The importance of fika time to a startup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vision & Values

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

Culture

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

Knowledge

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

Social impact

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

Success

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Startup stories: David v Goliath, where agility beats scale

The next time you hear a ‘David versus Goliath’ business story, where an emerging startup has knocked over a large, established enterprise, don’t think of an underdog that got lucky. Instead, think of a confident competitor who is more than happy to be underestimated, and used it’s own unique capabilities to out wit and out manoeuvre a larger entity.

David’s victory over Goliath, in 1 Samuel Chapter 17 of the Old Testament is the battle between the Israelites and the Philistines. Twice a day for 40 days, Goliath, a nine feet tall giant wearing full body armour and the champion of the Philistines, challenged the Israelites to send out a champion of their own to decide the outcome in single combat. But Saul, the King of Israel, and all the Israelites were afraid.

One day David was sent to the battle lines by his father to bring back news of his brothers. David was probably just a young teenager at the time. While there, David heard Goliath shouting his daily defiance, and he saw the great fear stirred within the men of Israel.

David hears that Saul has promised to reward any man who defeats Goliath, and accepts the challenge. Saul reluctantly agrees and offers his armour; David declines, dressed in his simple tunic, carrying his shepherd’s staff, sling, and a pouch full of stones, David approached Goliath. The giant cursed at him, hurling threats and insults.

David and Goliath confront each other, Goliath with his armour and shield, David with his staff and sling. David hurls a stone from his sling with all his might, and hits Goliath in the centre of his forehead. Goliath falls on his face to the ground, and David cuts off his head.

David then took Goliath’s sword, killed him and cut off his head. When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran. The Israelites pursued, chasing and killing them and plundering their camp.

In popular culture, we refer to the outcome of this battle when a smaller entity has overcome a much larger adversary, and victory is held to be an anomaly. But it is not, Davids win all the time.

The political scientist Ivan Arreguín-Toft looked at every war fought in the past 200 years between strong and weak combatants. The Goliaths, he found, won in 71.5% of the cases. That is a remarkable fact, especially when the result is in the context of the sample of conflicts analysed was where one side was at least ten times as powerful in terms of armed might and population as its opponent – even in those lopsided contests the underdog won almost a third of the time.

Why, what happened? Simply, the underdogs acknowledged their weakness and chose an unconventional strategy. In those cases, David’s winning percentage went from 28.5% to 63.6%. When underdogs choose not to play by Goliath’s rules, they win, Arreguín-Toft concluded.

Entrepreneurs perpetually play the role of David against their Goliath competitors, and, just like their biblical counterpart, small businesses can defeat their large competitors by outmanoeuvring, out-imagining, and outperforming them. The business lesson is this: when underdogs choose not to play by Goliath’s rules, they win.

Entrepreneurs are perfectly positioned to operate as insurgents against their entrenched corporate competitors, because they’re more willing to take risks, challenge the conventions about how commercial battles are supposed to be fought, and are generally more alert and agile.

Large companies build assets of all sorts in anticipation of large-scale engagements, serving mass markets, but, despite their size and strength, they can be lumbering in their decision making an getting new products to market, rarely prepared to confront nimble and fast-moving adversaries that refuse to challenge them on the battlefield of their own design.

Possibly the best example is Airbnb. Large companies are often scaled to compete in the mass market, often paying less attention to niches, which can still be lucrative. All you have to do is take advantage of their ego, serve these small niches with passion and customer service, and you’ll win business.

So what’s the strategic mindset of a David in today’s market? Here are some thoughts.

Expect to win David had faith that Goliath could be defeated. Faith is simply the ability to act despite tremendous doubt. As an entrepreneur, you must never see your competitors as infallible. You must see a possibility to out perform them. If you execute and implement your competitive strategy with this mindset, success will be yours.

Self-Belief In David and Goliath the Israelites had faith that Goliath will someday be defeated but only David had the self-belief that he was the one to do it. As an entrepreneur, you must believe your business can do it. Ask yourself why not?

Another way to strengthen your self-belief is by drawing courage and inspiration from your past achievements and track record. David drew courage from his past achievement of killing a bear and a lion.

Leverage Give me a lever and a place to stand and I will move the earth, said Archimedes. Leverage is simply the ability to do more with less, and ask yourself: how can I position my business to compete favourably with fewer resources?

David knew Goliath was stronger, more skilled. He won by sheer courage, determination and focus. David asked the question; how can I defeat Goliath without engaging him in a hand-to-hand combat? That answer came in the form of leverage. That leverage was his sling.

For a small business, leverage can be in the form of personal commitment, energy and timing of response, personalised service and agile thinking. In fact, there are many ways to surpass your competitors using leverage as a tool.

Velocity Your greatest and most powerful business survival strategy is going to be the speed at which you handle the speed of change. Goliath was armed with a shield, spear and a sword but David had only a sling and a stone. Now what was the difference?

The weapons of both had the potential to kill but the difference emerged in their speed. David’s weapon was lighter and smaller, it had the ability to reach its target faster than that of Goliath. The sling and stone had the power of speed. How fast is your plan and how fast is your strategy?

Agile Strategy David’s strategy and tactics surprised Goliath, he wasn’t expecting to be confronted by such an opponent, and David’s agile outwitted and outsmarted Goliath’s ego and complacency. He wanted it more, and made it happen for himself.

Now in the game of business, you must develop a smart strategy to help you achieve your aim. You will note that David was strategic in his approach towards Goliath. His strategy was to subdue Goliath with minimal effort. To ensure the successful implementation of this strategy, David employed the following tactics:

  • He picked five stones instead of one just in case the first stone didn’t make the hit.
  • He avoided engaging Goliath in a hand to hand combat
  • He exploited Goliath’s ego and over confidence
  • He aimed at achieving his goal with the first shot
  • He took Goliath by surprise and caught him off guard

Focus on the customer as an individual Giant companies suffer when they lose touch with the granularity and simplicity of their business model, they become complacent and lazy about their approach to customers. Often the giants will make compromises in quality and service, thinking customers won’t swap to a smaller operator. Often they’re not close enough to their customer. Some distant manager adjusts a few numbers on a spreadsheet, but customers react and in a click of decimal points, they switch to a rival.

The value of an individual customer is always greater for small businesses than for large corporations, and understood as such. Your business is important to me. Make each customer feel they are your only customer, and the only thing that matters in that moment.

The primary reason is that small businesses are able to feel their own pulse, the stream of day-to-day events as they occur, you feel all of these things as they happen and can react and direct accordingly. This high level of sensitivity is unique to small businesses. The pulse gives you a sixth sense for change and how to retain your customers.

Play to your own strengths Big competitors’ perceived advantages can often mask their even bigger disadvantages, David is a lowly shepherd boy, and yet he’s the only person willing to fight Goliath. He also refuses to wear armour. Why? Because David realises that heavy armour weighs a warrior down. Goliath could easily kill David with his sword, but only if David were foolish enough to walk right up to Goliath. Of course, that’s the last thing David plans to do.

The final misconception is the idea that David goes into battle with only a sling. But it’s a highly effective weapon David has used many times to protect his flocks from wild animals. He’s not going to fight Goliath in hand-to-hand combat, he’s using his experience and expertise to fight on his own terms, Goliath can’t counter this. When David lines up, he has every intention and every expectation of being able to hit Goliath at his most vulnerable spot between his eyes.

That’s exactly what David did, walks right up to Goliath (but still far enough away that Goliath’s swords and javelin are useless) and kills Goliath with a single shot to the head. Recall, the scene in Indiana Jones shoots the intimidating Arab swordsman in Raiders of the Lost Ark – he made the most of the moment on his own terms

Take a look at the story again. The lesson isn’t simply that when a powerful competitor takes on a smaller one, the smaller one might nevertheless win by chance. Instead, understand that the real keys to competition are sometimes obscured by our misconceptions. Perceiving them correctly can amount to a new basis of advantage.

Are you facing what you believe to be a giant problem or impossible situation? Stop for a minute and refocus. Can you see the situation more clearly from David’s vantage point?

Just be yourself and use the familiar skills and talents you have. Look at the challenge from a different perspective – lean forward, how can I win? – we see more clearly, and we can fight more effectively – rather than leaning back with anxiety. What is our strategy that they can’t counter, don’t take the battle on their terms, create the conditions where you have an unfair advantage on your terms, reframe the debate.

How penguins on a melting iceberg can inform a startup’s change strategy

Charles Darwin, the English naturalist, biologist and geologist, is best known for his contributions to the science of evolution, a process that he called ‘natural selection’ in the struggle for existence. He is undoubtedly one of the most important and influential figures in human history.

As every schoolchild knows, Darwin spent five years living on the Galapagos Islands as part of his voyage on HMS Beagle, and studied the finches. He was intrigued that each island had its own distinct species, and worked out that they shared descent from a common ancestor and were a product of evolution.

Puzzled by the geographical distribution of wildlife and fossils he collected on the voyage, Darwin began detailed investigations and he conceived his theory of natural selection. Although he discussed his ideas with several naturalists, he needed time for extensive research, and his geological work had priority.

Two decades on from his HMS Beagle voyage, he was writing up his theory in 1858 when Alfred Wallace sent him an essay that described the same idea, prompting immediate joint publication of both of their theories. Darwin’s work established evolutionary descent with modification as the dominant scientific explanation of diversification in nature. Today, Darwin’s scientific discovery is the unifying theory of the life sciences explaining the diversity of life.

His hypothesis in The Origin of Species was that man had descended from chimpanzees. Nature, red in tooth and claw, had used the survival of the fittest to weed out the imperfect and weak. Homo Sapiens at the top of the evolutionary tree had achieved her desired end: they had evolved and responded to the changing environment, something that the dinosaurs patently had not.

Racked by guilt at replacing the doctrines of the Church with a vision of man as a shaven primate in an amoral universe, Darwin retired into obscurity. He repented his blasphemy on his deathbed. He is buried in Westminster Abbey, where he still lies, trampled by tourists.

There are, however, a number of inaccuracies in the montage of Darwin’s legacy. The word ‘evolution’ does not appear in The Origin of Species, and the phrase the survival of the fittest is not his, but was coined by the philosopher Herbert Spencer to summarise the notion of natural selection, the central tenet of Darwin’s evolutionary theory.

