The future is unwritten, so make your mark

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 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 musician. The Clash were one of the great rebel rock bands of all time, fusing a mélange of musical styles, with riotous live performances, and left-wing political activism, that inspired many. Through his songwriting Strummer showed young people his radicalism, defiance, and resistance to social injustice.

After releasing a final album in 1985, the Clash broke up for good, 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 creativity, experimentation and innovation in his musicianship.

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

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 three weeks time, on 28 September, a 32-song compilation album titled Joe Strummer 001 will be released, featuring some unheard demos from The Clash, twelve new songs and Strummer’s final recordings. This will be the last time we will hear 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. Imagination leads us to accomplish our greatest achievements. 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 do you do this? Here are some thoughts as to what made Strummer the individual, his entrepreneurial dna, and the takeaways we can learn from him, with parallels to the tech innovators who surround us today.

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 I think, 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 is that no matter what the obstacles, he never gave up. He was exceptionally 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.

In the words of Muhammad Ali, Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it.

Strummer’s enormous ambition to do what everyone said couldn’t be done far exceeded everyone around him. He was in dispute with his record company for eight years, and released no new music, yet he kept fighting. He aimed for breakthroughs instead of incremental improvements. He always targeted disrupting systems instead of innovating incrementally.

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.

Alongside Strummer’s thinking, I’ve always held JRR Tolkien’s words in The Hobbit as inspiring about choosing your attitude for personal or business growth:

The greatest adventure is what lies ahead

Today and tomorrow are yet to be said

The chances, the changes are all yours to make

The mold of your life is in your hands to break

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 sought self-growth, anything he could do to break new ground. This helped him grow as an artist and human being, and further distanced himself from others as being unique. 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. 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.

Go fishing with Einstein to improve your entrepreneurial thinking

I remember it well. Sitting still, staring practically hypnotised by the little red stick – the float – in the water, willing it to twitch. I was with my granddad and dad, on the canal bank. And then, when it did, that magical moment, not quite believing it. Did it really happen, or did I imagine it? It twitches again, bobs down and goes under. You pick up the rod and strike. Yes! A connection via a thin nylon thread to a fish. We’re on!

I haven’t been fishing for years, but all of this came back to me watching Gone Fishing recently, with Paul Whitehouse and Bob Mortimer, two of my comedy icons from the 1990s. They made me laugh out loud then – and again on the new programme.

Paul Whitehouse was part of the team behind The Fast Show, inspired to have a go at comedy when working as a plasterer in the house where Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie were living. Characters of Ron Manager, Ken, one of the ‘Suit You Sir’ tailors and Ted were his forte.

Bob Mortimer is best known for working with Vic Reeves as Vic and Bob, developing a nightclub variety show format in Vic Reeves Big Night Out, and Shooting Stars, a comedy panel quiz show which ran from 1993 to 2011. Both were truly trailblazing – and utterly chaotic.

Whitehouse and Mortimer have more in common than just their love of laughter. They have both suffered complex heart diseases – Paul had three stents, Bob a triple bypass – and that was the back story of the series, a poignant reminder of the passage of time and how priorities change from a pair who in their prime, were responsible for the transformation of the British comedy landscape.

The pair’s friendship stretches back decades. Whitehouse reached out after learning Mortimer was in the doldrums following heart surgery, thinking a tour of the country’s finest fishing spots might help Bob’s recovery, relax them both and along the way maybe they would learn something new about each other.

In this funny and poignant six-part series, we eavesdrop as they reconnect and share their personal experiences. They also fish, and talk nonsense. A lot. On soggy riverbanks, they candidly discuss everything you can imagine, while trying to catch some fish with the excitement of a bobbing float.

Of course, it’s not really about fishing, but about friendship and getting older and reminiscing, joking about mortality and life. There are even impressions: Bob does his De Niro. It’s fine until he starts talking. Stick to silent De Niro, Bob (although, actually, a bad impression is funnier than a good one).

It was lovely television, warm, funny, and human. They shared nostalgia for their youth and revealed how they recently came face to face with their own mortality – passing a graveyard, they muse about the future and chat to a local vicar about death, and their own funerals.

Whilst modern friendships revolve around text messages and social media, it was a joy to witness friendship taken back to basics, banter without much actually happening, ambling around sharing experiences. There was something soothing and reaffirming in the embrace of the moment, the vocal joshing and the comfortable company of an old friend.

Gone Fishing was a breath of fresh air, escapist bliss. There’s a simple, endearing pleasure in watching excitable men fly-fishing in a gently bubbling river, while a group of meandering cows trudge past to the opposite bank.

Bob maintained the upbeat whimsy and sense of irreverence, Paul channels real pathos and is quietly contemplative at times. This is a wry, funny look at the reality of life on the wrong side of 50 of two men lamenting the passage of time.

In the final episode, they decide to try and catch a pike, which is perhaps not the best idea for two men of a certain age with heart problems. To close, facing the future, they write a eulogy for each other as the sun sets on their final fishing expedition. Hopefully a second series beckons, if you missed it, go back on catch-up TV, it’s well worth it.

Everyone experiences fatigue, anxiety and poor health at some point in his or her daily life, and you need coping mechanisms to help you deal with the issues and feel better mentally and emotionally. Fishing might be just what you need!

There are undeniable psychological benefits of fishing that can help you feel better on an emotional and mental level. Looking at Paul and Bob, you don’t typically catch a fish every five minutes, but the calming water helps you relax as you unplug and connect with nature, enjoying a peaceful and quiet environment.

No one is around, there’s nothing to bother you, it’s just you, open water, the fish and fresh air. Above all, the openness gives you some perspective on what is really important, and on what makes you happy.

Notwithstanding this wistful vestige of an existential neverland of fishing lodged in my psyche, as entrepreneurs we need time and space to think and get stuff out of our heads, a place to look at the horizon and keep us fresh. As Hemingway said, it is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.

Fishing strikes me as the perfect place to think and reflect about your business challenges, the stuff you’ve got going on, and trying to make sense of it in order to learn something from it.

Where’s your favourite place to do your best thinking? Mine’s a deserted, windswept, isolated beach with just the dog to talk to. It’s hard for me to put into words why I like the beach so much, it’s just everything about it is renewing for me, almost like therapy. Beach Therapy. Perfect beaches, perfect water, perfect rock pools, your own space, all the seclusion you could want.

You cannot exist in isolation, but there’s nothing I like more than to take myself off for some thinking time on the beach. I do my best thinking in isolation. It isn’t as if you are alone, it’s that you find yourself thinking alone.  Part of the isolation comes from what you are experiencing. You are the one who sees the situations in your head most clearly, and it will often be difficult for others to see things the same way.

Yet today offers a strange paradox: our knowledge and understanding of complexities in the world expands dramatically, yet the time to think and analyse is getting smaller and smaller. How do you make time to think?

Good ideas rarely come in meetings, or even at your desk. They come to you in the bath, on a walk, on a train, doing the garden – or fishing. Albert Einstein put it this way: I take time to go for long walks so that I can listen to what is going on inside my head. If my work isn’t going well, I lie down in the middle of a workday and gaze at the ceiling while I listen and visualise what goes on in my imagination.

Besides modelling my own hairstyle on Einstein’s, I’ve always tried to adopt his maxim we can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.  His thought processes were very much about coming up with questions and visually thinking through their answers. His ability to ask questions was just as revolutionary as his answers.

Just imagine you had the opportunity to share a conversation with Einstein to shape your entrepreneurial thinking. It struck me a great place to spend time doing this, just chatting, would be on a boat or a river, as Paul and Bob did. The moments to share, reflect, listen and learn would be the ultimate mentoring experience, so here’s my Fishing with Einstein, in his own words, about his thoughts on how to make a difference with your own thinking:

Imagination Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world. The blokes over at Apple and Google had all the smart computing skills and knowledge they needed, but what made Jobs and Ives, Page and Brin be great innovators was they imagined – what if?...there was a better way to do things, and then they created it.

Look to the horizon and beyond the day-to-day I want to know God’s thoughts, the rest are details. Einstein didn’t waste time detracted on mundane details, he wanted to wrestle with the big things that made a difference.

Never top questioning The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. Einstein was relentlessly curious, he was fixated on following through until he was satisfied with the outcome. He was restless to a point of perfection.

Willingness to try new things – and fail Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new. The continued evolution of Amazon’s Kindle – which has the reading capacity of 16 tonnes of paper – from its introduction in 2007, to the DX in 2009, Kindle Touch, Kindle Fire and now Kindle Paperwhite reflects this focus of continued reinvention. Einstein kept pushing the boundaries in a similar manner.

Maintaining balance If A is a success in life, then A equals x plus y plus z. Work is x, y is play and z is keeping your mouth shut. Einstein didn’t put absolute amounts on each of his variables – he lived his life by constructing ‘what if’?’ formulas to look at relationships. He knew getting the ingredients and then working out their relationship would lead to success.

Look at problems in many different ways, and find new perspectives Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts. Einstein believed that to gain knowledge about the form of a problem, you begin by learning how to restructure it in many different ways.

Prepare yourself for chance I never think of the future, it comes soon enough Einstein had particular strengths that guided him to the fertile ideas and revealing experiments to undertake, he had a characteristic tolerance and even delight in contradiction.

Einstein tells us to reflect that the most consequential ideas are often right under our noses. How many times have you metaphorically banged your head against a wall for a long time with a particular problem? He said insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, perhaps it’s good to reflect upon that.

So, Einstein as your fishing companion, taking the time to reflect, thinking differently and not just sitting there and daydreaming. It’s about picturing the alternatives and working out possibilities of new realities where what you are doing today is completely different tomorrow, in order to go and find the entrepreneurial revolution before it finds you.

