Networking tips for startups

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whilst we’d all give our right arm to be at meeting that would create such an impact to move our business forward, I can assure you that you simply do not need to attend 99% of the networking events you see cluttering your diary. In fact, many respected entrepreneurs built their businesses from the ground up without jumping at every networking event they came across in their city. They chose instead to focus on building their businesses and gaining their customers’ trust, before eventually earning the respect of those they want to meet and establish relationships with.

One example of entrepreneurs who focused on ensuring their startup had real market value before walking and talking about it were the Whats App co-founders, Brian Acton and Jan Koum. Steve Jobs also never spent his days attending a bunch of networking events. He and Steve Wozniak spent all their time building and improving their product.

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

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

So, here are some thoughts to help guide your networking strategy.

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

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

You must target networking events where you can determine that you’ll have a chance for real conversations. Too many of these events involve quick chats, exchange of details about each other’s’ businesses, and move on. How many have offered real follow-up value? Time is an essential ingredient in all startups, make it count. Rather than appealing to your emotions in a bid to sprout a friendship or simply getting your name out there, appeal instead to your self-interest. Otherwise, stay at home and work.

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

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

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

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

Next, find something in common, that will start to create a deeper connection and build trust. Also, instead of just imposing your ideas and thoughts dominating the conversation, spend more time asking intelligent questions and listening to the replies than talking about yourself. Networking is about creating trust, being open, curious and helpful. Invest in the relationship first, don’t start selling.

It’s about storytelling rather than exchanging business cards. Your challenge is to build a human connection. That means you’re not doing all the talking, but encouraging an active exchange, a warm, insightful conversation that shows you sincerely are interested in how the other person thinks. It also means you pay attention to the answers. There is no value in a pocket of business cards at the end of the event if you haven’t made a genuine connection at a personal level.

The events where there is an opportunity for genuine peer-group learning and reflection are the most valuable. Don’t just go to events and listen to people talking about themselves. How will this take you forward? Being an active participant is vital, sharing some ‘in the moment thinking’ that can end up laying the groundwork for learning and a pivot in your product is a great outcome.

Be an able and active storyteller too, describing the social and cultural activity of your startup, sometimes with improvisation, theatrics, or humour. Every startup has its own story and narrative, which if shared in context, offer insight and in the best human tradition, create connections.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to weather the perfect storm facing your startup

Despite what you may read as prevailing headlines, running a startup is not all balmy sunny days and clear blue skies. In fact, founder entrepreneurs will tell you it is frequently stormy, a struggle with minimal hard-won successes, daunting lessons, crushing pressure, and financial instability. That’s why it takes a certain kind of person to believe in themselves and weather the sturm und drang that may wash over them.

A confluence of unforeseen challenges may create uncertainty around you – not enough customers, cash flow, product instability, hiring gaps – it’s enough to make you feel all at sea. The challenge facing many startup founders is not unlike that described in the Sebastian Junger’s bestselling book The Perfect Storm.

Junger’s book chronicled the storm that claimed the lives of six fishermen and the captain of the Andrea Gail. The storm left a trail of destruction from Nova Scotia to Florida, killing 13 people and causing $500m damage as it lashed the coast.

In late September of 1991, the swordfishing boat Andrea Gail departed the town of Gloucester, Massachusetts with six men aboard, for a month-long fishing trip. The Andrea Gail was a 12-year-old, 70-foot vessel, scheduled to return to port after a sword fishing trip to Newfoundland’s Grand Banks, more than 900 miles off shore.

In late October, a powerful storm began to build in the North Atlantic, a storm that came to be known as The Storm of the Century by those in its path, and simply, The Perfect Storm by meteorologists, who watched it come together.

Unknown to Captain Billy Tyne and his crew, one of the rarest meteorological events of the century was developing. Three separate weather systems were on a perfectly aligned collision course. A Great Lakes storm system (moving east), a Canadian cold front (moving south) and Hurricane Grace (moving northeast) were all headed for the North Atlantic. They would eventually meet where the Andrea Gail was located.

After Andrea Gail endured various problems, the crew struggled to sail through pounding waves and shrieking winds. The vessel encountered an enormous rogue wave. They attempted to drive the boat over the wave but it crests before it can get to the top and the boat is overturned. The Andrea Gail and her crew were never heard from again.

Junger describes what it is like to be helpless in the grip of nature. All of the fishermen know the danger, they have lived alongside the sea long enough to know they may not come back, that once in the grip of such a storm, they can only hold on and hope. Junger’s book becomes an elegy for all those lost at sea.

George Clooney plays the role of Captain Billy Tyne in the film version of Junger’s book a grizzled, jumper-wearing fisherman, who loves fishing so much, the playful acquaintance with the gulls, the ‘throwing a wave to the lighthouse keeper’s kid’ as he enjoys the freedom of the ocean, shouting inaudibly into the driving wind and rain. In drenched and windswept stories like The Perfect Storm, the forces of the sea complicate and intensify human dramas and human conflict as the Beaufort scale cranks upwards.

No matter how optimistic you are, how good your ideas are, how skilled your team is, some things are bound to go wrong in your startup. You might miss a crucial launch date, or spread capital too thin, or make a relationship-compromising mistake with one of your best clients. Crises like these are individually preventable – you could have foreseen them and worked to avoid them – but you can’t predict everything, and sooner or later a crisis will pop up to test your recovery skills and put your business on the line. So how you should you respond to such setbacks, especially when a few come together in a Perfect Storm?

Don’t let pain stand in the way of progress There is no avoiding pain, especially if you’re going after ambitious goals. Pain is a signal that you need to find solutions so you can progress.

Own your outcomes Don’t blame bad outcomes on anyone but yourself. Whatever circumstances brings you, you will be more likely to succeed if you take responsibility for making your decisions instead of complaining about things beyond your control.

Be radically open-minded The two biggest barriers to good decision-making are your ego and your blind spots. Together, they make it difficult for you to objectively see what is true about your circumstances and to make the best possible decisions by getting most out of others. Both prevent you from seeing things accurately, and understanding things.

See the world through other’s lens Rather than thinking that you’re right, think about how do you know that you’re right? Recognise that to gain the perspective that comes from seeing things through another eye’s, you must suspend your own judgment for a time, and evaluate another point of view. Remember that you’re looking for the best answer, not simply the best answer that you can come up with yourself.

There are many industries currently facing the disruption of their own Perfect Storm – take automotive for example, a backlash against diesel and carbon dioxide emissions, slumping demand from China, and uncertainty of trade tariffs post Brexit – plus the seismic shift to autonomous and electric cars.

Disruption is now such a familiar term, it is in danger of becoming meaningless. Yet its ubiquity reflects the perfect storm of revolutions – geographic, demographic and technological – that are rewriting the rules of business everywhere dramatically.

You have to deal with a new reality, where the new normal is no normal, where everything is volatile – your business model, the tastes of customers, the calibre of the competition. A startup founder’s perfect storm reveals a serendipitous union of illogical and uncontrollable events that result in the worst of times to test you to the limit.

By definition, a perfect storm is a particularly bad or critical state of affairs, arising from a number of negative and unpredictable factors. This type of situation is latent to the very essence of entrepreneurship because where risk is plentiful, volatility can soon follow. So, what are the practical things you can to in your startup business environment to ster through such turbulence?

Team unity: make the team not individuals the focus. In times of turbulence, create an environment where all members of the team feel they are essential, that each has a key role to play. There are no individual superstars with a special place.

Prepare, prepare, prepare: remove all excuses. Winning teams set out to ensure that every element of their business model is known to all and is functioning to the best of their combined ability. Make sure no one has an excuse for failure. That means preparing for things that could go wrong, as well as driving things efficiently that go right.

Balanced optimism: find and focus on the winning scenario. Startups will inevitably encounter setbacks, and need to pivot. The first step is to define ‘success’ – is it more customers, more revenue, more product? Of course, all of these are vital, but everyone needs to prioritise during a crisis.

Relentless learning: build a robust culture of leaning and innovation. The best startup teams learn quickly from experience. That means they take action, reflect on outcomes, and gain insights that help them continuously improve. Innovation and new ideas are the norm, even in times of uncertainty.

Calculated risk: be willing to sail into the storm. Every startup is a big risk, and there is no quick path to success. Winning requires situational awareness, always understanding the critical success factors, and working to stay aware and ahead of current realities around you.

Stay connected: cut through the noise of the wind and the waves. The information blizzard today is just as noisy as the storm outside. Don’t let it cloud your decision making, ensure you have your compass, North Star plotted and your defined dashboard of key metrics.

Step into the breach: find ways to share the helm. In adversity, any team member can be faced with a burden too heavy for one person to carry. A good team draws on each other’s strengths, and shares the load. One captain but every one is a leader in a crisis. Keep an eye out for each other, be supportive.

Eliminate people friction: deal with the things that slow you down. Fix the problem, don’t linger. Confront differences in ability without blame, add coaching; alleviate anxiety and mitigate conflict; provide time to talk about the crisis.

It is the perfect storm of entrepreneurship, the failures followed by immediate highlights of success, that is an underlying reality. Life’s personal challenges, uncomfortable business learnings, struggles and setbacks. It is the distance between where you are and where you desire to be.

The perfect storm that faces every entrepreneur can be likened to the ‘eye of the storm’, where calm winds exist at the axis of your business and blue skies abound, but nonetheless you are in the midst of severe weather. It can also manifest as a storm, so that it seems impossible to overcome the centripetal force that jostles you recklessly, forcing you into uncomfortable pivots and confusing turning points.

But instead of sticking your head in the sand when storm clouds brew, you need to develop the necessary fortitude, resilience and perseverance to weather the challenges. When the ground rumbles, when the waves swell, and the alarm sounds, resist the temptation to simply watch the waves come in. There are no safe harbours in the daily life of a startup.