However, Darwin’s visionary thinking was truly ground breaking, as much as any disruptive tech startup today, and has application to thinking about startup strategy, where the dimensions of change – competition, economics and pace of tech innovation – exhibits similar characteristics and potential impact to those outlined in Darwin’s evolution theory based on finches and humans.

For example, startups can be grouped in to sets (species), revolving around solving one problem, where the basis of competition is providing a different value proposition to get ahead of others in the market. In doing this, it becomes survival of the fittest to win customers and market share in a changing environment, a fierce competition where sharp elbows and minds are needed.

There’s no grand theory of startups, nothing comparable to the theory of relativity for physics or the theory of evolution for biology. Neoclassical economic theory is the only real contender, where from a few simple assumptions about self-interested rational actors, you can derive equations for everything from employment, inflation and money supply. For Darwin read Malthus, Mill, Smith and Ricardo.

However, the science of economics has fallen upon hard times and lost credibility as a result of its lacklustre inconsistency in predicting economic trends or informing policy – in fairness the thinking was forged in C18th and C19th, and C21st tech has ripped up the rulebook of supply and demand, and market equilibrium. Today, it’s a laundry list of paradoxes and anomalies that are difficult to relate to C21st markets.

But you can apply Darwin’s fundamental postulates to startups quite rationally: the strong do crush the weak; startups exhibit incremental ascent with modification as new ideas evolve; semi-random innovation occurs via trial and error to find product-market fit; tech creates market disruption which drives selective survival, and other evolutionary Darwinian features.

It’s his statement that It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change where Darwin has the most resonance for startups, and brings me to a story about penguins to illustrate this.

On the face of it, Harvard’s John Kotter’s seminal book Our iceberg is melting is a simple tale of a group of penguins who are scared about losing their home and lifestyle because their current habitat – their iceberg – is melting, and yes, even more scared of the changes that could entail.

The book narrates how the penguins discovered the problem, which highlights a need for change, and how they then go through a process to secure survival, captured in Kotter’s eight principles of change. Through this simple allegory of their struggle for finding their new home, the story delivers a powerful message that is relevant for startups as they search for their isolated icebergs of opportunity that are sustainable.

In the story, Fred is an observant and curious penguin – maybe a data scientist in a penguin’s disguise? He observes that their iceberg home was melting. Not one to just wait for his daily quota of squid, he spoke to Alice.

Alice is one of the leaders of the colony, practical and mentally tough. Of course Alice initially wondered if Fred was suffering from a personal crisis or if he missed his morning fishmeal. But she gave him a patient hearing, which rapidly changed to alarm when she saw the cracks and fissures in their iceberg.

Alice brought Fred’s concern to the rest of the leadership team, and eventually the colony waddled their way to a miraculous solution in the book, enjoying quite a few squids on the way, showing that in order to achieve change, you need a vision, a process and a team that can drive that change.

Let’s cut back to the reality of our startup world, where the tech market is the iceberg and is never solid, melting in a maelstrom of new, emerging paradigms, contradictions, red herrings (Alice’s second favourite food) and more twists and turns than a King Emperor swimming at 30mph in the Antarctic sea.

Facing a startup CEO is a plethora of data looming across channels from transaction information to marketing automation and digital marketing platforms. Then there are blogs, meet-ups and accelerators offering insights and ambiguities on trends, opinions and comments. Against this backdrop of constant change, she has to balance branding and positioning, innovation and selling, people and finance, to respond and grow both in the near and long term.

Let’s look at the eight steps for change outlined in Kotter’s book and the penguin’s situation, and see how they apply for a startup trying to survive, grow and evolve in a shifting, mutating market.

1. Set the scene

Create a sense of urgency – don’t wait until the iceberg starts to melt Fred discovered the iceberg where the colony lives is melting. He tells Alice, who is initially sceptical, but she sees how urgent the situation is. Alice tells the leading council of penguins, most of whom don’t believe her. But Fred shows the penguins the urgency of the situation.

For startups, it’s a combination of instinct, hunches and data. But the message from the iceberg is that difficult problems won’t go away, and you need to help others see the need for change and the importance of acting immediately.

Pull together the guiding team A team of five penguins is put together to deal with the situation, they immediately start brainstorming ideas. This team has to focus on driving a balance between creativity and data driven decisions. Unexpectedly, their inspiration for a solution comes from a passing seagull, which happened to land on their iceberg.

For startups, the lesson is to ensure there are problem solving skills, not just creative thinking skills in the team, and to maintain a sense of balance around domain expertise and outward looking curiosity of your immediate environment for potential disruptive ideas. Never get complacent that you have all the questions – let alone the answers.

2. Decide what to do

Develop the change vision and strategy The inspiration from the seagull led to a solution, which would change the way the penguins lived. They would become a nomadic colony that moved to locations suitable for living, rather than being static. This would be a big change to the penguins, who had lived in one location for years, and were used to their current way of life.

The business learning here is to keep an open mind, and be prepared to pivot – in essence to start again. To find a sensible version of a better future, hold you vision – keep all the penguins together – but have a strategy that responds to the changing environment, and one that isn’t constrained by previous thinking.

Communicate for understanding and collaboration Though the team had now found a potential solution, they needed to get the buy-in of other penguins. There were penguins that were very sceptical and thought either the whole thing about the melting iceberg was nonsense, or it was too dangerous to move.

In a startup, avoid hierarchies and promote open communication at all times, change makes people nervous, and uncertain times combined with gaps in communication makes this worse. Ensure frequent and open communication with regular and personal attention.

3. Make it happen

Empower others to act The team found ways to include other penguins to become part of the solution, and because others felt part of the solution, the opposition decreased.

Opposition to change arises because of a lack of engagement and inclusion, and creates a feeling of not being valued. Remove as many these barriers as possible – a change of direction in a startup, as a result of the iceberg melting, needs everyone to be engaged, empowered and together.

Produce short-term wins When other penguins got involved they started achieving short-term goals, which were necessary on the way to the end result. This encouraged and motivated the penguins to keep working towards the solution.

Create some visible, unambiguous successes as soon as possible. Short-term wins create a positive atmosphere that everything will be ok, even if there are some tougher challenges ahead.

Don’t let up The colony finally moved to a new iceberg, but they didn’t stay there. They found a better one and moved again. They were not giving up but kept looking for better living situations for the colony.

The lesson for startups is to remain restless and ambitious, never resting on your laurels, adopting a culture of continuous learning, pressing harder and faster after the first successes. Be relentless with initiating change until the vision is a reality.

4. Make it stick

Create a new culture Actions were taken to cement the new culture in place, there was no going back to old ways of living. This ensured that the changes would not be eroded by stubborn, hard-to-die traditions or a lack of focus on the future.

It’s an oxymoron for startups, but innovation starts with their own business model and behaviours, constantly looking forward to new horizons and not getting stuck in a way of being that is successful in the market of today. Nothing is new forever, like Darwin’s statement, it’s those that respond to change who are the most successful in the face of uncertain conditions.

Ask yourself whether you are living on a potentially melting iceberg. Melting icebergs for startups come in many forms: aging products becoming irrelevant for new market needs; new, alternative offerings disrupting your market space; a growth strategy implementation that is slowing and getting stuck in pack ice.

The reality is that tech startups encounter constant changes as the pace of innovation quickens at a macro level, and scaling yields internal challenges. You maybe fit for purpose today but it is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.

Be resilient: avoid the path of least resistance

The path to entrepreneurial success is forged via breakthroughs, small steps and iterations, each possible because you have your eyes and ears wide open and you’re able to reflect and adjust time after time, with the resilient mindset to keep going.

Resilience is the virtue that enables entrepreneurs to move through hardship and achieve success. No one escapes heartache, uncertainty and disappointment, yet from these setbacks comes wisdom, if we have the virtue of resilience.

Many misunderstand what’s at work in resilience. For me, it’s not about ‘bouncing back’, rather its about the ability to integrate harsh experiences into your entrepreneurial thinking, learn and apply the lessons, and then be motivated to go again, and expecting to go one better.

Entrepreneurs choose this life of challenge and hardship, gambling for achievement, seeking success with joy and humour, but also inevitably encountering times marked by confusion, chaos and disappointment. This is true of everyone’s lives, of course, but the entrepreneur consciously chooses a life in which they are likely to have higher highs and lower lows, in which the peaks and troughs are more vivid than if safer choices made.

Entrepreneurs jump on the roller coaster ride where the tracks haven’t yet been fully built. They’d have it no other way, happy with the wind in their faces and going round blind corners and crazy inclines. A good part of it is fighting the urge to revert back to their comfort zone, and fall back into old habits.

Please make yourself uncomfortable. Becoming a successful entrepreneur is never a straight line. There are lots of ups and downs and zigzags along the way. As it turns out, how you emotionally handle the downs is key. Resilience means not giving up, and being energised by what you have learned, experiencing multiple setbacks along the way, but persevering. As Thomas Edison said, I have not failed. I have just found ten thousand ways that won’t work.

It is not all bad, but it is not all good, it is not all ugly, but it is not all beautiful, it is life, life, life – the only thing that matters, a quote from Thomas Wolfe, which summarises the entrepreneur’s attitude. So stop trying to be realistic, and be resilient.

And that enables you to fight back. It can’t be done. What? You want to build an airplane? You’re crazy. You’ll never make it. Everyone fails and so will you. 1,000 songs in your pocket? You must be kidding, right? An electrical car with a range of 300 miles? You want to be an artist? It’s safer to get a job.

You don’t need guts to get a normal job, and do the usual stuff. Most people are realistic. It’s not realistic to be the first one to build an airplane. It’s not realistic to build an electric car.

But what’s the fun of living a life when you know the outcome already and it’s steady away? Ok, if you never try, you never have to deal with the pain and hurt of failure I’ll give you that. But most of that is self-inflicted. But is that a reason to not do something? Life is also not a contest of ‘my problems are worse than yours’. If it’s attention that you want, get a dog.

The truth is this: you’re trying to be realistic, and I’m telling you stop thinking that way. Think outside the box. Think of flying cars. Unconventional being. Do extraordinary things. People do not decide to become extraordinary. They decide to accomplish extraordinary things said Sir Edmund Hillary, and he should know.