We are all confined by the mental walls we build around ourselves, so get yourself fishing, and see where it takes you and your thinking. As Paul Whitehouse said, last year I went fishing with Salvador Dali. He was using a dotted line. He caught every other fish.

Bootstrap your startup: chase customers not investors, revenue not rounds

In recent years, the term tech entrepreneur has been glamorised to the status of celebrity, creating a cohort of Silicon Valley wannabees. There is real dignity and romance to entrepreneurship, but there is now a mantra that if you don’t have pretense of an ambition for Eating The World, raising millions and becoming a unicorn, then you’re not a real tech startup.

I have a nagging sense that the zeal for being disruptive and x10 growth isn’t the only air a startup can breathe, but they are crowding out other motives. Part of the problem seems to be that the millennium kids aren’t content to merely put a dent in their own universe, rather they have to put a dent in the universe.

In this atmosphere, the term startup has turned into an obsession with unicorns, a whole generation of entrepreneurs enthralled by the prospect of being transformed into a mythical creature. This fairytale ideal is being reinforced at every turn and an inappropriate yearning for the Mecca of Silicon Valley.

This saccharine rhetoric around entrepreneurship today hides an extraordinarily rapid switch in the balance of power between startup founders and investors that marks the early frontier days of a tech startup. The mindset has shifted. Investors have won.

Why have they won? Well, the gung-ho sentiment of ‘raise money, raise money, if you don’t you’re not a genuine entrepreneur’ has killed off the simple do-it-for-yourself bootstrapping ambition. I find this sentiment a vacuous rationalisation of the grim economic realities – most startups don’t raise money. In fact, most don’t need it.

There are still entrepreneurs wily enough to stay outside of the system and play the game on their own terms, but for the most part, the collapse of the balance of power is not a good thing as it is stifling the real driver of entrepreneurship: entrepreneurs should chase customers, not investors; they should chase revenue not rounds.

They have a vision, but they end up on a different path that effectively makes them mercenaries for hire. They are prospecting for gold in someone else’s Klondike, rather than being self-driven mavericks shooting for their own moon themselves. It’s a path that promises jackpots, but actually creates an agenda simply linked to financial return for someone else, not innovation, creativity or product-market fit.

Startup funding, when applied with wisdom, can work for entrepreneurs. Applied naively, it is a back-seat driving mechanism with which investors can micromanage. By codifying the entrepreneurial insight with investors, it allows investors far greater visibility into operational realities, steering and controlling velocity by their control authority via board seats.

Bootstrapping has been discarded for other people’s money, which changes everything.  In accepting venture funding as the de facto model for growth, entrepreneurs have handed control to investors with an episodic narrative that encourages a short-term focus and rush to exit, and not a long-term building and learning journey.

It’s hard to carry on a conversation with most startup founders these days without hearing the word ‘round’ – their eyeballs fixating on money. Once you take the money, it’s a debt owed, with all the nagging reciprocity that comes with it. Don’t just accept this definition of ‘success is the next round’ because everyone else is cheering that. The chorus of the masses is loud, and that’s seductively alluring. But let’s take a step back.

The real question is why did you launch your startup?  I don’t believe most people are solely motivated by fawning over the latest hockey stick phenomenon. Bedazzled maybe, but I invite you to dig deeper and explore your original motivation.

In the US, Shark Tank and at home, Dragons’ Den celebrate entrepreneurship as reality TV, looking for folks to build the perennial Next Big Thing and scoring a heart-warming Techcrunch story. The winner is pumped to deliver that 10x return, well aware the aim is to clear a somewhat extraordinarily high fence.

Curiously, the hand-wringing camp usually wins.  Lest you feel inclined to be snarky about this plot, consider this: What the entrepreneur is gambling for is not the space trip and big fortune, but merely survival. There are very few winners. It also involves a massive amount of self-delusion. This narrative works as patronising sarcasm precisely because the standardised term sheet marks the promise of Emperor’s New Gold.

Many startups go for raising money just because it’s available. But most of them shouldn’t. The reasons for wanting the money – because it will make growth and hiring easier – are not enough. To be sure, there is no single right or wrong answer for everyone, but don’t take money just because it’s there.

That funding will be the most expensive cash you ever buy. But beyond that, cash is addictive. If you let investor funding become the driver for your business early on, it’s very difficult to wean yourself off of it as you grow. Many people who think they need that outcome in order to live the startup life that they want are quite simply wrong.

You’re selling your startup vision and business model to investors. Why not take all of that energy and hustle that requires to build yourself a better business, and have long-term impact? Instead of selling to investors, sell to customers. Think about ways to increase revenue – build your brand, increase your prices, upsell on added value, get new customers in the door. Make your startup its’ own financial backer.

Consider for a moment that a funding round wasn’t an option available to you. The alternative is bootstrapping. You may see slower growth and far more hard work on your part, yet for me, this is ultimately more rewarding.

But the common view is you need to turn to investors who will hand over funds. However, this rarely occurs, and you’ll likely waste your time, effort and money on pitch development in the process. Instead, bootstrapping affords far more opportunities:

  • You’ll stay passionate about your startup and discover key talents you didn’t know you had. Don’t be quick to hire when you can do the work yourself. Putting in more sweat instead of hiring others, especially in the early days, will help keep your costs down.
  • Later, bootstrapping is likely to attract the right talent. You’ll bring in people who can actually push you forward because you’ll have better insight into who you need.
  • You retain control today, and in the future. You don’t have to sell equity for investor compensation. It also ensures all of your cash generated from profit remains in your pocket, not investors.
  • Most importantly, without investor financing, you’ll grow a better company that’s less dependent on pleasing investors and more likely to develop the type of product or service your customers need.

Bootstrapping can be challenging and hard work, but it nearly always affords startup founders with a better end result. In a survey conducted by Quartz Media on why startups fail, it was evident that funded startups were more likely to run out of money than those bootstrapping, because they were more judicious and focused on the decisions better. There is clear evidence that external funding distracts founders.

Independence isn’t missed until it’s gone, in the sense that external money dictates your journey. The motive, for me, of doing my own thing means rejecting the definition of success proposed by the San Franciscan economic model of Get Big. All this may sound like I have a lack of aspiration. I like to call it modest, realistic, achievable.

It’s a designed experience and a deliberate pursuit that recognises beyond a certain level of financial success, the trappings of a blow-out success aren’t nearly as high up the Maslovian pyramid of priorities as people think.

Let investors keep their money under their mattress for someone else. When you take money from investors their business model becomes yours. Einstein said compound interest is the eight wonder of the world. Morality pitted against the compound leverage of capital is often outmatched, but there are people building profitable startups outside the sphere of the venture capital dominion that have little systemic need to tell their story.

The web is the greatest entrepreneurial platform ever invented. Lowest barriers of entry, greatest reach ever. Examine and interrogate your motivations, reject the money if you dare. Recognise that a startup doing something useful that dents your own universe is plenty. Curb your ambition. Live happily ever after.

Recognise your thirst for venture capital is vanity capital. Entrepreneurship is an emotion of ambition. Venture capital appeals to another emotion – greed. Stop chasing investors and start chasing customers. Avoid the time wasted for attracting investors, managing their expectations and getting through to the next round of funding.

I appreciate that some projects have high capital costs, but this focus can distract you from your far more important and ultimately the only source of funds that matters – your customers.

Every startup has a limited runway and investment can help extend that, external funding is a temporary fix to give sufficient time to test and perfect your business model. But there’s something refreshingly clear about having no external funding and no investors to keep happy, allowing you to focus 100% on your customers.

If you can satisfy them, and they pay for it, you’re in business. If they don’t, you’re not. It cuts to the chase a lot faster. When you are forced to rely on your customers it puts you in direct contact with them and you quickly find out exactly what they want and don’t want. It’s amazing how quickly you learn what is necessary and what’s not when your funds are so limited.

For me, the steady advance of this ‘round x’ philosophy is destroying the very concept of entrepreneurship, founders mistakenly believe that fundraising is a substitute for selling to actual customers. Let’s stop all this craziness. You need validation from customers willing to pay for your solution. Your key to economic independence isn’t reliance on outside investors, it’s the creation of a customer base that believes in you and your offering.

It can be done: Hewlett-Packard started with just $538 and a garage. That was a lot of money in 1936 when the company was founded, but that equates to about $7,500 in today’s currency.

Bootstrapping out of your own pocket is difficult, but for me, ultimately more fulfilling – you did it on your own terms and your own effort. It’s by no means impossible to give up a chunk of your personal life today for the sake of your future self.

Ultimately, bootstrapping is making an investment in yourself, by yourself, for yourself. In a startup, hope is the fuel of progress. Focus your entrepreneurial endeavours and progress based on your passion, your ideas and your ideals, not other people’s money.

Make your startup stand out from the crowd like Johnny Dough’s

It’s the classic story, we’ve all heard before – a 38 year-old geologist from Llandudno is working for a Canadian mining company in Ethiopia when he suddenly thinks…Pizza! Well, probably not the most common of occurrences, but that’s exactly what happened to man behind Johnny Dough’s Wood-Fired Pizza restaurants, Morgan Austin.

It’s February 2015. After much research, planning and van-converting, startup Johnny Dough’s Wood-Fired Pizza was created, serving quality, fresh pizzas in minutes to Llandudno locals and tourists, as well as at festivals around North Wales, from his mobile van. The journey to provide delicious, freshly-made pizzas in just a few minutes had begun.

Fast forward to May 2016. It became clear that the demand for his pizzas, made quickly and with fresh local ingredients, was never going to be satisfied with just a van, so in partnership with fellow entrepreneur Jon Hughes, their first restaurant was opened in Llandudno town centre.

With an expanded menu, including some local twists like Great Orme Goat’s Cheese, Menai Strait Mussels Marinière and Anglesey Sheep Shish Kebab pizzas, the new restaurant hit the ground running and quickly became a favourite and welcome addition to the town’s tourism sector.

