego of the individuals and further motivates the team because they realise that being the best is not enough, what matters is leaving a legacy.

It’s all about the culture When Guardiola was given the coaching role at Barcelona he had just finished a successful season with the Barcelona B team. His first decision as first team coach was that several first team players, including its two main stars Ronaldinho and Deco, had no future at the club. They moved on and several young players from the successful B team moved up.

Guardiola realises that in order for a team to be successful it needs to have a winning culture, a brotherhood of team members that are all winning to put the needs of the team ahead of the desires of the individual, and anyone not wanting to buy into the culture has no future with that team.

Understand the team as individuals Every effective leader knows that you have to have strong relationships with each and every member of the team, yet few understand how to establish relationships with very different people. Guardiola is known for understanding the ambitions, emotions and personality of each player and adapts his communication approach accordingly. You can clearly see the strong personal relationships – and mutual respect – he has with each team member.

Don’t criticise, add value. When things are not going well it’s difficult not to allow your emotions to overtake you and influence your decision-making. Successful leaders know that you can’t lose sight of the objective. When things go bad 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.

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. Paradoxically, people feel psychologically safer when leaders are clear about what acts are blameworthy – and there must be consequences – but if someone is punished, tell those directly and indirectly affected what happened and why it warranted them taking responsibility.

Optimism is key As Friedrich Nietzsche said, That which does not kill us makes us stronger, after all, isn’t it the lack of fear of failure, a willingness to stumble during a quest, that gives the motivation to spur us onto success against all odds in the first place? As Pep found yesterday, whilst we want to be positive and optimistic, there are times when life doesn’t go according to plan and we get disappointed. The challenge is to ensure that the impacts of our disappointments are minimal whilst still acknowledging the let-down and not living in denial.

The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. Rousing words from President Abraham Lincoln, taken from his 1862 annual address to Congress, great words that for me capture the essence of pep talks for any startup leader, and indeed, a Pep talk.

As he holds the team meeting this Monday morning, he’ll no doubt have prepared a Pep talk, filled with direction giving, expressions of empathy, and meaning making. By defining the essence of the team, creating an objective greater than victory, establishing a winning culture and understanding each member’s personal ambitions I am sure Pep will have the players out of the doldrums and their mindset refocused.

So reflect on Pep’s philosophy and communication style, you too can lead a successful team in your startup, no matter if you’ve just suffered a setback, and give pep talks with the same passion and purpose as Pep Guardiola.

Lessons for startups from the rugby world cup: set high expectations for yourself, like Siya Kolisi

England’s World Cup final defeat against South Africa made for a very flat Saturday. Expectations were high, but we were so far off winning the game. Yet if we fans feel washed out, imagine what the players feel! They are going to remember that game for the rest of their lives, but hopefully use it as a pivotal learning moment to ensure they come back as better players.

Head coach Eddie Jones has had a blinding tournament, but on this occasion South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus was awesome. Wherever England attacked, the Springboks had defence. They were very disciplined. They were tactically spot on. They played in the right areas.

They had the balance of their kicking game and when it was on to run the ball and throw the ball wide – they chose the right time and made good decisions. South Africa were fantastic in the set-piece, scrums and line-outs, and the breakdown. Faf de Klerk ran the game from scrum-half.

Only eight men have ever experienced what it is to lead their team to receive the William Webb Ellis trophy – less than the twelve men who have stood on the moon. Siya Kolisi is the eighth after he led South Africa to Saturday’s 32-12 victory. Kolisi follows fellow countryman Francois Pienaar and John Smit, David Kirk and Richie McCaw (New Zealand), Nick Farr-Jones and John Eales (Australia), and of course, Martin Johnson (England).

South Africa’s first world cup victory under Francois Pienaar in 1995 saw Nelson Mandela alongside him in his own green number six jersey, in what became an iconic sporting image. When Smit’s team beat England in the 2007 final, the 16-year-old Kolisi was watching it in a township tavern, because there was no television at home.

That Kolisi has made it this far is a story of stoicism and self-belief, setting high expectations for himself to change his circumstances. Born to teenage parents in the poor township of Zwide on the Eastern Cape, he was brought up by his grandmother. Bed was a pile of cushions on the living-room floor. Rugby was on dirt fields. When he went to his first provincial trials he played in boxer shorts, because he had no other kit.

Rugby is in his family, his father Fezakel was a centre, his grandfather a player of pace too. Kolisi began playing rugby at school aged seven, a small but mobile flanker, good with the ball in hand, learning to be smarter than the stronger kids around him. When a growth spurt kicked in and he got bigger, there was power to go with the finesse.