Being resilient means your life doesn’t have to play out like a video on demand that is looping, you’ve seen a dozen times. Is it still worth it to sit through it? Yeah, sure. But it’s not extraordinary. You know the plot, you know the dialogue and you know the we-all-live-happy-ever-after. The End.

So rather than being realistic, think Go. Go. Go, and be resilient. Ryan Holiday, in his book The Obstacle Is The Way, draws lessons from philosophy and history and says if you want to achieve anything in life, you have to do the work, be prepared for knockbacks – but most of all, be resilient.

The Obstacle Is The Way was the first book that I read back to back for some time. Yes, I read the book, thought it was so good that I flipped back to page one and started reading it again. This is a book that gets better every time you read it.

If everyone used the advice from the book, we would all be a lot bolder and mentally able to handle the pressure of running a startup. Here are some quotes from the book, which I think say a lot about building your resilient mindset.

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

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

No one is asking you to look at the world through rose-coloured glasses. See the world for what it is. Not what you want it to be or what it should be. Hey, we’re back to being realistic – but it’s also about optimism, the mindset to expect the best outcome from every situation – and that’s resilience to make it happen. This gives entrepreneurs the capacity to pivot from a failing tactic, and implement actions to increase success.

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

Ask not that events should happen as you will, but let your will be that events should happen as they do, and you shall have peace, Epictetus, a Greek Philosopher said. It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.

It’s okay to be discouraged. It’s not okay to quit. Entrepreneurial life is competitive, and if you want to achieve anything, you have to work hard for it. When you think life is hard know that it’s supposed to be hard. If you get discouraged, try another angle until you succeed. Every attempt brings you one step closer. Don’t have a victim’s mindset, have courage to take decisive action.

Show relentless tenacity and determination. Remember, giving up is simply not an option. Learn that tenacity is self-sustaining when persevering actions are rewarded. Find tenacious role models, and garner the support of peers and friends. Great entrepreneurs become tenaciously defiant when told they cannot succeed. Then they get it done.

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

Decisiveness mitigates adversity, helps you rebound, take responsibility, and promotes growth. Building decisiveness requires eliminating fear, procrastination, and the urge to please everyone. Practice making decisions as a positive learning experience. Understand that any decision is usually better than no decision.

The path of least resistance is a terrible teacher. Don’t shy away from difficulty. Don’t do things just because they’re easy. How do you expect to grow? Nurture yourself: gain strength from the unrealistic achievements of others. Surround yourself with high achievers. Avoid toxic people like the plague.

The world might call you a pessimist. Who cares? It’s far better to seem like a downer than to be blindsided or caught off guard. Just doubting yourself just doesn’t work, expecting things not to turn out and to lose is not good enough if you want to accomplish something remarkable. If you rehearse everything that can go wrong in your mind, you will not be caught by surprise when things actually go wrong. The Stoics called this Premeditatio malorum, the premeditation of evils. To be remarkable, you have to expect unreasonable things of yourself.

Don’t waste a second looking back at your expectations. Face forward, and face it with a smug little grin. We can’t choose what happens to us, but we decide how to respond. Successful, resilient entrepreneurs don’t just accept what happens to them. Everything happens for a reason. It’s all fuel that you can use to move forward. It defines you.

The great law of nature is that it never stops. There is no end. When you overcome one obstacle, another one waits in the shadows. Entrepreneurial life is a process of overcoming obstacles, one after the other. The obstacle becomes the way so you might as well enjoy it.

We all need a guiding light when adversity strikes. I’m pretty sure that if you reflect upon and apply one of the above quotes, you’ll top up your own entrepreneurial resilience. You don’t have to use every message from Ryan Holiday, just pick one quote, apply it, and see what happens. For me, it changed everything when I shared this with a number of my startup clients.

Resilience means rebounding back and getting right back in the game, remaining optimistic in the face of adversity. Resilience is accepting your new reality, but being able to take a step back to take a step forward. If you quit in the face of adversity, you’ll spend the rest of your life wondering about it. It’s never to late to be the person you could have been. The goal of resilience is to thrive in adversity.

I’m often struck by the ability of a single individual entrepreneur to change the world. Think Thomas Edison, Elon Musk and Anne Wojcicki, to name a few. They each started with no money and no technology, just their passion and perseverance.

Ultimately, three things make anything possible: People, technology and money. But money and technology alone, without the persistent and passionate human mind driving things forward, are useless.

If I had to name my superpower, it would be my persistence, resilience and mental toughness – maybe it’s my Northern grit – not giving up, even when everyone tells me it isn’t going to work. Had I given up in the face of the criticism or adversity, you wouldn’t be reading this blog post.

The only thing that I see that is distinctly different about me is I’m not afraid to be the last man standing when something needs to be done. I will not be outworked, period. You might have more talent than me, you might be smarter than me, you might be sexier than me, you might be all of those things – you got it on me in nine categories.

But if we get on the treadmill together, there’s two things: You’re getting off first, or I’m going to die. It’s really that simple. For me, my resilience keep me going. Remember that true failure only comes when you give up.

Thinking about High Growth sat in a Temperance Bar in Rawtenstall

A Temperance Bar is a type of bar, found particularly during the C19th and early C20th, that did not serve alcoholic beverages. A number of such bars were established in conjunction with the Temperance Society, advocating a moderate approach to life, especially concerning the abstinence from alcohol.

Temperance Bars with full temperance licences (allowing them to serve on Sundays, despite English trading laws at the time) were once common in many high streets in the North of England. The movement had a massive following, fuelled mainly by Methodists. These bars were the first outlet for Vimto, also serving brews such as black beer and raisin tonic, blood tonic, dandelion and burdock, herb bitters and sarsaparilla.

The temperance movement (one foot in front of the other please) began in 1835 in Preston, amid concerns about the Industrial Revolution’s equally industrial levels of alcoholism. Although prohibition was never formalised in the UK in the same way it was by our supposedly sober cousins in America, a wave of non-alcoholic bars began popping up in most towns to guard against the dangers of heavy drinking.

In their heyday, temperance drinks were not only seen as delicious non-boozy tipple, but were thought to have health benefits: ginger for soothing nausea or colds, sarsaparilla and dandelion for detoxifying. I’m a little sceptical: according to family folklore, my gran’s deafness was caused when my great grandfather decided to shun the doctor and treat her ear infection with his herbal linctures.

Some of the most famous Temperance Bars carried the Fitzpatrick family name. The Fitzpatricks, a family from Ireland, came over to Lancashire in the 1880s. A family of herbalists, they turned to building a family-run chain of shops throughout Lancashire. These shops dealt in their non-alcoholic drinks, sold herbal remedies, and cordial bottles.

At their peak, the Fitzpatrick family owned twenty-four shops, all brewing drinks to the original recipes brought over from Ireland. However, as new drinks came over from America, the Temperance Bars slowly waned away. Today, Fitzpatrick’s Herbal Health in Rawtenstall is the last Temperance Bar in the country.

The Rawtenstall bar has been thought of with affection by generations of the town’s residents. It is notable for its old copper hot water dispenser, which was originally a fixture at the Astoria Ballroom in Rawtenstall. It has also won awards as the country’s ‘Best Sarsaparilla Brewer’, and for its dandelion & burdock.

The bar has recently reopened after four weeks refurbishment, with a fresher, brighter look and product innovations on the menu However, it has maintained its traditional offerings, past traditions and family-run ethos. The bar retains many of its original fixtures and fittings, including the ceramic tap barrels and shelves lined with jars of medicinal herbs. Mr. Fitzpatrick would be proud.

When I was growing up, dandelion and burdock was the social tipple of choice. Darkly mellow with just enough fizz and a pleasing aniseedy aftertaste, I used to drink it at my grandma’s house in Manchester – which we would gulp down with Jacobs orange Club biscuits. She would prop the bottle on the doorstep outside, ready for the man who collected the empties.

Apparently, dandelion and burdock dates back to the days of St Thomas Aquinas and it’s back, along with other old-style temperance drinks gracing much fancier menus than the chippies of my youth. For example, at the St Pancras Booking Office Bar at the London station, you can sip sarsaparilla or blood tonic whilst snacking on crispy calamari and parmesan chips.

The drinks may appear simple, but are unbelievably complicated. Sarsaparilla, for example, involves an intricate blend of sarsaparilla root, anise, liquorice, nutmeg, molasses, cinnamon, cloves, brown sugar, lemon juice and other botanical extracts.

But back to Fitzpatrick’s. This quirky Pennines apothecary, with its ceramic tap barrels and jars of botanical herbs and roots holds a special lure, with its ghostly inhabitants, unknown pasts and general eccentricity. Come rain, shine or old-fashioned drizzle, it will restore you, warm your cockles, quench your thirst and satisfy your need for quirkiness.

However, the fact that it is the last temperance hostelry shows you have to keep moving and innovate, otherwise your market evaporates as your customer preferences change or alternative products take your marker. 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. It’s a call to action, which has resonance with the turbulence in most markets today. You simply can’t stand still, the need is to stay agile with a relevant value proposition and viable business model.

But most businesses hesitate to adopt new thinking, instead they focus on hunkering down and a low-key ‘back to basics’ approach, defaulting to a risk-reduction focus rather than a growth mindset. Whilst this often secures bottom-line improvement, it is unsustainable and rarely offers anything more than short-term expediency.

It impedes curiosity and experimentation, and stifles thinking beyond the immediate time horizon. However, whilst organisations may regard seeking breakthroughs as too steep a challenge and are content with simply maintaining their business, research shows that focusing on short-term aspirations typically yields only short-term results, whilst those seeking significant breakthroughs will both identify the big ideas and also generate closer, incremental ideas along the way.

It’s about holding an ‘innovation mindset’. Over time, I’ve developed a pretty keen sense of whether or not my efforts with clients will be successful, and one of the biggest red flags that tells me I’m in trouble is hearing this phrase: That’s the way we’ve always done things.

I can’t think of a single sentence that’s more antithetical to growth and innovation than the blind acceptance that some things can’t be changed within an organisation. It’s a sentiment few companies can afford to indulge, but transforming an organisation from innovation-averse to forward-thinking isn’t always an easy road to navigate.

And that’s where you need an entrepreneurial leader, so lets say if someone was to build a passenger-carrying rocket for joy rides into space and offer you a ticket, would you go? Of course you would, especially if Richard Branson was involved.