Step forward again to March 2018. As the reputation of Johnny Dough’s spread, the time came to look for another premises. So when The Bridge pub in Conwy became available, it re-opened as Johnny Dough’s at The Bridge. The combination of the range of local real ales, artisan gins and Johnny’s wood-fired signature cooking style made for a winning combination and very quickly this second location became a thriving venue.

As I now spend most of my leisure time in nearby Deganwy, Johnny Dough’s has become a firm favourite on my eating destinations list. From the moment you open the door and smell the wood smoke oven, you know you are in for a treat.

So many features of this airy eatery are striking. The vibe is warm and welcoming. The decor is pared back, with bare wood tables and brick walls. A small kitchen with an open wood oven sends out freshly made artisan pizzas that are just fascinating in design and flavours, matching the artistry on the menu boards on the wall. And in reality judging by the gusto with which they are consumed, everyone finds them as tasty as I do.

What you see here is an example of entrepreneurship at a much smaller, individual scale – forget the tech behemoths that dominate our everyday lives – the wave of independent restaurants and coffee shops are the playgrounds of true entrepreneurs, where effort and endeavour is given in pursuit of their craft and dreams.

The pizza-entrepreneur Morgan Austin is no different from any other person choosing to launch their business idea into a startup reality. They need to do their research, learn their craft, secure funding, find premises, create and test their product and then launch it. Then the hard part – find, win and keep customers, and get a share of their wallet on a regular basis.

The small independent restaurateur has to juggle everything from preparing the food to building a brand to mastering social media to managing suppliers and recruiting and training staff. They are operating in a highly competitive market, against other independents and the global chains. They will stand or fall on the quality of their product, customer service and ambiance of their venue.

I’ve watched Johnny Dough’s operate with true entrepreneurial flair. From dough to pizza to serving on branded greaseproof paper atop of wooden pizza trays, offering signature pizza designs and recipes, providing an alternative to the international chains known for the powerful brands, but their industrial scale lacking intimacy and authenticity.

What makes you choose a restaurant? The food menu obviously, but what about the location, seating – including how far apart the tables are, service, the staff, the general ambience and of course the price. But many of these factors are about experience and given the growth in numbers and genres of cafes and restaurants, how do you stand out from the crowd?

Restaurants have to make us want to go there, whether for a quick lunch, dinner with friends or a special occasion meal. But what makes one better than the other?  What I find off-putting is drab, tired décor, ear-splitting background music and tables packed too tightly in a small space. Some restaurants are so keen to squeeze in as many diners as possible, that on occasions I’ve sat so close to the next table that I could have joined in their conversation!

I also stay clear of those complex menus where Heston Blumenthal influences can be seen – smoked haddock risotto is one of my favourites, but I saw it on a menu last week with peach sauce, and that was simply a step too far. You can do all kinds of things to be noticed, but many of them don’t make the right lasting impression to make customers return. I find restaurants confuse novelty for innovation.

For me, a restaurant’s atmosphere sets the stage. It’s about more than just a dining room away from home. As diners, we are investing in a package deal of food, drink and feel-good factor and, while the memory of what we ate might fade over time, the other aspects of the experience remain.

So how does Johnny Dough’s stand out from the crowd? Here are some reflections from my recent visit – Farmhouse pizza and Conwy Welsh Pride ale by the way, heartily recommended – that can be taken into any startup venture.

1. Get back to basics – serve great food

When people walk through the restaurant doors, they are expecting to enjoy their meal. Setting high standards when it comes to the food quality is vital and it is important to ensure that customers get the same quality every time to earn a restaurant a good reputation, causing customers to make return visits.

2. The dining experience

Apart from serving good food, customers look for a good overall experience. Johnny Dough’s staff help to enhance the guest experience through being courteous and maintaining a great attitude. They are knowledgeable about the cuisine, address issues promptly and make sure that the food and drinks get to the customers in a timely manner.

The layout and classic look of the restaurant allows a relaxed ambiance to come through. You’ve got a lot of space on the table and between each table. Customers can have their own intimacy and not join in the next table conversation.

3. The restaurant ambience

The atmosphere can go a long way in determining whether customers keep coming back. Atmosphere comes from guests, their conversations, the buzz, the clinking of glasses. It’s a very relaxed environment and Johnny Dough’s understand ambiance is harnessed. The atmosphere is relaxed, fun and easy going. Conwy is a vibrant tourist destination, and people on holiday want the feel good factor to continue.

4. Personalisation

Personalisation has become the key to business success, as increasingly consumers expect a service crafted for them as individual consumers. People go out to eat under many different circumstances, and a restaurateur and staff need to read what people want on that particular service, because the way you treat this table may be completely different to that table.

Johnny Dough’s menu includes an option for children to create their own pizza of choice, that’s a great USP and marketing strategy, the ultimate focus on the individual in today’s ‘pay-as-you-go’ economy.

5. Something unique

Most people are looking for something different when they decide to dine out. A great restaurant promises to offer something that is not available elsewhere. If providing good food and service is all that a restaurant can offer, that is nothing new.

A great restaurant will have one or several unique features that will stand out in the patrons mind and this creates a competitive advantage. Johnny Dough’s capture and create their competitive advantage by bundling together a number of unique features to differentiate their offering.

6. The price factor

The price is an important consideration when people are dining out and it takes into account different characteristics of the restaurant offering. People pay for the overall experience, not just the food and that is why some restaurants charge much more than others – and why some are always filled to capacity night after night. Customers expect prices to reflect the type of food, level of service and the overall atmosphere of the restaurant.

Johnny Dough’s offer a value for money experience compared to other venues in Conwy, and to the international pizza brands. Pricing shapes an expectation in a customer’s mind, and Johnny Dough deliver on that expectation.

7. Perfect timing

The co-ordination between the kitchen and table is a well-orchestrated ballet at a restaurant, you never want to see your meal slowly congealing under a heat lamp waiting to be served, nor having your plates whisked away and replaced by the next course while you’re in final mid-chew.

The tempo is good, just enough time to savour the experience before eating, and relaxing afterwards. Timing in delivery, is everything.

8. Keep a clear head

Amidst the hullaballoo and the fury of the frantic activity in the coming and going of pizza eaters and food being sent from the oven, staff have to keep a clear head. In the heat of the moment, they cannot get caught up in the intensity and frenzy. Resilience in times of peak demand is needed to keep the customer experience as fresh and stimulating as the pizza.

As an entrepreneur, patience is as important as an ability to move quickly. Sometimes you may want to rush out and do stuff. It is important to make sure that when an opportunity arises, you are prepared for it, able to recognise it, and attack it with great precision. In the frenzy, treat every customer as if they are your only customer, and they will recognise it.

9. Enjoy the oxygen

Top athletes use a technique whereby they take 30-second breaks in-between agility drills in an intense workout. During those brief seconds, they are exhorted to enjoy the oxygen. This teaches them how to breathe using their diaphragm, not their lungs, and to lower their heart rate during breaks in competition.

So many business folks are so caught up in the heat of the moment that they don’t stop to take a deep breath, step back, and pause for reflection to collect their thoughts. The staff at Johnny Dough’s did this, spending quiet moments to themselves to reflect on the success of their business, what’s working and what’s not, and also enjoying the success of seeing returning customers, before going again.

10. Make the closing memorable

So how do you close off a transaction such that is starts a relationship, and a customer returns? Johnny Dough’s give you the bill in a small brown envelope with the words THE DAMAGE – get yer dough out.

The last touchpoint with the customer uses humour, reinforces the brand with simple language, and makes the payment memorable – you recall the final act, not the price, it focuses the customer on value and experience, not cost. Simple, but clever!

This is how the independent pizza and coffee outlets win against the global chains, they do lots of little things differently, they don’t try to compete on the same basis, they make a difference by being different, and focus on that. These are great basics for any startup venture.

Going along with the crowd may be mentally reassuring, but it is more fulfilling to follow your own unique desires and modes of expression. Value your own individuality.

Focus on the horizon and hold your vision. Do something everyday to move your startup 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. Why do we work so hard to fit in, when we were born to stand out?

Finally, don’t take my words for it, check it out! https://johnnydoughs.com/

Beat the odds: buckle up, start up, keep it up, don’t give up, cheer up.

School reunions are funny things, you quickly rewind back to when you were 18 and awkward and gangly and clumsy, not that I’ve changed that much since then anyway. However, my recent reunion was really quite poignant, former teachers who had such an influencing and formative impact on me are now of an age that each year fewer of them remain alive or are well enough to attend.

My most recent reunion saw the absence of Mr Evans, my former maths teacher. I did three ‘A’ levels at maths, I saw as much of him almost as my mum and dad in those two years. He was my John Keating, the Robin Williams character from Dead Poets Society. Not quite the O Captain, My Captain moment from the Walt Whitman poem, but Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas.

I still remember the main school entrance and the huge columns by the door, wooden floors and marble fireplaces in the classrooms. The grounds were amazing, with over ten rugby pitches, lots of trees and rhododendrons all over the place. Seem to recall secret snogging and not so secret scrapping went on in the garden areas.

As far as schoolwork was concerned I was unexceptional until I completed my ‘O’ levels, then Boom! Learning became a serious business. I ditched the foreign languages – declining nouns and adjectives and conjugating verbs. English had been fine, I enjoyed the class time reading, Jerome K Jerome Three Men in a Boat has stuck with me forever, but French was bewildering, you had to make strange noises I’d never heard before and twist your mouth into a new shapes.

History? What’s the point? Why was I being told King Alfred burned the cakes? Why, if he was king, was he doing the cooking for goodness sake?. Worst of all was Scripture. It actually frightened me. It seemed to be filled with random politeness. Thou shalt no covert thy neighbour’s ox. Are you joking?