Entrepreneurs arrive at this place because like real storms, you can rarely predict the exact time, location, and intensity of your challenges. And when everything appears to be spinning out of control it is essential to see your way clearly, stay the course and move forward.

As an entrepreneur, you need to realise that you can’t win by sailing around the edges of the perfect storm ahead. You have to hit it with an innovative plan, and you need a confident and disciplined team to get you through it. A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor says an old English Proverb, and that’s true for entrepreneurs too.

Made in Manchester: the creativity & innovation of FAC73

It’s now 36 years since New Order’s Blue Monday was released – 7 March 1983, and its cutting-edge electronic groove had a major influence on popular culture. The song has been widely remixed, re-released and covered since its original version, and is still a popular anthem in dance clubs.

The song begins with a distinctive kick drum intro, programmed on a synthesiser, which fades in a sequencer melody. The verse section features the song’s signature throbbing synth bass line, played by a Moog Source, overlaid with Peter Hook’s surging bass guitar. Bernhard Sumner delivers the lyrics in a deadpan manner, almost a hark back to their founding Joy Division days.

Blue Monday is a dance track with a deep hint of melancholy. A seven and a half minute-long single, it became the biggest-selling 12-inch of all time. After a lengthy introduction, the first and second verses are contiguous and are separated from the third verse only by a brief series of sound effects. A short breakdown section follows the third verse, which leads to an extended outro.

People have interpreted the title all sorts of ways. It actually came from a book drummer Stephen Morris was reading, Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions. One of its illustrations reads: Goodbye Blue Monday. It’s a reference to the invention of the washing machine, which improved housewives’ lives.

The original 1983 artwork is designed to resemble a 5¼” floppy disc. The sleeve does not display either the group name nor song title anywhere – the only text on the sleeve is “FAC SEVENTY THREE” on the spine. Instead the legend “FAC 73 BLUE MONDAY AND THE BEACH NEW ORDER” is represented in code by a series of coloured blocks.

The single’s original sleeve, created by designer Peter Saville, cost so much to produce that Factory Records lost money on each copy sold, due to the use of die-cutting and specified colours required. Nobody expected Blue Monday to be a commercial success, so nobody expected the cost to be an issue. The artwork was so late that Saville sent it straight to the printer, unreviewed by either the band or the label.

New Order performed the track live on Top of The Pops on 31 March 1983. The performance was dogged by technical problems, and it wasn’t their greatest moment. In the words of drummer Stephen Morris, Blue Monday was never the easiest song to perform anyway, and everything went wrong.

The coded colour blocks design by Saville were part of his distinctive and iconic work that set Factory Records apart. Saville was primarily interested in the contrast of historical and modern, technological and natural, and in a wider sense, perceived when seen through contemporary eyes. His colour code was a way of juxtaposing, as he said, the hieroglyphics of technology with historical classicism.

Although the code first appeared on Blue Monday, it was with the release of the Power Corruption and Lies album, that any sense of what it might all mean began to surface.

The cover of this brilliant album is a reproduction of the 1890 painting A Basket of Roses by the French artist Henri Fantin-Latour, and apart from some coloured squares in the top right, that’s it, there’s no band name and no album title. The seven squares however are a continuation of the Blue Monday code and it’s only when you turn the sleeve over to find a coloured wheel that it becomes possible to work it all out.

The first clue is that the circle is made up of twenty six segments around its outer rim. The wheel is decoded using only the outer two rings, which are either a single colour or a doubled up colour (with either green or yellow). The inner segments, as far I can tell, are to complete the device and for decoration only.

The alphabet starts with the double depth green at the top and works round clockwise. The numbers 1 to 9 also start at the doubled green which means they are effectively identical to the first nine letters of the alphabet (context is everything for Saville).

It might just be the happy conjunction of the beat and timing, but for Blue Monday blankness is the overwhelming quality, from Sumner’s pale, robotic vocal to Peter Hook’s desolate bass melody, but the design adds to the feel that this is a very special record.

But it wasn’t meant to be this pivotal. It was supposed to be an entirely automated excuse to end a gig and for the band to hit the bar. One of the four would press the button and the track would take care of itself, allowing the band to leave the audience to it and get a swift half. That was before they realised how complicated it was to try and get all these mad sequencers and drum machines to actually talk to one another.

At the time, and even in retrospect, New Order were amazing innovators. If I think about what innovation looks like, the same slideshow of images clicks across my mind: that photo of Einstein with his unkempt hair all over the place, Edison with his light bulb, and Steve Jobs onstage in his black turtleneck jumper introducing the latest iThing device.

But for all the innovators who have impacted our lives, it’s not just about that romantic Eureka! moment, it’s about the nitty-gritty work that comes after the idea in terms of getting it accepted and implemented. Thinkers need doers to get things done, and idealists need practitioners to tether them to reality. Then again, the risk-takers and the risk-averse must co-exist otherwise an organisation veers too far to one extreme or the other, and either jerks all over the place with the push-and-pull, or simply moves nowhere at all.

Everyone is born creative, everyone is given a box of crayons early on. Then when you hit puberty they take away the crayons and give you books, on algebra and calculus (which I liked better than crayons). Suddenly years later when get the creative bug, you want your crayons back.

Many creative geniuses are driven by anxiety and self-doubt, yet the way they create stuff, despite innovation seeming to be a random, messy outcome, is methodical. Many have routine or process that is disciplined and ordered. I discovered this disciplined approach when I came across the book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, by Mason Currey. In it he examines the schedules of painters, writers, and composers, as well as philosophers, scientists, and other exceptional thinkers.

He hypothesised that for these geniuses, a routine was surprisingly essential to their work. As Currey puts it A solid routine fosters a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies and helps stave off the tyranny of moods. He noted several common elements in the lives of the geniuses that allowed them to pursue the luxury of a productivity-enhancing routine.

Here are the highlights of structure, routine and habits that seem to enable a creative genius to do what they do:

A workspace with minimal distractions Jane Austen asked that a certain squeaky door hinge never be oiled, so that she always had a warning when someone was approaching the room where she wrote. Mark Twain’s family knew better than to breach his study door. Graham Greene went even further, renting a secret office, only his wife knew the address and telephone number.

A daily walk For many, a regular daily walk was essential to brain functioning. Soren Kierkegaard found his constitutionals so inspiring that he would often rush back to his desk and resume writing, still wearing his hat and carrying his walking stick. Charles Dickens took three-hour walks and what he observed on them fed directly into his writing. Beethoven took lengthy strolls after lunch, carrying a pencil and paper with him in case inspiration struck.

A clear dividing line between important work and busywork Before there was email, there were letters. It amazed me to see the amount of time the people in Currey’s study allocated to answering letters. Many would divide the day into real work (such as composing or painting in the morning) and busywork (answering letters in the afternoon).

Others would turn to the busywork when the real work wasn’t going well. Ernest Hemingway always tracked his daily word output on a chart ‘so as not to kid myself’, but left dedicated time for letter writing.

A habit of stopping when they’re on a roll, not when they’re stuck Hemingway puts it well: You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again. Arthur Miller said, I don’t believe in draining the reservoir. I believe in getting up from the typewriter, away from it, while I still have things to say.

Limited social lives One of Simone de Beauvoir’s friends put it this way: There were no parties, no receptions, no bourgeois values; it was an uncluttered kind of life, a simplicity deliberately constructed so that she could do her work. Pablo Picasso and his girlfriend Fernande Olivier borrowed the idea of Sunday as an ‘at-home day’ to enable undisrupted painting, and kept themselves to themselves.

I find the routines and habits of these thinkers strangely compelling, almost extreme, as the very idea that you can organise your time as you like is out of reach for most of us.

So reflecting back 36 years and the release of Blue Monday, FAC73 in the Factory Records catalogue, we may never know precisely where such innovation comes from, why some people use their creativity more than others or why some people are most creative during specific times in their lives.

Music is one of the things in our humanity that really matters, and for New Order their most celebrated track is immune to the passing of time and the interference of others such that, on the final day before all the lights go out for one last time, you can be certain that the cockroaches will be banging out a decent rendition of Blue Monday.

So you’ve got the itch to do something. Go ahead and make something. really special, something amazing, and sing in your own voice. That’s what every entrepreneur must do too, use their own creativity to shape their own innovation agenda and make their mark.

Creativity is the root of entrepreneurship, it’s not just a skill but also an attitude. Ideas are at the core of the modern economy, shape your future, keep yourself open for possibility. Don’t walk in silence, make your own music. I’m sure you’ll find some unknown pleasures in your own creativity.

What’s in the dna of entrepreneurial leaders?

Entrepreneurial leaders have become the new role models of the C21st, figures like Bezos, Chesky, Yan and Musk are seen as pioneers in the mold of earlier innovators like Edison, Ford and Tesla. However, we tend to fall back on broad stereotypes without really understanding what makes entrepreneurial leaders unique.

The search for the characteristics or traits of leaders has been ongoing for centuries. History’s greatest philosophical writings from Plato’s to Plutarch have explored the question What qualities distinguish an individual as a leader? Underlying this search was the recognition of the importance of leadership traits, and the assumption that leadership is rooted in the characteristics that certain individuals possess.

The concept of entrepreneurial leadership was first suggested that in dynamic new endeavours, where there is increased uncertainty and competitive pressure, a new type of leader is required. These fast changing markets or situations give those with an ‘entrepreneurial’ approach the ability to see, take action and exploit opportunities faster than others.

Research by Tim Butler from Harvard Business School compared psychological test results of more than 4,000 successful entrepreneurs from several countries against those of 1,800 business leaders who described themselves as successful business managers, but not as entrepreneurs.