He’s a live wire, someone with a can do, will do attitude who doesn’t let short-term difficulties become traumatic, although I’ve had some mixed experience with Virgin Atlantic – the last time I flew the rate of progress through the lounge to board the plane was so slow that technically I was classified as a missing person. However, his innovation in mass-market long haul flights has had an impact, and of course, very customer focussed.

But let’s consider Branson himself. In the last twenty years, barely a week passed when we weren’t treated to the spectacle of Branson’s mouse like whiskery chops being winched to safety from some vast expanse of ocean. His speedboats kept running into logs of wood or his balloons too heavy for sustained flight.

However, I like the way he’s made it in business without a pinstripe suit or an obvious predilection for golf, and despite the often-disastrous attempts to go across the Pacific on a tea tray or up Everest on a washing machine, I do like the way he keeps on trying, his boldness and give it-a-go attitude. He’s also dyslexic, so overcome that significant personal challenge too.

He may be a publicity-seeker, but he’ll get us in space with Virgin Galactic. My concern wouldn’t be the perilous spins, loud bangs and crashes of Branson’s previous failures as I sat in my seat, but rather the expectation that every passenger will have to conform to Branson’s relaxed style and only allowed to fly in jumpers and corduroys, and his beardy face beaming out doing the safety procedure promo. He’s got nice teeth though.

But recall Fatal Attraction, you thought Glenn Close was dead, you relaxed and then, whoa, she reared up out of the bath with that big spiky knife. That’s one thing Branson doesn’t do. No, not lie in a bath of cold water pretending to be dead, love him or loathe him, he doesn’t sit back and think That’s it, I’ve had enough.

Obviously he doesn’t need the money, but he just keeps on with his self-belief and crashes into the next idea. He’s a disruptive force that never gives up and while his opponents are kept fully employed wondering what he is going to do, he is busy doing it, and its often something they hadn’t thought he’d do.

Based on this inspiration, research, my own intuition and experience, I’ve developed a blueprint for creating an innovation mindset, which I’ve called High Growth Anatomy, an assessment of you innovation dna. It’s a series of reflective questions, structured as to ‘Go’ and ‘No Go’. Evaluate yourself, what’s your ‘Go’ score?

Foresight or Hallucination?

  • We have clear and articulated goals based on our purpose, of where we want to be in the next 6, 12, 18 and 24 months;
  • We have some thoughts on where we are aiming to be, but it’s more of a wish list than a ‘lets make it happen’ plan.

Front-foot or Back-foot?

  • As a team we are moving forward all of the time;
  • As a team we are fire-fighting most of the time.

Clued-up or Clueless?

  • We are clear about how we make a difference in our market;
  • We are unclear about how to stand out in our market.

Dexterous or Clumsy?

  • We are agile in our business, we ‘seize’ the moment with alacrity;
  • We are blunderers, unable to move quickly or with grace.

Leaning-forward or Leaning-back?

  • We are restless thinkers, learning, imaging the future, eager to grow;
  • We are thinking about our future, but out time is spent living today.

Web-enabled or Webbed-feet?

  • We have a clearly articulated digital strategy in our business model;
  • We use the Internet and social media, but have no digital vision.

Harmonious or Mutinous?

  • We are all wearing the same jersey, pushing together in the same direction, one heart and one voice;
  • We’re a collection of tribes and opinions, connected but not united.

Curious or Cautious?

  • We develop lots of new things, some of them work, some don’t, but we’re always ready to experiment;
  • We generally keep trying things until they don’t work, then think of something new to have a go at.

Heads-up or Head-down?

  • When faced with a threat we respond rapidly and decisively;
  • When faced with a threat, we often step back and wheel-spin.

Fresh thinkers or Copy cats?

  • We are creative and restless, innovation is a core behaviour;
  • We don’t have a point of difference in our business model.

Stickability or Bendability?

  • When something is not going to plan, we reflect, adjust and kick on with renewed enthusiasm;
  • When initiatives do not work, we tend to give up and go back to what we know.

Kinship or Coldfish?

  • We actively pay attention to building our culture, values and spirit;
  • We do not pay attention to our internal culture – it just happens.

Connectivity or Disconnected?

  • We are hot wired, we’re all linked-in and linked-up;
  • Our organisation is not well co-ordinated – we’re disconnected and decoupled.

Insights or Blindspots?

  • We have a very good knowledge of our customers, their customers and our competitors;
  • We have an ad-hoc knowledge of our customers, their customers and our competitors.

These are uncertain times with Brexit, Trumponomics and a General Election. Companies are struggling to find the right balance between caution and optimism. No one knows what will happen next, and it is crazy to operate your business as though you do. But the more volatile the times, the more essential it is to keep your options open. Thus, taking less risk (closing down innovation options) is actually more dangerous than investing to preserve a number of future-focused options.

There are lessons for us all in the history of Fitzpatrick’s, decline and renewal, and the entrepreneurial attitude of Branson, where everything-is-possible and optimism rules. A strong sense of the possible is essential to driving innovation that in turn leads to success. Whilst the image of the swashbuckling adventure-hungry risk-taking buccaneering entrepreneur is somewhat of a caricature, positive energy and exuberance makes a refreshing change, as the news is a constant stream of maudlin and misery.

Things don’t just happen. You’re sure to get somewhere if you walk long enough isn’t the answer. Hope isn’t a strategy. It’s about strategic readiness, agility, clarity, direction and velocity and then execution. Sit down, have a glass of dandelion and burdock, and ask yourself the High Growth Anatomy questions and reflect on how to create your own future, before someone does that for you.

Entrepreneurial learning journey: building your startup team

Lean startup thinking is based around the concept of a MVP as a means of sharing your product vision with your target customers, containing sufficient value to attract early adopters. Asking the right questions of your MVP is key, it’s as much a process as a pilot version of your product, and guides you broadly around your business model assumptions, many based on your hunches.

Testing all aspects of the business model, not just the product features, is vital, and this applies to developing your ‘Minimum Viable Team’ (‘MVT’)?  As Steve Blank states, a startup is a temporary organisation used to search for a repeatable and scalable business model. Having a talented team is an essential ingredient to startup success and scaling, as any aspect of the business model.

Most startup founders work on the basis that they will find the folks they need to scale their business either by word of mouth within the startup community, or within their own network, when they need them.  Alas experience tell us those serendipitous moments don’t always occur. The route of chance isn’t always successful, or even best financially in the longer term.

So what are the key considerations in your startup team building strategy, when seeking to create a key part of your business growth engine? Here are some thoughts.

1. Hiring Philosophy

What is the vision for your MVT in terms of its purpose, values and principles held as underlying attributes that will make a difference?

Rockstars gives leverage You’re looking for rockstar starters who can create 10x more leverage – ‘moonshot thinking’ –  than an average employee. The effectiveness gap between employees can be multiple orders of magnitude. In startup hiring there are few shades of grey, go for those that can add rocket fuel to your momentum.

Culture-contributors are better than culture-fitters A startup culture is part of the business model and customer experience. Just like we want people to contribute new skills and ideas, we want people to contribute new culture. Hiring culture-fitters does not make your culture better. The founding team will soon be outnumbered by new hires. They will decide your future culture, not you.

Hire for potential & learning not experience & experts Potential and experience are not mutually exclusive, but potential is far more valuable. Everyone usually hires for experience, but for a startup my view is to hire those whose potential will explode when they join you, pulling you along with them. Interviewing for experience is easy because you are discovering what someone has done. Interviewing for potential is hard because you are predicting what they will do. How do you do this? They get excited talking about what they could do rather than what they have done.

Static expertise quickly becomes obsolete. To survive and grow we must be a learning organisation. The clearest signal of a learner is curiosity. Curious people, by definition, love to learn, while experts talk about what they know.

Experimentation is a crucial mechanism for driving breakthroughs in any startup. If you want to create a successful, hyper-growth company, you’ve got to focus on empowering your teams to rapidly experiment.

Hire for difference not similarity There is a natural bias to hire people ‘like us’. Fight this bias. Hiring similar means we value repeatability and efficiency over creativity and leverage. Hiring different brings new skills, paradigms, and ideas, which are the sparks and catalyst of leverage. You will naturally want to hire people you connect with. Fight your instincts.. Don’t default to ‘she’s like one of us’.

2. Focus on Personality

Simply, what sort of people did we want in our team alongside us on our startup journey? I’ve developed this simple framework, a combination of attitudes, character and behaviours, to check for ‘togetherness’. They are:

·     Openness: We look for free spirits, open-minded folk who will enjoy the startup adventure and new experiences – the highs and the lows.

·     Conscientiousness: A startup can be a bit chaotic and disruptive, so we look for people who are organised and dependable.

·     Extraversion: We look for energisers, live-wires who tend to be more sociable and keep noise and energy levels up – not office jesters, but people who can keep the lights burning

·     Agreeableness: High scorers for this trait are often trusting, helpful and compassionate. Empathy is an invaluable trait to have when building your startup to balance the searing ambition.

·     Emotional stability: People with high scores for this trait are usually confident and don’t tend to worry often.

We are social creatures, and a deeper understanding of who we (and others) are can provide a valuable tool for working with others. You can build a more effective MVT using personality traits as part of your hiring decision.

In terms of the attitudes and behaviours we sought, these maybe summarised as follows:

They would much rather act than deliberate Generally, startup business plans are less useful than the planning process, as things change so quickly. Before the plan shoots out of the printer, things have already changed and ‘the plan’ is already outdated. Stuff happens.

Very few startups resemble their original plan, and that’s a good thing, because it means they’re pivoted and reshaping their businesses to meet the needs of their customers. Great startup employees are the same way.

They have an appetite to get out of the building Great start up people obsess over the customer, they understand calories are best spent making a real difference for customers. Every business has finite resources. The key is to spend as much of those resources as possible on things that matter to the customers. Fretting over trivial things doesn’t help anyone. It’s just a waste of energy.

They don’t see money as the solution to every problem One of the key lessons founders learn in a startup is resourcefulness. How do you take limited resources and turn them into something remarkable? That’s also true of the best startup employees. They’re remarkably resourceful. They’re constantly looking for creative ways to make the most of the resources they have.

3. The concept of ‘Tour of Duty’

Start-ups succeed in large part because their MVT is highly adaptable, motivated to go the extra mile and create something different. However, entrepreneurial employees can be restless, searching for new, high-learning opportunities, and other startups are always looking to poach them.