I was able to do long division in my head, a four-digit number dividend by a three-digit number was easy, I could see the expansion of quadratic equations and calculus? It was made in heaven. I enjoyed the need to be able to learn and reproduce mathematical proofs, Fibonacci, Pascal’s triangle, probability and Archimedes.

I recall one late, Friday afternoon in December, 1980. The lesson was about Pythagorean theorem and Euclid’s proof. The homework was come prepared to stand up in front of the class and write the proof on the blackboard. But no, I’d been distracted and not done it.

True to form, he walked into the classroom, threw the chalk casually over to me and asked me to parade my knowledge on Pythagoras, and sat down with his back to the blackboard. Silence. No hurried scuffing of chalk on said blackboard as I unpacked my thinking. Within twenty seconds he knew I hadn’t done the work. Tumbleweed passed gently through the room.

And then something magical happened: Brookes, if you care to go to the bookcase on the far wall, second shelf up, take the sixth book from the left, the one with the red cover, and turn to page 134, the fourth paragraph onwards will help you. So off I went, found the book as described and there, page 134, was a perfect recount of Euclid’s Proof.

I stood there and copied out the proof onto the blackboard. It was one of the most stressful episodes in my life since my journey in my mother’s birth canal. To this date, I still carry round a scruffy bit of paper, now fading and in tatters, with the Euclid’s proof. But it was the moment the appetite for learning, curiosity and being mentally agile was borne in me, that day has lived with me ever since. Evans’s passion for knowledge, knowing where the book was, the shelf, the page, the paragraph was inspirational.

So I left school with a head full of numbers, and there is one further learning from school that has really stuck in my mind that involves maths, but is history really. During the English Civil War, Cromwell’s own troops often fell out amongst themselves, and they were never more troublesome than on 15 December 1647, at the first rendezvous of the New Model Army where there was a mutiny leading to the formation of the Levellers.

Now, like any leader facing a mutiny, Cromwell was in a difficult situation. Cromwell’s answer was to arrest and try the ringleaders in a hastily convened court martial and then let fate play a role. There were three identified instigators, and each was summarily convicted and sentenced to death.

Cromwell needed to make only one example, so he made the three men play a deadly game. Each in turn threw dice to see who would live and who would die. The lowest score fell to Private Richard Arnold. He was shot on the spot.

What an outcome from the roll of the dice! Whilst the situation wasn’t one in which he had much time to consider the probability of certain scores, I’ve always wished I was there in a Blackadder sort of way, as surely it would have been helpful for Private Arnold to know the odds of success or otherwise as he stepped up to throw the dice in the ultimate game of chance? I could have told him his chances as he held the dice, and his life, in his hands.

We don’t know Private Arnold’s score, but seven (17%) is the most common combined result when you roll two dice, and two and twelve (3%) are the least probable, and you will likely roll a pair of doubles one out of every six rolls. I suspect Private Arnold rolled the dice and hoped for the best.

Some startup owners just roll the dice and hope for the best too, not evaluating risk or assessing uncertainty, they simply ignore the odds. Decisions are either made at random, or left to chance. Often they get the same outcome as Private Arnold.

What are the odds that your new idea will succeed? If it does, what will the returns be? One of the challenges in startups is that we simply don’t know, which means that if we want to innovate successfully, you not only have to deal with uncertainty, you must seek it out. We can’t use not knowing as an excuse to not act – because we never know.

Although luck is involved and factors into the outcome, strategy plays a more important role in the long-term managing the odds from the roll of the dice. In a changing world, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks. So take calculated risks, be a wizard of odds. That is quite different from being rash and just rolling the dice and leaving everything left to chance.

Having a head full of numbers means I’ve always toyed with probability, and startup life is about making a choice between things that are within your control versus the things that you feel are outside your control, and those things that just happen, against the odds. Everyone knows that launching and living in a start-up is risky, but few appreciate just how the odds of success are stacked against you, so how do you increase the odds of your start-up success? Here are a few thoughts.

Ensure that your passion adds up Passionate entrepreneurs can have rose-coloured spectacles, over-estimating sales and underestimating costs, being positive on the upsides and ignoring the downsides. To convert your passion into a tangible business, emphasise a business strategy that makes financial sense based on a compelling story, covering how the elements of your business will come together. It’s all about the clarity of your thinking and your assumptions – the numbers fall out from this.

Attach to the market, not your idea Passion is an essential ingredient, but a successful start-up is rooted outside the founder, in the market with customers. To turn your passion into a viable business, always think about your business from the customer’s perspective. Why would they buy from you? What problem are you solving? What is compelling about your value proposition?

Develop an MVP A core component in a start-up journey is the build-measure-learn feedback loop. The first step is figuring out the problem that needs to be solved and then developing a minimum viable product (MVP) to begin the process of learning as quickly as possible. Once the MVP is established, you can work on tuning the engine. Use your MVP as a process for engaging customers in dialogue, focus on conversations not revenue. Work on continually improving the fit between your big idea and the marketplace, and individual customers.

Develop a sense of timing Waiting for the right moment to take a decision often makes the difference between success and failure. Adopt a ‘So What?’ and ‘What if?’ mind-set, and map out alternative options. It’s a marathon not a sprint, reflection and consistency are as important as innovation in getting to a ‘business as usual’ model. Be alert, timing is everything. You need to say ‘no’ sometimes, and make some bets.

Don’t micromanage Getting deep in the weeds gives you little time to get that 20,000ft perspective, you should work ‘on’ the business not ‘in’ the business, you’ll find your greatest contributions come when you pull yourself back. Focus at all times on your vision and North Star – each week ask yourself What have I done to move the business forward?

You can’t beat the odds. The ability to scale a start-up is about many factors. The are many challenges. Individually, they may seem manageable, but collectively, they represent a test for any startup business model.

For example, suppose you identify five key risks, and you think you’ve eliminated 90% of the risk in each category. You might take comfort that any one of these risk factors presents just a 10% chance of adversity, however, the probability of surviving all five risk factors is 59%.

Surprising, isn’t it, five factors, each mitigated by 90%, but an outcome of just 60% of success? Just a notch above 50:50. However, if there are another five key risk factors, again each mitigated by 90%, then the chance of success is just 35%.

The stark insight here is that a start-up that is good at managing individual risks has a marginal chance of survival. The probability shows the underlying challenge. The odds are stacked heavily against a start-up, which is why the rate of failure is startlingly high – 75% according to some surveys.

Taking risks is what a startup is all about. You can research and the process of planning is important, but in the end you have to work from your instinct and be fearless. When you’re feeling the apprehension of it on the horizon, that will help you manage the ambiguity of an unknown future and forge ahead in confidence.

For entrepreneurs, the dream of a future lies in a present moment. Great innovation comes from asking what could be. Don’t be afraid to start questioning the status quo of all things and take a risk to see your dream into reality.  Security is mostly superstition. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.

The very nature of startup life is uncertainty. Sometimes we fail, other times we succeed, but there is evolution in continuing to go forward. Don’t settle for a false sense of security by shrinking from the right risks. Live bold and have a daring adventure every day: buckle up, start up, keep it up, don’t give up, cheer up.Beat the odds: buckle up, start up, keep it up, don’t give up, cheer up.

Entrepreneurial creativity: find something only you can say

Creativity, the generation of new and useful ideas, is the catalyst for entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs need to spark everyday with new ideas to craft a winning proposition for customers.

Creativity is also a means of navigating the uncertainties, constraints and challenges that starting and growing an embryonic business involves. As Anita Roddick, founder of the Body Shop said, Nobody talks about entrepreneurship as survival, but that’s exactly what it is and what nurtures creative thinking.

The drive for survival is as strong as it is for success, but how do entrepreneurs sustain their original thinking and flair beyond that initial ‘eureka’ moment? I’ve always been interested in the sustainability of creative ventures from an entrepreneurial perspective. Take musicians, for example, how do they keep their creative spark?

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

More than 35 years after their first release, James, the indie band from Manchester, have continuously evolved to remain as relevant as ever, with their fifteenth album released on Friday, Living in Extraordinary Times.

Since their formation, James have been lyrically and musically spearheaded by Tim Booth, the essential spark of creativity. Booth’s somnambulant ramblings and markedly individualistic performances make him an enigmatic figure, dancing like a man in the throes of a tortuous tantric confidence crisis. It’s all there in the songs, spooked, soul-baring masterpieces. Booth’s vocals trail through those atmospherics with angst and love of a talented performer.

Living in Extraordinary Times is a sixteen-track gem. As with each of their previous albums, it makes a statement about their musical influences and direction. Each has marked a dramatic evolution in their creative style, as they incorporated influences from experimental electronic music, expansive sounds, themes of modern alienation and C21st classical.

Goateed and with his head shaven, Booth now looks a little like Ming the Merciless reborn as a more compassionate yoga instructor. He makes serious yet adventurous music, you have to actively listen to the music and the lyrics, they have meaning.

Something about James inspires a disorienting kind of hope. They are ingenious, intelligent, talented, wonderful musicians, and they really put the hours in, so much so, that Booth often comments on how physically draining it is making a record. That commitment is driven by inspiration, by determination, by hunger. That’s what we’re all after to make our startup different. The standout quality of James is their pure creativity, keeping an edge on their lyrics and standout, memorable tunes.

The title of their latest release may make reference to the utter chaos created by the election of a buffoon to the office of President of the United States, but James go beyond overtly political lyricism, it’s a record varied in tone and rhythm, capturing a band who are experimenting and sounding rejuvenated.

Although their commercial peak coincided with the Madchester era into the 90s, James continues to release new albums that are liberally sprinkled with strong songs. Unperturbed by changes of fashion, these albums sell in reasonable quantities, to faithful fans who actually pay money for music.

So how do you keep your creativity and  innovation and keep pushing the ambition? What can we learn from James in terms of their thinking and attitude from an entrepreneurial perspective. Here are some of the best values of entrepreneurship and disruptive innovation that I see from James that should spark a startup.