He signed up for his local club in the township, African Bombers. Five years later his talent was spotted by Andrew Hayidakis, a coach at one of South Africa’s most prestigious rugby schools, Grey High, and offered a bursary. He didn’t speak a word of English when he first arrived, but did a language exchange with one of his classmates, Nicholas Holton teaching him English and Kolisi teaching Holton Xhosa. The two are still firm friends – Kolisi’s son is named after him and Holton was best man at his wedding.

Kolisi progressed through the rugby ranks to Western Province and Super Rugby side the Stormers, before making his international debut against Scotland in 2013. He was named vice-captain for the Springboks in 2017 and in 2018, he became the Springboks’ first black captain in its 126-year history.

Saturday was his fiftieth cap, his twentieth as captain. But his impact is far greater than simply what he does on the pitch because of all that has come before. For all the iconography of 1995, the wider effect of the Pienaar-Mandela relationship quickly faded. When the Springboks triumphed in Johannesburg twenty-four years ago there was just one black player, Chester Williams, in the starting team. By the time of their second World Cup under John Smit in 2007, there were still only two.

In the starting XV that beat England, there were six black players: wingers Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi, centre Lukhanyo Am, prop Tendai Mtawarira, hooker Bongi Mbonambi, and Kolisi. Of Rassie Erasmus’s squad of thirty one, eleven are black.

Kolisi stands as a critical link between the past and future. He was born on 16 June 1991, one day before the repeal of the brutal apartheid laws that enforced discrimination against black people in every aspect of their lives. Separate land. Separate public transport. Separate schools.

And so Kolisi carries that weight on his shoulders. Dreams and messy pasts, old heroes and deep-rooted struggles. Only a game, but so much more too. Ghosts all around him, a new future ahead. Strength through unity was the motto the Springboks have adopted this tournament, both as a squad and as a varied group of South Africans.

Kolisi is acutely aware of how much his life has changed, saying: My first goal was to get a meal at the end of the day. Now I set much higher goals. I want to be one of the best players in the Springbok team and one of the best players in the world.

Kolisi not only makes you wish more sportsmen used their profile for greater things but also forces you to question your own life and achievements. How can you better yourself?  To achieve like Siya Kolisi, you need to raise the bar – not just a little, but a lot. You need to raise the bar on the time and effort you put in. You need to raise the bar on your goals. And most importantly, you need to raise the bar on what you expect from yourself.

The irony is, you’re probably trying too hard currently, making things way too complicated and yet setting your sights way too low. If you want big things out of life, as Kolisi has shown, you have to set your sights high, set big goals, and keep it simple. Here are six steps to accomplishing that.

1. Explore your not-enough story Low expectations stem from the inner belief that we are not able to go higher. When we live in this place, we are never truly living in the moment of our lives, we’re living in regret from what we are not, and fear that we may never be.

You can start chipping away at this false belief by realising that this is not what it needs to be. Who said you’re not able to achieve this? Whose story is this?

2. Have faith in yourself Having reframed your own starting point, you have to believe that what you’re doing is for a reason. Once you find that single purpose, it will give you faith in your ability to make the right choices and set your expectations.

Don’t sit there wondering ‘What if?’ or watching other people, get out there and do your stuff, go to places where you’ll meet other enterprising people and exposed to new opportunities. That’s where you’ll find that one thing you’re uniquely cut out to do.

3. No more low expectations Studies show that parents who have high expectations for their children raise children who are more likely to succeed. The same can be said of yourself: if we have high expectations for ourselves, we are more likely to rise to them.

Most of us have low expectations of ourselves. Maybe you’ve lowered yours to avoid disappointment or a sense of failure when you don’t meet your goals. Perhaps you feel you aren’t worthy of big aspirations, so you shrink them to a size you believe you deserve. Look back at Kolisi’s story, do you think he set low hurdles for himself?

4. Focus on being the best With momentum on your expectations, you need to focus on being better than anyone else. You may need to study and work at it for a few years, but stick with it, you’ll improve your craft, building better products, and delivering better service. If you’re smart and savvy, you’ll rise above the pack and beat the competition. Set a high success bar and expect to reach it. If you don’t, no one else will, and you’ll continue to achieve only mediocre results.

5. Rise to your own expectations, every time When you set expectations for yourself, you will rise to them, but ‘note to self’ helps, reminding yourself and reflecting on success to date, and work to be done. Because you believe in yourself, you’ll be strong. You’ll face your challenges that inevitably befall any great pursuit, but you’ll persevere. And if you do great work, you’ll reap the rewards.

6. Practise self-compassion and remember to rest Self-care can work wonders and motivating yourself with kindness rather than criticism will change your mindset. Learn from mistakes and make changes to move forward. It’s also important to factor in time to relax and recharge. Indeed, you may get more done, a rested body and mind will help you when approaching the next step.

So, what about you? What expectations will you have for yourself going forward? What do you think Kolisi said to himself, back when he was just starting out in his rugby career?