However, if you think all your MVT will give you lifetime loyalty, think again. Sooner or later, most employees will pivot into a new opportunity. When Reid Hoffman founded LinkedIn, he set the initial employee engagement as a four-year ‘tour of duty’, with a discussion at two years. If an employee moved the needle on the business, the company would help advance her career. Ideally this would entail another tour of duty at the company, but it could also mean a position elsewhere.

A tour of duty has a defined end, but that doesn’t have to be the end of an employee’s tenure. One successful tour is likely to lead to another. Each strengthens the bonds of trust and mutual benefit. If an employee wants change, an appealing new tour of duty can provide it within your company. This is a more effective retention strategy than appealing to vague notions of loyalty and establishes a real zone of trust.

The tour-of-duty approach for a startup works like this. The business hires an employee who strives to produce tangible achievements and who is an important advocate and resource in the MVT. A tour-of-duty is established, either two or four years. Why two to four years? That time period seems to have universal appeal. In the software business, it syncs with a typical product development cycle, allowing an employee to see a major project through. At the end of this ‘tour’, the business could pivot to a new direction, and thus the MVT needs to pivot too.

Properly implemented, the tour-of-duty approach can boost both recruiting and retention for a startup. The key is that it gives both sides a clear basis for working together. Both sides agree in advance on the purpose of the relationship, the expected benefits for each, and potentially a planned end.

The problem with most employee retention conversations is that they have a fuzzy goal (retain ‘good’ employees) and a fuzzy time frame (indefinitely). The company is asking an employee to commit to it but makes no commitment in return. In contrast, a tour of duty serves as a personalised retention plan that gives a valued employee concrete, compelling reasons to finish her tour and that establishes a clear time frame for discussing the future of the relationship. Personalised tours produce even positive feelings.

Thus when working with MVT employees, establish explicit terms of their tours of duty, developing firm but time-limited mutual commitments with focused goals and clear expectations. Ask, ‘in this relationship, how will both parties benefit and progress in the lifetime of the MVT?’

4. Lessons from Google

A company’s culture and core values are the bedrock of innovation and effective teams, and Google has established a suite of practices for you to use when building your own effective startup team.

Back in 2013, Google conducted a rigorous analysis deemed Project Aristotle to identify what underlying factors led to the most effective Google teams. Over 200 interviews were conducted across +180 active teams over the course of the two-year study. More than 250 attributes were identified that contributed to both success and failure.

Their hypothesis was that they would find the perfect mix of individual traits and skills necessary for a stellar team. Turns out they were dead wrong.

The researchers found that what really mattered was less about who is on the team, and more about how the team worked together. Here are the top five keys to an effective Google team, in order of importance:

Psychological safety Psychological safety refers to an individual’s perception of the consequences of taking a risk or a belief that a team is safe for risk-taking. In a team with high psychological safety, teammates feel safe to take risks around their team members. They feel confident that no one on the team will embarrass or punish anyone else for admitting a mistake, asking a question or offering a new idea.

Dependability On dependable teams, members reliably complete quality work on time (vs. the opposite – shirking responsibilities). Perfection is not optional. The enemy of great is good. Always strive for the best possible product, service or experience.

In a decentralised team working remotely, this core value is extremely important. Always trust your teammates are doing their best work with good intentions. Don’t jump to conclusions or judgments.

Structure and clarity An individual’s understanding of job expectations, the process for fulfilling these expectations, and the consequences of one’s performance are important for team effectiveness. Goals can be set at the individual or group level, and must be specific, challenging and attainable. Google often uses Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) to help set and communicate short- and long-term goals.

Meaning Finding a sense of purpose in either the work itself or the output is important for team effectiveness. The meaning of work is personal and can vary – financial security, supporting family, helping the team succeed, or self-expression for each individual, for example. The self-directed employee takes responsibility for her own decisions and actions. Having a team that can constantly say “We can figure it out” creates a competitive edge.

Impact The results of one’s work, the subjective judgment that your work is making a difference, is important. Seeing that one’s work is contributing to the organisation’s goals can help reveal impact. The world’s most precious resource is the passionate and persistent human mind. Get your team to embrace long-term thinking.

Every member of the team needs to embody a growth mindset: the belief that they can learn more or become smarter if they work hard and persevere.

That media fervour for the unicorn startups and their celebrity founders can suggest that it only takes the one or two entrepreneurs to build exceptional companies on their own, or with a co-founder. I think that’s rarely the case.

Henry Ford once said, Why is it that every time I ask for a pair of hands, they come with a mind attached? In a startup, minds dramatically amplify the value of hands and they become even more powerful when they’re able to engage with like-minded, stimulated other folk in the team.

Startups 1-2-3-4 Go!

The Clash, the eponymous self-titled debut album by The Clash, was released 40 years ago last week, on 8 April 1977. How time passes by. It is widely celebrated as one of the greatest punk albums of all time, and one of the best debut albums. It was a record that made you sit up and take notice. It set the template for punk with its sharp shock songs full of passion and angry lyrics that were snapshots of the UK’s decay at the time.

The songs are short and intense, the speed-freaked brain of punk set to the tinniest, most frantic guitars trapped on vinyl. Rich in social commentary, attacking the fraught political and economic climate at the time, the collection of fifteen songs was unusually musically varied for a punk band, with reggae and early rock and roll influences plainly evident.

Despite all the hoopla over the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, a generation of disenfranchised, angry youth faced a grim reality of a dystopian future. In the latter 1970s, punk was the soundtrack for this alienated rage, an anti-establishment outreach of raucous, haywire impulses. Yet it remains timelessly inspiring. If you’ve never listened to this album, put it on your 100 albums to listen to before I go to heaven list.

Like a business startup, the Clash had raw energy, raw ideas and an attitude to take everything and everyone on. The classic line up which emerged from the creative tension of forming a band – Strummer-Jones-Simonon-Headon – made their mark. Each member brought a different influence, whether it was Joe’s folk lyricism, Mick’s rock adulation, Paul’s Brixton-born reggae, or Topper’s driving percussion, what you got was a unique blend.

Most of the first album was conceived on the 18th floor of a council high rise on London’s Harrow Road, in a flat rented by co-founder Mick Jones’ grandmother, who frequently went to see their live concerts. The songs were written over a twelve-day period, three four-day sessions Thursday-to-Sunday, beginning 10 February 1977, and recorded over three consecutive weekends at a cost of £3k.

The cover artwork was designed by Polish artist Rosław Szaybo, the album’s front cover photo, shot by Kate Simon, taken in the alleyway opposite the front door of the band’s ‘Rehearsal Rehearsals’ building in Camden Market. The picture of the charging police on the rear cover, shot by Rocco Macauly, was taken during the August 1976 riot at the Notting Hill Carnival – the inspiration for the track White Riot, their debut single.

The Clash wanted a riot of their own, and so they created one, not in the streets with bricks and bottles but on stage and in the studio with guitars and words. It may be an old fashioned thought now that a record can change the world, but it did and still stands up to this day as a brilliant document of the turbulent times, a luminous and revolutionary record.

I bought the record (one of those shiny vinyl things) and still have it close to hand to this day. It’s battered and scratched, the sleeve torn and frayed, but it’s a key part of my personal social history, but history relevant to now some 40 years on.

It was a platform to challenge prejudice, both without and within, that we could dance to, or jump about to. The first thing I ever liked about The Clash before I had even heard a tune was their name. In those heady days of mid-teens at parties of school mates, The Clash’s debut album was played over and over again. I recall one in particular as we all pogoed in the front room, every word to every song was sung as if our lives depended on it. The neighbours called the police because of the noise. This was a band capturing the moment. So were we.

Today, The Clash, their story and output, remains one of the most important signposts of my formative years. For five years, their lyrics, politicised and bristling with social conscience, had a far-reaching and ultimately enduring influence. They caught my ear and imagination, their mixture of politics and music shaped my beliefs and tastes.

Their musical experimentation and rebellious attitude was utterly inspirational and positive. For me, there remains a sense of urgency and anarchic inventiveness in their songs that roots them in the great musical moments of the late C20th. The songs more than stand the test of time, reminding you that music should speak to the politics, opinions and issues of society of the day.

So, I must admit, I still harbour a bit of attitude when it comes to Joe Strummer and company. A debut album like a stick of dynamite, it had heart and soul. I immediately got their vibe and saw their potential to speak to people. If you were lucky enough to see them, I don’t think you ever forgot it.

As I get older, it’s hard to separate songs from the memories we associate with them. People and places we used to know suddenly come rushing back with tremendous clarity after just a flurry of notes and words sung by a familiar voice you hear on the radio.

You don’t hear The Clash on the radio these days, but I can’t really tell you how much it meant to me back in 1977. I had a tear in my eye then, and I do now thinking about it. Everybody would sing along, loud. Those guys were a huge influence. It’s about appropriating anger. It’s what we should be doing. And suddenly (except for perhaps a bit of knew-joint pain and a few locks of grey hair) it’s as if no time has passed at all.

Fast forward, this first album remains an echo of the exhortation created more than 40 years ago. It speaks to entrepreneurs that you can write your own music, your own story, you can do it for yourself. On their record sleeves they printed: ‘Made by the Clash’. That says it all. Frustrated entrepreneurs, doing it for themselves.

Today, there is almost unlimited digitally fuelled competition for ears and pennies. For musicians, buskers or professionals, it has never been easy to turn tunes into cash and make a living. Social media enables direct-to-fan relationships, but the double-edged sword of technology is the mass-market digital noise reverberating from iTunes to Spotify to Soundcloud, where new bands can’t compete due to the social marketing voice and reach of the established artists.

You have to shout loud and spend lots to be heard. There are only so many iTunes/Starbucks ‘free track of the week’ cards to go around, so what are the strategy lessons from The Clash for startups today, to get yourself noticed as a new business in a crowded, market place as a newcomer?

Stand for something, be true to your purpose The Clash did whatever they wanted, great bands have that sense of purpose. They have a set of values and they remain true to them, quickly finding out that there are millions of people who share those same values. Like a band, put some voice in your content marketing and stamp it with your personality. When your earlier advocates realise that they could miss out on something unique and special, they won’t want to miss it, and will in fact share it.