Unsurprisingly, the two groups had much in common. On 75% of the 40+ dimensions of leadership evaluated, there was little or no difference between their skills. Yet when Butler looked more closely, combining the skill assessments with data on their life interests and personality traits, he discovered that entrepreneurial leaders had three distinguishing characteristics:

  • the ability to thrive in uncertainty
  • a passionate desire to author and own projects
  • unique skills at persuasion and influence

Butler also found that many of the traits popularly associated with entrepreneurial leaders didn’t truly apply. For example entrepreneurs aren’t always exceptionally creative – but they are more curious and restless; they aren’t risk seekers – but they find uncertainty and novelty motivating. Butler’s research tackled some of the myths about entrepreneurs and explained the more nuanced reality.

Let’s take a look at four key elements of Butler’s research and the popular perceptions about entrepreneurship, and what the research findings indicate are the true drivers of entrepreneurship. Reflect on this, and what it says about the entrepreneurial leader in you.

1.The Stereotype: Entrepreneurs are unusually creative. The Subtler Truth: Entrepreneurs are curious seekers of adventure, learning and opportunity.

One popular notion is that entrepreneurs enjoy constantly changing, innovative environments and are more creative than others. But ‘creative’ can mean fixing things that are broken and have been stuck for some time. While it’s certainly true that entrepreneurs excel at original thinking, so do many non-entrepreneurs. In reality, what sets entrepreneurial individuals apart is the ability to thrive in ambiguity and tolerate uncertainty.

A critical aspect of this is openness to new experiences. Butler’s research found that it is the single entrepreneurial leader trait that most distinguishes them. Openness to new experiences is about having a hunger to explore and learn, not just a willingness to proceed in unpredictable environments but a heightened state of motivation that occurs at the edge of the unknown and the untried. The unknown is a source of excitement rather than anxiety.

They don’t see the constraints of boundaries, rather looking at a blank piece of paper and saying, ‘Now, what do I want to create here?’ Entrepreneurs enjoy the ‘dreaming it up’ process, they thrive where there is an unfulfilled market opportunity with no product or service, or where there is a product but the go-to-market strategy is not clear.

2. The Stereotype: Entrepreneurs enjoy and seek risk. The Subtler Truth: Entrepreneurs are more comfortable with risk.

Another prevailing view is that entrepreneurs love risk, the thrill of taking chances. This is not true; entrepreneurs are not skydivers, they seek to minimise risk at every opportunity but have higher comfort and tolerance thresholds with risk than others. In other words, when accepting risk is necessary to reach a desired outcome, entrepreneurs are better at living with it and managing the anxiety that might be disabling to others.

Butler’s research likewise showed entrepreneurial leaders aren’t necessarily tougher and more stress-hardy, rather the point that emerged was that highly unpredictable and ambiguous environments are a source of motivation. This is a second reason they thrive in uncertainty.

Openness to new experiences and comfort with risk are the main components of the ability to perform well in unpredictable environments, although many people misperceive the essentials to be tough-mindedness, hardiness, or resilience. An entrepreneurial leader has made choices that clearly favour adventure and learning over convention and minimisation of risk.

3. The Stereotype: Entrepreneurs are more personally ambitious than others. The Subtler Truth: Entrepreneurs are driven by a need to own products, projects, and initiatives.

Entrepreneurial leaders score exceptionally high on the need for power and control. We know that, they have big personalities and are extroverts! Not always so. Butler discerned an interesting variation on the need for power in that it’s less about dominance and more about ownership, and ‘making a mark’. It’s not about having supremacy or authority, it’s about having control over the finished product. In this way, entrepreneurs have more in common with authors and artists than with dictators.

Entrepreneurs are hands-on, they want to be in the middle of the buzz and hustle as a new venture, day by day, comes into the world and starts to walk, then run. They are not ones to sit in corner offices sitting on their hands. They want to be the artisans with their hands on the wet clay. They want to take a finished piece from the kiln and say, ‘This is mine – I did this’ – not in an egotistical sense but in the manner of ‘I shape materials that become valuable and useful things.’

Long after Apple had become a large company, Steve Jobs still had to be part of every critical design discussion, hold prototypes in his hand, and assess every detail. Power, for the entrepreneurial spirit, is about being the owner of and driving force behind an initiative. Getting it right becomes a compulsive obsession.

This expression of power is different from positional power (based on rank), charismatic power (influencing people through your personality), or expert power (when others defer to your knowledge). Entrepreneurial leaders do not see themselves as exerting power or authority from above, rather they see their role as being at the centre of a circle, creating and enabling with their energy, influence and resources, rather than the top of a pyramid.

That is not to say that entrepreneurial leaders do not display aspects of authority, expertise, or charisma, but the aspect that unites them is not the desire to be a decision maker. For such leaders, a venture is an expression to the world of who they are.

4. The Stereotype: Entrepreneurs are natural salespeople. The Truth: This one is correct.

Butler’s research corroborated many earlier studies that highlighted the importance of confidence and persuasiveness among entrepreneurial leaders. When it’s crucial to get somewhere or make something happen, but it’s not clear how to do so, you must, first, believe that you can reach your goal and, second, convince all the people whose help you need that you can, too and very often, with little or no evidence to back you up.

Many startup founders have to sell their ideas to initial investors – and all entrepreneurs must be able to sell to the customer. But they’re not trained sales people, and are often clumsy. However, they have a natural self-belief, sell the vision, and remove all roadblocks creating the ‘art of possible’ as they create engagement with prospects.

So taking Butler’s research and the framework of four entrepreneurial leadership norms, let’s consider further attributes and characteristics frequently noted in the entrepreneurial personna, and use this analysis to reflect on your own leadership dna.

Emotional intelligence This is perhaps an unexpected quality to mention in a list of leading traits for entrepreneurs, but I consider it essential. An entrepreneur’s EI depends on the ability to understand his or her own emotions and to self-regulate those emotions in the interests of attaining a higher goal. Emotionally intelligent leaders are also attuned to others’ sensitivities, and are able to demonstrate empathy. They use this understanding to lead others in times of turbulence and uncertainty, creating trust.

Authenticity and integrity These qualities involve remaining true to one’s own aspirations and vision, even in the face of opposition, and often lack of support. By rising beyond the day-to-day setbacks and challenges that every startup faces sooner or later, it’s important that you remain true to yourself, don’t fall for compromises, and continue to do the right things for the right reason.

Create an atmosphere conducive to growth With a deep understanding of the importance of other people’s contribution to organisational success, the entrepreneurial leader creates an atmosphere that encourages everyone to share ideas, grow, and thrive. They actively seek other’s opinions and encourage them to come up with solutions to the problems that they face. The entrepreneurial leader also provides positive feedback when employees come forward with an opinion.

Mental toughness In some ways, resilience is related to emotional intelligence and risk tolerance, but it goes further in helping an entrepreneur build immunity to the ups and downs, the successes and slumps, that accompany the launch of any new enterprise. Emotionally resilient people become frustrated by failure, but they refuse to allow it to defeat them or to interfere with their ability to integrate important lessons from the experience into the way they approach problems in the future.

A sense of passion and purpose Entrepreneurial leaders’ strong individual convictions inspire those around them to produce their best efforts. A good leader has developed the ability to share a powerful vision of success in ways that infect others with the desire to help make it a reality. The force of dedication to a larger purpose can serve as a major source of inspiration both within and beyond a company.

Self-esteem Underlying everything is a high sense of one’s own self-worth. Without that, you will never undertake tough challenges. Making a start, keeping going, and never doubting yourself at any time is part of an entrepreneur’s journey of self-discovery and learning. If you begin to doubt yourself you lose the confidence to make decisions by instinct, and end up making steps into safety and not growth. Conformity is the jailer of free thinking and the enemy of growth, brought on by self-doubt.

Entrepreneurial leaders know who they are and what is meaningful to them. They have a purpose in life and work, knowing why they started their companies and why they lead them, but they simply get up and do what needs to be done, they don’t over think things.

However, the characteristics and traits outlined don’t come scripted. Whilst there is a link between startup growth and entrepreneurial know-how – market insight, strategic orientation, customer impact – aligning leadership characteristics and traits with the growth position is essential.

Entrepreneurial leaders hold the key responsibility for guiding their business in its performance and culture, as well as standing as a role model. The way in which they effectively respond to crisis and accelerate and sustain growth for their business stand as measures of their impact and reflect the four key traits identified in Butler’s research detailed above.

James Martin: entrepreneurial passion, practice, product – and pans

Entrepreneurial TV chef James Martin is hitting the road again, this time exploring the food of Great Britain, his travels will be documented in twenty episodes of what looks like the ultimate culinary road trip for any foodie. The first four episodes were broadcast last week covering Scotland, the highlights being the Highlands and Edinburgh sessions with Scottish Michelin starred chef Tom Kitchin. No honestly, that’s his name.

James Martin is one of my favourite chefs. He has been a constant presence in our house through his books, and having presented some of the most popular TV cooking shows, including the entertaining Saturday Kitchen.

His passion for food began when his father took the role of catering manager at the Castle Howard estate, and then aged thirteen, a trip to the South of France in an HGV gave him the opportunity to experience food and wine in some of the best chateaux in France – and he was hooked.

He started his formal catering training at Scarborough Technical College, and was Student of the Year three years running.  After college, he worked in London under the guidance of chefs including Antony Worrall Thompson and Marco Pierre White. He also travelled around France working in chateaux kitchens and gaining experience in Michelin star establishments.

His TV career began in 1996, and in 2006, he became the presenter of the BBC One show Saturday Kitchen, making it a Saturday morning staple which regularly attracted 3.5 million viewers. Recently he has been on our screens touring James Martin’s American Adventure and James Martin’s French Adventure.

As if this wasn’t enough, James Martin Manchester restaurant opened in 2013, listed in The Sunday Times Top 100 UK Restaurants for 2015/16, and in 2017 he opened The Kitchen Cookery School at Chewton Glen. A premium café, James Martin Kitchen, offers sit down dining and grab and go options at Stansted Airport, inside Debenhams at intu Lakeside, Manchester Piccadilly station and Glasgow Airport.