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

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

A clear dividing line between important work and busy work James are not productive – fifteen albums in thirty-five years. That to me says everything about busy work, and important work. James have always sounded like a band in constant motion, each new release an agitation from the previous release, never resting on their laurels.

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

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

Musicians like Tim Booth are intrinsically motivated to innovate their craft, and reflect the guile, graft and learning journey of any entrepreneur. Booth is a talented, spirited man, driven, passionate and more than willing to rebel against the norm. And that’s what every entrepreneur does too.

But what exactly makes creativity so crucial and important in an entrepreneur’s work life? Entrepreneurs link the creative mind and the business mind, what comes first? This question is similar to: which came first, the chicken or the egg? The debate involves which aspect the entrepreneur chooses to handle first – the creative or the practical side of the process.

So, you’ve got a great idea. But somewhere along the way, your brain just fizzles. You’ve got no energy left to finish what you started. It’s happened to us all. You need to stay creative, but it’s just not happening. The inspiration that got you started is gone.

What are the ways that you can get those creative juices flowing again and reboot your startup? An entrepreneur cannot rely upon occasional ‘light bulb’ creative moments to achieve greatness, you have to keep going. What are the ways you can boost your entrepreneurial creativity? Here are some thoughts.

Step away from the screen Sometimes the best thing you can do to refresh your brain is to step away from your laptop and mobile phone, and just brainstorm freehand on a whiteboard. Visualising concepts, data and ideas is an incredibly powerful tool to get you thinking. Get off the phone, go in a room together with your team, and use a whiteboard until your hand hurts.

Work backwards Set a long-term vision first, then create a plan for how to achieve it. When it comes to solving problems, and keeping your creative spark bright, working backwards can provide a more unique and often smarter solution. Don’t worry about the ‘how?’, nor searching on the ‘what?’, instead keep a focus on your ‘why’ – your road map will literally unfold itself and creative ideas will fall from the long term vision.

Keep notes on everything Writing down everything, no matter how small or insignificant, might save you one day. Go back to the white board or idea board to keep your ideas prominent, and constantly writing and rewriting words and phrases. Read then everyday, look at the words. Take a picture before you remove your ideas, and keep them in a journal, old ideas often have a second life.

Take breaks Working yourself ragged isn’t good for your health or creativity. Boost your entrepreneurial creativity by taking a few deliberate breaks every couple of hours or so to relax and refresh. It might be just what you need to push yourself over that last mental hump, unleashing your creativity. It’s important to know when to keep working and when to take an extra five minutes for making the next pot of coffee.

Get up and do It Sometimes the best way to boost your creativity is to just go ahead and plunge into a creative endeavour, if only to see what happens. Don’t let fear become a paralysis. You can worry forever if you or your ideas are good enough. Instead of sitting and wondering how you can make yourself creative, just go ahead and do it.

Take a bird’s eye view Take a few steps back and try to see things from a different viewpoint. Being able to separate yourself from the stress of troubling situations means being able to reach smarter and more creative solutions. Simply, get used to dealing with your entrepreneurial endeavour with the ebb and flow of every day uncertainty – use creativity as a means to manage the uncertainty, from a top own view.

Don’t forget to analyse Coming back to your ideas later and researching them to make them more complete is a great way to make your solutions more solid and boost your entrepreneurial creativity. This often provides more creative solutions. Not all of your ideas are going to be wonderful. It’s important to go through and weed out the bad ones to give the good ideas room to grow.

Rejuvenating your creative spirit can also be achieved by looking to others, their creativity can stimulate your own thoughts, like listening to music. So back to James.  Most bands of James’s vintage are on the nostalgia circuit, playing old hits to ageing fans. But James are not ready for heritage status yet.

With the anger and frustration that’s being vented on their latest release it’s as though as they get older, James is channelling the spirit of punk, subverting expectations and forever doing everything on their own terms. Having joined James in 1982 as a drama student, Tim Booth remains an entertainingly theatrical singer, a vibrant statement of continuing creative intent.

Find something only you can say. That’s what every entrepreneur must do, use creativity to shape their own agenda and make their mark. Creativity is the root of entrepreneurship, it’s not just a skill but also an attitude, a rebellious desire to be different. Ideas are at the core of the modern economy, use your creativity to shape your future, keep yourself open for the power of possibility. As Pablo Picasso said, Others have seen what is and asked why. I have seen what could be and asked why not.

Common sense is the genius of humanity: the voice of Jason Fried

Jason Fried, founder of Basecamp, a web applications company based in Chicago, has a philosophy to startup tech that is clear, articulate and makes complete sense. Fried pushes back on the cauldron of hype and bravado, highlighting extreme working hours, growth-at-all-costs, and the focus on fund raising as fundamentally flawed.

Why do we often refer to the pace of our workplace as ‘crazy’? I hear this all the time when talking with startups, the need for 12+ hour days, working into the early hours two nights a week, and over weekends too. While this has been accepted as the ‘new normal’ in many tech startup workplaces, Fried’s approach is to simply turn this on its head and debunk the myth.

And it’s not just what he says as a spectator, commentating from outside in. To stereotype Fried as just another dreamer would be a mistake. Fried’s company not only has millions of users for its products such as Basecamp, Highrise, Campfire, and Backpack, but it has been profitable from day one, and chased customers, not investors – it remains privately funded by the founders.

Basecamp was founded as 37signals in 1999 by Jason Fried, Carlos Segura, and Ernest Kim as a web design company. David Hansson joined later, and was instrumental in developing the open source web application framework, Ruby on Rails.

The company was originally named after the 37 radio telescope signals identified by astronomer Paul Horowitz as potential messages from extraterrestrial intelligence. There are apparently billions of signals and sources of noise in space, but, according to Horowitz, there are 37 signals that remain unexplained.

Fried’s story is a personal entrepreneurial journey of creating answers to problems he had, then scaling the solutions into products to sell.  His first product came from the early days of having an AOL account and dial up modem. He was looking for software to organise his personal music collection, didn’t find anything that appealed, so set out to make his own.

He found FileMaker Pro, then made a music-organising database for himself, designing his own graphical interfaces around the standard database elements. He called it ‘Audiofile’ and uploading it to AOL, he asked people to pay $20 if they liked it – and they did!

And that was how Fried’s software startup journey started, the last twenty years have been based on that experience, and today Basecamp is the same thing – the team make products for themselves that they sell to other people. Luckily, there are a lot of people out there with the same kinds of problems they have!

So, looking at Fried’s blogs, published on https://m.signalvnoise.com/ and https://medium.com/@jasonfried, and his books Rework, Remote, Getting Real – and the forthcoming It doesn’t have to be crazy at work – what are the key takeaways from Fried’s philosophies? Here are some thoughts, based around his own words.

1.     Be a calm company

For many, ‘it’s crazy at work’ has become their normal. At the root is an onslaught of physical and virtual real-time distractions slicing workdays into a series of fleeting work moments, plus an unhealthy obsession with growth at any cost, and you’ve got the building blocks for an anxious, crazy mess.

It is no wonder people are working longer, earlier, later, on weekends, and whenever they have a spare moment. People can’t get work done at work anymore. Work claws away at life. Life has become work’s leftovers.

The answer isn’t more hours, it’s less noise and far fewer things that induce ‘always-on’ anxiety. On-demand is for movies, not for work. Your time isn’t an episode recalled when someone wants it at 10pm on a Tuesday night, or every few minutes in the collection of conversations you’re supposed to be following all day long.

Not only does crazy not work, but its genesis – an unhealthy obsession with rapid growth – is equally corrupt. Towering, unrealistic expectations drag people down. It’s time to stop asking everyone to breathlessly chase ever-higher, ever-more artificial targets set by ego. It’s time to stop celebrating crazy. Workaholics aren’t heroes. They don’t save the day, they just use it up. The real hero is home because she figured out a faster way

So build a startup that isn’t fuelled by all-nighter crunches, impossible promises, or manufactured busywork that lead to systemic anxiety. Noise and movement are not indicator of activity and progress – they’re just indicators of noise and movement.

No hair on fire. Build calm. As a tech company you’re supposed to be playing the hustle game. But Fried has Basecamp working at 40 hours a week most of the year, and just 32-hour, four-day weeks in the summer. The workplace is more like a library and less like a chaotic kitchen.

Basecamp focus on doing just a few things. It seems everyone else is trying to do new and innovative stuff. They are more focused on usefulness rather than innovation. We take our inspiration from things like the stapler and paper clip. It might not be as sexy and newsworthy, but it gives us the opportunity to be around for a long period of time.

2.     Love Mondays

It’s actually more Fridays I have a problem with. Fridays are often the anti-climax of the week, sometimes you didn’t get as much done as you hoped, your energy is spent, and frankly, you just want to put a lid on it.

Mondays, on the other hand, are always full of promise and freshness. Imagine all the great things this week has to offer! Imagine finally cracking the hard problem that cooked your noodle last week. Monday is the day of optimism, before reality pummels your spirit.

I think the key to enjoying Mondays is to ensure the weekend is spent doing everything but Monday-type stuff. No digging into the mountain of overdue emails, no ‘just checking in’. Let the weekend be a desert for work and Mondays will seem like an oasis.

Of course, that’s if you actually like what you do and who you do it with. If neither of those things are true, perhaps it’s time to ask yourself: Why are neither of those things true? Then take steps to remedy the situation once that question grows old (and before you do).

Turning Mondays into a delight rather than a dread is really all about moderation. Humans are designed for balance. The best recipe is a mix, not a single-ingredient sludge. Take the weekend to enjoy an exclusive plate of not-work, and wake up hungry for Monday’s fresh serving.