Being different matters more than being better The Clash became successful because they were different. We had never seen anything like them before, they grabbed our attention. Rock stars have proven for years that being different – and getting noticed because of it – is more important than quality of music at the outset. It’s like building an MVP – be different, stand out from the crowd, offer something different. When opportunities don’t present themselves in a timely manner take calculated risks – pivot.

Be an experience A Clash concert wasn’t just about the music, it was the experience. Likewise great startups like Uber and Airbnb don’t simply sell products, they sell experiences which add value, and we buy into. Give your customers a really great, memorable experience instead of pitching them another me2 product. Social media is a force because it enables connectivity and community, conversations about experiences happen, creating word of mouth and referral marketing. Create opportunities for your customers to connect and share their experience.

Turn up the volume Can you hear us at the back? The Clash were loud. I mean loud, really loud. Their records were meant to be played so everyone down the street could hear it. Well, I thought so. Music sells the album, t-shirts and the concert tickets. Like music, your product content does not always have to ask for the order, just consistently keep everyone in a ready-to-act state. Be bold, and tell your followers and customers what you’re doing by delivering relevant content delivered in relevant ways.

Established customer know your history, new audiences want your hits Communicate your business legacy and future value through targeted channels and voices. New music keeps fans coming back for more. Always generate new and fresh products to keep people engaged with your brand, but treat existing and new customers differently. Don’t just deliver repeated content, engage your audience with innovation and create new reasons for people to come back to you.

Ensure your band has an inspired front man When your business leadership requires you to replace founding members with energetic new blood, put your business’s values in front for all to see. For The Clash, the focus was on Joe Strummer, a frontman with tremendous charisma but also, paradoxically, with a tremendous amount of humility. What do you stand for as a leader? Make it part of your brand.

Don’t just copy songs Even if it’s just a chord sequence or a riff, take it and make something else. Just copying something is no good, unless you want to just be in a tribute band. It’s vital to keep playing around and pushing yourself in business, create your own product. Don’t be afraid to build a business or revenue model that plays to your strengths, even if it’s non-conventional. Be an original, not a replica.

Be a brand, with an image. If you plan on getting noticed, establishing a brand promise, and creating an image is vital. John Pasche designed the ‘tongue and lips’ logo for The Rolling Stones in 1971, originally reproduced on the Sticky Fingers album. It is one of the first and most successful cases of rock brand marketing. Is your business logo iconic and noticeable?

Harness nostalgia with innovation Great music enshrines an artist with the amber glow of posterity. Today, vibrant retrospectives of digitally remastered content show the artist has transcended their time and that they can now be appreciated outside of the context of their era. Recordings from the past sit comfortably with tunes from the present. In business terms, it’s where your moments from the past meet today’s innovation, you have to leverage the past whilst also pushing the future to stay current.

So that was The Clash in 1977. A new generation raised its voice. Loud, clear, fast, innovative and straight in the face of the establishment. And forty years later this knockout record still sounds furious and roars mighty and still inspires. The restless heart and honest soul of one of the few bands that mattered will never vanish.

Make your startup like The Clash, with positive attitudes and energy, belief that you can achieve something new and spectacular. This mindset and behaviour enthuses and influences others around you as to the possibilities that you have envisaged.

Ensure your startup has the vitality, focus and aims to make a difference. Life’s too short to go unnoticed, be audacious. Life is all about progression from good to great. Push yourself to be there. Make some noise – 1-2-3-4 Go!

Startup metrics for customer traction

Start-ups are unique because of their ability to scale fast, and typically go through three stages – traction, transition and growth. Each of these stages requires different priorities that are reflected in different objectives, strategies, team etc.

In the early stages of your startup, you’ll have to manage so many tasks that you’ll often be overwhelmed with what needs to get done. But instead of being paralysed by what appears like an endless amount of work, know that you really only have one goal: traction.

The North Star has been used for navigation since man began sailing, and applying it as a metaphor to startups is useful to get clarity in the maelstrom of things to do. For me, your North Star is determined by answering the question:

How many people are getting authentic value from our product?

It’s a simple goal and easy to measure. I use ‘authentic value’ to avoid the ‘vanity metrics’ I’ll refer to later. The moment when a user gets authentic value means you are getting traction, and we can anticipate revenue, and when you have paying customers, you have a chance to turn your startup from an experiment into a business.

Simply, traction refers to the initial progress of a startup, seeking product-market fit, gaining market share and mind-share from its target audience.

You don’t necessarily need to be profitable to show traction, maintaining consistent growth in other metrics besides profit such as daily active users, monthly active users, monthly signups, or a decrease in churn rate are all indicators that your startup is gaining traction. Just as traction is important to you, it is important to potential investors too.

One of the first steps in generating traction is finding what the real drivers of your business growth are, which may take some time to discover, and developing processes to maximise each driver. When you have clearly defined processes, potential investors will also have a better picture of how your startup will progress in relation to the general landscape of the marketplace.

If you achieve success in the traction stage, you’ll have forward movement in the important metrics that drive your business. While being nimble allowed you to experiment during the early days of your startup – finding what moves the needle of your initial growth, testing different offerings, and nailing down your product-market fit – your aim is to maximise what makes you unique and what makes you valuable to customers.

Getting traction is hard. You’ll be working more ‘in’ your business than ‘on’ your business, and there is a dilemma: fundamentally, your focus has to be on customers, but the inclination is on product development.

What failed startups don’t have are enough customers, and it’s customers that investors are most focused on. When you’re talking to investors about your startup, it’s pretty much all about your traction, growth and velocity, and small numbers can have a big impact on their thinking. Is ‘20%’ enough for the big questions?

It’s important you’re on top of your numbers, and you can speak their language, so immerse yourself in your financial model and get as comfortable about churn, attraction, burn, runway, CAC and LTV, as you are your customer pitch. There are a lot of metrics and KPIs that startup founders are expected to have at the tips of their fingers, the vital signs that you live with day to day. These numbers show you have clear view of your key growth drivers.

In reality, the numbers should just confirm your instinct on performance and progress, but often they produce a reality check of where you are on the runway, offering a balance to the emotional ‘feel’ of what represents real progress on growth aspirations.

In my experience, startup founders can fall into the habit of innocently deceiving themselves with their own view on data, by only focusing on the KPIs and data that sounds positive and offers a positive outlook. We all have cognitive bias, tending to hone in on the metrics we know are improving over time, and ones that sound impressive without much context.

For example, I’ve seen startups ignore the hard stats of monthly active user numbers, but talk about the number of web site visits or downloads of white papers. Beware of ‘vanity metrics’ such as these, they don’t provide any meaningful indication regarding customer traction, pricing and cashflow – the metrics by which you should be making decisions. Focus on metrics and numbers that you can improve, and that inform you on your direction of travel in a meaningful, clear way.

To me, the indicators that matter most in the life of an embryonic startup are about customer development and attraction: customer acquisition, retention and conversion. If you don’t have a handle on these numbers, then you’re simply fiddling round the edges, and your actions will make far less of an impact on growth direction, velocity and scaling ambitions.

These measures, when combined, inform you about customer traction, offering data points to give a clear picture of the underlying growth: how many customers have found your product (acquisition), how long do your customers stay with your product (retention), and how many of these customers are willing to pay for the product (conversion)?

These data points define the sales funnel, starting with acquisition, a signpost indicator that there is customer value proposition in your offering. Acquisition doesn’t have to be expensive, it can be organic and relatively clunky and have some friction in the process, because at this stage it’s still about validated learning and building on your MVP.

Once you have initial users, your focus is on retention. What is the monthly churn rate – how many leave your product after the first month? If they stay a month, how much longer are they likely to stay? Your retention rate has a major impact on building your user base, and the scaling, and ultimately the width and depth of customer revenue.

If retention is low, then the work of acquiring new users will continually get more expensive in order to grow revenues as you’ll have to continually spend more and more to acquire new users. Investors want to see the opposite trend: as your customer base grows, unit cost of customer acquisition, on average, should decline.

Retaining more users obviously provides an ongoing growing population to convert to recurring annuity revenues or other monetisation strategies, and with opportunities to grow the business by broadcasting to, and engaging with, a wider audience, enabling more visibility on social media, and a range of use cases.

Once you have optimised user retention, you can start working on both ends of your sales funnel, bring more users in, and converting more of them to paying customers. But focusing on converting users, when your retention numbers are low, will yield few results, and over time, those results will diminish without strong retention numbers.

So recognising that whilst there are lots of moving parts in your startup, which you need to stay on top of, a focus on customers forms the core of a dashboard of basic metrics. Over time, new financially based metrics can be plugged-in as it’s important to put an emphasis on the numbers you need to actively improve profitability.

But that’s the key: don’t use numbers to measure a startup financially at the outset, use them to guide and drive growth ambitions and the direction of travel and development of your business model.

Equally there is a ‘lead’ and ‘lag’ orientation to metrics, some track was has happened, others can be used to look forward. Don’t start tracking things having made a change, start tracking before the change occurs. Progressions are far more important than numbers without any context: what was that number last month, compared to this month? How has it changed? What is the growth curve? Is it static? Is it dynamic?

Use your numbers to ask questions, the things you need to know to be sure that what you’re doing is having any effect at all. It is difficult to prioritise product and customer growth: Should we write a new feature? Remove a feature? Fix a bug? Redesign a user interface? Remove a step in the sign-up process? Write a blog post? Offer an e-book for a lead nurturing campaign? Change pricing? Hire a customer support person?

So having set your North Star and its associated metric, what are the key drivers to focus upon, the moving parts which will get you to where you want to be: How many people are getting authentic value from our product?

I’ve always liked the ‘startup metrics for pirates’ – AARRR metrics – developed by Dave McClure, which represent all of the behaviours of your customers which drive to your North Star:

  • Acquisition: the customer finds you
  • Activation: the user interacts with you
  • Retention: the user likes you
  • Referral: the user recommends you
  • Revenue: the user pays you

You need to break down these five metrics on your product and analyse them separately, so that you can optimise each of them. It’s important to understand AARRR, because only when you understand all the metrics, you will understand each of the moving parts in your startup, so you don’t guess and make the wrong assumptions.

The truth is that many startups make the same mistake of thinking if something doesn’t work, it must be everything, or they just guess the wrong reason why their business is not working. The truth is, any part of a customer’s experience can influence them. Here are some other metrics to consider, my own 5C Scorecard:

Customer Numbers A simple, binary index, set and measured for each period, provides visibility, clarity and simplicity of your North Star.