And there’s more. He developed the menus for Thomas Cook airlines, covering three million in-flight meals they serve each year. He is also Executive Chef for Virgin Trains East Coast, designing and developing their First-Class menus. He endorses a range of kitchen appliances with Wahl, kitchenware with Stellar and has large collection of stylish and modern tableware with Denby Pottery.

Putting aside his multi-channel revenue streams and brand building, there’s something truly inspirational about seeing the level of James’ effort and passion laid bare when cooking.  I’ve long been a passionate cook and constantly developing my culinary craftsmanship. As far as I’m concerned, food is about taste, texture and simplicity, cooking is not an opportunity to make a climbing frame out of vegetables or building blocks out of meat. My food is chunky and unpretentious, a bit like me!

I’m an avid reader of cookbooks for inspiration. Giorgio Locatelli’s big Italian book is a great read, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s veg book has a load of good ideas and Rosemary Shrager’s recipes are simple and fool proof, so ideal for me. Heston Blumenthal is just too posh and too fussy for me. I spend more time trying to use the letters of his name as an anagram and spell something rude. That lush nobleman is my best effort.

Forget being in a rock band, I’ve always wanted to be in a top restaurant kitchen. That feels like a rock star adrenalin rush. I want to hang out with the dudes in the kitchen and cook like that. I’ll even wash the pots just to be there. I’m reliving memories of all the TV cooking shows I watched, from Fanny Craddock and Johnny, to the Galloping Gourmet to Delia, Rick Stein.

I love cooking at home, if you came round to my kitchen you’d have an amazing time, there’s nothing that my old battered tins of herbs and spices can’t improve. Take the home made artisan sausages I craft. Seasoned with Italian spices, seared in hot avocado cooking oil. Oh and rhubarb. I love rhubarb. I can’t get enough of rhubarb. Rhubarb and okra sweet and sour soup, a classic Vietnamese dish, or Danish rhubarb cake with cardamom and custard, and my signature dish, pan-fried mackerel with rhubarb coleslaw.

James Martin shows passion, creativity and expertise, and a genuine love of his craft and what he does. How many of us commit ourselves to our business like this? Very few I suspect. Most of us settle for a bit of effort with occasional bursts. We don’t put ourselves out there, exposed, vulnerable for all to see. Martin steps out of his comfort zone in the glare of national television and bares his soul. And sometimes his sole.

As always when looking at entrepreneurial endeavours like this, I try to find lessons we can take into our startup thinking. Here’s what I’ve learned from James Martin:

Keeping it simple can be the best option Sometimes celebrity chefs try to take it too far, using a particular ingredient just to be radically different. Occasionally, it works, but it’s a risk and more often than not, the simple, well-prepared dish with an inspired twist ends up the better meal. Attention to detail and back to basics are good business principles.

Strategise before filling the pans  Martin is an experienced chef, but you can see the thinking and planning that goes into a ‘performance’ of his TV cooking demonstrations. He thinks through each and every small activity from the ingredients required, to the time allocated and how he presents the finished offering. Little time is given but it has to be quick, effective decision making, goal driven. Having a clear strategy is key.

Have a Plan A and Plan B After strategy, to obtain the desired culinary result a good plan is needed. Kitchen malfunctions highlight the need for agility, to be able to respond quickly and have a contingency. Businesses operate in a dynamic environment and unplanned events of significant adverse impact occur. The ability to recognise these risks and be able to respond with a back-up plan is vital. You can see on his live shows that Martin is an agile thinker.

Stay cool when the heat is on What happens when the dish doesn’t turn out the way you wanted? Yes, you have a Plan B, but often Plan B is now under extreme pressures and there isn’t time to deliver fully. You have to stay clam and present what is completed with conviction even if failure is on the back of your mind, go with what you have.

Processes deliver productivity Cooking to a recipe is very much following a process with clear instructions. In business, ambiguity or inaccuracy in a process can lead to wildly varied quality and results. The importance of including detail and clarity in a process so that the same results can be delivered every single time is a key element to successful outcomes in scaling a startup venture. The pressure of live TV cooking is a perfect example of how to get things done when the heat is on.

Be clear about the big picture – the end product Chefs know the dish they are required to prepare, and they visualise the process and the end product. The same applies to business outcomes we want to achieve. We need to use our imagination, to visualise our goal, to see it, taste it, feel it, smell it and keep it in our heads at all times through the ‘cooking’ process.

Leave yourself enough time to test the final product During the preparation of each dish, Martin is frequently tasting and thus testing the current status of the cooking. Sometimes trust in your own ability pays off, but sometimes it doesn’t. It’s a big risk to take in business. Leave yourself enough time to not only put the final product together (plate it up) and make sure it works, but to also test it with some of your colleagues and selected clients to see if it can be improved.

Time is an ingredient In addition to focusing on ingredient quality and freshness, original flavour and texture combinations, and final presentation – an aspect Martin obsesses over – it’s vital each item is served at the optimal moment of peak temperature, lightness, and flavour. Time is an ingredient in cooking, Timing is everything for entrepreneurs.

Put emotion into your products One of the criteria for putting a dish onto his menus is that the item evokes emotion for Martin. So far in his current TV series, we’ve had scallops cooked on an outdoor BBQ in Stromness, Arbroath smokie scotch eggs, and homemade crumpets with lobster, spinach and samphire. Each captures the imagination, Emotion engages customers is a key lesson for all entrepreneurs.

Continuous product iteration Martin subscribes to the practice of constant innovation, and works in an environment where his dishes can evolve on the fly. This is a luxury other product categories can’t to the same degree given the kitchen offers the opportunity for frequent experimentation, so gives him advantage. But if you study the early works of great contemporary painters and architects, like Picasso and Frank Ghery, like Martin, they mastered the classics of their craft before they started to routinely innovate, a habit and instinct all entrepreneurs need. You only learn by doing.

You can be a street artist, an author, a dancer, a chef – there are no boundaries on being an entrepreneur, it’s an expression of self. We don’t always associate chefs with entrepreneurship, but Martin is as much an entrepreneur as a tech product inventor.

Imagine you are a chef for a moment. In front of you is a blank canvas of ingredients, sat on the kitchen worktop, awaiting your spirit to infuse them with life. Right beside you are your creative tools – the knives, the whisk, the oven. It’s a simple set up, but combined with the human imagination and an ability to execute, has the makings to create a unique piece of work with the power to inspire.

Business life occasionally throw eggs at us. We have to be ready with our oil, salt and pepper, and the world is your omelette. Mary Anne Radmacher’s words sum up this attitude: Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says ‘I’ll try again tomorrow’.

What chefs like James Martin do is take the spark of a new idea, curate and test it, and make it a reality. A little bit of intuition, passion, planning and magic creates an opportunity to win customers, that others don’t see. That that’s entrepreneurial thinking, in any walk of life.

Are you a Tigger or an Eeyore? The value of introverts & extroverts in your startup team

Many startups are driven by two co-creators, working in unison with joined-up thinking and ambition. It’s great to see how they spark and bounce off each other, with complimentary skills and personalities, providing a balanced perspective on the entrepreneurial opportunity.

Most of us are familiar with ‘dynamic duos’- Batman & Robin, Lennon & McCartney, Laurel & Hardy – and in the business world, Hewlett & Packard, Brin & Page, Jobs & Wozniak. The individual characteristics, the chemistry and rapport behind these collaborations ensured that their talents fused to create something remarkable.

Having experienced a number of founder double acts in the startups I’ve worked with, I’m intrigued as to how often one founder is full of beans, spontaneous and vocal, whilst the other is more cautious, more focused on risk, and more thoughtful – the extrovert-introvert combination is common.

The terms introvert and extrovert are consistently, by popular consensus, painted as two polarised pictures of the extremely shy and the extremely confident. The Myers-Briggs personality test marks you as an ‘E’ or ‘I’, categorising you as either an introvert or an extrovert, designed to explain motivational and behavioural drivers.

First categorised by Carl Jung in the 1920s, an introvert is most commonly defined as someone who gets their energy from time spent alone rather than socialising. Unlike their extrovert counterparts (who get energy from other people), introverts are typically introspective, quiet (but not necessarily shy), and observant. Almost everyone can be squeezed into one of two boxes, but it turns out that many of us are essentially ambiverts.

The contrast is often quite stark, and I now have a model – as seen in AA Milne’s Winning the PoohTiggers and Eeyores. Now whilst this insight won’t get me onto the academic staff at Harvard, I think it works to highlight one aspect of entrepreneurial culture that delivers success – Tiggers and Eeyores are opposites on the ‘act or think first?’ spectrum.

In 100-Acre Wood, the fictional land inhabited by Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends in the series of children’s stories by author A. A. Milne, they are the contrasting positive and negative thinking personalities, but behind the high energy of Tigger and the gloominess of Eeyore, there are subtle nuances we can take into a startup context.

Eeyore is the loveable, downbeat and somewhat gloomy donkey, his glass is always half-empty. He spots the dark cloud rather than the silver lining for sure. Eeyore doesn’t expect too much of himself or too many exciting things to happen, therefore remains quiet and subdued most of the time. That in no ways means he isn’t an intelligent animal, he is actually knowledgeable, but keeps himself to himself.

By stark contrast, Tigger – That’s T – I – Double Guh – Er! – is the alter-ego, a bouncy, hyperactive, exuberant personality. He acts on impulse and will dash rather than walk, but that impulsive leap and rush more often than not see him jumping around without taking measure of his surroundings. This at times leads to mishaps and causes utter mayhem – not least to himself.

We all know many entrepreneurs who are Tiggers – energisers, positive thinkers who love a constant challenge. They get bored easily and often half-complete stuff as their interest is distracted by a new idea. Sometimes their enthusiasm is over powering and irritates Eeyores, so much so that they’ll probably hold more stubbornly to their opinions, and may become even more gloomy to counter-balance Tiggers’ positivity.