3.     Being tired isn’t a badge of honour

Many entrepreneurs brag about not sleeping, telling me about their 16-hour days, making it sound like hustle-at-all-costs is the only way. Rest be damned, they say , there’s an endless amount of work to do. People pulling 16-hour days on a regular basis are exhausted. They’re just too tired to notice that their work has suffered because of it.

I think this message is one of the most harmful in all of startup land. Sustained exhaustion is not a rite of passage. It’s a mark of stupidity. Scientists suggest that your ability to think declines on each successive day you sleep less than you naturally would. It doesn’t take long before the difference is telling.

And there’s more to not getting enough sleep than compromising your own health and creativity. It affects the people around you. When you’re short on sleep, you’re short on patience, less tolerant, less understanding. It’s harder to relate and to pay attention for sustained periods of time.

If the point of working long hours is to get more work done, and you care about the quality of your work, how can you justify sustained lack of sleep? The only people who try to do so are tired and not thinking straight.

One argument I hear a lot about working long hours is that when you’re just getting started, you have to give it everything you’ve got. I understand that feeling. And there’s certainly some truth to it. Yes, sometimes emergencies require extra hours and you need to make an extra push. That happens. And that’s OK, because the exhaustion is not sustained; it’s temporary. Such cases should be the exception, not the rule.

But people don’t stop working that way. We’re creatures of habit. The things you do when you start doing something tend to be the things you continue to do. If you work long hours at the beginning, and that’s all you know, you can easily condition yourself to think this is the only way to operate. I’ve seen so many entrepreneurs burn out following this pattern.

So it’s important to get a ton of sleep. You’ll start better, think better, and be a better person. Sleep is great for creativity and problem solving. Aren’t these the things you want more of, not less of, at work? Don’t you want to wake up with new solutions in your head rather than bags under your eyes?

In the long run, work is not more important than sleep. If you aren’t sure how important sleep is, think about this: You’ll die faster without sleep than you will without food. And, on balance, very few problems need to be solved at the 12th, 13th, 14th, or 15th hour of a workday. Nearly everything can wait until morning.

4.     Give it five minutes

You don’t have to be first or loudest with an opinion – as if being first means something. Wanting to be the first and loudest voice really means you are not thinking hard enough about the problem. The faster you react, the less you think. Not always, but often.

Man, give it five minutes. It’s great to have strong opinions and beliefs, but give ideas some time to set in. ‘Five minutes’ represents ‘think, not react’. Come into a discussion looking to learn, not prove something. There’s also a difference between asking questions and pushing back. Pushing back means you already think you know. Asking questions means you want to know. Ask more questions, to learn.

Learning to think first rather than react quick is tough. I still get hot sometimes when I shouldn’t. Dismissing other people’s ideas is so easy because it doesn’t involve any work. You can scoff at it. You can ignore it. That’s easy. The hard thing to do is think about it, let it marinate, explore it, mull it over, and try it. The right idea could start out life as the wrong idea.

So next time you hear something, or someone, talk, pitch or suggest an idea, give it five minutes. Think about it a little bit before pushing back, before saying it’s too hard or won’t work. Those things may be true, but there may be another truth in there too: It may be worth it.

So, four interesting perspectives from Fried that run counter to the hullabaloo we see in tech startup mantra on the street.

Are there occasionally stressful moments? Sure, such is life. Is every day peachy? Of course not. But do your best so that on balance be calm, by choice, by practice. Be intentional about it. Make different decisions than the rest, don’t follow-the-lemming-off-the-cliff worst practices. Step aside and let them jump!

Chaos should not be the natural state at work. Anxiety isn’t a prerequisite for progress. Keep things simple – here’s a beautiful way to put it: leave the poetry in what you make. When something becomes too polished, it loses its soul. It seems robotic.

Equally, chose fulfillment ahead of growth. Small is not just a stepping-stone. Small is a great destination itself. Build something of purpose, with intent. Growth can be a slow and steady climb. There is no hockey stick graph. I am turned off by the super rapid growth companies. It’s not stable. Just look at oak trees. They grow incredibly slowly, but they have the kind of solid foundation to withstand storms and other disasters. You need a solid core, which is why I’m such a big fan of consistent and steady growth.

I’ve not always been able to run myself by Fried’s philosophies, but for the last decade his common sense, people-centric, purpose and principles lead approach has been my yardstick. Go on, give it a go yourself.

Tips for startup founders: those tricky moments in investor meetings

One of the lasting insights I’ve learned helping startup founders is you need to anticipate the hardest questions you could be asked by a potential investor, before going into a fund raising round.

There’s lots of advice about what make a great pitch deck, what startup customer metrics you need to hold in your head, and how you need to explain your cash burn rate and runway. However, they are simply obvious things, what about the killer, more subtle questions, the ones that could make you stumble or your less confident of your response?

While it’s impossible to control a meeting’s outcome, thoughtful preparation gives you the best shot at making your conversation memorable. Smart people ask smart questions, so be prepared, and fundraising is widely known as a significant learning curve for founders.

Sometimes tough question appear innocuous, others get your heart pumping and mouths stuttering. Knowing how to improvise and being able to think on your feet is a skill that includes the ability to give impromptu remarks, as well as to answer unexpected questions well.

Investors ask pointed questions to obtain information, but there are other reasons behind them. What they really want, in many cases, is to get a feel for your attitude towards a certain subject, and how calm, confident, and trustworthy you seem.

The number of potential questions you might be asked is infinite and context-specific such that it’s not possible to learn a scripted response. However, it is possible to hone your improvisation skills by learning methods to give structured answers, no matter what you’re asked.

The best tactic is planning and preparation for the off-beat, alternative question, assume the pitch meeting is not going to be a breeze, and then, in the heat of the moment, you give yourself the opportunity for a thoughtful response, as you literally stop and think.

So the strategy to answering difficult questions has two foundations: possessing knowledge and giving information, and delivering your response in a poised manner.

Firstly, let’s look at the tricky questions. There are many challenging questions you could be asked while fundraising, here are four which have made me think over the years.

1.     Why you?

In essence, an investor is asking What is your Founder-Market-Fit? They want to see you have a compelling and unique insight, and understand what about your thinking is contrarian i.e. why your startup will win.

Founder-market fit is an indicator of a match between the founder and the problem they are going after. What compelled the founder to start the business? Domain insights and experience really matter, investors won’t want to fund accidental founders or pay for you to learn about an industry.

Investors like to back folks who have a proven track record of success, so convincing you’re the right person to lead the team will be the challenge you face. First time founders may have a demonstrable track record as technical experts, but moving to leading the charge from the front is different.

Do you think you’re the best person to lead the company, now and in the long run? – is an emotive and direct on-the-spot question. Are you personally investible?

There will be questions about your judgement and how shrewd you are. For example, if you look back in a year and things haven’t gone as well as expected, what will be the reason? Thinking about why we would fail appears negative, but it’s all about having the foresight to stand back and not be blinded by headstrong thoughts.

2.     What if?….

One of the biggest challenges you get pitching is what I call the ‘Godzilla problem’ – for tech, it’s You could do this, but what if Google decides tomorrow they’re going to launch this?

The truth is it’s a difficult question, because what are you going to say? You can’t sit there and bluff that you have a friend who works at Google who said they’re not going to do it. The investor’s response can then be That may be true right now, but they may change their mind once they see it’s working for you.

There’s no response to that, because if they decide to do it you are toast. With all investors, there is a scale they are looking to see where you’re on between fear and greed – because they are on it too, albeit from the other side of the table. They toggle between I’m really excited about this company, we can make money to It’s not for me, this one thing could happen and they’re finished. 

Don’t attack fear with why they shouldn’t be fearful. You’re almost telling them that their fear is irrational. The wrong answer is ‘that won’t happen’. The best response is along the lines of You know, that may be right. Facebook may come and do that, but this is such a great opportunity that if they don’t, we are going to be in a great place. 

3. How do you stack up against X, how are you going to compete against them?

The context here is that they want to know how you are going to move the needle to a sustainable, 10X advantage. They likely already know who dominates your space, and accept you have potential with your innovation in a ‘David v Goliath play’. What they want to hear is how you think you compare, one-on-one.

First of all, never brush off any competitor as being irrelevant as either too big or complacent, It’s a common, lazy and arrogant position. For many years Microsoft were derided by tech entrepreneurs as a bloated, irrelevant dinosaur – today besides the Office Suite, they own Xbox, the Surface range, LinkedIn, Skype, Azure, Hololens and are leaders in cloud computing.

Recognise every solution, even inferior solutions, as legitimate competitive threats. One approach is to focus the thinking on a particular aspect of problem-solution fit around user experience. Your answer could offer a compelling strategy that neutralises rivals by overcoming or changing key aspects of user behaviour that will give you traction.

4.     Why now?

Timing is everything, and really understanding Why now? for your startup is vital. The startup graveyard is full of examples of things too early or too late to market, yet Uber wasn’t the first to think of on-demand rides, and AirBnB wasn’t the first to let people host visitors in their homes.

When investors are asking Why Now? they are focused on understanding the market opportunity, dynamics, and context – the factors that will make a difference between success or failure. In responding, be confident but not strident. Uber was only launched once – a moment in time where the technology and customer demand aligned to create the conditions for a new startup to flourish.

But don’t take it from me, Bill Gross analysed the biggest factor for startups to succeed and timing was the number one factor, ahead of team, funding, execution, idea, and business model.

So having discussed potential awkward questions, let’s turn to the strategy of managing conversations. When someone aims a tough question our way, the box of frogs goes off in our heads, leaping around in mayhem, impacting our ability to think rationally and offer anything other than a jibberish response.

Rather than giving ourselves a few seconds to collect our thoughts, we tend to grab what’s been said and jump on it, fearing that even a bit of silence will be read as hesitation and uncertainty, so we rush in boldly only to firmly stick our feet in our mouths.