Conversion Rate to be a very telling KPI in that it reveals a combination of the company’s ability to sell its products to its customers and the customers’ desire for the product. It is particularly instructive to track and review Conversion Rate over time and regularly run experiments to improve.

Customer Acquisition Cost (‘CAC’) CAC is the unit cost of spend on sales and marketing, on average, to acquire a new customer. This tells us about the efficiency and effectiveness of our marketing efforts, although it’s more meaningful when combined with other metrics detailed below, and when measured over time.

Customer Retention Rate indicates the percentage of paying customers who remain paying customers during a given time period. The converse to retention rate is Churn (or Attrition), the percentage of customers you lose in a given period. When you see high retention rates over an indicative time period, you know you have a sticky product that is keeping customers happy. This is also an indicator of capital efficiency.

Customer Lifetime Value (‘CLTV’) is the measurement of the net value of an average customer over the estimated life of the relationship. Improving the ratio of CLTV/CAC is critical to building a sustainable company.

There is also one financial metric you need to keep a track on at this stage:

Cash Burn This is simply the net cashflow per month and is critical to the survival of any startup. Runway is the measure of the amount of time until have in terms of cash, expressed in terms of months.

Short Runways cause entrepreneurs to be myopic and removes the liberty to tweak and iterate when necessary. It also forces them to focus on the next fundraising round instead of on growing the business. It’s a separate discussion from this blog, but fund raising should be focused on milestones, not the runway.

I’ve ignored the usual financial metrics – revenue growth, gross and net margin, as you must not be limited to the KPIs themselves, for they are merely measurements of outcomes. You must have an understanding of what levers can be pulled towards achievement of your North Star, which is then reflected in KPIs. The focus should not be on the KPIs themselves, but the meaning behind them and knowing what impacts each one.

Once we set our direction by the North Star and check-in on the underpinning metrics on a daily and weekly basis, you give yourself a mechanism for deciding where to focus your time to move your business forward, and for me, that’s all about how many customers see authentic value in your offering.

Lessons from sporting comebacks for business startups

Comebacks are possible. In fact, they happen all the time. Yet, if you have had a setback, a comeback may seem impossible to you. Life is full of stumbles, no matter who you are. Financial problems, health issues, loss of a loved one – they may visit all of us. The challenge is how you overcome your setback. How do you dig in and hit back?

It’s the same for a startup. Circumstances and events may have conspired to force you down into a number of cul-de-sacs on product development, customers may have changed their minds and backed out of a deal, whilst recruiting new folks into your team may be proving troublesome.

Of course, we all love those great sporting comebacks when a team or individual looks down-and-out on the ropes, the scoreboard showing the game is over yet somehow they claw their way back to win with the odds stacked against them.

What are the lessons startups can take from the great sporting comebacks in terms of resilience, mental toughness and handling pressure in the moment?  Let’s look at a few of the most memorable turnarounds in sport, and then the lessons to takeaway for startup thinking.

Recently, we’ve had Barcelona pulling off the biggest Champions League comeback ever to eliminate Paris Saint-Germain. Faced with a 0-4 deficit following the first leg in Paris, Barca won the second leg 6-1, with three of the goals coming from the 88th minute onwards.

The New England Patriots became Super Bowl champions again in February by fighting back from 25 points behind to defeat the Atlanta Falcons 34-28 in overtime. In an extraordinary finale to the most challenging season of his career, Tom Brady inspired the Patriots and confirmed he was the best quarterback the sport has ever seen with a fifth Super Bowl crown.

Back in 1981, Australia were on the verge of going 2-0 up against England in the Test series inside four days at Headingley when Ian Botham strode to the crease. His swashbuckling innings of 149 made the Aussies bat again and Bob Willis ripped through the tourists with 8-43 to seal a remarkable 18-run win. England became just the second Test team to win after following-on.

Further back, the result Charlton 7-6 Huddersfield, in Division 2, 1957 wasn’t an end-to-end ding-dong. Ten-man Charlton trailed Huddersfield 1-5 with less than 30 minutes on the clock. And just this weekend, Exeter were 0-3 to Yeovil with two minutes to go in League Three, but scored three goals in two minutes to earn an unexpected 3-3 draw.

All memorable and some with global attention, but for me, a local rugby game is the greatest sporting comeback of all time, and helped shape my thinking on startup recovery lessons.

Local rugby clubs capture the spirit of community, everyone coming together for something they love. The effort and commitment is there to be seen at the ‘grassroots’ of the game. It’s here in the junior teams youngsters get their first taste of the great game, teaching children the core skills of rugby whilst developing valuable life skills like teamwork, sportsmanship and respect.

Rossendale RUFC are based in Rawtenstall, just up the road from the market, with a club house and pitches nestling in the scenic hillside, with stunning views looking down the valley to Manchester. On March 4 the Rossendale First XV staged a memorable fightback from a 0-28 points deficit, against Kendal, in a National League 3 North game.

In a classic game of two halves, Rossendale came from a seemingly irrecoverable position to earn a dramatic win, and maintain second place in the division. Curtis Strong crossed over the line in time added on to make the score 31-28 and win the match after being 26-28 down in a frenetic stoppage time.

Rossendale started slowly against their Northern counterparts, going in at half-time with a 0-21 deficit, and it seemed all hope was lost when Kendal scored their fourth try of the game shortly after the break. However, Fraser Lyndsay scored Rossendale’s first try and his first of two in the final half hour giving his side a ray of hope. Alex Isherwood, Nick Flynn and Curtis Strong added three more tries, as well as three out of five conversions from Steve Nutt, ensured victory was snatched from certain defeat.

At 0-28 down, generally speaking there’s no coming back. But the belief in the team and never say die attitude, once they scored, kick started the most remarkable sporting comeback I’ve ever seen. It was an 18-man effort with the substitutes; there was no one player who made the win, it was all of them, together.

Rugby is a physical game – the former England hooker Brian Moore once said If you can’t take a punch, you should play table tennis – but it’s not all about bashing and brawn, there’s plenty of humour and camaraderie in a rugby team – Gareth Chilcott, on retiring in his last England game said I’m off for a quiet pint now, followed by 17 noisy ones! Just half a session then Gareth?

Comeback stories like this are inspiring and cause us to believe there is hope for our own comeback in the face of adversity. For me, the passion, team spirit, togetherness and winning mindsets in rugby rise above anything I’ve ever done and taught me more about teamwork, effort, humanity, drinking and tomfoolery than anything else I’ve experienced. If you meet someone else who’s played rugby, you’ll probably like them and get on with them. Like Frank Menduca from Adelaide.

I went to the World Cup 2007 tournament in France with my son James, the highlight being England 23 Australia 17 in the Quarter-Final in Marseille. Memories of raw French steak, ham & cheese toasties and fine Belgian lager for breakfast, Welsh fans with ‘Fiji’ taped over ‘Wales’ on their shirts supporting Fiji in the Quarter Final versus South Africa. And an encounter with Frank Menduca, an Aussie bear.

Resting for a beer after the game with our group amongst a noisy throng of England fans on one of the many street bars, a posse of Aussies hulked around the corner. Cue Waltzing Matilda from the England fans. Jubilation versus despondency. One of the Aussies, the leader of their pack and a huge man mountain caught my eye and pointed a finger at me. You’re for it now dad! said James, moving slowly so as to hide behind me like Simba behind Mufasa!

The Aussie man-mountain came up to me, at least six inches taller than me, something I’m not used to. He stared intently into my face. Then let out a wail and a cry We lost, I need a hug! and embraced me as a long lost relative. Mayhem broke out again, as around twenty grown up men embraced each other. Man love. You had to be there.

About three hours, ten pints, a giant hot dog eating competition (individual and relay – well done James, second place behind Frank’s son) and a raucous singing competition later, we parted. Ten yards down the road, the Englishmen broke into the apocryphal Rolf Harris anthem. Tie me Kangaroo down sport.

But back to comebacks, and Rossendale’s recent victory 31-28 from a 0-28 deficit. How did they find the physical resolve, the mental tenacity, the resilience to recover from a scoreboard of defeat to one illuminating victory, and how can we take this lessons into our startup thinking?

Hold a clear vision The Rossendale team has a clear purpose – to win the National League 3 North, which sets the direction for each game. Winning and losing in sport is very clear cut, but when you’re down in a game, the vision has to be clear enough that the team can pursue it as a focus to clear the mind.

Composure Nothing gives you more advantage over in the heat of the moment as to remain composed, focused and unruffled. Composure is the product of an ambitious mentality envisioning the outcome we would aspire for – what do I need to do? It requires persistence, vision, self-belief and patience.

Get a new plan You’re way off your original plan, so you need to reframe with agile thinking, developing a revised plan to accomplish your goals as the situation changes. An agile plan doesn’t require detailed steps, rather it guides our actions to ensure we are progressing forward. It wasn’t raining when Noah started building the ark.

Don’t doubt yourself Our mettle is tested as pressure-filled situations create doubt. Having doubt is a natural reaction, which we all experience. But being composed and having a plan we believe in is what helps us to endure and overcome. Dare to believe you can be the best.

It’s never over until it’s over Even when the position was seemingly hopeless at 0-28, and 26-28 in injury time, Rossendale believed. They didn’t give up. The moment you accepts defeat, it’s over. For another example of this – watch the you tube video of British athlete Christine Ohuruogu beating Amantle Monsho in the 2013 World Championships 400m final. With 100m left she was 10m adrift, with 10m left she was still behind, but on the line she caught her competitor and won gold.

Face reality You have to stand still, take in the moment and acknowledge that things aren’t working as intended and made changes. As Einstein said one definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Difficult as they can be, changes are sometimes necessary. The cumulative impact of several small improvements is usually greater than finding one big change – because often there isn’t a big thing to find.

Focus on yourself When the chips are down and the team needs to produce peak performance levels, it has to be automatic. Top sportspeople always report that the victory was earned through training and practice. When things are tough it’s tempting to focus on what the competition are doing to be ahead but instead it’s important to focus on yourself. Compete with others but focus on you.