By contrast, Eeyores want to be more grounded and ‘realistic’, but Tiggers may find this over cautious approach negative, because they fear the downbeat emotions are catching and they dread being sucked into pessimism. Tiggers often act Tiggerish because they’re trying to keep that Tigger flame alive against the Eeyore calm.

As Tiggers fear being dragged down by the Eeyores, Eeyores feel resentful and irritated by the Tiggers’ constant chirpiness. For both Tiggers and Eeyores, a good strategy is not to try to make conversions. These efforts are depleting, frustrating and polarising.

A Tigger could be a great entrepreneur because he doesn’t mind trying new things, and doesn’t fear failure. If it doesn’t work out, he will simply bounce onto the next new idea, undaunted. Balancing this, whilst Eeyore can be seen as negative, but he’s actually cautious and not gullible – he won’t fall for a ‘too good to be true’ opportunity – so a good foil for a Tigger in a founder duo.

As an example of the Tigger and Eeyore combination, look at the example of Apple, which we’ve come to associate with the big personality and very vocal Steve Jobs – co-founder Steve Wozniak, a sworn champion of the creative value of working alone, was just as indispensable in building the iconic company. The two contrasted and complemented one another.

The norm is that introverted people are generally more comfortable with solitude, but perhaps Susan Cain changed opinions with her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Indeed introverts have emerged as leaders in every arena – one-quarter of all US Presidents – including Jefferson, Lincoln, and Barack Obama – were identified introverts of varying degree.

In the business world, some of the most successful founders, inventors and technologists are introverts, including the likes of Edison, Gates, Musk and Zuckerberg, and the research into the business impact of introverts is revealing.

A Harvard study found that, while extroverts excelled at leading passive teams (employees who simply follow commands), they were far less effective in leading ‘proactive’ teams, where everyone contributes ideas. Introverts are more effective than extroverts in leading proactive teams because they don’t feel threatened by collaborative input, are more receptive to suggestions, and listen more carefully.

Researchers analysed 57 managers and 374 employees at 130 branches of a major pizza chain and found that franchises led by introverts were 20% more profitable than franchises led by extroverts. In another study, researchers broke 163 students into 56 groups – some led by an introvert, and others by an extrovert – and had the teams fold as many t-shirts as they could in ten minutes. They concluded that teams led by the introverts were up to 28% more productive.

Back to the founder duo combination, the two contrasting personalities like Jobs and Woznicak, working collaboratively epitomise the old saying ‘two heads are better than one’. So what are the principles we should all look for in Eeyores and Tiggers to reflect upon the introvert-extrovert difference, and get the best from their two contrasting perspectives when working alongside one or both personalities in a startup?

1.     Emotional intelligence, not emotional mastery

The better you’re able to communicate with others and form strong connections, the better you’ll navigate a startup. Successful entrepreneurs aren’t unusually cool-headed people who can contain their emotions and avoid reacting irrationally. Rather, they’ve built strong relationships with their staff, suppliers, and customers, and it’s those interpersonal networks that do the emotional heavy lifting when times get tough. The emotional intelligence that it takes to sustain these bonds can prove decisive, be it the energy and passion of an extrovert, or the quiet, thoughtful style that builds respect and trust by introverts.

2.     Self-reliance

If the idea of starting from scratch with a partner and having to rely on yourself frightens you, coping with the ups and downs of the startup experience might be difficult. No matter how their personalities differ, successful entrepreneurs know how to keep going despite the inevitable discomfort of uncertainty and going outside their comfort zones.

This doesn’t mean extroverts win through with their boundless self-confidence though. We tend to romanticise extroverted founders who show outsize confidence, but many in reality grapple with self-doubt internally all the time. The real key is about being able to function well in spite of feeling uncertain.

Successful entrepreneurs have a greater fear of being stuck in their comfort zones and not reaching their potential. It isn’t that facing ongoing uncertainty is a thrilling or threatening experience, or that every successful entrepreneur has unshakable confidence in spades. It’s that no matter what challenges come their way, they believe it’s in their own power to determine their future. That instinct for self-reliance is key – so both extroverts and introverts need to develop self-esteem and believe in themselves, whatever their external personnas.

3.     Willingness to be wrong

This is tough for both personality types. All successful startup founders are curious people, constantly on the lookout for better, more efficient, innovative ways of doing things. Less conspicuous is an underlying trait of the willingness to scrap their assumptions and test a totally different idea.

Some extroverted entrepreneurs may carry an air of certainty and self-assurance, but chances are they’re more willing to admit to being wrong than you might imagine. For an introvert, quiet, internal assessment and analysis enables them to come to their own conclusions, albeit from a different perspective.

4.     Trust in their intuition

Successful founders see and act on opportunities even when they don’t see the complete picture. To fill in the blanks and blind spots just enough in order to be able to act, they need to have a high level of trust in their own intuition.

It’s easy to misinterpret an introvert’s internal processing and quiet demeanour as disinterest. But in reality, most introverts are just methodical thinkers. For an extrovert, what appears to be a cavalier approach is just behaviour based on self-belief that they can get there.

Both personality types assess potential, risk and outcomes from their own perspectives, one may then share that with the enthusiasm of a Tigger, one more cautiously as in Eeyore’s style, but both are trusting their own judgement and assessment.

5.     Be radically open-minded

The biggest barriers to good decision-making are your blind spots and self doubt. Together, they make it difficult for you to objectively see what is true about you and your circumstances and to make the best possible decisions.

For both extroverts and introverts, practice open-mindedness. If you can recognise that you have blind spots, consider the possibility that others might see something better than you, don’t be stubborn. A fresh pair of eyes can add value to your thinking and unpack a possible different forward path you hadn’t spotted. Being open-minded can be energising and unblock your thinking, and help you deal better with ‘not knowing’.

This avoids either bluffing (the extrovert response) or doubting yourself and doing nothing – the introvert response. Triangulate your view with believable people who are willing to help inform and shape your opinions.

So, if you’re startup stumbles, with panic on the streets of Carlisle, Dublin, Dundee, Humberside, don’t simply ignore the signals on the one hand and rush on like Tigger, or spiral down and convince yourself you’re doomed as Eeyore would have you believe. Don’t drink from a glass half-full of rash, unbridled optimism as feted by Tigger, or sit morosely like Eeyore with a hang-donkey expression, moping around in the corner, add a bit of balance.

We must look for the opportunity in every difficulty like Tigger, instead of being paralysed at the thought of the difficulty in every opportunity like Eeyore, but whilst fortune favours the brave and audacious, don’t be foolhardy, leaping without looking isn’t a strategy. Nobody told Dick Fosbury the first time he leapt backwards, but he knew the height of the bar.

Don’t develop a fetish for failure: triage your startup

The term ‘post-mortem’ is Latin for ‘after death’, and originally referred to a medical examination of a corpse to determine the cause of death. The term has, more colloquially come to refer to any ‘after the fact’ analysis and discussion of a recently completed process or event, to see what lessons we can learn from it.

Such analyses are have been going on for a long time. Five thousand years ago Egyptian doctors recorded wounds, treatments and results to build up a body of knowledge about what did and did not work. Military strategists have long studied every battle ever recorded so that they could learn lessons without having to suffer defeats.

The post-mortem is focused on understanding what we did wrong and historically (and perhaps psychologically), failure has proven to be one of our best teachers. ‘Failure’ has become an integral part of the startup community vocabulary, where we have the mantra ‘fail fast’ as a way of learning and making quick changes to find product/market fit.

Indeed ‘fail early, fail often’ has become something of a startup badge of honour that makes it sound like it’s a good thing, but I struggle with the cultural fascination with failure being the source of lessons to be learned. Pause for a moment, what did you really learn?

You learned what didn’t work. So, ‘we all learn from our mistakes’ – you’d like to think that was the case, so you won’t make the same mistake twice, but isn’t it the case that you’re just as likely to make a different mistake next time? As Jason Fried said, You might know what won’t work, but you still don’t know what will work. That’s not much of a lesson.

Making mistakes isn’t part of a scalable startup model. So if we accept that learning from failure is overrated, how can turn the ‘it’s good to fail’ philosophy on its head into a new way of thinking? Surely the most valuable experience to take your startup to the next level is learning from the stuff you got right? Isn’t this just about taking what you’ve done that others don’t have, and creating further advantage from it?

The common sense is overwhelming. If you’re starting a new venture, going into it believing it’s going to work has to be your mindset. You don’t have to assume you’ve got to collect pain points along the way as the necessary badges, failure being a prerequisite of success. Don’t believe your first idea won’t be your best one, and don’t accept that your credibility is only enhanced because of collecting the scars of failure to parade to others.

Failure. We’re hypocrites about it. You find scores of pleasant aphorisms celebrating the inevitability of failure of underdogs and entrepreneurs, their determination to come fighting back and the importance of learning from it, but in real life failure is painful. Failing is an overstated hobby, another glorification in the dictionary of entrepreneurial hyperbole.

So let’s pause, and if the startup patient is in intensive care, rather than thinking about startup funerals, wakes and autopsies, lets focus on survival, and determine the priority of startup patient fixes and treatments based on the severity of their condition, and that can halt the terminal decline. Let’s talk about startup triage.

Triage is the process of determining the priority of patients’ treatments based on the severity of their condition. The term originated during the Napoleonic Wars from the work of Dominique Jean Larrey. Those responsible for the removal of the wounded from a battlefield or their care afterwards would divide the victims into three categories:

  • Those who are likely to live, regardless of what care they receive;
  • Those who are likely to die, regardless of what care they receive;
  • Those for whom immediate care might make a positive difference in outcome.

So, what are the most common causes of startup failure, and what are the triage priorities? Here are some thoughts.