The answer you blurt out on impulse is unlikely to be your best response, and you’ll kick yourself later while mulling over the things you wished you had said. A moment of silence, on the other hand, lends you a thoughtful air, rather than stumbling into a rushed set of words that make you sound as if you are sharing the first thing that came into your head – literally.

In addition to embracing the silent pause, there are other techniques that will buy you extra thinking time. One technique is to get a better question from what has been said, here are some tactics to do this.

1. Ask them to repeat the question

Just as you wish you could retract an answer, people frequently wish they could reword their question with greater clarity. Asking them to repeat the question will often mean the second take is shorter and clearer than the first, and this gives you time to think.

2. Ask for clarification

Another tactic is to respond with a question of your own that seeks to clarify what the questioner is trying to get at. Which product are you referring to? What timeframe do you have in mind? When someone has asked a question which has cornered you, asking them to redefine their terms can turn the tables.

3. Clarify or define a point yourself

Another way to take control of an interaction is to define the question as you see it within your response. For example, why was your pitch to Pearl Investors a failure? It sounds emotive and direct, but you can turn this round to If by failure, you mean that nothing good came out of it, then I don’t think it was. We didn’t connect on this round, but we established a relationship and they’re open to future investment.

4. ‘Discuss’ the question.

Sometimes it seems investors are seeking a specific answer to a question, when really they just want to have their question discussed. There really isn’t a single answer to give. They want to hear both sides of an idea, or to know that you’ve been thinking about it too.

So for example, your response to the question how sustainable is your pricing strategy? maybe along the lines of that’s a question we’ve asked ourselves, our thoughts are that we can sustain a 10% differential for at least 12 months – given your experience, what are your thoughts?

The key with these hedging strategies is delivery. Hesitating and acting sheepish will render them wholly ineffective. Demonstrating confidence lends you the air of strength.

Remember, when people ask questions, they’re not just looking for answers; they want to get a sense for what you’re like and how you handle pressure. The art of improvisation requires knowing how to respond in varying circumstances. Of course, sometimes the best way to answer a difficult question is to give a totally straightforward answer. This forthrightness can be refreshing and disarming.

In summary, investors will ask tough questions. In fact, it’s a good way to qualify them to see if they are serious and know what they are doing. You are not expected to have all the answers investors would like to hear, but you are expected to have anticipated some questions and not be dismissive, or worse, make the answers up.

The critical thing is connecting with your audience. People listen when they’re engaged. It’s about the nuts and bolts of your delivery, and not trying to be the smartest person in the room. The anatomy of being memorable has almost nothing to do with your content, it’s all about whether you related to your audience on an emotional level. So it’s important to bust your own biases. Investors are simply asking ‘Make me believe by showing me you know what you’re talking about’.

There’s no room for ego driven Machiavellians in your startup team

One of the key drivers of an effective startup is the alignment, collaboration and shared values of the team. There is no room for slackers, know-it-alls, passengers, backstabbers or Machiavellian egos. But what happens when the behaviour of one individual puts themselves and their personal interests above the business and team?

We all know the damage and acrimony they can cause to a team’s morale and reputation, but how do you repair and recover from the destructive action of such an individual? Boris Johnson is a good example of such a renegade. He’s always stood outside from his collective responsibility, even at the top table in Government as Foreign Secretary. With his cultivated air of toffish buffoonery, he was a man out of time and place with C21st team oriented culture.

Last week he saved us further damage from his grotesque incompetence, showing flagrant disregard for cabinet collective responsibility and exposing himself as a self-serving charlatan, making even his resignation a set piece of rhetorical bombast for the British public.

A man of remarkable gifts, flawed by an absence of conscience or scruple, his ambition and superficial charm far outstrip his judgment or principles. Characterised by a calculated appeal his own self-worth, he will always be remembered as the man who made promises on the side of a bus that he had no intention of keeping. The casual dishonesty has had devastating consequences.

His resignation serves as a perfect metaphor for the tragedy and hypocrisy of Brexit, leaving the Government and its strategy up the proverbial creek, a recklessness that looks like courage in the eyes of his supporters, but which destabilises and sabotages the work of policy making and diplomacy.

Johnson has a long-proven record of mendacity, duplicity, dishonesty and careerism – he merely saw another opening in his Ophidian career and took it, never knowingly taking a leap into the abyss. Just as a fragile basis for Brexit negotiation emerges, his selfish drive for attention threatens that.

So how do you counter this sort of behaviour if it was to happen in your startup team? Say your maverick sales leader, always temperamental and prone to doing their own thing and frequently at loggerheads with you, storms out over a spat over pricing on a sizeable deal – the final act of a dysfunctional relationship, claiming a ‘disagreement over strategy’ yet in reality, the intimacy of a startup required more humility and collegiate thinking.

It creates unrest and destabilises the team – just like the Government, a bunch of people who are individually all smart and competent, but somehow as a team just aren’t together. So why is it that things come off the rails? The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni describes the many pitfalls that teams face as they seek to ‘row together’. He explores the fundamental causes of organisational politics and team failure, and identified five dysfunctions of teams:

  • Absence of trust: an individual is unwilling to be vulnerable within the group, and creates a sense of self-imposed isolation from the team
  • Fear of conflict: seeking artificial harmony over constructive passionate debate, ultimately is not bought into the team based decision making process or outcomes
  • Lack of commitment: feigning buy-in for group decisions creates ambiguity throughout the organisation – everyone knows it, but it remains unspoken, thus creating discord and fractured trust
  • Avoidance of accountability: ducking the responsibility to call peers on counterproductive behaviour, which sets low standards – again, looking to protect their own position and not sit alongside colleagues
  • Inattention to results: focusing on personal success, status and ego before team success

Recognise these traits? So how do you regroup and reunite the team when a rebel causes such a self-destructive explosion? For me, whilst it’s the individuals operating with different mindsets within the team that causes the dysfunctional schisms, the place to start is with results.

Talk to your team about the results that they need to be getting that it isn’t getting, removing discussion about the disruptor, and you develop agreement among the team on the outcomes, which is what a team is all about – working together to achieve something. And then you get to ask the question, what’s happening in our team that prevents us from getting the results that we all believe we need? You need to instigate a transparent dialogue on performance.

So, you start to work backward, and from results you go to the question of behaviours: how are we acting in a way that is preventing us from getting the results we need and the work relationships we need? You start to identify the behaviours that are associated with an ineffective mindset.

Then you work backward one more step, which is to help the team identify how the mindset that they’re operating from is generating these behaviours which is getting them the results different from the results we’ve agreed we all want. So it’s a two or three step process, but it starts with the results.

Leaders are generally better at being transparent than they are curious in terms of looking to address these mindset issues, better at sharing their point of view than expressing curiosity about how other people think about the situation, or what they think about what the point of view is that they’ve just expressed.

The reason that it’s so important to ask questions is that’s the way in which you begin to surface what is on everyone’s minds, helping shape and opening up the new team culture as to what their concerns and motivations are. If you don’t do that, you’re just guessing that what you have in your head about your team is right, and if you plan a strategy based on that, it’s very easy to be off the mark and for your strategy to fail.

Part of being transparent is sharing what you’re thinking, and sharing how you got there, essentially, making your private reasoning public so people can share their reasoning with you and react to yours. Having removed a poisonous ego from the team, don’t replace that ego with yours. Leadership is about helping the team identify where they need to go to next, not imposing your own solution.

Having started an open dialogue to repair the broken culture, you are on the way to reestablishing trust in the organisation. Trust is everything, it is the bedrock when building a high performing startup team. Trust is the knowledge that people can be trusted to do the right thing when things go wrong.

Creating a culture where bravado is absent builds a continuous self-appraisal and peer review of how things are being done, and is a powerful way to increase accountability that will drive performance and trust. As the leader you want to get the balance right – you are taking charge without taking over, giving a sense of purpose. There are some specific actions to accelerate the recovery into your startup, such that the walk out of a big ego is soon forgotten.

1. Set the vision, and establish milestones to achieving the vision As leader, it’s down to you to set the goal for the group. It doesn’t have to be a vision with a capital ‘V’, just paint a picture of what you want to accomplish over the next few years.

You don’t want you’re team saying what the heck are we doing? Where is this leading us? The vision also needs milestones. People want to know how they’re doing in relation to their goal. Milestones let you tell them.

2. Agree on ‘rules of the road’ Basically, how are we going to run his business now we’ve got the bad egg out of the way? Try out new ways of talking and listening, routines and styles. Refresh to remove the old chunky ways of working, put some personal freedom of voices, choices and space into the working environment and set a new rhythm, whilst also focusing on the results everyone has signed up to deliver.

3. Build new structures and processes that enable creative collaboration When attempting to carve new realities, explicitly encourage your startup team to start experimenting again with different thoughts, relationships, and actions in order to learn what happens and what works. The emphasis is less on getting things right the first time and more on being attentive to feedback, adjusting, and trying again. Put learning back into the heart of the business agenda.

4. Think of your work as a craft, not an assembly line Maybe things had got tense and too serious, and the pressure valve opened up as a result of pent up anxiety. In describing China’s transition toward a socialist market economy, former Chinese Communist Party leader Deng Xiaoping used an evocative image of discovering, rather than planning and solidifying everything before starting: We are crossing the river by feeling for stones.

This is a lovely analogy of thinking about progress, so maybe take a step back and refocus more on creativity and innovation than simply ‘getting stuff done’ and scaling.

5. Sense and respond In a startup it’s important to ‘feel the pulse’, being in touch with everyone to have a sense for the hidden and silent things. Schedule regular informal face time with each of your team, don’t underestimate the importance of ‘checking in’. When it doesn’t happen, you can see the team start to gradually drift into their own quiet corners.