What you expect of yourself determines what you do with yourself. The only person that determines what you do with your life is you; you can make it count and you can make a difference. From experience, I can say that it takes time. However, in the long run when you look back at where you are right now things will be different. And they will be shaped by what you expect of yourself today.

As Leonardo da Vinci said Art is never finished, only abandoned. I know from experience the difficulty of saying, I need to let it go now, it’s good enough! The perfectionist in me shouts or whispers It can be a little bit better. However, keep setting expectations of yourself, and see where the journey takes you.

Our expectations for ourselves directly impact our future performance. I think that’s what made Siya Kolisi a world champion. He looked up to the horizon, then looked a little bit further, set his expectations, and put his heart and soul into getting there. He’s made it, but I expect there is more to come from him.

Lessons for startups from the rugby world cup: the resilience of Maro Itoje

Not since winning the 2003 World Cup has English rugby enjoyed a more stunning moment. Their 19-7 semi-final victory on Saturday left the All Blacks’ players strewn on the pitch, dreams of becoming the first team to win three consecutive Webb Ellis Cups dashed.

As well as inflicting New Zealand’s first defeat in 19 World Cup matches going back to 2007, this was the best England performance I’ve witnessed. The All Blacks had dominated the tournament, but could not cope with England’s relentless power, defensive strength and tactical acumen, after Manu Tuilagi’s second-minute try set the tone.

England’s forwards played the collective game of their lives – Maro Itoje, Tom Curry and Sam Underhill delivered stunning performances when it mattered most. George Ford kicked four vital penalties and when the inevitable All Black fight back came, England’s tackling, particularly from Underhill, was phenomenal.

From the moment England formed their deliberate V-shaped arrowhead to greet the haka, there was an edge, and the opening minutes saw England’s statement of intent, with a try after just 98 seconds. A stunning attacking sequence ended with Tuilagi plunging over, Farrell’s conversion made it 7-0, and it was seven minutes before New Zealand could get their breath.

It was the team in white who dominated the first half, a 10-0 half-time blank noteworthy as the All Blacks’ first at a World Cup since 1991. Savea 57th-minute try, converted by Richie Mo’unga woke us all up. With just nine defeats in their last 105 matches, would the All Blacks come back? The answer was no. Despite two disallowed tries, two more Ford penalties propelled the English chariot sweetly into next Saturday’s final.

If England have ever produced a better eighty minutes then no-one dancing or screaming around our front room on Saturday morning, refreshed with a copious supply of beer and bacon butties, could remember it. The tension of being ahead from the second minute, the relentless tackles making you grab your own ribs and wince, it was simply a truly great game of rugby.

Maro Itoje had the game of his life, making twelve tackles, winning seven lineouts, and three turnovers. But that does not tell you the half of it. He was a one-man highlights reel. You kept catching glimpses of him, forcing his way through the maul to reach over and wrap his hands around the ball to stop Aaron Smith snapping it out, soaring into the air at the lineout to grab the ball from Sam Whitelock, charging into half a gap, bent double over a tackled man, rooting around with his hands till he pulled up the ball, like some frenzied prospector digging around for the gold nugget he had spotted in the river mud.

Itoje was named player of the match as England’s pack dominated their All Black counterparts. England won sixteen turnovers. No team has won more at this World Cup. Breakdown won, set-piece won, discipline won. England conceded just six penalties to the All Blacks’ eleven. They were faster and they were more precise. They kicked from hand better, and they tackled like their lives depended on it.

Around twenty minutes into the second half, the camera zoomed in on Itoje, getting his breath back at a lineout, chest was heaving, lungs gulping, but the eyes… well, the eyes were something else. They were wide open and staring, bearing an expression that simultaneously implied total aggression and total stillness. He did not blink. Itoje was in the zone of complete focus, the moment of concentration and clarity.

This was his greatest performance in an English shirt, in attack and defence, in open play and at the set piece, in its bravery, discipline, ingenuity and skill. To get a measure of his impact, look at his opposite numbers – Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick were a fraction of their imposing best. These are greats of the game, World Cup winners with 200 international caps between them. Itoje made them look like statues. To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man, Itoje said last week.

The menace and verve of New Zealand’s potent team was nullified. He gave a technical and tactical masterclass, his performance forged through continuous breakthroughs, small steps and iterations, each possible because he had his eyes and ears wide open in the moment, with the resilience and mindset to keep going.

Putting to one side his rugby skills, it was the resilience shown by Itoje to simply keep going that stood out for me. It is the virtue that enables entrepreneurs to move through their own battles and achieve success. If we have the virtue of resilience, then we can move forward, whatever the challenge.