Triage 1: Start for purpose, don’t start for money Check Simon Sinek’s classic TED talk on ‘finding your why’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPYeCltXpxw If you set out simply to make headlines motivated by success equating to money made, you’re setting yourself up for business failure. As Michelangelo says, our biggest tragedy is that we set low goals and achieve them.

Triage 2: Define what success looks like If success is defined as becoming a unicorn, winning awards or an IPO, it is a skewed measure of success. It’s barely what really defines success for most entrepreneurs. How about making your mark with customers, sustainable growth, loving your work, and making a dent in your universe?

Triage 3: Don’t assume, find a need Just because your mum, your best friend, and your dog think that your idea and business model is cool, doesn’t mean that you have a valid business. Move quickly to get a MVP to test on real potential customers. Get worthwhile feedback, tweak your product and model as needed, and repeat this process until you find what truly works. Work hard, work smart, that’s my strategy. Avoid the Emperor’s New Clothes syndrome and vanity metrics.

Triage 4: Nail it, then scale it Via your MVP, find your formula for solving the problem, figure out your ‘secret sauce’ and scale, but don’t scale until you find your formula first. You need to ensure you have product-market fit, and that there is a sizeable market to sustain your business model. Asking questions to define the problem comes before you build your full product.

Triage 5: Take control of your emotions A startups leader’s feelings are contagious, so you need to be genuinely in control of your emotions or your team will see through you. Mental toughness is a key leadership quality in a startup, no matter what the situation. Lead with confidence and calmness, avoid getting too elated or too despondent on the highs and lows.

Triage 6: Know when to value speed vs. stability Developing great tech, content and a team simultaneously takes time. You try to make each deep and stable, but also need to be agile and pivot. I agree with Reid Hoffman that if you review your first product version and don’t feel embarrassment, you’ve spent too much time on it. On the other hand, keeping all aspects of your startup aligned for growth is a real challenge.

Triage 7: Control and calculate your user acquisition costs Many startups initially conceive of marketing as a creative exercise. That’s partly true, but the best marketing is controlled and calculated. If you know how much it costs to acquire a user and you control the process, you then know how much capital and revenue you need, reducing your marketing plan from fuzzy guesswork to a clean formula.

Triage 8: Don’t Move Slow. Move Fast Moving at a snail’s pace can be detrimental, losing advantage in terms of getting to customers first, and it can deplete your motivation. Be sure to move fast, but not so fast that you lose attention to detail. Find a pace that you can work within that allows you to make smart decisions while also moving your business forward.

There are some talented entrepreneurs who fail first time, learn and then succeed second time round, but we generalise from anecdotal success-after-failure stories. There is a lot of startup folklore and myth out there. Failure is an opportunity to try again through revised eyes, a signpost alerting you to the fact that you need to change your business model.

We all want to feel free to try, stumble, fall, get back up, try again, and learn as we go. What we need to realise is, however, success isn’t about getting where you want to be, rather it’s about accepting and appreciating where you are at each point. Failure is an experiment that had an outcome, just one you didn’t want.

There will be a moment when you will be dejected in fulfilling your startup dreams and melancholy thoughts will haunt you, they will try to restrict you. But, if you have a robust will and determination about yourself then no matter what happens, you will conquer the difficult moments in your startup life. There have been myriads of successful people who have faced brick walls throughout their journey, but they have exceptionally pulled it off. There should be determination, an optimistic approach towards life and no matter, what life throws at you, just stand up and fight.

Yes, starting a business is hard, and you certainly could fail. I’m not suggesting failure isn’t an option, I’m only suggesting that it shouldn’t be the assumed or default outcome. It doesn’t need to be. Have confidence in your ideas, in your vision, and in your business. Assume success, not failure.

Everything is a learning experience, good and bad, there’s something to be added to your thinking. But all learning isn’t equal. I’ve found that if you’re going to spend your time pondering the past, focus on the wins not the losses. The lessons learned from doing well give you a better chance at continuing your success.

The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. Rousing words from President Abraham Lincoln, taken from his 1862 annual address to Congress, which resonate with the forward challenge, we go again.

Adopt the same mindset as a startup founder, don’t look back in anger. Don’t develop a fetish for failure.

Stages in the startup growth cycle

Growing up and getting older is something that happens to us all, whether we are consciously aware of the aging process or not. We are born, and then immediately starts a period of physical, mental and emotional growth taking us from a new born through childhood, merging to the teenage years and then adulthood milestones.

Throughout, this journey remains personal and subject to flux, both good and bad things happen, opportunism and fate both intervene and have a hand on points of inflextion. Of course, upon reaching adulthood the aging process continues (it accelerates!) and we reach another watershed, that of old age.

Hopefully we enjoy a lifespan over a good number of years. It’s a deeply personal and unique journey, life stages filled with learning, health, relationship and cultural influences, psychological changes and expectations.

Birth happens as a result of the chance encounter nine months earlier of Jack Sperm and Jill Egg, the throw of random dice. the slow motion bloom of the foetus consciousness. the beginning of life free and independent of umbilicus, placenta and amniotic fluid.

From there we learn to walk and talk, ride a bike and go to school. Having your first kiss, passing your driving test and losing your virginity, casting your first vote…to first job, marriage, first house, kids, life is a series of milestones as time passes.

Startup ventures have similar stages of growth just as the human development lifecycle, although obviously a different set of laws apply, but there are chronological steps of business growth milestones akin to the stages in the human journey.

Being born: problem-solution fit

The starting point is the momentous event of birth that emphatically announces your arrival. Your expulsion from your mothers’ body jump-starts your being as a singleton, singularity stemming from the amorous clash of parental chromosomes, the emergence of a fresh life into a brand new day.

What was the genesis of your startup? Human birth is as romantic as that of any two startup adventurers first meeting – Jagger and Richards on a train platform, Hewlett and Packard at a family party, Jobs and Wozniak at a geeks club trading computer spare parts. Serendipity, chemistry and collision in both.

In response to Malvolio’s caption from Twelfth Night, some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them, the birth of a startup is the start of a unique journey and a chance to make your mark in business.

At the very beginning of the startup lifecycle, you’ve got your idea and you are ready to take the plunge. But first you must assess how viable your startup is likely to be. At this point, ask yourself two questions: What problem am I solving? Does my proposed solution solve it effectively? If you have a clear answer to the first question and a confident ‘Yes’ for the second part, then you’ve got problem-solution fit and a hypothesis, and it’s time to start testing with potential users.

Learning to walk and talk: MVP

Learning to walk and talk are the next stages. At the outset, walking involves conscious intent, like the seismic convulsion twelve months earlier, nothing can halt the urge to stand up and move.

Walking plots our journey in life, homo erects marks a triumph, four to two reprises Darwin’s evolution in a moment in time. When we stand up we join the same category as creatures as quirky as ostriches. George Orwell had the same opinion.

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

Making physical contact with another person means crossing the room, the feet enable the touching of hands, socialisation starts, as the first encounter with the first customer with your MVP. New language means a period of babble, a sound of nascent expression so subjective it leaves an infant stranded between private articulation and public incomprehension.

Be careful your first articulation of your startup with potential users is a clear conversation, not babble. This is the riskiest stage of a startup. Much of your time is spent tweaking your MVP based on feedback of your first pilot users. You’re just starting to walk and talk your idea with potential customers and there will be noise.

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

Learning to ride a bike: product-market fit

Learning to ride a bike is often the first learning process we undergo, it’s not like starting to grow armpit hair or adopting social norms, it’s about consciously learning to do something, creating a freedom of movement not experienced before.

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

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

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

For a startup, this is the moment of risk for product-market fit, getting out into the market and winning customers to prove your value proposition. As Einstein said, to keep your balance you have to keep moving, no longer stationary, tottering to balance on two unsure legs, now you have to hurtle forward from safety to risk. You’re on your way, my boy, but keep those knee plasters readily to hand.

In a startup, now it’s about managing fear and doubt, to focus on the wide horizon ahead, and you make something of it for yourself. The urge to dig in your heels and pedal hard, to cut an arc into this new panorama, but the freedom means you have to make decisions, with options of straight on, or turning left then right.

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

Your MVP gains traction, you’re learning and iterating, you’ve got paying customers, they buy again and keep using your product on a regular basis. These are the signs of product/market fit, an elusive entrepreneurial goal.

It’s about creating trust with customers, building credibility through exceptional experiences. It’s about building trust with yourself on that bike, pushing off, ready to go, and enjoying exceptional experiences.

Facial hair: scaling

When I turned thirteen, I promptly grew stubble, overnight, the first shadows of facial hair grew rapidly and randomly. The rite of passage that is the first shave at the onset of puberty is monumental. Hormones central. Frisky hair sprouting up all over the frisky body.

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

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

After the Victorian mania for chest-covering growths and mutton-chop whiskers (also known as Dundreary whiskers, Piccadilly weepers or bugger grips), the early C20th trend was clean-shaven. It was always assumed that beards were camouflage for something: a scar, or a weak chin.

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

Businesses in this puberty stage often see rapid changes in their business model, as venturing out into the market, fumbling and discovering, offers lessons building a repeatable, scalable sales model and customer acquisition process. It can still be a hairy experience as your conversion and retention rates bristle, but you’re growing up, it’s time to scale, by investing in people and process.

Your first kiss: high-growth

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

The romantic idyll and wondrousness of Romeo and Juliet playing with each others words, fondling where formality mocks the courting protocols, and before you know it, it’s a snog without ending.

In Shakespeare’s words, a kiss becomes poetry, a pleasing rhyme between two faces that tenderly meet, the poetic, sensual ceremony, a ritual and romantic interlude. For unlike mowing the lawn, there is not a natural conclusion to a kiss. A lust for life, as Iggy sang. Kissing opens a different mode of communication in a relationship. Although we can’t talk while we kiss, kissing eventually speaks volumes.