In a startup team there is a high degree of flux at any moment in time. There is no paradigm, no precedent, there is nothing. You have to carve it. To carve a new world means to bring forth something new by patiently and gradually working, with a sensitive hands-on connection, with the particular reality in front of you. It means the opposite of imposing a fully formed idea of what you think must be. Don’t lead the metaphorical charge, lead the thinking.

When we collaborate, by sharing ideas we strengthen relationships, joined up thinking creates momentum and a sense of purpose. Working together, we achieve so much more. Losing a Machiavellian personality, no matter how selfish and destructive they are, will cause immediate challenges and uncertainty, but in reality, many like Boris Johnson are energy sappers, not energisers to the team. But you can recover, and move forward.

Everyone matters in a startup. If you’ve got a Boris Johnson in yours, just reflect on their real impact on results, morale and teamship. Read the signals above the noise. Remove the egos. For Boris, what passed for disarming eccentricity was ultimately exposed as cringemaking incompetence. Long ago, it became that the veneer of faux levity and badinage encased no hidden depth in a constant night of the long knives. His ego saw himself in Churchillian terms, whereas for me, I cast him as a character for a remake of Blackadder, in a blond wig.

Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are

What’s your favourite holiday location? I’m a remote beach lover, the more deserted the better, trudging slowly over wet sand, sit on the promenade, write a postcard. It wouldn’t take much to convince me to give it all up and live in a hut on a desert island with just the shrill cries of the gulls and coconuts hitting the roof. Perfect beaches, perfect water, your own space, all the seclusion you could want.

When hearing desert Island, we often picture an idyllic tropical hideaway, sandy beaches and swaying palm trees. And what are palm trees known to be good for? Hanging up a hammock of course! That’s all I’d need, a life of Robinson Crusoe would suit me.

This is what was in the mind late one evening in 1941 of broadcaster Roy Plomley, at home in his pyjamas, when an idea came to him. He sat down and wrote to the BBC’s Head of Popular Record Programmes, Leslie Perowne. The pitch was successful and a broadcasting institution was born.

Desert Island Discs is a biographical radio programme, broadcast on Radio 4. It was first broadcast on the BBC Home Service on 29 January 1942. Each week a guest – a ‘castaway’ – is asked to choose eight pieces of music, a book and a luxury item, that they would take if they were stranded on a desert island, whilst discussing their lives and the reasons for their choices.

More than 3,000 episodes have been recorded, each with The Sleepy Lagoon, composed by Eric Coates, as the signature opening and closing theme music. The sound of herring gulls also accompanies the tune to put emphasis on the desert island, but a listener pointed out that herring gulls live in the northern hemisphere – therefore it would not have been a tropical island as intended!

So let’s say I was castaway on my desert island, and that I could swap the music and take books instead. I think I’d take the books that I’ve enjoyed cover-to-cover, and those I’ve read in small portions but have not had the patience or time to read completely. Alone on a deserted island with little to do and few distractions, I’d enjoy them carefully line by line, hanging on every word. A good book has no ending, it opens your mind.

To me, the world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that we build ever lasts. Monuments fall, nations perish, civilisations grow old and die out, but the world of words and books are volumes that live on. I have been a voracious reader all of my life and the older I get, the more I love to open a book and let it take me where it wants me to go.

I have always seen reading as an activity to stir my curiosity.  When you read a book you conduct a private conversation with the author. E. P. Whipple once wrote, books are lighthouses erected in the great sea of time, which I think is a great summary of how I feel.

So, which books to take? I’d focus on books on startups, entrepreneurship and innovation, on the basis that I’d use the time to plan a cracking new business venture. So in no particular order, upon my desert island bookshelf, sheltered from the elements, I would have these lovely books:

1. Zero to One: Peter Thiel. Entrepreneur and investor Thiel shows the most important skill that every entrepreneurial leader must master is learning to think for yourself. Doing what someone else already knows takes the world from 1 to n, but when you do something new, you go from 0 to 1. Zero to One presents an optimistic view of a new way of thinking about innovation: it starts by learning to ask the questions that lead you to find value in unexpected places.

2. The Lean Startup: Eric Ries. This book has been out for some time, but still an invaluable read. Reis’ mantra is Vision-Steer-Accelerate, following a process of build-measure-learn to continuous innovation to create radically successful startups. Reis seeks to change the way companies are built and new products are launched, it’s about learning what your customers really want, testing your vision continuously, adapting and adjusting before going for scale and investment.

3. Disrupted: Ludicrous Misadventures in the Tech Start-up Bubble: Dan Lyons. A lighter read! Lyons was Tech Editor at Newsweek, and made redundant. Hubspot offered him a pile of stock options for the nebulous role of ‘marketing fellow’ and a return to work, what could possibly go wrong?  What follows is a hilarious account of Dan’s time at the start-up, a revealing trenchant analysis into the dysfunctional culture that prevails in the startup world flush with cash and devoid of experience, a de facto conspiracy between those who start and those who fund companies.

4. Thinking Fast & Slow: Daniel Kahneman. A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner in economics, Kahneman provided this bestselling explanation of how people think, describing the fast, intuitive and emotional ‘System 1’ and the slower, more deliberative and more logical ‘System 2’. By understanding these systems, you can learn to think things out more slowly, instead of acting on an impulse – a good discipline when excited about your startup.

5. Sprint – Solve big problems & test new ideas in five days: Jake Knapp. Sprint offers a transformative formula for testing ideas. Within five days, you’ll move from idea to prototype to decision. Based on Knapp’s experience at Google Ventures, it helps answer the big question every day: What’s the most important place to focus your effort, and how do you start?  A practical guide to answering critical business questions, for anyone with a big opportunity, problem, or idea who needs to get answers today.

6. Hooked – How to build habit forming products: Nir Eyal. Why do some products capture our attention while others flop? What makes us engage with certain things out of sheer habit? Is there an underlying pattern to how technologies hook us? Eyal answers these questions with the Hook Model – a four-step process that, when embedded into products, subtly encourages customer behaviour. Hooked is written for anyone who seeks to understand how products influence our behaviour.

7. Be More Pirate – How to Take On the World and Win: Sam Allende. This book is part history, business, and a revolution manifesto, a glorious celebration of movement-makers and game-changers. It’s a compelling read that will have you planning your very own mutiny on your rescue from the island from the comfort of your hammock. So whether you want to change the whole world, or just your own, this is the book you need to do it.

8. S.U.M.O. (Shut Up, Move on) the Straight-talking Guide to Succeeding in Life: Paul McGee Paul McGee′s personal development stuff has humour, insight, practical tips and personal anecdotes, a thought provoking read. Now updated to celebrate ten years since first publication, the S.U.M.O. principles will keep sanity and curiosity intact in your isolation:

  • Change Your T–Shirt: take responsibility for your own life, don′t be a victim.
  • Develop Fruity Thinking: change your thinking, change your results.
  • Hippo Time is OK: understand how setbacks affect you and how to recover from them.
  • Remember the Beachball: increase your understanding and awareness of other people′s world.
  • Learn Latin: change comes through action not intention, remove the tendency to put things off.
  • Ditch Doris Day: create your own future rather than leave it to chance. Forget the attitude que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be.′

9. Business Model Generation: Alexander Osterwalder.  An old ‘un but a good ‘un. This book allows you to answer What’s your business model? Intelligently and with precision. I’ll be cheeky here and add in Osterwalders follow-on book Value Proposition Design, describing how to get product/market fit right is another must have for your island bookshelf.

10. The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Ben Horowitz. Building a business when there are no easy answers, this series of essays about what CEOs face in the ‘build phase’ – the transition from searching for a business model into a company. More than any book I’ve read, this gives an insider’s perspective on what it’s like to lead and scale a startup.

I have hours to read on the island, where my imagination could runaway, really no longer reading what is printed on the paper but swimming in a stream of impulses and inspirations. Writers open our hearts and minds, and give us maps to our own selves. Imagine what thinking you could do with these books, the freedom and the isolation on a desert island!

Books save you time, because they give access to a range of ideas, emotions and events that would take us years or decades to experience directly. Literature is the greatest reality simulator, a machine that puts you through infinitely more situations than you can ever directly witness.

They also perform the basic magic of what things look like though someone else’s lens, giving us contrast and perspective, descriptions that will trigger our thinking with an honesty and insight quite different from what ordinary conversation allows for, that enables us to have those informed conversations with ourselves.

With the expertise, insight and guidance offered by these entrepreneur practitioners, the mastery and purpose of an entrepreneur is there to inspire you to get out of the building, and move from ‘thinking’ to ‘doing’. In addressing this challenge, I’ve been reflecting that the proper place to study elephants is the jungle, not the zoo as an appropriate starting point.

Furthermore, each of the ten books suggests a continuous learning processes includes peer and reflective learning, and that not all learning experiences are positive, dealing with failures or problems are an important source of learning.

Some people might tell you that books are no longer necessary now that we have the Internet. Don’t believe them. Books help us know other people, a telescope onto the minds of the author, and in the process, know ourselves more deeply with even greater clarity. A book in the hand has far more intimacy than any digital device or screen.

In many ways, books are the original Internet; each a hyperlink into the next rabbit hole of the written word. Just like the web pages you visit most regularly, your physical bookmarks take you back to those book pages you want to return to again and again, to reabsorb and relive, finding new meaning on each visit, because books create the habit of reading and learning.

I once watched a small hermit crab crawl out of its shell and into a larger one nearby. Maybe we are no different. There were those before us and there will be some after us. All we can do is cultivate what is given to us, and improve ourselves. Maybe our lot in this life is to leave our shells better than when we found them so that the next soul will flourish here. Books, and learning from others, can help you do this.

Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are, and on the desert island, I’m staying put for a while. I think I’d enjoy my time reading and thinking about my next venture, and taking the lessons from each of the books to build my own startup success when I’m rescued. Although maybe I should also take a book about ‘How to build a boat…’