Many misunderstand what’s at work in resilience. For me, it’s not about ‘bouncing back’, rather its about the ability to integrate harsh experiences into your thinking, learn and apply the lessons, and then be motivated to go again, expecting to go one better, as Thomas Edison said, I have not failed. I have just found ten thousand ways that won’t work.

Like Itoje, entrepreneurs consciously choose a life of challenge, yearning success whilst also inevitably encountering times marked by sheer graft, chaos and disappointment. Entrepreneurial endeavour is a series of higher highs and lower lows, in which the peaks and troughs are more vivid, but as Sir Edmund Hilary said, People do not decide to become extraordinary. They decide to accomplish extraordinary things, and he should know.

Ryan Holiday, in his book The Obstacle Is The Way, draws lessons from philosophy and history and says if you want to achieve anything in life, you have to do the work, be prepared for knockbacks – but most of all, be resilient. It’s a great book, inspiring us to be bolder and mentally able to handle the pressure of running a startup.

Here are some quotes from Holiday, which I think say a lot about building your resilient mindset, and could have been written about Itoje on Saturday.

No one is asking you to look at the world through rose-coloured glasses.

See the world for what it is. Not what you want it to be or what it should be. Hey, we’re back to being realistic – but it’s also about optimism, the mindset to expect the best outcome from every situation – and that’s resilience to make it happen. This gives entrepreneurs the capacity to pivot from a failing tactic, and implement actions to increase success.

Where the head goes, the body follows. Perception precedes action. Right action follows the right perspective. When something happens, you decide what it means. Is it the end? Or the time for a new start? Is it the worst thing that has ever happened to you? Or is it just a setback? You have the decision to choose how you perceive every situation in life.

No thank you, I can’t afford to panic. Some things make us emotional, but you have to keep your emotions in check and balanced. In every situation, no matter how bad it is, keep calm and try to find a solution. Sometimes the best solution is walking away. Entrepreneurs find it hard to say no, but that can be the best option.

If you want momentum, you’ll have to create it yourself, right now, by getting up and getting started. If you want anything from life, you have to start moving towards it. Only action will bring you closer. Start now, not tomorrow. Maintain active optimism, observing how others were successful in similar situations, and believing you can do the same. It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.

It’s okay to be discouraged. It’s not okay to quit. Entrepreneurial life is competitive. When you think life is hard know that it’s supposed to be hard. If you get discouraged, try another angle until you succeed. Every attempt brings you one step closer. Don’t have a victim’s mindset, have courage to take decisive action. Great entrepreneurs become tenaciously defiant when told they cannot succeed. Then they get it done.

We must be willing to roll the dice and lose. Prepare, at the end of the day, for none of it to work. We get disappointed too quickly. The main cause? We often expect things will turn out fine, we have too high expectations. No one can guarantee your success so why not expect to lose? You try with all your effort, it doesn’t work out, you accept it, and move on.

The path of least resistance is a terrible teacher. Don’t shy away from difficulty. Don’t do things just because they’re easy. How do you expect to grow? Nurture yourself: gain strength from the unrealistic achievements of others. We can’t choose what happens to us, but we decide how to respond. Successful, resilient entrepreneurs don’t just accept what happens to them. It’s all fuel that you can use to move forward. It defines you.

Itoje will tell you, you get tackled, you’re hurt, you’re down and the play is now twenty-five metres away. Resilience means getting right back in the game, remaining optimistic in the face of adversity. Resilience is accepting your new reality, but being able to take a step forward when others sit there watching.

Itoje is the essence of persistence, resilience and mental toughness, so take a leaf out of his book. Give it everything, every day, be the last man standing when something needs to be done. Never be outworked, remember that true failure only comes when you give up. Hold yourself responsible for a higher standard than anybody else expects of you. Never excuse yourself. Never pity yourself. Be a hard master to yourself. The human capacity for burden is like bamboo, far more flexible than you’d ever believe at first glance.

England played an absolutely incredible game, the stamina, the resilience, they just never let up. Never have I seen an All Blacks team defeated quite like this, they were outplayed, outsmarted, outmuscled. Perhaps it’s time to accept that nothing lasts forever, no one can outrun the sands of time. With the iconic Kieran Read stepping down from All Blacks duty next month, and others including Sonny Bill Williams, Aaron Smith, Joe Moody and Sam Whitelock unlikely to feature in the next World Cup in France 2023, maybe this current pantheon of All Blacks greats has reached the end of the road.

Greatness is a hard thing to sustain in any walk of life, but for nearly a decade this All Blacks team has done that. Success can take the edge off soaring ambition, the passing of time perhaps dampens hunger and with it the mindset for repeated challenge. New Zealand have been the epitome of resilience, but now a brighter, younger team, one bristling with unwavering belief, and players like Itoje showing their own immense resilience, has landed a killer blow when it matterred most. Make sure you take a lesson from Itoje for your own entrepreneurial endeavours.