In the startup growth cycle as you’re growing and scaling, you’re metaphorically kissing a lot of customers. The turning point in the process of growing up is when you discover the core of strength within you that survives all hurt from those that say no – as it is in real life. When you’re seventeen, you aren’t really serious, just enjoy the moment, but that’s when the high-growth kicks in.

Summary

Not all startups will experience these stages of the growth lifecycle, and those that do may not necessarily experience them in chronological order. Some businesses may see astronomical growth and the jump to scale can be as painful as puberty where the hormones run wild, a troublesome teenager where behaviour is unpredictable and at times, unruly.

Everyone’s biological clock has its own time line, likewise your startup. As John Lennon said, life is what happens to you whilst you’re busy making other plans, and in reality, your startup plan will not survive its first encounter with a customer.

Positivity, confidence and persistence are key in life generally, so never give up on yourself in startup mode. Equally to succeed in life, you need three things: a wishbone, a backbone and a funny bone, and that’s no different in a startup either.

Lessons from Stan & Ollie for startup founder duos

I went to the cinema Friday evening for the first showing of Stan & Ollie, a biographical comedy-drama based on the lives of the comedy double act Laurel and Hardy. Starring Steve Coogan and John Reilly, the film pays tribute to the beloved entertainers with an affectionate recreation of their final, ill-fated UK tour of 1953.

A moving look at the burdens and blessings of a creative bond between the two, for much of the time watching the film you feel it’s the real duo, so thoroughly conceived are the actors’ physicality and performances. The film is sincere, reaffirming the charm and inspiration of the greatest comedy duo of all time, the simplicity of their slapstick humour and routines is just so funny – time after time!

Watching their films with a child’s optimism, I always think everything would work out well for the duo, and they wouldn’t get pied or smacked in the face, or poked in the eye. Their catchphrase – well, here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me into – seems to sum up a pair whose friendship survives the severest trials. There is a warmth and companionship to them that is universal and as emblematic of the duo as their bowler hats and their Dance of the Cuckoos theme song.

After a long spell in separate acting careers, they made more than 100 short and full-length films together. Stan and Ollie created a weird, beautiful ballet of physicality and humour. I marvel at Stan’s quiet grace and Ollie’s perfect timing. Their film partnership lasted from 1927 to 1951, but at their very best – with masterpiece shorts such Towed in a Hole, Tit for Tat and Big Business and longer movies such as Way Out West and Sons of the Desert – they created sublime and timeless works of art.

The Music Box, which won the 1932 Oscar for best short comedy, sums up the futility of much of human endeavour. It is a modern-day Sisyphus tale, as two men, totally unsuited for the task, have to move a heavy mechanical piano from the bottom of a steep hill to the top. Each time the piano slips away and goes bouncing back down the 147 steps you laugh as much as you cry. Do they succeed? Well, of course not!

Ollie had a superb repertoire of close-up expressions: his eyes speak of his stoicism amid the despair, registering disgust and frustration at Stan’s blunders.  Hardy’s skill was no accident: it was founded on paying close attention to fellow humans. As a youngster, he had helped his single mother run a hotel and liked to sit in the lobby and watching people walk by.

My favourite scene is the epic custard-pie fight in The Battle of the Century. They bought 4,000 pies – genuine cherry, blueberry and banana –and devised a stunning sequence, which brought pie-throwing to apotheosis. There was nothing but pie-throwing in it, nothing but thousands and thousands of pies.

The modern comedy double act has its origins in C19th music hall and vaudeville. Initially, a man would ‘stand up’ with a comedian, and simply repeat the comic’s lines, developing into what we know as a straight man today.

When Weber and Fields emerged in the late 1800s, the first famous comedy duo, the dynamic had evolved into two individuals bantering and cross-talking. Often, things got rowdy between them and slapstick violence featured. Indeed, Weber and Fields were particularly adept at arguing, and this became a common element of double act routines. The characters on the stage just never got along no matter what, and audiences loved it.

In the early C20th, things took a shift, with Gallagher and Sheen the leading duo emphasising less slapstick and more singing. Then along came Stan and Ollie, initially paired together in 1927 and the inter-play of their double act reset the format.

Their characters were clearly friends, and as unintentionally destructive as they were, you knew their friendship would be intact at the end of every film, despite the frequency with which their efforts met with failure, resulting in many a ‘fine mess’.

The Stan and Ollie model stuck, for Abbott & Costello, Morecambe & Wise. They set the formula for those duos we’ve latterly grown up with – Mel Smith & Griff Rhys Jones, French & Saunders, Dan Akroyd & John Belushi, to Vic Reeves & Bob Mortimer.

I’ve always enjoyed comedy-duo double acts, and I’ve recently been researching the psychology and relationship in them, and parallels with startup co-founder dynamics. Will it be bonding, soul mates for life and success, or the start of melancholy, cold winters of recriminations, slammed doors and sending emails in a cold silence?

Hooking up with a partner launching a new business is just like a comedy duo, you embark on a joined-up hope-fuelled journey towards a bright and optimistic future. Great co-founders can make even the worst times feel fun and bearable, they will sit with you at the bottom of the pit on your lowest day and tell you that it’s going to be okay. This relationship can determine the success or failure of your business.

Many successful companies were built by productive co-founder relationships, their combined skill-sets a successful collaboration. Many were long-time friends, but there is a common trend: the most well-rounded co-founders recognised their individual limitations and respect what the other brings to a partnership. Let’s look at a few examples.

Larry Page and Sergey Brin founded Google (1998), meeting at Stanford’s PhD program in 1995, but they did not instantly become friends. During a campus tour, Brin was Page’s guide and they bickered. Despite their quarrel, they worked on a research project together, The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine, which became the basis for Google.

Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak founded Apple (1976). They became friends at a summer job, Woz was busy building a computer, and Jobs saw the potential to sell it. Why did their partnership work? Woz admits that he never thought to sell his computer model, that was all Jobs. Woz’s technical skills paired with Jobs’ business foresight makes the two an ultimate business match.

Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard came together in 1939. Classmates at Stanford, following graduation, they went on a two-week camping trip, and became close friends. Shortly after they started HP. Why did their partnership work?  They were best friends that clicked because they had complimentary strengths and were driven by joint-achievement, not personal success.

Francis Jehl was Thomas Edison’s lab assistant at the Menlo Park research facility as an eighteen year old, straight from school. After the completion of Jehl’s first assignment, Edison noticed Jehl’s work ethic and was so impressed that he started to work collaboratively. Whilst Edison regarded Jehl as a co-founder, not all entrepreneurs need an ally.

Research shows start-ups with co-founders are four times more likely to be successful than those going solo – a strong case for forming a double act. Going it alone it’s easier to make decisions quickly and go for it, and generally you can’t fall out with yourself, and you also learn more – by necessity.

Alternatively with a co-founder you have the benefits of ‘two heads are better than one’, improving decision making and being more likely to reach the right outcome faster. With a co-founder, you’re also not spreading yourself too thinly, taking responsibility for everything, and working with complimentary skills and doubled bandwidth, more gets done.

So, everything considered, what are the attributes you should consider when seeking a co-founder for your startup, and why will it work?

Aligned motives If one founder wants to build a cool product, whilst the other wants to make money only, it won’t work. Pay close attention and unearth true motivations, which are revealed, not declared, it’s better to get that out in the open early and talk it through.

Personal compatibility Play a couple rounds of monopoly together, just to see how they react to opportunity and adversity – and if there is humour in the relationship. There are of course other such ways to gauge this but don’t co-habit without dancing together socially first, doing something outside of work with your potential future partner may be eye-opening.

Future skills matter more than present skills It’s impossible to judge the potential skills of a person day one. So instead, while we don’t predict future skills, avoid giving too much importance to current skills. Startups demand different sets of competencies at various stages in their journey – being a CEO of a startup means being the Chief Everything Officer initially – co-founders need to be fast learners in order to acquire new in-demand skills.

How will decisions get made?  This is a fundamental tenet of the relationship and operating model. If it’s tied to voting the number of shares, you’re on dangerous grounds. Common areas to address are decisions around hiring/firing, pricing and employee salaries. If it’s by discussion and logic, things will work, it one wants control, it won’t

Focus on what you’re good at Dividing workload based on complimentary yet different skills gives focus and productivity, effort based on mutual strengths means you’re able to progress the day-to-day work while continuing to evolve many aspects of the business. A co-founder can help complement your skills and fill in the skills gaps in a way you’ll never be able to do on your own. It’s just one more weapon on your arsenal.

Double your odds Having a business partner doubles your odds of being in the right place at any given time. Whether it’s an important event where you need to talk to dozens of people or simultaneous meetings on opposite sides of town, having someone you can trust with the same level of integrity and passion as you is a huge advantage and enables a ‘I’ll work on whatever you’re not working on’ philosophy to getting two things done at once.

Provide you with a sounding board Starting a business means a bumps may appear on the horizon at any point, and it can be a lot easier to handle unexpected hurdles and have more fun with a co-founder. Advisors and mentors are great, but there is nothing like being able to talk to someone that is going through the exact same process as you are, facing the same risk, the same problems, and the same potential upside.

Serve as a backstop when you have an off day We all have days when we are just not at the races, having a co-founder provides a backstop for those days, even for the simplest of matters. Sharing both the physical and mental workload with someone you can trust, and is just as invested as you, makes the journey slightly less frantic.

Balance the extremes and point out the blindspots Entrepreneurs just want to get things done, often in a hurry and always moving forward, but they can also face obstacles. It helps to have someone to balance the extremes we all face along the way. We all have blind spots in how we manage and implement projects. Having a co-founder gives you a peer that can point out these blind spots so you can improve, opening your eyes to things you might not see.

What it’s like to share the highs and lows, the successes and the failures, and the feeling of having someone alongside you, shoulder-to-shoulder all the while confident they think the same way? By merging their disparate talents and idiosyncrasies, effective co-founders sync when it comes to the course they co-charted. That kind of strategic cohesion is often behind successful startups, so try to create that serendipity in your own startup enterprise.