Leadership The role of leadership in a crisis is to be the catalyst. Ground everyone emotionally, get heads cleared, and look everyone in the eye. Then go for it. Once the spark has been fired, everyone needs to join the movement so that the fire spreads and takes hold. There’s a point at which a critical mass is reached and the team as a whole mobilises. The power of the doubting Thomases is replaced by the power of believers that it can be done.

Play on the complacency of the opposition There’s something else worth remembering. Teams lose when they think they’re already won. When Manchester United won the European Champions League in 1999, scoring twice in the final two minutes to turn around a 1-0 deficit, the Bayern Munich players were already celebrating. When Christine Ohuruogu won her gold medal, Amantle Montsho thought she had won and eased up on the line. Complacency often kills victory.

So Rossendale’s First XV bounced back from likely defeat to an unlikely victory. For a startup, there are many lessons from this remarkable turnaround as outlined above. Hardship prepares ordinary people for an extraordinary effort. Standing over the precipice, the first step to getting somewhere different is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are. Live in the solution, not the problem.

Curiosity, sheep and unknown unknowns

Habits can be a good and bad thing for an entrepreneur, giving a clear sense of focus, a rhythm and guidance to keep heading for the north star to make stuff happen, and yet paradoxically, the wrong habits end up ultimately in addiction to doing the wrong things repeatedly.

We’ve all got an addiction, which stops us from doing more productive things. As a youngster, I remember visiting the various seaside piers in the north-west of England where the capacity of slot machines to keep people transfixed was the engine of the gambling tourist economy. It was only a bit of fun, but feeding those 10p coins into the slots at a pace, well, they were never to be seen again.

But despite this, you went back and fed them time and time again. The slot machines were in an environment designed to keep people playing until they had spent up. Of course, these days we’re all captive to a smartphone screen explicitly designed to exploit our psychology and maximise ‘time-on-device’ every waking moment, everywhere we go.

The average person checks their phone 150 times a day, and each compulsive tug on our own private slot machine is not the result of conscious choice or weak willpower, it’s engineered. A Harvard math genius named Jeff Hammerbacher took the job as first research scientist at a startup called Facebook. Hammerbacher states: the best minds of my generation are thinking about how to keep people clicking through.

Digital addiction is quiet subtle because it’s an immersive user experience, but habit forming. When you get to the end of an episode of Blue Planet on Netflix, the next episode plays automatically. It is harder to stop than to carry on, and this tech driven addiction is everywhere. Facebook works on the premise you are vulnerable to social approval, and that ‘likes’ will draw you in repeatedly. The habit of ‘second-screen’ simply feeds and cultivates this dislocated dance.

Similarly, LinkedIn sends you an invitation to connect, which gives you a little rush of dopamine  – somebody wants to know me – even though that person probably clicked unthinkingly on a an auto-menu of suggested contacts – or simply a recruiter trolling you. Unconscious impulses are transformed into social obligations, which compel attention, which is sold for cash.

What concerns me most about this growing trend is it’s turning us all into sheep. I live in the East Lancashire hills surrounded by them. Sometimes I get so angry with the simple life they lead. They just stand there, looking like they’ve never questioned anything, never disagreed. Sometimes I think they must have wool in their ears.

We laugh at sheep because sheep just follow the one in front. We humans have out-sheeped the sheep, because at least the sheep need a sheep dog to keep them in line, whilst humans keep each other in line.

Sheep are not curious, but contrary to what you may have heard or even expressed yourself, sheep are not stupid. They rank just below the pig in intelligence among farm animals. Simply, sheep react to the domestication that has decreased their instinctive behaviour and increased their docile nature, and being ‘one of the herd’ is what they’re all about.

But we need to build an ability to just be ourselves and be thinking and not be doing something banal like smartphone addition – it’s the sheep equivalent of simply standing there for following the herd. That’s what the smartphones are taking away. Underneath in your life there’s that thing, that forever empty, that knowledge that it’s all for nothing and you’re alone. That’s why I think that people text and drive because they don’t want to be alone for a second and be thinking for themselves.

In this vision we are all trapped in a Mobius loop of technological determinism. Product creators are powerless to do anything but give people what they want, and paradoxically users are helpless to resist coercion into what they’re given and all of us are slaves to whatever technology wants. No one is accountable while everyone loses dignity.

Bottom line, we’re not asking enough questions, working around issues to be more curious, more cognisant of what we don’t know, and more inquisitive about everything, to organise our thinking around what we don’t know. It’s becoming a bad habit to simply spend time on our smartphones browsing without purpose. We need to be less curious about people’s social habits and their photos and more curious about new ideas and learning.

Asking questions can help spark the innovative ideas that many startups bring to market. In my research, I track business breakthroughs, and from the Polaroid instant camera to the Nest thermostat and the recent startups like Netflix, Square and Airbnb you find that some curious soul looked at an existing problem and asked insightful questions about why that problem existed, and how it might be tackled, and came up with a solution.

The Polaroid story is my favourite. The inspiration for the instant camera sprang from a question asked in the mid-1940s by the three-year-old daughter of its inventor, Edwin Land. She was impatient to see a photo her father had just snapped, and when he tried to explain that the film had to be processed first, she asked: Why do we have to wait for the picture?

When we open ourselves fully to our curious natures, we are able to ponder without limits. Curiosity isn’t about solving problems, it’s about exploration and expansion. Curiosity can start and lead anywhere, and that’s precisely the sort of broader mindset startups need. So how should we go about promoting a culture of curiosity within a startup as part of its business model? It’s essential to be curious about several things:

Be curious about your people Many startups work hard to attract people with inquisitive mindsets and then stick them in an environment in which curiosity is discouraged as they pivot to ‘business as usual’. Hire people with a diverse range of backgrounds, experiences and aptitudes and then enable those differences to spark off each other as they work to create a cohesive but flexible unit. Building a culture of curiosity starts with seeing the individuals behind the job role.

Be curious about customers Don’t see customers simply as a transaction or an opportunity for a future revenue stream, understand why they buy from you and their business model, and the mechanics of their businesses. You need an external focus beyond nice words, mastering the ‘seeing and feeling’ of the customer, be curious about your customers: ‘what would the customer say to this?’ An enquiring mentality, asking ‘is this the best we can do?’ will bring success.

You work harder on what you’re curious about When was the last time you lost track of time working on something? If you’re curious about something, you’ll worker harder than the next person, who is just trying to maximise some other metric. If you follow your curiosity, you’ll end up somewhere nobody else is. Meanwhile, people who aren’t curious are trying to figure out who they should catch up with. They create a whole universe of the uncurious, parroting something someone else told them.

Be curious about the outside world We all need to take our focus off our immediate surroundings and get curious about people, about trends taking hold, about other cultures and points of view. About anything and everything beyond our too often insular worlds. Ideas know no hierarchy. We need to get better about responding to ‘What if?’ with ‘let’s find out’ rather than ‘let’s wait until someone else tries’.

Curiosity makes your mind active instead of passive Curious people always ask questions and search for answers. Their minds are always active. The mental exercise caused by curiosity makes your mind stronger, and it makes you observant of new ideas. Without curiosity, new ideas may pass right in front of you and yet you miss them because your mind is not prepared to recognise them. Just think, how many great ideas may have lost due to lack of curiosity?

Curiosity will conquer fear and uncertainty even more than bravery will. And that’s the point: A culture of curiosity inspires courage. The courage to challenge all those assumptions and hesitations that for too long have held us back, and those unknowns.

It was this belief in following his curiosity that shaped the philosophy of Andy Warhol. I read that Warhol would just walk around New York City on rainy Sundays. That was one of his favourite things to do, and that gave him ideas and inspiration. He called it From A to B and Back Again.

Of course, curiosity is the key trait for finding out what we don’t know. I’m always minded of former US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld who made semantic history on 12 February 2002 when he gave the profoundly perplexing explanation about ‘known knowns’,’known unknowns’ and ‘unknown unknowns’ in relation to Iraq.

As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know.

Those four sets of simple word pairs, used by Rumsfeld to describe military strategy, also convey powerful conceptual ideas with relevance to developing your startup thinking. Satisfying your curiosity and making entrepreneurial decisions based on knowns – truth, facts, and evidence – are far more likely to succeed than those based on hopes, wishes, and mythology. Let’s take a look at these four sets of word pairs as they relate to curiosity.

Known Knowns In a perfect world, known knowns would be facts based on lean startup experiments, customer development, product testing etc. Known knowns would provide reliable and valid facts and evidence on which decisions could be based. However, most known knowns are not really known knowns, they are a small category of knowledge.

Known Unknowns These are variables we are fully aware of but have no reliable data to accurately describe. This is a large category, especially if we are completely honest with ourselves about what we really know and do not know. Therefore, we are very likely to underestimate the number of unknowns that surround us. Do we truly understand the variables that drive the success of our brands?

Unknown Unknowns These are the blind spots—the problems, issues, and variables of which we have no awareness, information of knowledge. These are often the most dangerous variables and situations we ever face because they can catch us completely by surprise. Strong emotions and rigid opinions can blind us to obvious truths. We need to listen, accept, and learn find that such research can reveal many of the unknown unknowns.

Unknown Knowns There are things we know but don’t know we know. This is a strange category, and one might argue is an impossible category, a contradiction. When someone points it out to us, we say, “Of course. I know that. This relates back to an earlier assertion that people think they know more than they actually know. Once facts are presented, we easily can delude ourselves into thinking we already knew the information.

We can know things but not realise how important they are. We can know things but not understand how the pieces fit together or know what is causing what. We can be blind to the obvious or blind to the implications of the obvious. It’s curiosity that brings us an awareness of how things connect. What this conveys is that ‘knowns’ are fewer and rarer than people believe, and ‘unknowns’ are ubiquitous. They surround us on all sides.

I’ve learned that following my curiosity is the best thing to do. I’ve doubled down on curiosity. I read books I’m curious about. The best example is Steve Jobs, and how he dropped in on that calligraphy class, and how he was captivated by the letterforms. It had no practical application at the time, but he was curious, and then he built in all of that typography into the first Mac. You can’t connect the dots moving forward.

To know whether something is worth doing, or to know whether something was worth having been done, you need a metric for success. Next time you’re deciding what’s worth doing, try this metric. Ask yourself: What am I most curious about? I’m curious that sheep only sleep 3.8 hours in a day, meaning they are active 20.2 hours a day. What do they think about for all that time?