In reality it is the shared mind-set that captures the essence of what makes entrepreneurial duos work – in comedy or in business. Everyone talks about the ‘one builds, one sells’ complimentary skillset, but it’s really about the mind-set.

You may not want the tomfoolery of Laurel & Hardy, the anarchy of Reeves & Mortimer, the frenzy of Morecambe & Wise nor the jukebox antics of Akroyd & Belushi in your co-founder business relationship, but if the strength and purpose of startup co-founder relationships is as innovative and productive as these comedy duos, then you’ll have created something special.

Mitigating the risks of Brexit for your tech startup

It took Theresa May eighteen months to reach a deal with the EU, but it Parliament less than a month to throw it out by a wide margin, most MPs believing that her imperfect compromise is worse than the status quo. The paralysis is such that the government has largely given up arguing that its deal will be good for the country, instead insisting that it is what democracy demands.

May’s ‘progress’ in negotiations has been a pantomime of democracy. Neverendum. The risk is real. Britain faces years of trade negotiations with the EU, involving more painful trade-offs between prosperity and control. All the while, the country will be falling further behind its potential.

Voters were swept off their feet by the promises of the Leave campaign, only to discover that the future relationship was that promised. Those with long-standing delusions about what Brexit would mean have been forced to swallow a dose of reality. It’s chaotic. May has appointed her third Brexit secretary as her own backbenchers are feverishly plotting to bring her down. Labour’s position is hopelessly unclear.

With negotiating time almost up, Britain has the imperfect deal that it was always going to get. Promises of having cake and eating it have given way to a less appetising offering. Yet among Brexiteers, one hopeful fantasy lives on: the idea that, if all else fails, Britain can prosper outside the EU without signing a deal at all.

If May wonders how this dire outcome has come to be more popular than her deal, she should start by re-reading her own speeches. Her mantra that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ was supposed to persuade the EU to give Britain better terms. It didn’t work. But it struck a chord at home.

The draft withdrawal agreement of 585 pages will guide future talks. Will we agree a Norway-style relationship or a deal modelled on Switzerland or Canada? In truth the EU27 will be in control, with Britain having few cards to play, and the process of ratifying a deal with Britain will be tortuous.

What we do know, is that the ongoing uncertainty and rhetoric of Brexit heading into 2019 will create volatility in sentiment, confidence, investment decisions and currencies, that will influence both business and consumer spending and buying power. So how will this impact tech startups?

Whether you’re a Eurosceptic or a Europhile, the UK startup environment has a supportive investor tax regime, a good intellectual property regulations and amazing talent from across Europe, but there are challenges ahead created by Brexit.

Everyone is looking for the headline that everything is fine or everything is catastrophic, and actually it’s somewhere in-between. At a high level, the potential winners will include those startups that are exporters, whilst potential losers are importers and foreign workers in the UK.

While Brexit is a ground-breaking event in the history of Europe, geopolitics, and global economy, modern agile companies have long ago surpassed the constraints of state borders and work permits. However, lets’ look at four key challenges from Brexit for tech startups, and mitigation strategies

Workforce

It’s already tough to hire good developers and engineers. While UK tech startups do create jobs for British citizens, part of the skills shortage has been filled by European immigration. We could potentially lose a large part of the startup workforce if regulations make it tough for EU nationals to stay in the UK.

Around one in five tech workers in the UK are from the EU. It’s likely that the current freedom of movement that allows EU citizens to work in the UK with few limitations will come to an end after Brexit. That’s going to make it harder to attract staff from the EU, and to keep workers who are already here.

Talent is the life blood of start-ups. You cannot build a startup if you cannot attract the best talent. While Brexit could be frustrating we might have a larger talent pool to choose from – a lack of European migrants doesn’t necessarily mean a complete migration halt. Brexit will open doors to non-EU countries, and whilst overseas talent is important, we have to invest more in terms of home-grown talent too.

Finance

The adjustments the financial services industry must undertake arguably pose a bigger challenge than the immediate geo-political uncertainty casting a shadow over the labour market to startups.

Startups looking for additional funding or support may have a harder time when pitching, but there are still plenty of options for growth.  While UK investors are cautious, EU investors are taking advantage to promote their own economic stability. This may mean a drift to Berlin and other cities offering greater entrepreneurial incentives.

As the UK exits Europe, businesses will lose access to funds that come directly from EU membership. The European Investment Bank, for example, has invested over €31.3bn in the UK economy of which 17% funded innovation and SMEs. In the tech and life sciences sector, the European Investment Fund is a key source of finance, supporting 27,700 SMEs.

A weakened pound and higher inflation after the final Brexit terms are agreed could lead to higher costs. A holistic view thus gives a perspective of many uncertainties arising from Brexit regarding finance for startups.

Regulatory environment

Services make up about 80% of the UK’s tech exports, and the EU is its biggest export market, however, the UK Government is more focused on trade in physical goods. Without even a vague plan in place, tech companies can’t be sure about the rules that will govern trade. That means, for example, they could end up being required to comply with two sets of regulations – one to sell in the UK, one to sell in Europe – with different VAT and thus cashflow implications.

Another area of concern is data protection. Data of all sorts flows to, from and through the UK as a part of daily life, everything from IoT devices to cloud computing, and all of this data is currently governed by EU law. After Brexit, a new deal on data protection is needed otherwise those data flows could be disrupted or even stopped, with predictably chaotic consequences.

Market access

The UK has traditionally traded extensively with Europe, and access to European markets is crucial, it’s a two-way trade. Although many startups are still moving forward with their plans for Europe, loss of Single Market access could be damaging, so startups need to be looking at other parts of the world, which might be more financially viable.

Across the tech industry the picture is mixed. Those tech companies that mostly deal with US customers or suppliers are largely unaffected by Brexit, and if a mooted UK-US trade deal happens these companies may even see significant benefits. However, uncertainty on both demand and supply side is currently impacting many startups.

What can tech startups do?

The key to surviving the Brexit haze is flexibility and contingency planning as new rules are created. In the current uncertainty it can be difficult to plan, but that’s exactly what you need to do. It’s the act of planning, rather than the plan itself, which is the key. Robust, well-thought out business plans, showing that you’ve calculated upside and downside scenarios, will be crucial.

Whilst it can seem that every time you hear the news or open a newspaper, there’s more reason not to act, the fact is that if you have an innovative idea, the experience to see it through and the ability to make a robust business case for it, the UK remains one of the world’s most favourable environments for start-ups.

So what should a startup tech company be doing right now, with only a little information to guide them? It appears the advice, in classic British style, is a modified version of keep ‘calm and carry on’.

On one hand, startups are probably the most equipped to navigate whatever is yet to come, being adaptable, innovative, and nimble in their mindset. Every day brings with it a new challenge that small business owners never thought they would have to deal with.

On the other hand, entrepreneurs often have the least amount of experience and resources. Then there’s the emotional side of it. I have heard many entrepreneurs talking about the uncertainty of Brexit and saying they don’t need an additional gamble at the moment.

So here are some thoughts on how to navigate the future, pending our exit in March.

1. Understand your runway, and create a clear plan

The place to start is your current plan – and don’t create one of those fake plans aimed at investors, that won’t help you, craft a plan for YOU with realistic assumptions and meaningful goals.

Make a decision based on cash runway and velocity. Make decisions based on a new plan, not based on the plan you had before. This is probably the toughest thing you’d need to do as a founder, but there are times where you need to do it. Do it sooner rather than later, do it with respect, and ensure there is a balance of optimism and realism – hope is not a strategy.

2. Financial targets – be scrappy

First is the cash in the bank, and the second is the cash you expect to get from your customers. How certain are you in your revenue forecasts? Look at the number of customers, pricing, volumes you know are confirmed, and you sales funnel, pipeline and lead conversion times.

In general, switch into a scrappy mode, embrace that mentality. Review your costs – what can you cut? There is always extra stuff. Just get into the mode of cutting things that aren’t critical – activities that don’t add value to customers.

3. Review your hiring

Review your hiring plan. This is easy to control in times of uncertainty and whilst it means that you will grow slower, and the current team will have to do more work, it keeps fixed costs and demand on management time on hold.

Whilst I’m an advocate of continuous recruitment in terms of always being active in the market rather than seeking to hire for a specific role at a specific time, taking a three-month recruitment sabbatical at times of heightened uncertainty takes the pressure off making what are high-risk decisions.

4. Get customers faster and for longer

This may sound odd, because why wouldn’t you close customers faster anyway? The point is, think about friction points, anything that slows down your sales? Think about offering a price incentive for an annual payment versus monthly payments, and offer different price structures for longer contracts.

“‘Uncertainty’ and ‘opportunity’ are the two words I most closely associate with Brexit. However, on the back of uncertainty rides opportunity, which is where genuine entrepreneurs thrive. Now is not the time to hunker down on innovation, build rapport and relationships with new and existing customers alike with renewed zest.

Next steps…

At Disney, the shared understanding is that ‘nothing hurts the mouse’ – risk assessment and management is a key leadership focus, and so it should be for startups.

Precisely quantifying Brexit vulnerability is impossible, but that doesn’t mean you can’t reduce uncertainty. The goal is to develop ways of understanding key drivers and possibilities so that surprises aren’t so surprising. You have to hedge your bets, don’t put all your eggs in one basket and reduce decision making on the fly – take steps to minimise potential damage long before a crisis unfolds.

Many of the details of the policy and regulatory issues remain very unclear, but recent endorsements from tech giants Apple, Google and Facebook demonstrated that the UK is still an attractive location for tech business.

So, be steadfast in your resolve. Don’t take a wait-and-see approach, relying on being nimble to respond to however Brexit turns out, waiting for Brexit isn’t an option. Look at the four potential levers highlighted above – runway, finances, hiring and customers – and start making your plans today.